When asked directions to most Europeans, they just assume that we know how to take the train. Generally, most Americans have never rode a train before. Americans are used to driving and those who lives in smaller cities except for bigger cities like New York, Washington, DC, etc., they have never rode a train before.
So, when asking how directions how to take the train, just politely say, I have never been in a train before and you have to direct me slowly and tell me how to take the train and read the train map. It's not being stupid! There is always a first time for everything.
Since, I have been on trains before (I rode the bullet train in Japan), I knew how to buy a train ticket and know how to follow the train map. However, most of the students we brought have never been in a train before so we have to teach them that the tickets have to be held at all times until they get out from the train station because they needed the ticket to get out from the terminal...
Fondest memory: I don't call it the fondest memory but we took the train from Milan to Paris and it was chaotic. The students and the teachers were divided on different coaches and we were too many to be in one coach. So, it scared me to death. I was under stress the whole time because we can't afford to lose one child at the Central Station in Milan enroute to Paris.
As Dave Barry wrote after having just visited Paris:
"The Parisians have been building historic attractions for more than 1500 years as part of a coordinated effort to kill any visitors to their city who manages to escape French drivers.
The key is *stairs*. Most tourist attractions, such as L'Arc de Triomphe (the Lark of Triumph) and the Hunchback of Notre Dame Cathedral, have some kind of lookout point at the top that you - the tourist - are encouraged to climb via a dark and scary medieval stone staircase containing 5789 steps and the skeletons of previous tourists. (You can tell which skeletons are American, because they're wearing sneakers.)
If you make it to the top, you are rewarded with a sweeping panoramic view of dark spots before your eyes caused by lack of oxygen.
Meanwhile, down on the street, the Parisians are smoking cigarettes and remarking, in French, "Some of them are still alive! We must build more medieval steps!"
So...please...wear your most comfortable shoes (something not too ugly!) and you'll be prepared to see Paris on many different levels much more enjoyably...using stairs, of course!
Walking in Paris streets... you would find a lot of tourists, including you, in fact. :)
Tourists everywhere.. everywhere they can watch, walk, eat, buy... in those huge boulevards, along the Seine, at the feet of Tour Eiffel, on top of it, on Place de l'Opéra, at Champs-Elysées... in la Butte area, in Paris zoo, at Notre-Dame.
Also, pigeons everywhere. I'd never seen that before. What stroke me most was that people used to feed them.. I compared them with the treatment of stray dogs in Tana streets. very different... I didn't blame Malagasy people at all.. They had to struggle everyday to find food so how could they feed stray dogs ?
Fondest memory: Away from Paris, I would miss the atmospheric Boul Mich... packed with students, bookshops... Don't know really why.. Maybe because my parents used to love hanging around there too? And that they got me used to it?
I loved sitting in cafés there, having some drinks and watching people passing by...
One thing is sure: for having studied in Paris, my parents had known the Boul Mich well. They were there end of 60s, beginning of 70s. So had they known Paris Chinatown with dead cheap Vietnamese restaurants. Still very popular amongst students, same as Place Monge. ;-)
THIS IS NOT A FAVORITE THING, BUT A GENERAL TIP.
Many restaurants and bars will let you use their bathroom without having to buy anything, BUT NOT ALL. So I have listed a few possibilities.
Some metro stations have public bathrooms and they are usually very clean. These are some that I definitely know about: Metro stops on Rue des Ecoles, the Place de la Concorde, Trocadero, Pont Neuf. You will also find them at the Eiffel Tower, the Tuileries, le Jardin du Luxembourg, and in the park behind Notre Dame.
Quick, MacDonalds, Starbucks, department stores and libraries.
If worse comes to worst, you can use the free toilets you see on the street. I have yet to use one because I am claustrophobic.
At least one place I went to to use the facilities asked me for money. I had been there before and didn't remember paying but I gave the woman money anyway. The next time I went the attendant was not taking money so I asked her if it was free and she said yes. So evidently the person who had asked me for money was scamming me. Just to let you know it was the toilette behind the cathedral. So if they ask you for money there, they are doing so illegally.
