This trip was an impulse buy. We booked it because airfare was at its lowest that I could tell through next April/May. AND we met a new friend Kimiko in Chicago during the pandemic. She lives in Paris but stayed next door to our Chicago apartment during the lockdown. She offered up her extra room in Paris whenever we wanted to visit. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse.
We were some of the first tourists back in France (thanks, Pandemic?). Typically crowded spots were almost empty (e.g. The Champs de Mars, the Place de la Concorde all the way to the Louvre, etc). It made it feel surreal; like we won a travel lottery.
Because so few are traveling yet from the US to France, our plane was only at 30% capacity. Tina and I both got a four-seat row and were able to spread out on the way there and back.
You need a negative RT-PCR test as well as your vaccination card to travel abroad. If you aren’t vaccinated, you need to provide proof of a reason to be there.
In the past several trips, we view Paris as a place to get over jetlag and then launch into another area of the country. Before this trip, we booked AirBnBs in neighborhoods further from touristy areas. And we tried to blend in as locals. But this trip was different.
Our friend Kimiko whom we met during the pandemic in Chicago was the difference. She was our insider scoop into new friends, restaurants, bars and experiences.
Kimiko is a unicorn. She’s that character in a movie who you think can’t really exist. She can break the barrier with a French person faster than you can say baguette.
I realized long ago that the French aren’t the jerks some Americans make them out to be. Once you exchange simple pleasantries that they are accustomed to, they are kind, generous and will go out of their way to help you or answer your questions.
Just like my experience as a student, knowing and meeting new people makes all the difference in any travel. We met so many new friends this trip. Seeds are planted.
Riding through Paris on a bike is exhilarating. Do it!
Tina and I fall into a travel rhythm. In the mornings, I get up, go running, usually into a neighborhood we might not go into otherwise, and then when I get back, I stop at a Boulangerie for 2 pains au chocolat. We enjoy coffee, our favorite yogurt La Fermiere and the pastries, then we head out, hit a museum, or just a walk, a cafe for lunch and stores in the afternoon, and we either make dinner or eat out.
If you are an avid France visitor or ever planning a trip there (and you’re a carnivore and haven’t tried this place yet), you MUST eat at le Relais de l’Entrecote. All they serve is a simple salad followed by steak and frites. The steak is covered in a secret sauce. You get two servings. Familiarize yourself with the ways that the French cook their meat. It’s simply one of the most remarkably odd restaurants where no comparison can be made and the pictures do not do it justice. Tina says, “It doesn’t look appetizing, but when you eat it … holy crap!” There are three in Paris. No reservations accepted. First come first serve. If you don’t like it, I’ll pay for your meal. https://www.relaisentrecote.fr
Oddly, I don’t drink a lot of wine in France or in general. I’m a beer drinker. This trip I drank more wine. But I also found that almost every restaurant we went to offered some version of an IPA – a first for any of my trips to the country to date. And almost all of them were excellent.
French street fashion right now consists of lots of women wearing flower-print flowy dresses, often without bras. The go-to color is a green that I imagine will get hot here or already has. I couldn’t peg a mens’ trend, but I wasn’t really looking at them. 😉
Never go against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line! (Tina is Sicilian and I’m just checking if you’re reading).
Living in France is a reminder of how life is livable with far less than we have in the States. The paper towels are smaller. Napkins are, too. Spaces are smaller. Refrigerators, too. Cook tops are smaller. Bathrooms are smaller. Toilets are more efficient (relatively). Portion sizes are smaller. Dogs are smaller. But flavors are bigger. Dishes are less salty and way more flavorful. Smiles and celebrations are as abundant if not more. Costco might seem like a deal. But a corner Boulangerie next to a fromagerie, next to a patisserie is the epitome of: quality over quantity.
Also, not one place we stayed in had a TV. What a great thing not to have for 10 days straight.
I can’t count how many times I squirted soap from a dispenser into my hand, but it shot straight out onto my shirt and shorts.
Good god, the French and their cigarettes. Nine out of Ten seem to puff their brains out over coffee, tea, wine, cocacola, and meals. It doesn’t bother me when we’re on a terrace over drinks. It’s annoying while eating, but it is what it is. It’s part of the tapestry that is French. When you’re sleeping and wafts of cigarette smoke flow through the window, it’s not pleasant. Even with no branding and photos of cancer on every side of a box, the French puff and puff and puff. Boo!
We live by a quote we once heard: “Travel feeds the happy part of the brain.” After this trip, my happy part is stuffed. It’s in a daze-filled food coma.
A protest met us at the airport upon leaving the country. Angry airport workers with pay cuts were blocking the security line in our terminal. It sounded like there was a European football match with horns, vuvuzelas and whistles. The blockage forced us walk to another terminal to go through another security line and walk all the way back to our original terminal. It took an extra 45 mins to an hour. Oh the French and their protests! But, hey, I got more steps in.
Travel is a microcosm of real life. It demands flexibility, relinquishing control, and accepting the current situation as either positive or negative. Choosing negative should be a last resort. Like you lost a finger or your vaccination card.
True story: I found a young person’s vaccination card on the ground in the airport on the way in. The dude will NEVER get it back.
I like to say, “It never rains in [insert place I’m visiting].” Because even if it does, it shouldn’t stand completely in the way of a good time.
Trips like this remind me that I have a selfish view of “my world” and “my views”. I have daily routines, see similar people, cook similar meals, drink similar drinks, visit similar sites and interact similarly with those around me. But 4100 miles away, there is a bustling French family at dinner speaking a different language and enjoying different kinds of ingredients. Friends are meeting at cafés sharing time and a drink. Then a meal. If you can see a family down the street from where you currently are, you have to imagine their views, their proximities to their loved ones and stand in awe of how different those views look to them. Everyone else’s sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and experiences aren’t yours, yet we all live on this planet and we owe it to everyone to try to get along. We live in the freest country on earth, and yet in appearance many want to take other’s views from them and impose personal views of politics, religions, patriotism on others. We are one nation, diverse in ideas and opinions and yet similar in so many ways. We bleed red, cry clear, laugh loud, hug hard, love food, and adore family, friends and acquaintances. Life is too short to be obsessed with perceived enemies and differences. Invest time in one another and let the difference sluff off like a snake shedding her skin.
This was easily our favorite overall trip to France. We always have fun, or else we wouldn’t keep returning. But thanks to Kimiko, our growing intimacy with the AirBnB experience, some of the best food and drinks we’ve ever had, and Tina’s passion for vintage stores and flea markets, it made every single minute of every day feel valuable and alive.