Paris: Pretty As a Picture

Throughout our travels, I’ve learned that there are very few places that can be adequately captured—whether it be in a blog post or novel, a photo, or even a film, there is just no substitute for being there. Indeed, perhaps my greatest frustration as a writer and Tony’s as a photographer is that the general...

Throughout our travels, I’ve learned that there are very few places that can be adequately captured—whether it be in a blog post or novel, a photo, or even a film, there is just no substitute for being there. Indeed, perhaps my greatest frustration as a writer and Tony’s as a photographer is that the general rule seems to be that the most beautiful places and moments tend to be ineffable, and our very best efforts will still only allow us to capture a fraction of their magnificence. It’s vexing, yes, but it’s also one of the things I love most about traveling—that the act of seeing the world can be so profoundly humbling, and there’s really no substitute for being somewhere and experiencing it yourself

The Eiffel Tower, Paris

Of course, there is also the occasional flip-side of this equation, too: some places are kind of a hot mess in person but wind up photographing extremely well. Maybe it’s because even when we dislike a place we rarely take photos of the unappealing bits, but it’s always somewhat baffling to me when we visit places where the individual parts that make them up are somehow more enchanting than the sum of them together.

Which brings us to Paris. What I’m about to say is undoubtedly going to be a controversial statement but… For us, Paris is one of those “pretty as a picture” places. By which I mean, pictures of Paris are undoubtedly very pretty, but the city itself didn’t charm us nearly so well.

Paris, France

Now before all of you Paris lovers jump down my throat, I want to stress that we don’t unequivocally hate Paris or think it was an ugly city or anything like that. Walking around the various arrondissements felt like we had tumbled into a postcard—I love when cities have so much of a personality that they leave you with no doubt of where you are. If you’ve seen Paris in the movies or on other people’s blogs, it looks and largely feels exactly how you expect it will.

Try as we might, we just couldn’t fall in love with the City of Love. For all the things that were charming and exactly as we anticipated them in Paris, we struggled to click with it and feel anything more than the occasional moments of mild enthusiasm.

And yet. Try as we might, we just couldn’t fall in love with the City of Love. For all the things that were charming and exactly as we anticipated them in Paris, we struggled to click with it and feel anything more than the occasional moments of mild enthusiasm. Yes, the city is pretty… at least at first. But after a few days, we felt a little bit bored by our walks and with each passing day, we took fewer and fewer photos because we felt uninspired. (It certainly didn’t help that it seemed as though every major monument was undergoing renovation work, which made taking beautiful photos a bit more challenging.) Maybe it’s because we experienced unseasonable amounts of rain during our time in Paris and this prevented us from really lingering and absorbing the city’s subtle nuances, but we couldn’t help feeling that—with a few exceptions—every block in nearly every neighborhood looked the same as the last one and the streets all began to blend together, unified by the acrid smell of urine that followed us wherever we went, something no photo or film will ever capture.

Having spent so long in Asia, we felt we were fairly inured to grime and trash, but we were shocked to find Paris so dirty and smelly. Other travelers we have talked to didn’t seem to notice the Paris pee problem, but it’s a real thing—we passed several buildings that had rather gnarly spiked fences that were meant to prevent men from urinating on their walls, and the city of Paris has tried to institute everything from increased fines to free toilets and “pissoirs” (essentially open-air urinals) and “anti-pee walls” to curtail the Parisian penchant for peeing on the go. All this, and yet, based on what we smelled, Parisians are still pissing in public with a vengeance. (And let’s not get into the fact that the rumors about French dog owners are true: they don’t pick up after Fido or FiFi and the cobbled streets of Paris are frequently strewn with dog turd landmines, so walkers beware!) Très romantique, non?

