NOT in love with Paris

by Tiggered

I've been to Paris and I'm not impressed. Here are some reasons why.

I visited the City of Light a few years back and very much by accident. With a ticket to Oslo in my pocket, I arrived in Dublin airport only to find out that my plane had already departed. I quickly rescheduled and ended up in another city altogether, the one which so often gets depicted on the silver screen.

To my surprise, Paris turned out to be nothing like its cinematic image. With a sad sigh, I took off my rose-tinted spectacles and settled on collecting memories of the City of Light sans enchantment.

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Paris - image and reality

Paris at nightIf you think of Paris, what comes to your mind? Cafes, artists, marvelous landmarks, museums, baguettes, charm, glamour and charisma – am I right? If so, you are not alone. This is exactly the image of itself that Paris projects, or even sells to the world, America in particular. When I eventually ended up in Paris, I kept my eyes wide open to feast on this magical atmosphere and found… none. Or very little. Is it only me, I wonder? Or is the glamorous Paris only a product, an image to sell to millions of potential tourists? Let’s take a quick virtual tour to help you decide.

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Getting there

Ryanair aircraftIf rock bottom price is what you’re after, Ryanair is your best bet (within Europe). They are probably the worst and the cheapest airline in the world. For more details on ‘pleasures’ of travelling with Ryanair, please check back in a few weeks - I have a personal review coming up.  

It’s worth remembering that touching down does not equal arriving in Paris – there’s still 20 or more kilometres distance between the city and you. Getting a bus is easy enough – airport shuttles run seemingly every quarter, but be sure to reserve 20 euros/person in your budget to pay for the ticket.

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Staying there

views from ParisLet’s face it – Paris is a bloody expensive city and accommodation is no exception here. After hours of walking around in search of a cheap hostel, we settled on a 2 star hotel (I don’t even remember where), a pleasure that set us back by 75 euros a night (for a double room). 2 star hotels are fine standard-wise (unless you have some snobbish expectations), but rather difficult to find. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that you can travel the city for hours before finding an Internet cafe. If you’re travelling on a tight budget, do your research before you arrive or be ready for a long walk.

Oh, we did manage to find one hostel (after many hours of walking and asking around). The receptionist didn’t bother to end his private phone call when we arrived, after 5 minutes quoted us something around 60 euros, informed of 2 am curfew (%@$#!! I’m not a teenager anymore!) and then said they have no vacancies anyway. If all hostels in Paris stick to the same rules, I wouldn’t stay there even if they paid ME.

Consider yourself warned.

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Have you ever been to Paris?

Or maybe you are planning to?

Little stories from Paris

Starting with Notre Dame...

stained glass windowSure as hell, Notre Dame cathedral is beautiful. And easy to find. And one of the most characteristic landmarks of Paris. Why, then, after my short visit, I was disappointed, shocked and disgusted?

I don’t think any guidebook will tell you this, but Notre Dame Place is completely overrun with Gypsy women, begging (at least that’s what I encountered, and it wasn’t even the tourist season, my trip taking place in March). There’s hundreds of them, I’d hazard a guess that they even outnumber tourists. Each in colourful skirts, with golden teeth and a neat card spelling out her plight in English. One or another approaches you every second step you take and if you only refuse to give them any cash, they throw positive tantrums – how DARE you not to give them money! I swear, I must have accumulated about fifty Gypsy curses on my head during a half an hour stay. Not that I’ve noticed any adverse effects afterwards, but my Notre Dame memory is irreversibly flawed.

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Eiffel Tower

Eiffel towerHow come that none of the movies about Paris features armies of black-skinned hawkers crowding around the Eiffel Tower and trying to sell you key rings? Key rings come with all sorts of accoutrements, some being simply shiny metal, other fitted with battery-powered flashing lights, but basically every single one is the Tower in miniature. A perfect example of perfectly awful souvenir aimed solely at tourists with no taste. As with Notre Dame Gypsies, the hawkers number in tens if not hundreds and shake their goods with every step, turning the surroundings of Eiffel Tower into a horrible, jingling spectacle. We happened to be there (jingle jingle) during some sort of a police raid (jingle jingle jingle) and saw the whole hawking army run for cover at top speed (JINGLEJINGLEJINGLEJINGLE), but it didn’t help – half an hour later the place looked as if nothing had happened, with jingles from every corner just as before. Yuck.

