My Ultimate Tourist’s Guide to Paris!

Note: This post was never completed as intended. I had originally planned to add more. I have discovered this unpublished post nearly 2 years after I started it! I think this information is great as-is, though I do very much wish I had finished this post. I may think of something every now and then and add on to this. If you ever have questions or seek advice about Paris, study abroad, or traveling in general, please feel free to ask!

Packing

If you need to buy another suitcase while you’re in Paris, there are several places you could look. I would recommend Rayon D’Or, because they have a wide selection and price range. I went to their location at Republique.

If you need any type of travel accessories (bottles and containers that fit the 100ml carry on requirement, for instance) there is an amazing store called Muji which can fulfill all of your needs and more. They have several locations across Paris. I went to the one in Forum des Halles.

As for the type of clothing you should bring, obviously it first depends on the season. As a general rule, a monochromatic wardrobe will be classic and versatile, with a few statement pieces for pops of color. Bring comfortable walking shoes, but not “sneakers.” I have noticed a sort of “sporty” fashion that is popular, including jogger pants and brand name running shoes, like Nikes. So, perhaps you can make that work for you. If you are only in Paris for a short amount of time, I would not worry about looking your most fashionable. I know it may seem like a big deal beforehand, especially if it’s your first time in Paris, but unless you’re going for fashion week, just be practical and comfortable above all else.

Measurements

Most people are familiar with some of the measurement differences between the US and Europe, such as how Europeans use the metric system and Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. However, I was unaware of just how many different ways there are to measure everything you can think of, and they’re all different in France! Here is a run-down of what you can expect to encounter that might catch you off guard:

Distance/Height/Weight/Volume: kilometers, centimeters, kilograms, liters.

Temperature: Celsius. So I still haven’t gotten used to this, but if you keep in mind freezing is 0 in Celsius and 32 in Fahrenheit, it can be somewhat helpful. I just use my phone to check the temperature in Fahrenheit.

Time: 24 hour clock. I recommend changing your phone to a 24 hour clock before coming to Paris to get used to it. Now I keep it this way all of the time!

Dates: Written as day/month/year

Names: Written as Last Name/First Name

Floors of Buildings: The ground floor of a building is 0. The first floor above that is 1, and so on. The first floor below the ground floor is -1, and so on. This takes a while to get used to.

Money

I’ve never exchanged money before, and honestly I don’t think it’s worth it. You absolutely need cash while you’re in Paris, however, because many places don’t accept cards (or require a chip card), or if they do accept cards, they have a price limit that you must spend in order to use a card. In any case, I think the best way to get cash is to take it out in large sums from ATMs. This limits bank fees, and you don’t have to pay exchange fees either.

Transportation

The two best ways to get around Paris are your feet and Paris’ amazing public transportation system. This includes buses, the RER trains (which go outside of the city to places like Versailles and Disneyland) and the metro. The Paris metro is really easy to use and is probably one of your best resources. You can get a map of the Paris metro pretty much anywhere (for free) and they are posted at least two times in every metro stop. Now depending on how long you will be in Paris, you have several options regarding tickets. If you’re only going to be there for a few days, then just get a booklet of tickets. If you’re going to be there for a week, a good option would be a Paris Pass, which gets you into pretty much all of the major museums/tours and acts as a public transportation pass. If you’re going to be there for several weeks, I recommend getting a Navigo. You can get these in weekly or monthly passes. I’ve been using it ever since September 1st and I haven’t looked back. It is seriously the most useful, easy little card ever. To get one, you have to have your picture taken in any of the photo booths that are in nearly every metro station (it costs 5 euros). Then, take this photo to the desk in the metro station and ask for a weekly/monthly Navigo pass. You can buy tickets and recharge your Navigo at any of the automatic ticket machines in the metro, which all have an English language option.

Eating Out

Rule number one of eating out in Paris: never sit down to eat unless you have at least 1-2 hours.

The food service industry is very different from what Americans are accustomed to. You will either take your own seat or wait to be seated, and then your drink and food orders are taken. Once your food is delivered to you, you will probably not see your waiter again for much of the meal.

If you would like to order water, the best method is to ask for “une carafe d’eau” (a carafe of water). The glasses are fairly small, but at least you can refill them yourself instead of trying to track down a waiter!

As in many European countries, tipping is unnecessary unless you feel that you received extraordinary service.

Sometimes, you may eat at a restaurant that seats you at a table with complete strangers. I’ve had this happen to me a few times in various European countries. You can either completely ignore them, or make some new friends!