Paris was also the first place in a long time where we felt targeted as tourists. While Asia certainly isn’t free of con men and hucksters, for whatever reason, we never had much trouble with touts or swindlers in that part of the world; in 20 months, I think we were conned three or four times (and never for more than $10US), but for the most part scammers seemed to leave us alone and generally weren’t too dogged or oppressive in their pitches. In Paris, however, we were frequently approached by people trying to tie string on our wrists, or offering us fake gold rings we might have dropped, or approaching us with petitions to sign en anglais, or trying to sell us 10 Eiffel tower keychains. I get it—Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world; of course there are going to be people trying to make a quick buck off of all the stupid tourists and you expect them to congregate at famous sites. This isn’t surprising, nor is it something we only experienced here. But the ferocity and seemingly never-ending stream of the shysters was surprising, especially for someone who had visited the city before (when I had been blind to both the scammers and the urine problem alike); I actually began to lament having a camera out as it so clearly identified us as targets. In a pointed moment of irony, when speaking to a fellow traveler by the Seine about why he didn’t like Asia but much preferred Europe, he claimed it was because people were always trying to sell him things in Asia… only to have his sentence punctuated by a guy walking by to ask us if we wanted to buy some beer from inside his trench coat.

Atop the Musée d'Orsay
Goat's head, Paris, France

Pee and scams aren’t likely to win our hearts, but we’ve certainly dealt with worse. I think the real death knell for our love affair with Paris is that we didn’t always feel welcome or safe there. Merci beaucoup to our CouchSurfing hosts, Nico & Marianne, who did make us feel welcome a few days following one of the worst days of our entire trip in which we were yelled at by shop owners and locals when attempting to photograph one of Paris’s more interesting (but also—unbeknownst to us, I might add—seedy and rather dangerous) neighborhoods up near Gare du Nord*, which happened to be right next to where our initial AirBnB rental was located. To cap things off, on our way home on the Metro that evening, our wallet was pickpocketed**. That wound up being a hassle more than anything else as, apart from a little bit of cash we lost, we had to cancel all of the credit cards (thankfully we had back ups!), and we both had to apply for new drivers licenses when we returned home. It’s the only time in our entire trip that we experienced any kind of theft and I can’t tell you how much the whole thing deflated our spirits, made us feel violated, and made it that much harder to be enthusiastic about the city. Nico & Marianne entered our lives right when we needed them, and when we might have otherwise skipped out on the city and stayed indoors to lick our wounds. With them, we enjoyed picnics (and naps!) in the park, macaron taste tests, legitimately fun rambles around the city, some wonderful home-cooked meals, and a genuine sense of camaraderie.

Nico & Marianne
Nico & Marianne
Steph, Sara, Michael and Joe
Steph, Sara, Michael and Joe

We were also so fortunate that following our stay with Nico & Marianne, we were able to bunk with new friends Sara (who blogs at Simply Sara Travel) and her husband Michael, who have a lovely flat down in the Marais. Although we had never met before, they both made us feel so welcome and it was interesting to get some insight into what it’s like to be an “American in Paris” as they have now been living in the city for a few years. Going for crêpes and picnicking alongside the Seine on our last night in Paris is one of my favorite memories of our time in the city, so gros bisous to Sara & Michael for their kindness and hospitality.

I know there is a pervasive stereotype that the French, and especially Parisians, are rude and cold but, on the whole, the French people we interacted with in Paris were wonderful. I have always wondered if I am biased and am receiving preferential treatment because I can and do speak fairly good French, but regardless, everyone from waiters to rail and Metro officials were kind and helpful to us and we never felt like we were being snubbed by the locals. I would actually go so far as to say that the friends we made in Paris were the highlights of our time in the city. Nothing would be as much of a draw for us to return to Paris as the new friends we met.

Love locks, Paris, France

Don’t get me wrong: There are a lot of things to love about Paris, from the museums, to the history & monuments, to the food… even Parisians themselves have their allures! We could appreciate these things on their own merits (though they were not without their disappointments as well, something I’ll talk about in later posts), but something just didn’t add up for us when it came to the city as a whole. I legitimately enjoyed my previous visits to Paris (I had been twice before… much like London, my last visit was nearly a decade ago.), but this time I liked it far less than I remembered and reinforced my belief that Lyon is the superior city; we both left feeling a bit regretful that Paris would be our only stop in France. I definitely want to return to explore France in more depth one day—it’s a wonderful country and incredibly diverse—but neither of us has any burning desire to return to Paris. For me, Paris is like a bad internet dating profile: the pictures are better than the reality. I still look at our photos and feel my heart flutter at the city’s loveliness, I just wish I could have felt that spark in person.

