I’d wanted to go to Paris ever since I did a Year 10 French project on the Champ de Mars. Admittedly, the project quickly fell to the wayside after I got sucked into the seemingly never-ending list of things you can see and do in the most famous city in the world. While Paris wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, there’s no denying it is a beautiful city, and I’d love to go back again (and again).
Here are some things I learnt while in the City of Light:
Where to Stay:
Travelling for the first time is scary, so picking accommodation that is safe, secure, and close to the main area of the city (or to public transport that will get you there) is a way to make your stay a little more stress-free. For me, St Christopher’s Hostel ticked all the boxes.
It was clean, the staff were super helpful, and, most importantly, I felt really secure in my room, which I shared with three other girls. The hostel itself is located literally 100 meters from the Gare du Nord train station, although somehow I still managed to get lost trying to get back to St Christopher’s after spending the day in the middle of Paris – a classic Maeve move. Luckily, there was a friendly taxi driver who pointed me in the right direction with a polite – if slightly amused – “Madame, if you would care to turn around ever so much, you will see your hostel is just down the road”, and sure enough … *forehead slap*.
Making the Most of One Day:
We only had one full day to explore Paris and we still saw and did SO much. The key? Plan, Plan, and Plan. The night we arrived, my friend and I sat together and wrote down what we wanted to do, which trains to catch to get us there, and also worked out a rough timeline for when we wanted to do it. We got up early the next day, had breakfast in the downstairs atrium of the hostel, and headed up to the Gare du Nord train station. Getting around Paris using the metro is supposedly easy, but Shauna and I were on struggle street for a good half hour trying to work out how to get to the pink line to Notre Dame. For first-time traveller’s, it’s definitely not as simple as people make it out to be. (Or perhaps Shauna and I are just a bit dense…)
Basically, the metro works like this: individual lines are numbered, with each direction named after the last stop, and to change lines you follow the orange correspondence signs. A one-way ticket costs about €1.70, but if you’re planning on using the metro often, you might want to consider purchasing a book of 10 tickets for €12.00 or a Zone 1 Day Travel Card for €6.10. Also handy to know: ‘sortie‘ is French for ‘exit‘.
Even the best laid plans go awry and we ended up deciding not to go to the Notre Dame in favour of the Louvre since we’d taken so long in the train station. But, as the saying goes “when one (train) door closes, a window opens”, and our window ended up being that we got off our stop and stumbled straight onto the love-lock bridge (picture above!), something that we probably wouldn’t have seen if we’d stuck to our original plan.
Be Alert, and Assertive, but not Alarmed:
Paris is the most visited city in the world with 33 million tourists a year, which unfortunately means that it attracts some characters who have less than honest intentions. Don’t give pickpockets a chance by keeping an eye on your belongings, especially on the metro and around the main touristy areas (ie: The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, etc.). One big tourist trap is the ‘string men’ who I noticed specifically around the Sacré Cœur. Take your gut instincts seriously, and if you feel as though a person approaching you is not doing so for a pleasant chat, keep walking and don’t give them the chance to distract you. I found it quite sad because it kind of feels like everyone is incredibly weary of each other, but it is what it is, and your personal safety always comes first.
Wining and Dining:
Sitting in a café to read, talk with friends, and ‘people-watch’, is an integral part of French culture. Keeping that in mind, you should know that a café on a busy street will always be more expensive than one in a quieter part of town. Also, the pricing structure of food in Paris is quite interesting. The cheapest place for a drink is inside at the counter (comptoir), with the prices going up when you sit at a table (salle). Sitting at a table outside (terrasse) is the most expensive. When you look at a menu, the price that they have written is the cheapest the meal could be, but where you eventually sit will determine the bill! Many places may also have a service charge. The restaurant inside St Christopher’s is relatively cheap for very good food, so that is always an option. Plus there are snails on the menu if you’re feeling adventurous!
The Main Attractions:
Since we were only in Paris for one day, we had to decide whether we wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. We chose the tower (because it’s been on my bucket list for, like, ever) but if you have time to do both, definitely do! The problem with climbing the Tower is that when you get to the top, you don’t get to see what Paris is arguably most famous for – the Eiffel Tower itself! Some people from our tour did the Arc de Triomphe instead of the Tower and the photos are simply stunning.
If you go to the Louvre, definitely check out the Mona Lisa (of course) but also look up some other famous artworks beforehand and try to find them too. I went to see the Napoleon apartments (which I would highly recommend) and think there were probably only ten other people there, which was crazy considering the hundreds at the Mona Lisa.
If you’re on a Budget :
People under 25 are often eligible for cheaper tickets to monuments / museums, so wherever you go, it’s worth asking if there is a student discount. But, if you’re like me and are lucky enough to be an EU member (that is, you have an EU passport), most places are free (or at least heavily discounted), especially in Paris.
Next week, I’ll have a little somethin’ somethin’ up here on: London! Including: The best and worst hostels to stay at, living up the London life, and the sad story involving (what felt like) a twenty kilometer walk to recreate this iconic picture, only to realise (once we got back to Australia), that we were wayyy off.