Full disclosure: This is not my first time in Paris. Andrew asked me exactly how many times I’ve been to Paris, and I was a bit befuddled that I wasn’t exactly sure. (Yes, I totally admit that this detail about myself is ridiculously annoying.) There was my high-school exchange trip and the whirlwind couple of days we spent in the city hitting all of the tourist spots in obnoxious tour group fashion. There was my college trip with two of my best friends after the month we spent studying at L’université d’Aix-Marseille. Those few days I decided to return on my own after galavanting around Germany with a friend after our month in Aix… Then the time I met my Mom for a weekend in Paris before she spent a week visiting me in Prague…
And now, with Andrew. I warned him it had been awhile (six years?) since my last visit. He was prepared for Korean to come out amidst my French. I was prepared to revisit a lot of places. And we both tried to prepare ourselves for how expensive we heard the city had become. I looked up a vast amount of alternatives for us to do in addition to the usual (museums, Eiffel Tower, etc. etc.) so we would both be happy and off we went!
“Well, that’s certainly new to me!” I responded as we stood on one of the bridges overlooking a man-made beach. We later learned, Paris Beach, or Paris Plages is an artificial beach built every summer for locals and tourists alike! How fun! Instead of lounging, we went to the opposite bank and had lunch on the Seine. I have to admit, it doesn’t get any more French than sitting down on the bank of the Seine with a baguette tucked under your arm and cheese, fruit, and more stashed in your backpack. I’m sure the French would have tsk-tsked us for having coffee instead of wine, but hey, we tried!
Our plan was to meet outside of Notre Dame Cathedral to go on another free walking tour of the Left Bank with Discover Walks Paris. (My mom and I stayed in a hotel on this bohemian side of Paris, but I didn’t know a whole lot about it and thought it might be fun to start our visit here!) We had enough time to check out the church before the tour started, but after seeing the loooong line to get in, we enjoyed the view from the outside instead. I was a little taken aback at the crowd- I’ve been inside the church not only as a tourist, but for a mass! Where did all of these people come from? From what we heard, clearly they were all from North America- and it was weird. We were surrounded by tourists in Istanbul to the same extent, but it was a much more international crowd. Not so in Paris. I’m pretty sure everyone spoke English.
The Left Bank Tour started with a friendly and handsome Parisian tour guide, and we were immediately led across the bridge to the Left Bank right smack in front of Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. It was here where many famous writers hung out, sometimes just to write, sometimes to sleep, sometimes both. But more on it later, because Andrew and I knew we were going to come back and hang out a little inside rather than just in front of the shop in a big group.
Fun fact: Paris parks are awesome. Not only can you do whatever you want in them (eat. drink. sleep. work.) there is free wi-fi. Pay attention other international cities. This is a remarkable thing to offer, and chance are you can afford to provide the same amenity to your visitors!
We walked through streets with leaning buildings that we were told was done on purpose. Otherwise, at a right angle, the buildings would collapse due to the soil below. It’s a bit interesting because when you’re standing in the middle of the street, it’s not nearly as noticeable until you’re looking at it from the end and then you can really tell the difference!
Quick tip for when you go to pick up some cheese to go with your baguette: pick a shop that has a “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” sign. This store clearly won a competition and was voted the best of France! Similar signs will be on other shops selling bread and meat!
We did a quick re-enactment of Cyrano, walked past the Sorbonne, took a group picture, and then our guide bid farewell- but not before he suggested we give 10 (or maybe it was 20?) euros each as a tip. My eyes grew wide. Whichever amount it was, it seemed a bit ridiculous and after doing countless tours around Europe on this trip, I somewhat apprehensively looked around to see how much other people were giving. For the record, Andrew and I usually give somewhere between the equivalent of $5.00-$10.00 for an hour and a half tour. This tour was barely 45 minutes, and 20 of those minutes were our fellow tour members re-enacting Cyrano on the sidewalk! I saw one American (he was from Chicago. Gold Coast. – I asked.) whip out not only 20 euros but an additional $10.00 bill to give from his family of four and I was somewhat shocked. With over twenty people on our tour, this dude made a killing. Not with any help from us- as we gave our usual amount… But if everyone gave what he suggested… who needs a 9-5 when he can take advantage of first-time “free-walking tour” attendees and work less than an hour a day in Paris!
