Before going to Paris, I’d heard plenty about the legendary rudeness of the Parisians; that they can be unhelpful, snobby and stand-offish. Because of this, I was a little apprehensive about Paris. I prepared myself to be treated rudely. I figured I would enjoy the sites, but probably not enjoy the culture or the people. It turned out that no one was rude to us; in fact, we found people were quite nice and helpful. And we found that we enjoyed the culture. Honestly, I was surprised.
I’d also heard that Parisians don’t like to speak English; they want you to speak French. I can understand why. Imagine living in a city flooded with tourists and day after day, the first thing people say to you is “do you speak English”? I made an effort to always start by talking in French, and found it went a long way. I never studied French in school, so I usually only got a few words of my broken French in before they would start talking back in English – or if they didn’t speak English, then it resorted to the universal language of hand gesturing and head nodding.
The city of Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements (districts). The first one is in the heart of the city and the following ones spiral outwards in a clock-wise direction. They gain in number in an orderly succession, going around and around – hence the word arrondissement. We stayed in the 111h arrondissement, on a quiet street near the 3rd arrondissement. It was a nice Parisian neighborhood with lots of locals and hardly a tourist in sight. It became our home for the week and being there, we felt like we got to experience a little bit of what daily life is like for Parisians.
During our stay in the 11th arrondissement, we became regular customers at the corner bakery just down the street from our hotel. We knew it had to be good when we saw a line going out the door the first time we walked past it. They served up the best sandwiches we had in Europe as well as tasty pastries and desserts – all at affordable prices. Needless to say, Jay’s gluten-free diet went out the window.
An enjoyable and budget friendly thing to do in Paris is to have a picnic lunch. Typically, we did picnic for lunch. But trust me, it’s definitely not as enjoyable in cold winter weather.
We got around Paris using the city’s extensive Metro system. From any given spot in the city, you’re typically never more than 500 yards from the nearest station. It’s quite convenient and makes it easy to get around. And it’s a much better alternative to renting a car and heaving to deal with traffic and parking.
Using the Metro in Paris requires playing snakes and ladders with the crazy lines on the transit map to figure out the best way to get from point A to point B. The city has the most complicated maze of metro lines I’ve ever seen. Our strategy was look at the map before boarding, figure out which line(s) we were taking, and then take a picture of that part of the map to make sure we didn’t get lost in the labyrinth.
The Abbesses station in the Montmartre neighborhood has to be the most beautiful station in the Paris Metro system. The art nouveau entrance has been nicely preserved and the stair cases within the station are lined with a series of murals. It’s also the deepest station in Paris, located 118 feet below ground. The 200 steps of stairs provided a nice leg burner.
Paris is known as a foodie mecca. Our favorite night in Paris was the night we enjoyed the perfect French dinner at a little restaurant called Le Petit Châtelet. My good friend Christie has been to Paris a number of times and it is her favorite restaurant in the city. For my 35th birthday, she gave me a card with money inside and specific instructions to use it for dinner at Le Petit Châtelet (she even included the address and metro stop). It ended up being the perfect gift, because at that point in our travels, we had already spent a lot of money and were a little hesitant to spend too much going out to dinner. And a trip to Paris would not be complete without at least one night of indulgence at a French restaurant.
Le Petit Châtelet is tucked away in a little old house across the river from Notre Dame. The restaurant has been run by the same family for over 50 years. It’s a cozy little place with a warm and romantic atmosphere. We were seated at a table close to the wood burning fireplace. We ordered a bottle of French wine and perused the menu which is hand written on a large chalkboard that the waiter brings to your table. We both decided to order steak; I chose the “filet de boeuf au poivre” (pepper steak) and Jay chose the “formidable d’entrecote au feu de lois” (rib eye steak cooked on the wood fire). Jay’s steak came with crispy frites and mine came with a side of gratin dauphinoise, the most delicious au gratin potatoes I’ve ever tasted. They were both accompanied by the perfect sauce and seasoning. For dessert, we shared the profiteroles, a delicious pastry filled with homemade ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce. It was the perfect French dinner and a great night out!