I have to tell you about ONE MOMENT that just so took my breath away.
First of all, I was thrilled when the Eurostar pulled into Paris. I looked around at all the people with me and said, "Are we here, are we in Paris?" Everyone else seemed rather blasé about the prospect of arriving in one of the most romantic cities in the world (except for me - I was TOO excited!).
So I took the RER from the Gard du Nord to the St-Michel-Nôtre-Dame exit, except that I must have gotten off the next stop down or came out of the wrong exit because I was expecting to see the Seine when I got out. I'd planned to use that to orient myself to find my hotel. I started walking, getting further & further lost, crossed Bld. St-Germain and knew I was further than I should have been, pulled out my map, looked for the streets that would take me to my hotel. FINALLY, I figured out that what I thought were the street signs (no guidebook prepared me for this one) were actually signs pointing to where things were, such as the Sorbonne or the Panthéon or St-Germain-des-Prés church, and that the ACTUAL signs were those blue placards on the sides of the buildings. Aha!
By now, I'd walked for about 1/2 hour. I'd maneuvered my way north to the Seine, when all of the sudden, through a break in the buildings, I saw the most beautiful façade of a massive cathédrale! I didn't think it could possibly be Nôtre Dame as that church was supposed to be, hello, 1/2-way across a river (but I'm used to the Ohio River which is much wider than the Seine) but thought it so pretty that I quickly snapped a picture. It just so took my breath away. I thought, well if just one of the normal churches look like that just imagine how Nôtre Dame looks.
Suffice it to say that I'm glad I took the picture as I later realized (once I got to my hotel where I had a view of said cathêdrale) that it WAS Nôtre Dame.
HAPPY Happy Moment!!
Photo: March 2001
This is my personal experience that when I asked directions, I usually get kinder and more courteous answers from elderly Parisians than those younger ones. When I was asking for the direction of a particular restaurant where we were holding a VT Paris meeting, the more polite ones are the elderly Parisians.
Most taxi drivers are very helpful, too. But, it is really frustrating to ask anybody because they don't really try to speak English at all. So, it is best to have a map and a notebook all the time so you can write down the address and the person you are asking will read the address rather than trying to pronounce or saying it.
The streets in Paris are don't have the same signage as the United States. When you are driving, you cannot really see the street sign.
Fondest memory: Parisians are well-know to be arrogant and snobbish. But, defnitely, there are also nice Parisians especially the older ones. They kind of love to help in a way. They sometimes sit down on the benches on the streets and wait for the time to pass away...
Walking is the easiest way to see Paris. You start at downtown crossing the bridge of the Seine River to the Notre Dame Cathedral. After checking out the Notre Dame Cathedral walk all the way to the Louvre.
Spend a few hours at the Louvre and follow the Champs Elysees. It's a very beautiful walk. Cross the rotunda and continue walking until you reach the arrays of restaurants mixed with shopping stores. Check out the stores or rest at some restaurants.
It's a straight walk all the way to the Arc de Triomphe.
If you bring a speedometer, you probably put in about 40000 steps or more.
Fondest memory: I enjoyed my walk. It was a good exercise for me.
Even in places where bus and bicycle lanes are not needed, the city has started re-allocating space to make more room for pedestrians and less for cars. Here on rue Béranger in the 3rd arrondissment they have removed one lane of motor traffic (it's a one-way street), widened and re-paved the sidewalk and started planting trees. When I took the photo the trees weren't there yet, but the emplacements for them were already in place. And they have installed posts to prevent motorists from parking on the newly widened sidewalk.
Second photo: A couple blocks later on rue de Turenne (same street, different name) we have a bad example of a street that has not yet been rearranged. The too-wide street generates excess motor traffic and encourages speeding. The too-narrow sidewalk means that pedestrians get bunched up and have trouble getting through as soon as there are six or seven of them in the same place.