The BEST “free” tours are the ones who do it for the fun of it. Not for how much money they will make at the end. Furthermore, the best guides are those who don’t even suggest a specific amount! If you find yourself on one of these free tours, a great introduction no doubt, but certainly not the best we’ve been on- don’t be pressured into giving anymore than you feel is a worthy amount. Consider how long the tour was. Consider how many people are on it. Consider how much you learned. But definitely don’t consider their suggested amount. It’s undoubtedly inflated, and if anything, it makes me want to give less!
Now, about Shakespeare and Co. Aside from hosting the likes of Hemingway and more, the shop continues to be a bit of a refuge for writers and readers alike. Our guide told us about work-exchange positions that the shop offers to travelers. In exchange for a few hours of work each day, and the commitment to read at least one book per day, the shop offers free room (and maybe board? I’m not sure) to the lucky participant. I asked the guy standing at the door supervising the line (yes, there was a line to get into the shop) how he was enjoying his position. He said it was great. I asked how I could find out more information about it and he vaguely told me to ask at the desk. On our way out, I did just that, and the girl behind the register vaguely told me that the woman in charge was busy (she was right behind her and I’m fairly certain she heard our entire conversation) and that I should stop back in later. I asked if there was any information I could put up on my blog about our trip around the world and the girl responded…
“Well, you just have to come in and talk to her, she has to get a feel for who you are in person…” and she smiled, signaling the end of the conversation.
“That was weird…” I said to Andrew on our way out, relaying the conversation to him.
“Unless, she recognized me from the security camera taking pictures in the forbidden to take pictures area upstairs…” I wondered.
Sorry, Shakespeare and Co., but I couldn’t help it. For the record: another girl was taking pictures and I asked if we were allowed, she shrugged, and continued to take her own pictures. Why shouldn’t I?! Also, I don’t exactly understand your rule. I didn’t use flash. I wasn’t disturbing anyone reading (not even that dude below, who I super sneakily photographed in passing, I promise) and the old guy who looked so lovely in front of the window smiled and said something along the lines of “Feel Free!” Don’t you want others to see how beautiful your shop is and how full of wonderful character it is? Maybe I’m just another annoying visitor with a camera, but chances are someone is going to see these photos and know more about Shakespeare and Co. because of them! (Unless you email me demanding I take them down, which I will, albeit a bit sadly.)
Somewhat overstimulated, we began walking back towards our little apartment we were couchsurfing in for the next three nights. I took advantage of my zoom lens to photograph the bouquanists on the other side of the street. These river-side vendors sell old books, prints (new and old) and some artwork. They are lovely.
Walking through the Louvre, we eyed the line outside and debated when we were going to visit. Certainly not this afternoon, not so late. It’s advised to enter through a different entrance, one that is flanked by lions, not through the giant glass pyramid.
We continued down the street, and I couldn’t help but overhear a father point out the Hotel de Louvre sign to his children.
“See that sign? And the window above it? That’s where Mommy and Daddy stayed and we have a picture right at that very window!”
I thought it was the sweetest thing. I whispered what I had overheard to Andrew and turned around to point the adorable family out. The father was taking a picture of his family. I cursed myself for not sticking around to offer to take a picture of all of them together.
Galeries Lafayette. We walked in at first and I was sure we were in the wrong location. And then… we found the atrium and I knew we were in the right place. How unbelievably photogenic is this store? I know, I know, you’re probably channeling my mother singing “Material Girl” to me, but I couldn’t stop taking pictures! Even the top of the dome, outside was interesting to me. The lines. The behind the scenes of what everyone else was concentrating on drew me in. Andrew was beyond patient (as always) while I went from window to window getting as many unique angles as I could.
And then we found ourselves on the roof. Another new view to me. I had never been here before! I always thought the best view of Paris was from the Georges Pompidou Museum… But now I think we have a fierce contender. We were there right around dusk and it was pretty smoggy, so we made plans to try to come back to capture a more picturesque sky.