Pickpockets & Beggars

Everywhere you go in Paris, you will constantly be warned against pickpockets. These are warnings you should seriously heed. Pickpockets aren’t out to hurt you physically, they just want to take your stuff, and they’re good at it. Since coming to Paris in August, I am literally the only one of my friends that still has their phone. It is not difficult to avoid being pickpocketed, you just always have to be aware of your bag. If you have a purse, make sure it is always closed and in front of you. Make sure that it closes in a secure manner, such as with a zipper. If you have a backpack, whenever you are in a crowded area or on the metro, swing in over one should so that it’s in front of you. If you are just keeping things in your pockets, do so at your own risk. As long as you are aware, you should have nothing to worry about. I’ve caught people sticking their hands in my bag twice since coming to Paris, but I’ve never had anything stolen yet (probably because I’m really paranoid). Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Aside from pickpockets, there are people all over Paris who want to take your money. They have many tricks to try and get you to give it to them, but the best thing to do is to ignore them. Homeless people have the cutest puppies you will ever see in your life. Women will sit crying and holding small infants. Groups of men will try and get you to play this finger game with them, and then while you’re distracted they’ll take your wallet. The worst are the clipboard girls. These are usually young women who walk around popular tourist areas (Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe) asking if you speak English. If you say yes, they will start telling you about some charity they are raising money for and ask you to sign their clipboard and donate some money. Seriously, ignore these people. They are everywhere and are very persistent, so the best thing to do is keep walking very determinedly in one direction. Don’t even try to be polite or talk to them. Just ignore them.

Apps

During my semester in Paris, I had an international data plan. However, during previous, shorter trips, I just used my phone in airplane mode and used WiFi, which is becoming more and more accessible anywhere you go! I usually don’t travel with my computer, and I do not have a tablet, so my phone is the main way I access information while traveling. As a result, I have discovered certain apps that I love to have while traveling. In some cases, apps will allow you to download information onto your phone, which is great because then you don’t need data or WiFi to access it, just a full battery! Also, these are all FREE apps, and I have an Android but I’m sure they’re all available on iPhone as well.

Google Translate: This is one such app that will allow you to download certain languages on your phone. That way, you can always translate on the go. There is also a camera mode which is useful for reading things like signs and menus, though it is admittedly not perfect. Still, Google is my favorite translation app!

Duolingo: If you want to have some semblance of the local language before you go (which I highly recommend), download this app and practice the language 10-15 minutes each day. It’s really fun and kind of addicting!

TripAdvisor: This app is a must-have! You can download entire maps and travel itineraries for cities to reference on your phone without any kind of connection. There are countless reviews and rankings for activities, restaurants, sites, you name it!

Google Maps: Granted, you really need a good data or WiFi connection for this to be helpful. Regardless, I do not know what I would do without it! Physical maps are not always easily available, and if you are planning on the fly, this app is a necessity.

Airbnb: If you are like me and use Airbnb to book most of your lodging while traveling, you need to have the app on your phone. Yes, you will need some kind of connection to access it, but you will be glad you can directly message your host when you get lost on the way to the residence!

Viber/WhatsApp: These are free messaging services that I have used to communicate with my family and international friends while abroad! It’s basically an app that allows you to text via WiFi or data, so you do not need a phone signal. I prefer to use these for texting, though I have made calls with Viber before. Sometimes you get the “ocean” sound and you need to have a strong connection, but it works for the most part.

XE Currency: An easy currency conversion app to calculate costs.

Unit Converter: This is non-specific, but it can be very helpful to have a measurement converter when traveling in countries that use the metric system.

Weekend 11: Pisa & Pizza, Italia Part I!

I left Paris cold and raining on Friday morning after only 4 hours of sleep, due to allowing myself a little bit of Halloween fun the previous night. Since I was flying on a small, budget airline, I had to take a bus outside of Paris to one of the smaller airports. It seemed as though the moment the plane touched down in Pisa I started sweating. A few days prior to leaving, I decided to spend the day in Pisa, because why not? I didn’t see the point in being there so early, with the city being so accessible from the airport, and not going to at least see the leaning tower for the afternoon before taking the bus to Florence. I took the bus from the airport to the city train station, where I left my bag at the luggage check and then headed in the direction of the Piazza del Duomo. I took my time, wandering where I wanted and enjoying the sun. I immediately regretted my last-minute decision to not bring my sunglasses. Everything about Italy is warm; the colors, the light, the people. It’s such a refreshing change from the coldness of Paris.