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve been to Paris, how do you feel about the city? Have you ever been to a place that you think photographs better than it really is?

*An aside for those who want more info about the whole “being yelled at” incident: Although we were merely trying to capture the different street life and energy present in this neighborhood, which is really very different from central Paris and the areas most tourists visit, we were met with palpable hostility. I tried to take a photo of a display of meat that was out on the street in front of a butcher shop and the owners within began screaming with rage and rushed out to shoo me away. Not minutes later, one woman went so far as to yell at Tony when he was taking a photo of a street market that was across the street from us, telling him (in French) to respect people and that if he wanted to take photos he should go to the Champs Elysées. Needless to say, we felt less comfortable taking out our cameras after that. Also, learn from our mistake: don’t go wandering around Metro stop Château Rouge, especially at night. Literally everyone we told about this incident afterwards told us it’s a really dicey area and they wouldn’t go there (although the neighborhood next to it, Montmartre, is perfectly fine).

**Paris is notorious for pickpockets and petty theft; this is nothing new. However, it really does seem like crime is on the rise in Paris and travelers should be extra vigilant. Not a month after our visit to Paris, a friend had his backpack (containing his cell phone, laptop and other expensive electronics) stolen while sitting on a bench in the park within hours of arriving in the city. More recently, my parents were targeted at Gare du Nord when arriving—a man and his accomplice wedged between them to separate them and tried to wrestle my dad’s suitcase from him after they got off the escalator. My dad was on the ball and primed for them to try something and was able to fend them off, but these guys didn’t even try to be subtle in their attempt to rob him. While I don’t want to alarm people and dissuade them from visiting Paris, take a page out of Mad Eye Moody’s book and practice Constant Vigilance when you are in town.

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35 comments Leave a comment

  1. “Sign this petition!” OH please… had that a lot and people would get upset because I would say no. I can see from your point how things could get a little unexciting after a while. I’d try to make sure I’d be going different areas again at different times of the day to see a different perspective or light.

    It’s no Asia though where you’ll see WTF moments everywhere 🙂

    Oct. 30 2014 @ 8:35 pm
    1. Jimmy Dau author

      We witnessed the petition thing all over western Europe, so it’s certainly not limited to Paris. I think it just sticks out in my mind because it was the first place we saw it… and also there were so many of them!

      Because Tony had never been to Paris, there were a lot of things we wanted to see and do, so we didn’t spend that much time retracing our steps (though I swear, in some of those neighborhoods, it felt like we did!). I know that we definitely didn’t see all that Paris has to offer, and there were certainly a bunch of factors at play that probably made us love it less than we otherwise might have (coming from London which we DID love, being on a pretty strict budget, not having great weather, the whole robbery thing, staying in a dodgy neighborhood, etc.,) that had nothing to really do with Paris itself. Since we want to revisit France at some point, I suspect we’ll wind up passing through Paris again… maybe in a couple of years we’ll like it better?

      Oct. 31 2014 @ 7:19 am
  2. I didn’t realize that area was seedy… I walked around there by myself when I was in Paris, too, but didn’t have any issues thankfully. Oops!

    But like you, my pictures of Paris turned out 100x better than my actual time there. And like you, my friend in Paris would be the biggest draw to return… you’re not the only one who isn’t a big fan.

    Oct. 30 2014 @ 8:44 pm
    1. Sally author

      I’m so glad you didn’t have any issues when you were near Chateau Rouge! Our friends that we met in Paris were all horrified to hear we had been walking there (it was really pretty innocent on our parts as our apartment was east of there and we wanted to walk to Montmartre). I gather that most people try not to go there unless they have a specific purpose, and they definitely will try to avoid it at night. Of course, our experience there could have been a fluke, but either way, although I had read quite a bit on Paris beforehand, none of the stuff I had encountered mentioned areas that would be best avoided, so I though I should put that out there so other travelers can make informed decisions.