Third photo: Like many other cities, Paris has created several pedestrian districts in which the streets are closed off to motor traffic except for deliveries at certain times of day, and even then the speed limit is 15 kilometers per hour. The photo shows an entrance to the pedestrian area of Les Halles, which has turned this once-inhospitable neighborhood into a lively urban setting with numerous cafes, restaurants and shops.
Fourth photo: These signs are announcing "Paris respire" (Paris breathes), showing which streets will be closed off to motor traffic on Sundays and holidays to make space for pedestrians, cyclists and inline skaters.
I will never forget my first walk in Paris more than 30 years ago. From this first walk of about 20 KM I could remember the impressive architecture, the enormous parcs with monuments at both ends of the long axis and of course the famous landmarks and icons of Paris like the Eiffel Tower.
In 2005 after 30 years I made the fisrt part of the same walk again from the Esplanada des Invalides to the Jardin du Trocadero. I skipped the rest of the walk, continuing to the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Jardin des Tuileries and Palais du Louvre. Starting from the Seine the view at the Esplanade des Invalides and the Hotel des Invalides at the end with the golden cupola at top (picture 1) was as impressive as I could remember from the first time. In the southwest corner of the Esplanade the Avenue de la Motte Picquet is heading straight to the Ecole de Militaire.
The École Militaire (see picture 2 and 3) stands at the southeastern end of the Champ-de-Mars. The Champs-de-Mars is a another large green space with the Eiffel Tower at the northwestern end. The Champs-de-Mars or ´Field of Mars´ is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. Originally it was used for military training. On the Champs de Mars in front of the Ecole Militaire stands the impressive Wall for Peace, first erected in 2000. Through the transparant wall with the word peace in 49 different languages the view at the Tour Eiffel is unique (picture 4).
From here it´s impossible to get lost with the Eiffel Tower and the Palais Chaillot allready visble from far. It´s great to walk under the Tour Eiffel and have a look at its brown coloured construction. Form here you have a nice view at the Palais Chaillot and the Jardins du Trocadero with the striking fountains (picture 5).
Fondest memory: During this walk at one hand everything looks very familiar like I could remember of my first visit 30 years earlier. At the other hand there is always something new to discover at every single corner. I enjoyed this mixture of experiences during my walk.
Look at the photo below. Paris is a BIG city. You probably aren't going to stay more than a few days, therefore, I suggest that you bite the bullet and use a taxi once in awhile to get you across town. This will save you some time, plus you will be able to see parts of Paris that you wouldn't see if you were traveling underground.
We have used the metro, which is great, but once in awhile we wanted to get somewhere fast, so we took a taxi. Here are some tips:
Always ask the driver for an approximation of the cost.
Look to see whether his meter is covered and is starting with a low fee.
Show the driver on your map where you want to go (we had a driver who purposely wandered and we learned this lesson!)
If the driver goes the wrong way or wanders around too much driving up the price of your trip, ask him to stop and get another taxi. (this has only happened to us only once.)
Make sure you are getting in an official taxi.
Fondest memory: Get up high and enjoy the view.
The food with live music.
As many other VTers have pointed out, the best thing about Paris is Paris itself. Enjoy it. Savour it. I have learnt through personal experiences that you have to grasp every opportunity presented to you with both hands.... what better way to do this then walking around the wonderful city of Paris with all your senses heightened soaking up all the tastes, smells and sights?
Get lost. You will surely stumble upon something of interest, in a city like Paris it is impossible not to. Spread your wings and try to speak the language, they may not understand you, but who cares?? They will appreciate the effort and you may not have another opportunity to try your hand at this beautiful language again. Take the road less travelled, take the deserted road parallel to the one all the tourists are walking along. And finally don't feel like you have to see everything in one day, you won't properly enjoy the experience that way.
Fondest memory: My fondest memory of Paris is too hard to pinpoint, but collectively they are an experience that will stay with me until the end of my days. It is truly one of the great citiies of the world.
Coming from the Pantheon and walking in the direction of the the Jardin du Luxembourg, you can see the Tour Eiffel, though it's far from this place.