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After wandering, I realized how hungry I was. However, I also didn’t have enough cash on me to buy a meal, and I had passed up several ATMs. Just as I approached the Piazza, I decided I needed to backtrack to find an ATM fast because I was so hungry. This took up a good half hour at least, which combined with the heat was frustrating. Once I finally found a working ATM, I headed back to a place I saw with a view of the leaning tower and an amazing deal of pizza, fries, and a drink for 7 euros (unheard of in Paris). The pizza was delicious, and it was the first pizza I’ve had in Europe that I could actually eat with a fork and knife (there’s no such thing as finger food in Europe)!

My first Italian pizza!!

My first Italian pizza!!

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After eating, I walked around the Piazza for a while and then got a ticket to go into the cathedral and the baptistery. I initially wanted to climb the leaning tower, but then decided it was getting too late since the line was pretty long.

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Italian cathedrals are soooo very different from French cathedrals, or really any of the Northern European cathedrals that I’ve been in. I think I prefer the Northern ones, but of course these are impressive in their own right. For one, they are massive. This was by far the largest cathedral I’ve ever been in. They are also relatively plain inside compared to Northern Cathedrals, which spare no centimeter of wall, floor, or ceiling from decoration. Italian cathedrals also have much smaller stained glass windows. The outsides are decorated in colorful patterns, but the overall whiteness of it all is still very present. I think these photographs make it seem more decorative than it is, probably because that’s what I ended up being most interested in! Also, I don’t think any of these properly convey how massive it is. Just go there for yourself and see!

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A reliquary with a human skull!

A reliquary with a human skull!

I didn’t know what to expect in the baptistery, since I’d never been in one before. It’s pretty plain, but there were two things that made it worth it. One, if you go to the top level, one of the windows has part of the screen cut out so you can take a photograph looking directly at the cathedral, with the leaning tower in the background. And two, while I was in there, a woman stood in the middle on the lower level and started vocalizing, and you could hear it echo throughout the baptistery. It was haunting.

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After that, I headed back to the train station to get my bag and then take a bus to the airport to take a bus to Florence.

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Why do they even have this sign?

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By the time I got to Florence, it was dark and I was pretty tired. I just settled in and had a relaxing night before going to sleep early. Stay tuned for Italia Part II: Firenze!

Weekend 4: Sunday, Parisian Art and American Food

Sunday I woke up with the intention of finally going to the Musee d’Orsay. First however, I needed to shoot the second-to-last photo for my assignment I’ve been working on, which meant taking the metro across the city (almost an hour commute) to go to Miranda’s new apartment. It was a lot of fun though and we had a nice morning before finally heading off to the museum.

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This woman on the metro has Daenerys Targaryen hair!!

The weather was absolutely perfect and it actually did not rain the entire day, which I think was a first this past week. It wouldn’t have mattered that much because we spent a lot of time in the museum but it was still nice.

So, the d’Orsay. We started from the ground up, weaving our way through. I actually had my camera with me, but you’re not “supposed” to take photos there, so I only took phone pictures. I totally could have gotten away with my camera for the most part though. They only enforced the no photos rule in random places, like the van Gogh galleries. Oh well, I am definitely going back!

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I’m Hugo!

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I discovered a lot of new favorite paintings while I was there, and gained a new appreciation for so many I knew existed but never really looked at until I was standing right in front of them. A few of them I didn’t photograph but still wanted to include them so they’re reproductions I found on Google.

This painting is INTENSE. I really like it and was unfamiliar with it until now! Dante and Virgil in Hell by Bourguereau

This painting is INTENSE. I really like it and was unfamiliar with it until now!
Dante and Virgil in Hell by Bourguereau

Sorry Botticelli, but I actually like both of these “Birth of Venus” paintings more than his. Is this terrible? Maybe it’s because during my first week of school I think every teacher used Botticelli’s painting for an example or assignment of some kind. It’s not bad of course, but I just like these better…

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The Birth of Venus by Cabanel

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The Birth of Venus by Bourguereau

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I really liked the work by Gustave Guillaumet, particularly this painting Preire du soir dans le Sahara

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The pastel Symbolist paintings by Redon were beautiful!

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Can I please have a bejeweled winged crown thingie?

There were also so many works of art that I either forgot or didn’t realize were at the d’Orsay, so when I saw them I completely freaked out. It was really fun going with friends who for the most part equally freak out about art. Also most paintings are far larger than I am.

Cheesin'

Cheesin’

I AM IN THE GRAVE

I AM IN THE GRAVE!! (I yelled this a bunch)

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Bonnard makes cool cats

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A pleasant surprise.