      Glad to hear that we’re not alone in our ambivalence towards Paris. It certainly has its perks, but I do think it’s a tad overhyped.

      Oct. 31 2014 @ 7:23 am
  3. The Paris you describe sounds so different to the one I visited back in 2005. I definitely didn’t notice the smell of pee everywhere although I have heard a lot of people mention it over the last year or so, so maybe it had gotten much worse. Although I really liked Paris, my favourite places in France were the smaller towns and the stunning coastline and countryside. France really does have one of the most diverse landscapes of any country and in my opinion, is definitely one of the most beautiful. I also don’t find people rude in Paris, or France in general, and I only know very little friend. I think the French appreciate it if you make an effort rather than using English straight away – and fair enough!

    Oct. 30 2014 @ 10:21 pm
    1. Katie @ The World on my Necklace author

      My last visit to Paris was in 2005 as well and I didn’t notice the pee issue either, so I can only assume it’s gotten worse? I mean, I would think that coming from Asia, we’d be fairly desensitized to that kind of thing, but we seriously noticed it ALL THE TIME during our visit.

      At one point we had considered renting a car and roadtripping through France; we wound up scrapping that idea due to costs, but I really want to go back and do that at some point. I’ve seen a few other parts of the country, but I’m by no means well-traveled when it comes to France, but I suspect we’d find a tour of smaller, less visited places more enjoyable. That’s generally what we enjoyed doing the most in Asia, so I can’t imagine it wouldn’t hold true for Europe (and other areas) as well. I think that capital cities can be fun, but they generally are their own beasts; if you want to really get to know a country, I think we’re often better served going to other cities instead.

      Oct. 31 2014 @ 7:27 am
      1. I wonder too if the pee issue would be worse in summer because of the heat making it smell more, I have only been in winter and autumn. I highly recommend going to some of the smaller places in France but it isn’t the cheapest country to do this unless renting a car. Trains don’t generally go to the smaller towns and buses can be infrequent. I tried to get to the small town of Gordes from Avignon and it was near on impossible to do it as a day trip so I gave up in the end. Italy is a fantastic country for getting to smaller places via buses and trains

        Oct. 31 2014 @ 7:41 pm
        1. Katie @ The World on my Necklace author

          I think the pee issue would be worse in the summer, certainly, but we were actually in Paris in late May/early June, and it wasn’t exactly steamy and hot during our visit!

          We had initially considered only visiting France during our 6-week exploration of Europe and had considered going around by train… but it was SO expensive (not to mention, limiting, as you say). So we started to look at rental cars, and then I got overwhelmed with where we could realistically go, and whether we would need to pay tolls (or would be in hell if we stuck to non-pay roads instead), and whether our credit card would fully cover all insurance costs on a rental or whether we would need to pay the additional fees, and we just decided to stick a pin in that grand travel plan and leave it for another day.

          Nov. 2 2014 @ 9:46 am
  4. I’m sorry Paris didn’t jive with you but I totally get it, seeing as it took me a full year to come to love the place. Also I LOVE THAT PHOTO of you and Sara and Michael and Joe! I’m so glad you guys got to meet up! I feel like I should be right in that picture with everyone! Sigh, I miss you all so much.

    Oct. 30 2014 @ 10:59 pm
    1. Edna author

      I won’t lie: I was really worried that you might be upset that we didn’t love Paris because I know that you do adore it now. But you’re right, that did take you some time, and by the end, you had your favorite haunts and arrondissements and a good group of friends and I’m sure that makes a huge difference.

