Thursday, December 31, 2015

5 Things I Loved About Paris... and What I Wish I'd Done Differently

There's a reason Paris is the No. 1 tourist destination in the world: The city is breathtaking, with some of the most incredible food, architecture, shopping, and culture you'll find anywhere. I've been hoarding photos from our September trip, waiting for a rainy day to sift through them and get nostalgic. Here's what I loved most about our trip, and what I wish we'd done differently.

1. We ate well and often. We didn't have a bad meal in Paris. I did my research and had a list of places that I wanted to visit, but more often than not we trusted our instincts and enjoyed some truly memorable meals throughout the city. We started most days with cafe and croissants, ate a whole lot of croque monsieurs, and when we got tired, we stopped for wine, pastries, espresso, or ice cream.

2. We stayed in an apartment. Because we were in Paris for over a week, we knew we wanted to at least pretend to have the experience of living there. We wanted to go to the market and cook dinner in our kitchen, to lounge in our living room, and watch the world go by from our balcony. Our fifth-floor walk-up in the Latin Quarter was a fun place to call home.

3. We didn't let the weather get us down. I don't know if it was just the time of year, but we got a lot of sudden rainstorms during our trip. So many, in fact, that we often found ourselves literally running from the rain (and more than once, we didn't make it). While we had our share of sunny days too, we made the most of the gloomy ones by strapping on our rain gear, heading out to explore, and ducking into shops and cafes when things got really wet.

4. We biked to Pere Lachaise cemetery. This was one of my favorite things we did in Paris. While the first part of the trip was dicey by bike (see below), as we got closer to the famous cemetery, the streets got narrower, quieter, and more typically Parisian. Inside the gates, the cemetery was showing the first signs of fall. I couldn't take enough pictures.

5. We wandered at night. Paris can get frantic during the day, especially in the major tourist zones. But after dark, the city takes on an otherworldly quality. We walked the grounds of the deserted Louvre, found a brass band practicing along the Seine, and slipped into boisterous cafes to share the evening with Parisians. Our late-night wanderings meant we didn't see much of Paris in the morning, but je ne regrette rien.

OK, maybe that's not entirely true. There are a few things I wish we'd done differently, like...

I wish we'd skipped the Eiffel Tower. We visited the tower and even went to the top on our first trip to Paris years ago. This time, the visit felt more obligatory, and we found ourselves frustrated by the hordes of tourists crawling around the grounds. There was also a lot of construction going on around the tower, so we got caught in a bottleneck trying to get there. If you ask me, it's just as enjoyable—if not more so—to take in the view from other vantage points throughout the city.

I wish we'd stayed in Le Marais. I chose our apartment in the Latin Quarter because it was central, and rented a place in Montmartre at the end of our trip. But I really wish we'd just gotten an apartment in Le Marais. This medieval neighborhood is by far my favorite in the city, with some of the coolest shops and restaurants we ran across. Every day I found myself wanting to return there over other areas, and wishing we could begin and end our days on its colorful winding streets.

I wish I'd mastered Velib. I had visions of zipping around Paris on an adorable Velib bike, but here's the truth: It was terrifying. Paris is a massive city with some insane drivers, and somehow we kept finding ourselves trying to navigate the most high-traffic areas during the busiest times of day. More than once I jumped off the bike in frustration and refused to ride it any further, which in turn frustrated Todd. I still think if we'd stuck to the quieter arrondisements, I would have fared better.

I wish we hadn't eaten out so much. I almost can't believe I'm admitting this, but we got a little burnt out by eating out in Paris. French food is decadent and rich, and it's also expensive—we spent $50 on lunch more than once, and much more on dinners. By the end, I was dying for a salad or some grilled veggies. I wish we'd cooked more in the apartment and had some simple picnics. I also wish we'd branched out more into other cuisines—one of our favorite meals was at a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese place in Montmartre.

I wish we'd day-tripped. In all, we were in Paris for nine days. And while there was plenty to keep us busy for much longer than that, I wish we had hopped on a train and experienced some other parts of France. Paris is exhilarating and inspiring, but it can also be overwhelming in its scale, and it would have been nice to take a breather in a smaller village or a chateau in the countryside.

That said, I'd go back in a heartbeat. Thinking of visiting yourself? Check out my blog post on seven great Airbnbs in Paris, plus my Paste magazine round-up of 10 more.