I also had no idea that the d’Orsay had such an extensive collection of Art Nouveau decorative objects. This basically made it the museum of my dreams.

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Just a whole room!!

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My new bed.

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I need a sink like this in my life.

We spent several hours making our way through the first two floors. We were pretty tired by the end, but had to get to the last floor because that’s where all the major Impressionist work is. Once we finally got there, they made the announcement that the museum was closing in 15 minutes. So we rushed through to quickly see Moulin de la Galette and Luncheon on the Grass before it closed. Obviously I’m going to have to go back because there’s still so much to see, and I think I missed a few paintings on the lower levels, too.

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Way bigger than I thought it would be!

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Miranda can’t contain her excitement.

After the d’Orsay closed, we were all craving good old American burgers and fries. I recently learned of a diner in Paris called Breakfast in America so we headed over there. It was amazing. We all gorged ourselves on burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Yes they have veggie burgers, my first in Paris! They also play what I guess they consider to be “American” music which was everything from Of Monsters and Men to Led Zeppelin. They don’t play music in French restaurants unless it’s a live musician, so this was a nice homey little touch. Also I had the song “Breakfast in America” stuck in my head the whole time. I wonder if they ever play it?

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The milkshake I got is called Obama. It is peanut butter and chocolate. This is brilliant.

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Avocado veggie burgers forever.

After this super amazing museum-filled weekend I’ve been looking up other artworks I want to see in case they are in Paris. Turns out a lot of them are in America. Go figure.

Oh yeah, and I officially have plane tickets to go to Florence the first weekend of November! I’m flying into Pisa and then taking a 70 minute shuttle to Florence, so I get to see a bunch of the Italian countryside as well. It seems so far off but I know it will be here all too soon. Except I also can’t wait. Ahh!!

Week 4: Sick Days & Travel Plans

This past week was pretty uneventful, mostly because I spent the weekend not doing school-related things and then I remembered I was a student. I’m very good at time management and don’t put things off, but I am going to have to figure out how to balance sight-seeing on the weekends and doing homework. Luckily, my teacher gave us another week on our first photo assignment which saved me from being super stressed out.

Also, this week it officially became fall in Paris. After Sunday, leaves were on the ground and it has rained every day. I can even wear boots, a scarf, and my jacket and not look crazy. The rain isn’t too bad since it’s more of a constantly drizzle/mist, but I hope there are at least a few clear days in the future.

Tuesday I met with Francesca and her children for the first time. They are family friends who live here in Paris. I actually had one of her daughters pose in a photograph for my assignment! They have a really charming apartment and a very friendly cat that sheds everywhere. Also, I am now their babysitter for this semester! This was an unexpected but welcome surprise. Tuesday night my friends and I went back to Saint Michel to eat in front of Notre Dame because it’s the best. Of course I got more gelato!

Thursday I felt myself getting sick all day, which was exactly what I didn’t want to happen while I was here, especially this early on. After class I went to a pharmacie to get throat medicine and vitamin C, and then oranges and nectarines at the market. I have been OD’ing on vitamin C ever since and I think it is working! I spent Thursday night vegging out and finally watched Monsters University, which was great.

Friday morning I met with some friends to shoot another photo for my project, then spent the rest of the day editing my Versailles photos and consuming tons of vitamin C. By the end of the day I was tired of sitting in the same spot, so I went out to Le Bar a Soupes, a place recommended to me by my art history teacher and fellow vegetarian (thanks Madeline!!). All of the soups looked delicious but I chose a mixed vegetable soup. It was perfect for my throat and very filling. I spent the night watching In Bruges to get myself pumped to go to Bruges at some point while I’m here. Speaking of which…

One of the more exciting things that developed this week was that I started making travel plans for while I am here! I already have tickets to go to Poland for a short trip the last weekend of October to visit a friend from high school, and a weekend in Florence during November is in the works. I also want to take day trips to Bruges, Aachen, and possibly Amsterdam. I had a really big “duh” moment when I realized that I could go to Munich for Oktoberfest this year! I wish I had thought of it sooner because now everything is pretty booked or expensive. I’m going to try and find a way to get there, though. It would fulfill all my little middle school dreams when I first started to study German and celebrated Oktoberfest in school every year. Sorry France, but Germany is still my favorite country! If I had the money, I would travel somewhere every weekend. There’s so much to see and I have such easy access while I’m in Europe. I want to take advantage of that as much as possible while I’m here. Of course, there is plenty to see and do in Paris as well! I mean, I haven’t even been up the Eiffel Tower yet. Woops.