      Thank you so much for putting us in touch with Sara! We had such a blast hanging out with her, and the Marais was one of our favorite areas of the city. I wish the weather had been a little bit better so that we could have had more picnics, but I’m glad we were able to squeeze in one. If you had been there, it would have been perfection! 🙂

      Oct. 31 2014 @ 7:30 am
  5. I can definitely understand your feelings about Paris. I’ve never been there, but I’ve visited quite a few places that just didn’t live up to the hype. But I do think our attitudes toward the places we visit are intensely personal and sometimes, no matter how beautiful a place may be, something just doesn’t click. I was really surprised to hear about the urine issue though. You painted a very vivid picture…I didn’t know French men made a habit of peeing all over the place! I kind of find it hilarious that the mayor is actively trying to stop public urination. Who knew?

    Oct. 31 2014 @ 6:08 am
    1. Justine author

      Oh, I fully agree that our impressions of a place are incredibly subjective and that is why I would never say that Paris is a terrible place that no one should ever visit. All I can say is that based on the things I mentioned, it was a place we enjoyed at times but overall did not love very much at all. It happens & we’ve certainly been on the other side of this, loving a place in the face of others telling us how much they didn’t! 🙂

      I always knew Paris’s Metro smelled sharply of pee, but I had thought that was largely the bulk of the problem. Definitely not the case!

      Oct. 31 2014 @ 7:41 am
  6. Many people seem to love or hate Paris; I am a lover of the city but get it when people aren’t so enamoured.

    I totally agreed with you about the pee thing up until we got to India…holy crap. I don’t think there has been a day since we’ve been here where we haven’t seen at least one dude peeing. And there are streets that have you gagging the air is so thick with that ammonia-y urine smell. Also, they don’t seem to pick up after their cows either 🙂

    Oct. 31 2014 @ 6:42 am
    1. Emily author

      I have heard that India has a terrible pee problem, but I suppose knowing it is one thing and experiencing it is another. I suppose I’d also feel that given the money that floods into Paris and the relative wealth of France, I would expect more of it than India. I mean, Paris wasn’t as dirty as, say, Kathmandu, but I did feel it was worse than, say, Bangkok or Taipei. I’m sure it has its own host of issues that I can’t fully appreciate, but I guess, coming back to Toronto, I was relieved to find the city really is as clean as I remember!

      Oct. 31 2014 @ 7:46 am
  7. We kind of chatted about this right after your stuff was stolen (again…boo!). I do love Paris and Shawn was surprised how much he loved Paris. It was a really good time for us, but I can definitely see why you were not so smitten, especially at first.

    I think Paris is one of those places that could go downhill fast under the wrong conditions. We had just left humid, raining Kuala Lumpur (a place we definitely did not love), so arriving to sunny, crisp, spring weather, it was just perfect. It must have just rained because the air felt clean and despite the horrid case of bronchitis I had, felt great to our skin and lungs.

    I know you guys struggled to decide on whether or not to even go to Europe – do you think that maybe you just weren’t excited about it and that affected your experience?

    Oct. 31 2014 @ 12:36 pm
    1. Carmel Montgomery author

      We always knew we were going to go to Europe because Tony had never been, so although it was hard to leave Asia, I think we had made our peace with that decision by the time we arrived. So, I don’t think that our ambivalence really had to do with that—after all, we really loved our preceding week in London, and we did enjoy other places on the continent following our time in Paris too (and we arrived in Paris feeling very excited. I was really happy to be somewhere where I could actually communicate with people in their own language.) I think if we had had less time there, it might have improved things for us as, even though we didn’t do everything there was to do in the city, we did everything we wanted fairly early on and then just felt uninspired by what remained to us. I will talk about this in a later post, but London is actually a great place to enjoy yourself on a budget, because there is so much to do for free, but Paris was harder for us, since restaurant meals and museums are so pricy (and those were the main things we were excited for!). The weather was pretty bleak for about half of our stay too, so we couldn’t even really enjoy very much time people-watching in the gardens and parks, which we discovered is one of our favorite things to do when we’re not wandering.

      Oct. 31 2014 @ 1:40 pm
  8. Trisha

    I know we’ve talked about this but it was interesting to hear about your trip in more detail. I’m so upset that Paris has been so inhospitable ot some of my favorite people recently!