Oh, if you want to get up onto the Eiffel tower, reserve three to four hours. No, not for the trip. For the queue.

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J'aime le cafe...

red and white wineWell, I don’t, not really. Or I would have if not for the ridiculous prices reigning in all food-like establishments in Paris.

Finding coffee priced at less than 5 euros proved to be a real challenge. We did treat ourselves to this luxury once or twice and I couldn’t find anything special in my cup. No gold shavings floating on the surface. No Picasso’s autograph on the napkin. Nothing. Just a cup of pretty decent coffee, in rather unremarkable urban surroundings, with disgusting aura of snobbishness emanating from waiters and patrons alike.

I’ve also found the most expensive Heineken beer I’ve ever seen, anywhere – 10 euros for a 0.33 bottle. Ridiculous is the only word that comes to mind.

I didn’t dare to check how much a meal would cost – I feared I would have to sell my car to pay for a dinner, so I let this golden opportunity pass.

The good news is that once you forgo restaurants and cafes, you can stay fed without going bankrupt. Shop prices remain pleasantly low.

Apparently all sorts of food and drink establishments are aimed specifically at tourists and the locals don’t allow themselves to be tricked. Many times I’ve had a chance to observe a group of 6-8 Parisians, pooling their resources to buy one bottle of wine and occupying the table for hours. Lot of chatting, little drinking.

I wasn’t surprised.

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Parlez vous francais?

champs elysees You better. Most of the French are terribly rude language-wise when you visit them in their own country. Many shopkeepers, when confronted with the ominous question ‘Do you speak English?’ simply say ‘Non’ and turn their backs on you. I’m not exaggerating! Even if I believed that they really don’t speak a word of English (which I don’t), I would still feel perplexed by their total unwillingness to communicate. Given a chance, I could always strain my poor command of French, or even try the international gesture language (works wonders in all other countries I’ve ever been to) but here I’ve felt that my very ability to speak English marks me as a pariah.

To be fair, I also met French people who spoke at least passable English and were very helpful – what a shame they seemed to be a minority!

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Paris - a dream or a scam?

It is not hard to spot that Paris was a big disappointment to me. I felt somehow cheated, expecting some sort of bohemian heaven and finding real life instead. I believe the highly polished image of Paris is a big lie - how about you? Heaven or hell?

Popular vision of Paris - true or false?

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Rubbish, I share your disappointment
CruiseReady on 06/01/2015

I came away with very similar feelings to yours

WordChazer on 08/23/2014

Was fun for a weekend, but that was it. Will do it again when money permits, but not soon.

True, of course
Guest on 12/12/2014

Paris was a beautiful city with a lot to appreciate.

Updated: 08/19/2014, Tiggered
 
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CruiseReady on 06/01/2015

We came away from Paris decidedly underwhelmed, with no desire to return, ever. So glad to encounter someone who wuoldn't think us nuts for saying so.

Guest on 12/12/2014

This was interesting--to read an article about Paris that was not positive about the city.

Tiggered on 08/26/2014

I'm not planning to get back to Paris any time soon but if I ever do, I will follow your tips - thank you :)

WordChazer on 08/23/2014

Timhotel Montmartre near Sacre Coeur is the best place we found. All you can eat breakfast to keep you going all day. Post'Cafe (70 Boulevard de Rochechouart) best place for cheapish bistro supper food and good wine.

We walked a LOT in those days in Paris. All the way up the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe and all the way home to Montmartre through the Tuilleries one day. We had a 48 hour hop-on-hop off tourist bus pass for when our feet gave out.

Didn't go into Notre Dame, but the walk from there back through the Jardins du Pompidou was wonderful. As was the croque monsieur at the cafe by the side of the cathedral too. The Tour d'Eiffel was where I had my mad moment with the beggars. An eastern European woman pursued us across the square, entreating us to help her. I eventually had to turn around and tell her to GO AWAY! in loud and very indignant English. Not that I don't speak other languages, but as she addressed us in English, I replied in the same language.

The only tourist tat I came back with from Paris was a Tour de France T-shirt, bought on the Champs Elysees. I also bought a china spoon rest (which did not survive the journey home, regrettably) and a pair of coffee mugs for my parents. Spoon rests were not available in the UK at that time. Nor was the expensive set of kitchen scales we bought for our friend, who still uses it today.

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