France: North vs. South
Most European countries are often broken up into the “Southern Mentality” and the “Northern Mentality.” I am in no way relating them to the United States’ north and south divide. The directional mentalities may mean different things in different countries.
In most cases the northerners are more snooty, more “sophisticated” (or at least they think they are) and the southerners are more hospitable, more down-to-earth, sometimes (most of the time) even better cooks. I guess that does kind of sound a little like the U.S.
There are exceptions though. For example, in Belgium, the Northerners (Flemish) are much more low-key and welcoming. Whereas the Southerners (French-speakers) are more uptight and less yielding.
Anyways, before I get off track, France has the typical North-South divide. Yes, Paris is “magnifique” and you should probably visit this stunning city if you are in the country. Keep in mind, though, with great cities, come great “snooty-ness.” As a recommendation, if you are planning on visiting France, namely Paris, brush up on some French phrases. The first time I went, I didn’t follow that advice. Needless to say, I’ve never been treated so poorly in all my life (well maybe besides by the people at the local Drivers’ License Office). Now, everybody has their own Parisian experiences. Maybe I just caught everyone on an off day (not likely).
Regardless, when I returned (this time equipped with an armament of French phrases) my experience was entirely different. Those few French words that I stumbled through made all the difference. All of a sudden, I was being treated like a human! Ok, I exaggerate a little. Parisians never treat tourists as human (just kidding). Nonetheless, learn some French (even if it’s just Merci and Bonjour) before you go. It will completely change your French voyage.
Now on to the subject of Southerners. I LOVE southern France. For one, Nice (pronounced Neese) is, well, nice (pronounced, well you know). The quaint markets, the exquisite eateries, the laid-back atmosphere, all the crêpes you could want, what else could you possibly need?
If you do perchance extend your excursion into the south of France, don’t pass up La Rossettisserie. Open only a few hours each night and with the seating capacity of no more than about 20, it’s a culinary quest you’ll not soon forget. My mouth is still watering.
Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box. Give the big cities and tourist attractions a break and go somewhere where most tourists would never think of going. That’s where stories, memories, and laughs (and sometimes tears) are born.
And in the off-chance that you do decide to still visit Paris (face it, you won’t take my advice) check out some of the sights from “The City of Lights”, hey that rhymed…
Yes, you can go to the top of the “Giant Metal French Thing.” Of course, when I was forced into ascending this monstrosity (Take note, this was supposed to be a temporary structure built for the world’s fair and the French thought it looked “tacky”) I chose the cheap route and took…cue dramatic music…the stairs. Beware, there’s over 700 steps just to get to the elevator that takes you the rest of the way. By the end of that jaunt my thighs were so huge I was afraid they were going to be deported for not having their own passports. In my opinion, once you’ve ascended any tall structure, you don’t need to ascend another. Again, that’s my opinion. I know some love the sights from the heights (I’ve really got to stop rhyming), but if you’re like me, save the $40 and feast your eyes on the picture below.
When you visit France, you’ll find that everything feels like a Kodak moment. Even the subway stations are photogenic.
Paris as a Layover
As a general rule, I think it’s a great idea just to blitz big European cities in a day. My first time in Paris was just a really long train layover (planned on purpose). Side point, when taking trains through Europe and your itinerary connects through Paris, keep in mind you’ll have to trek from one train station to the other. Paris is set up like the center of a spoked wheel. There’s I think at least 7 train stations that depart to different areas. Say you want to go from Zürich to Brussels. You’ll get out at Paris’ Gare de Lyon and you’ll have to find your own way to the Gare du Nord which will take you the rest of the way (They’re 5km apart). As long as you did the smart thing and packed light then avoid cabs at all costs and see the city during your layover. (Layover adventures are travel opportunities that are often ignored. For another “long layover adventure” see “Fiji”) Get a metro “carnet” (10 tickets for about €14) and zip around the metroplex that-a-way. Those “hop on-hop off” buses cost double and they only stop at certain places.
With your carnet in hand, Paris is your oyster (Excuse me, escargot). If you like the Phantom of the Opera, definitely check out the “Palais Garnier” for €10, take yourself on your own tour of the place. Leave no hallway unexplored. It’s an extraordinary structure, oh, and don’t forget the chandelier either!
You surely have to check out all the other marvelous architecture. Such as the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and the Louvre (if you want to impress your French friends the correct pronunciation of Louvre is: Loo-voo-loo-de-la-roo, though I may be saying that wrong)
On a serious note, if you wish to enter the Louvre (not really sure what’s inside, I’m pretty sure it’s a giant Costco or something) do not visit Paris on Tuesday (if you’re only there for the day, that is) both times I’ve been, it’s been Tuesday. It goes without saying…I missed out on the free samples.
In summary, if you wish to go to Paris, by all means go! If you can, try not to spend all your time there, because there’s so much more of France to see (and the people are nicer everywhere else). As I said, Nice and the French Riviera are a must see…
Something cozy about narrow alleyways…
So in conclusion. Wherever you may traverse in this beret clad country, embrace the good and the bad. The kind-hearted and the snooty. The magnificent and the malodorous (talking about cheese, of course) and when you’re frustrated, try this: Take a deep breath, let out a big hearty French laugh, and shout: C’est la vie!