    Funny detail about the shopkeepers. I am uncomfortable of taking photos of people or objects in shops, and now I wonder if part of the reason is that my time in France has shaped my tourist habits so much. As a country they seem very protective of their privacy in this way. And yes, Chateau Rouge and that neighborhood around Gare du Nord are fairly “chaud,” not that a theft like that is ever excusable.

    Anyway, I hope one day you’ll have a time in Paris that makes up for this one, although I agree that it’s not the best part of France. Come to Alsace with meeeeee!

    Oct. 31 2014 @ 3:30 pm
    1. Trisha author

      I have no idea what has been going on with Paris lately, but it needs to clean up its act! Some of the crummy stuff that happened to us was our fault (we should have been more vigilant on the Metro, especially during rush hour… not that this excuses theft!), and some of it—like the weather—certainly wasn’t Paris’s fault either, but they all combined to result in a somewhat lackluster experience this time.

      I generally don’t take photos of things in shops, but I tend to feel that if something is out on the street, then it is fair game. Different people have different feelings about street photography, obviously, but I think it’s ridiculous to complain about invasion of privacy and respect when you are out on a public street!

      Despite our “comme çi, commme ça” feelings about Paris, I maintain that we both want to explore much more of France. I still can’t believe I’ve never been to the Alsace region—it looks like heaven, and I regret that we didn’t make time for it on this most recent trip. The next time you go, I think you’ll find you have two very willing travel companions! 😀

      Nov. 2 2014 @ 9:43 am
  9. I occasionally look back at our Indonesia photos and am surprised by how beautiful the country looks; when we were there I don’t remember being so impressed by the scenery but that’s probably because we went through a rough patch while we were there. I’ve only passed through Paris before and have never visited properly so this was a really interesting read for me. It must have been terrible getting robbed;I know that this can and does happen in every big city including London but from your experiences and what I’ve heard from others (I know someone who was robbed on the Metro too) it does sound like there’s a particular crime problem going on there. The pee problem is something I had no idea about though and I definitely wouldn’t have expected that in Paris – how bizarre!

    Nov. 1 2014 @ 5:53 am
    1. Amy author

      Ha! You know, there were parts of Indonesia we REALLY didn’t enjoy either and didn’t even feel all that impressed by in the moment, but our pictures of them are absolutely gorgeous. 🙂 I guess it’s just one of those countries…

      We are both very mindful of the fact that robberies happen the world over—we have friends who were pickpocketed in Bangkok, and have heard of others having issues in Cambodia and even our beloved Vietnam, so even though it happened to us in Paris, I think it would be unfair of us to dismiss the city on that basis alone. Of course, it certainly didn’t endear the city to us, and I also don’t think anyone would blame us for saying it did impact the rest of our time there. I think we actually did a pretty good job of picking ourselves up (thanks to the help of our new friends, certainly) and turning the other cheek. At the end of the day, Paris is a fine city, it’s just not one of our favorites, and we’re ok with that!

      Nov. 2 2014 @ 9:54 am
  10. Ahhhh yes Paris… what a gorgeous place. Everywhere I turned in Paris was as “pretty as a picture”…. I simply fell in love with it. <3

    Nov. 1 2014 @ 8:59 pm
    1. Tim | UrbanDuniya author

      Paris really does photograph well and it is brimming with its own personality, which really is such a cool thing to experience in person. It’s not our favorite city by any means, but it isn’t ugly, that’s for sure! 😉

      Nov. 2 2014 @ 9:56 am
  11. The husband and I are currently discussing a possible trip to Paris, so it was interesting to read your perspective on the city. I’ve been twice before, when I was a teenager, which was longer ago than I care to admit. I fell madly in love with Paris and its vibrant energy – though being wooed by sexy French boys certainly helped. I’m actually afraid to return because I don’t want those happy memories to be quashed by the reality of a dirty, crime-ridden city. But my husband wants to spend a week exploring all the city’s museums and eating all the French food. Can’t really fault him for that. So we’re thinking about going in January, when, hopefully, it might be less crowded. We figure that it won’t matter if it’s cold and raining since we’ll be inside most of the time anyway. So we’ll see! I’m still pushing for Malta 🙂