Most of the times I was in Paris I didn't visit the area around the Tour Eiffel. But it was almost impossible not to have at least a glimpse at this famous landmark of Paris from other parts of the city, when strolling around.
Fondest memory: I nearly dislocated my shoulder when I tried to push a door open which had the sign "tirez" but didn't realize that it means "pull."
When you approach a door, if is says "poussez" that means "push" and that's pretty obvious.
If it says "Tirez", it means "pull." How can you remember this? Well "tirez" sort of sounds like "tear" as in: "to tear apart." So when you tear things, you "pull things apart."
This picture was taken in front of Pho 128, a Vietnamese Noodle house in Paris'es chinatown near the Porte de Choisy metro station (on the pink, 7 Line).
My first trip to Paris was, unfortunately, on one of those whirlwind group tours. On our bus was our group plus others from Baltimore, Scranton, and Winchester. We weren't there long enough to really even get a flavour for Paris. We only saw the obligatory must see activities for Paris (Les Invalides, Notre Dame, Les Bateaux Mouches, the Eiffel Tower, etc.) plus an obligatory stop at a parfumerie ("perfume joint" for those from Roxboro), no doubt as a result of collusion between the tour group and said perfume joint. I had more autonomy in Paris than in most other places because, even back then, I was fluent in French. I assisted our guide Harriet by translating things in French for our group, the majority of which didn't speak French. The included pic is a group photo taken by the tour company of the lot of us in front of the Eiffel Tower. I challenge y'all to find b1bob in that photo.
en español, en français, em português
Walking in Paris and not finding Parisians? Unbelievable. Yet, since I was there during summer, I rather noticed the tourists.
But Parisians were there, on Trocadero, in cafés, in terrasses, in the streets. They like cafés ... Oh, I understood why.. evenings were hot and days were long. So, be they Juilletistes or Aoûtistes, they have to have some nightlife somewhere, while waiting for the near departure or just returning from holiday trips. Only tourists would spend holidays in Paris, obvious no?
At that time, before this globalization thingy, I could distinguish Parisians from tourists. First, their French..haha.. bravo Norali. Well, their typical accent was so contagious that even in Madagascar, we got used to it. Second, their attire... Even in hot summer, Parisian ladies managed to appear fresh, with a bit of make-up, with the right attire... no too holiday-ish, not too chic.. Just the right set to suit all circumstances in a day. There were rightly dressed for both working hours, some time at Galeries Lafayette, some moments catching a bit of sun at the end of afternoon, for the diner with friends... Would say, there should be some balance somewhere. Not too sporty, not "too much".
Fondest memory: That was about the ladies.. but about youngsters... There was some kind of a shock walking in the streets, and especially in parks.
I was not that prudish but seeing youngsters kissing and cuddling everywhere was strange to me. Coming from a country where people were not tactile at all, it was unusual. I knew it was (is) common in Europe, I had seen that in films but still... I was not used to it.
Simply put, PDAs are not Malagasy's forte. At that time, you could only notice a couple when the guy and the girl are walking hand in hand in Tana streets, in some parks somewhere at the end of the afternoon... when it's getting dark. :) Yet, we are a very smiling people.
Of course, I was curious... And when there was not any family around, I used to stare at the smooching couples... They didn't mind. I was a little kid among others, just browsing around. :) And they, well.. they were busy.
"... C'est si bon
De partir n'importe ou,
Bras dessus, bras dessous,
En chantant des chansons.
C'est si bon
De se dire des mots doux,
Des petits rien du tout
Mais qui en disent long.
En voyant notre mine ravie
Les passants, dans la rue, nous envient.
C'est si bon
De guetter dans ses yeux
Un espoir merveilleux
Qui donne le frisson.
C'est si bon,
Ces petit's sensations.
Ça vaut mieux qu'un million,
Tell'ment, tell'ment c'est bon..."
Were they only Parisians? Didn't know that at that time but I guess tourists did smooch too. :-)