We booked our flights to have us in Europe for about a month and knew we’d be starting in Amsterdam, flying home from London, and hitting Barcelona by the 22nd of September. But we weren’t totally sure what to do between Holland and Spain.
Conveniently, Paris is like, right there in the middle! So we decided on spending a week there as part of our trip. The other option was to spend a week on the beach somewhere on the Costa Brava. Despite the temptation of more sun, I think we made the right choice.
We took the medium-speed train (Thalys) from Aachen, Germany (about 15 kms from where we were staying) and were in Paris in 2.5 hours. We also happened to be seated in our group of 4 seats with a Bad Parent who let her 4-year-old terrorize the entire car (while she also blocked the aisles herself by sprawling out as she read a novel and ignored her hellspawn) and drew the ire of passengers and train staff alike. So. Self-Centered Assholes! Not a uniquely North American phenomenon.
Luckily they got off in Brussels, and in stark contrast, everyone I encountered in Paris was really nice.
This might’ve been because I was expecting the French to be awful (having of course heard the same stories as everyone else about the rude, self-important people of France), but on this trip they have been the most gracious and considerate of any of the cities we’ve been in.
We tried speaking a bit of Dutch in the Netherlands, and some German for the 20 minutes we were in Germany, and some Spanish in Spain, but our foreign language skills are really crap compared to most Europeans’ English, and they never had the patience to speak to us in anything but that. The French, however, were happy to speak to us in French, gently correct our grammatical slips and pronunciation, and graciously switched to English whenever we hit a wall.
We also dragged ourselves through far too many bus stops and metro stations with our craploads of luggage (biggest complaint of traveling with a baby: too much stuff!), and the French would wordlessly take bags from us, or grab a side of our bag to help us get them up and down stairs, or through impossibly narrow doorways.
Through the entire trip we relied mainly on public transport, and the Parisians were the only ones who unfailingly stepped aside so we could get our bags on the metro and always offered up their seat to whichever one of us had Isaac in the carrier (and usually the seat next to them as well, so we could sit together).
Yes, I am saying that the French were the most polite people we encountered in Europe. Not modest, not by a long shot, but incredibly (and refreshingly, considering Vancouverites seem to consider politeness to be a sign of weakness) well-mannered.
And in stark contrast to everything else we’ve heard about Paris, it was probably the least expensive part of our trip! We booked another flat through AirBnB and stayed in the Montmartre neighbourhood, just down the street from the market filming location for Amelie. Our daily routine consisted of Neil heading out to fetch fresh pastries and baguette for breakfast, packing a couple sandwiches along for lunch, then stopping at the markets on Rue des Abbesses on the way home for dinner ingredients and cooking something back at the flat.
The Us of a couple years ago definitely think we are a little bit crazy for not going out for incredible french food at every single opportunity, but it really was lovely. After all, part of the appeal of French food is the incredible quality of the fresh ingredients, and they are plentiful in the Montmartre markets.
In fact, wandering around this mostly residential area, we were mistaken for locals a few times, which to me means we managed to actually have a pretty authentic experience. We did manage to see a few of the sights (next post!), but by far my favourite part of being in Paris was just roaming around the neighbourhoods, taking it all in. I’ve been asked a few times what my favourite place on our trip has been, and while each city/region has had its charms, now that I’m finishing this post at home, I think I miss Paris most of all!