    Nov. 2 2014 @ 2:26 am
    1. Heather author

      I didn’t feel that visiting in late May/early June that the crowds were overbearing in Paris, so I’m sure it will be wonderful in January. I think the dreary weather wouldn’t have been quite such a setback if we hadn’t just spent a week in London where it had rained quite a lot AND also we had really been looking forward to picnicking in the parks, which obviously wasn’t quite as desirable when it was cold and rainy. My next post is going to be about the museums we visited in Paris, so you may find that useful for your upcoming trip—one thing I would definitely suggest is trying to plan your trip so that you’re in town for the 1st Sunday of the month as many of the museums are free that day!

      Nov. 2 2014 @ 12:03 pm
  12. Firstly, props to you for not making this post all about the pick pocketing incident, because that would have been easy to do.

    Secondly, yeah, some places just don’t click. I certainly think angry yelling locals wouldn’t help you to feel welcome either (I know stuff like that can be cultural, but I hate when people raise their voices no matter the circumstances so I would have been put off too, even though there were only a few people who actually yelled at you).

    I’d heard about the dog turd problem too lol! In fact, I read a book that mentions that everybody in Paris becomes an expert in peripheral vision to keep themselves from stepping in dog shit, and that its a skill that takes about 3 weeks to develop. Lol

    Nov. 2 2014 @ 5:08 am
    1. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling author

      The pickpocketing sucked, that is for sure, but it didn’t define our experiences in Paris and certainly wasn’t the only reason we had a hard time connecting/clicking with the city. I did want to talk a bit about it because it was part of our experience and given the apparent increase in crime in Paris lately, I wanted to make sure other travelers could be forewarned and be extra cautious.

      Parisians do seem to be extremely good at dodging the poop—I guess they get a lot of practice! I had to keep grabbing Tony’s arm and pushing him out of the way because he kept forgetting to look down.

      Nov. 2 2014 @ 12:16 pm
  13. I really appreciate your genuine post on Paris, despite how “controversial” it is. I’m so glad we got to spend some time and get to know you and Tony on your trip. I’m so sorry you unfortunately saw a darker side of Paris, between Chateau Rouge and with your wallet being stolen. I give you both a lot of credit for keeping an open mind about the city after that incident because it would have really shaken me up and tainted my experience, no matter what happened the rest of the visit. And Paris like anywhere else certainly isn’t perfect – I don’t know if it was all the rain we got over the summer, but by August that spot where we picnicked was overrun by rats. I think they are gone now, but it was gross!

    With that said, like Edna said, Paris can take a little time to grow on you. And my time here would be so different if I didn’t have a wonderful community of friends to enjoy Paris with. Without them, Paris would be pretty and I would still enjoy the city, but I don’t think I would love it the way I do now. Places are definitely about the people! I’m sorry you didn’t end up loving the city, but I’m glad to hear you haven’t given up on France altogether. I would definitely recommend exploring the country outside of its capital (heck, there are tons of French people who hate Paris) – it is such a diverse and wonderful country, and it will give you the opportunity to really put those French skills to work!

    Nov. 6 2014 @ 4:55 am
    1. Sara @ Simply Sara Travel author

      Sara, you know I agree with you that the people are the places, and that is certainly part of why we could never completely turn our backs on Paris: meeting you & Michael and our two wonderful CouchSurfing hosts really was such an amazing experience for us, and so even if we didn’t love Paris as much as we had hoped on its own merits, we certainly have some wonderful memories of the city thanks to you guys! I know we’ll be back to France again some day, and I won’t be surprised if we wind up passing through Paris at some point too. It may not be my favorite city, but it certainly does have its own set of charms.

      I definitely think living there is a different proposition than simply visiting for a week; I’m so glad that you have found a great supportive group of people to enjoy the city with as that really does make all the difference sometimes!

      Nov. 6 2014 @ 1:29 pm
  14. In my experience, Paris is at its best when you visit with people who know it well (like you did with Sara and Michael). Coming for a short time and expecting to see the major sites sounds horrible to me. If I only had a few days here, I’d want to visit quieter parts of the city with locals.

