What better city to begin a journey on than Paris itself? The culture is immense, inescapable. I was afraid that I would find a city overrun by tourists (me being one of them). Indeed, at the famous sites such as the Notre Dame or the Arc de Triomphe, it’s quite common to overhear english and there are loads of map wielding pedestrians with thirty pound cameras hanging from their necks.
But the majority of these are French themselves. Visiting the city from the countryside. It’s undeniable that tourism itself has become a key part to the Parisian culture. I imagine that it has been since ancient times even (sans the thirty pound cameras).
Paris keeps it her own way, and although it is the most popular city in the world in terms of tourism, it doesn’t over cater for the foreign contingent. Most of the tours run at sites like the Notre Dame are in french, for the French. The one such exception I have found so far is the Centre Pompidou, where the Museum of Modern Arts resides. Here, you can read descriptions next to Picasso works that contain a translated english version underneath the original french.
This allows Paris to be itself. It remains loyal to it’s own values. There’s never the impression that it’s fake, assuming a different visage to allow outsiders to be more comfortable.
Nor is it overcrowded. This is another fear that I had of Paris before coming. Images of streets packed with cars and metro trains crammed with passengers. This hasn’t been my experience at all. A well oiled public transport system keeps the traffic on the roads minimal. Initiatives such as Velib’ allow people to cycle to and from places without having to station their bicycle somewhere in their apartment.
Wander down a cobblestoned side street and chances are you’ll be the only one there (unless a café exists).
That’s another thing I like about Paris and I hope it exists elsewhere in Europe. Supermarket chains are not a frequent sight. I’m talking about large, multinational or even national companies that buy out the ma and pa’s. Here, it’s just local grocers, local butchers, local bakeries, local restaurants. Each unique in their own way.
I have yet to meet the famed snobbish Parisian. I have no doubt that they exist, just as they do in every other country. Perhaps I have been lucky. Couchsurfers generally tend to be a more accommodating bunch for obvious reasons.
So far I have been staying very close to the center of it all, and besides one night at a house party I haven’t had the chance to explore the outer suburbs. Perhaps this will give me a better indication of Parisian life. Perhaps this will be different to the restaurant packed streets of central Paris. Parisians are quick to point out that the suburbs that are outside of les arrondissements are not truly part of Paris.
So I ask again – what better city to begin a journey on than Paris itself? It is early days but Paris has so far managed to exceed what were extremely lofty expectations. My only fear is that now anywhere else I go can’t compete.