    And I can relate to the horrors of street theft. I’ve had a phone stolen, and it made me want to leave Paris and go home that day. But I think enjoying Paris is finding the balance between the uglier side of the city and the hidden gems that make it impossible to be angry for too long…

    Nov. 8 2014 @ 5:48 am
    1. Marina @ Garlands in Paris author

      I think there are few cities that don’t benefit from having someone with insider’s knowledge guiding you around, but even before we arrived in Paris, I suspected it would be such a place. I think the every-day Paris is very different from the one that is presented to tourists in movies and guidebooks, and we tend to have more fun when we’re able to delve into the local side of things.

      I’m sorry to hear that you too have experienced a robbery in Paris—that aspect of the city is truly its ugliest part. But no place is perfect, and you’re right that you can’t let the ugly bits of a place completely ruin the good parts, because those do exist and are well worth spending the time to find. We spent one day licking our wounds after being pickpocketed, but after that we were back out exploring the city. I think we were able to recognize that this might be our only visit and so we wanted to make it count!

      Nov. 8 2014 @ 7:56 am
  15. I’ve been to Paris quite a few times last year ’cause it’s just in a 2.5 TGV ride from my city. And well, I loved the City of Lights in late October…hated it around Christmas and than again, got back to finding it charming in spring time. (Though I still think Paris is not the most beautiful, or picture-perfect place in France)

    Anyways, it’s kind of hard to make a full impression of Paris when visiting once and for a few weeks. The City is huge and has a lot of usual and unusual neighborhoods to explore. Btw, I’ve once stayed at Château Rouge neighborhood. It may not be the most pleasant place, but I did not encounter any problems.

    Crime rate and touts – yeah, that a thing. However, those chaps concentrate around touristy areas and I hardly seen anyone scammy or particularly pushy with goods at less visited areas. Comparing to Indian sellers or beggars, Parisian folks seemed rather mild 😀

    Nov. 11 2014 @ 10:41 am
    1. Elena author

      Oh, I definitely agree with you that Paris is probably a lot more nuanced and layered than the average short visit tourist is likely to discover. While I do think that that really central arrondissements tend to be very similar to each other, we did notice a few of them were a bit more unique (the Marais, for instance, felt quite different from, say, the Saint-Germain area). Even Château Rouge, for all its simmering hostility had a very different vibe and culture than central Paris, which is why we were initially really interested by it. If not for the aggression we experienced from the locals, we probably would have liked that neighborhood quite a lot!

      We didn’t make it to India, so I can’t compare the touts/scammers we experienced in Paris to there, but I would say that there weren’t very many places in the rest of Asia that we visited where we were targeted quite so much, which I think is surprising and not what most would expect. Moreover, I think the only other European city where we were bothered quite so much was Florence, Italy. It wasn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but it was unexpected and—at times—really annoying.

      Nov. 12 2014 @ 7:02 am
  16. I can’t believe I haven’t been to Paris yet. I love cities with history, charm and oodles of character, but friends from the city tell me Paris is not what it used to be, that the wave of globalization is robbing the city of its character. I wish this weren’t true. Still, there is no way to wipe out history. It lives on in memory, if not anything else, and your photographs certainly preserve a bit of what Paris has been known for.

    Nov. 18 2014 @ 1:54 pm
    1. Paper Boat Sailor author

      Oh, for better or for worse, Paris will always be Paris, I think. It’s certainly one of those places that as much as it changes, it seems to stay the same, and when you walk by the Seine or stroll through Marais, you know that you could never mistake the city for anywhere else on the planet. We’ve found on our travels that there will always be people who say that a place’s glory days are long past, but I think that is rarely truly the case. Plus, if you’ve never been before, you don’t have anything to compare it against and are likely to enjoy it just fine!

      Nov. 23 2014 @ 9:53 am
  17. I actually never saw this article before and I can see we are quite famous 😀
    Great article for a great city !

    Mar. 15 2017 @ 5:16 pm

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