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 I have discovered this unpublished post nearly 2 years after I started it!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 7: Crossing Off My List

Saturday was completely a school work day for me. By the end of it I was pretty exhausted. I had dinner with friends at Miranda and Shelby’s apartment which was really fun. We were all still craving Mexican after Chipotle on Thursday, so we had a taco night. It was amaazingg. We hung out there for a while and eventually went out to Nuit Blanche, but didn’t see very much. It’s a big city-wide arts night that happens once a year. Apparently it is pretty big but maybe we weren’t in the right area.

Sunday I wanted to cross more things off of my super huge to-do list in Paris, so I got right to it and went to Les Invalides. This building was originally a war veteran retirement home, and now houses the military museum of the French Army, a few other museums, a chapel, and the burial sites for several important French war heroes.

Edited_18_JPEG Edited_16_JPEG Edited_14_JPEG Edited_12_JPEG Edited_11_JPEG Edited_10_JPEG

I didn’t go into any of the museums and I don’t know if I will, but it was nice just to walk around. Of course I loved the chapel, Saint-Louis-des-Invalides.

Edited_9_JPEG Edited_8_JPEG Edited_7_JPEG Edited_4_JPEG Edited_1_JPEG Edited_2_JPEG

Now one of the main attractions of Invalides is Napoleon’s burial site under the gold Baroque dome. I wasn’t sure how to get there from where I entered Invalides, but you can actually kind of see it through the windows at the end of the chapel. When I first got a good look I couldn’t believe what I saw because it looks just like the Baldacchino from St. Peter’s Basilica which is obviously in Italy, not Paris. For a second I doubted myself, but I definitely remembered learning it was in Italy. I looked it up later and it is supposed to be a direct influence, so I’m glad I wasn’t going crazy!

There didn’t seem to be a way to get to the other side from where I was, so I left for my next destination: the Musee Rodin.

Edited_19_JPEG Edited_20_JPEG Edited_21_JPEG

Being the first Sunday of the month, entrance was free, though I think I get in free anyway with my school ID. Still, it’s definitely nice going to museums on first Sundays when you can just wander in! There was a really long line to get into the Biron house, so I wandered the gardens first.

Edited_22_JPEG Edited_24_JPEG Edited_23_JPEG

They are installing some kind of stage, so this was my beautiful view from the other side of the garden:

Edited_25_JPEG

Also, in the part of the garden with The Thinker, they play this weird “music” that is basically a woman humming and vocalizing. It’s really eerie and at first I didn’t realize it was part of the museum. I wonder what the reasoning is behind it?

Edited_26_JPEG Edited_30_JPEG Edited_29_JPEG Edited_28_JPEG Edited_27_JPEG

Edited_31_JPEG Edited_34_JPEG Edited_33_JPEG

As I walked around, I found that I really, really like Rodin. He found a way to capture such raw emotion in an equally raw form of sculpture. He turned a really cold material into something fluid and natural. And those hands and feet are huuugee! I tried to take close-ups to show how big they are, but you really have to see it in person.

Edited_32_JPEGEdited_35_JPEG Edited_46_JPEG Edited_44_JPEG Edited_42_JPEG Edited_41_JPEG Edited_40_JPEG Edited_39_JPEG Edited_38_JPEG Edited_37_JPEG

After the gardens I finally got in the line for the house. You have to wait a while because they only let in a certain amount of people at a time, which they monitor very closely. At least you have a pretty view while you wait!

Edited_47_JPEG

The house is pretty small, but it’s great to see his process and some of his more famous works in their original sizes. There are also some great views out of the second story windows.

Edited_48_JPEG Edited_54_JPEG Edited_53_JPEG Edited_51_JPEG Edited_50_JPEG Edited_49_JPEG

There is a special Camille Claudel exhibition going on in one of the rooms, but no photography was allowed. I really loved seeing her most well-known works in person as well. They were actually much larger than I expected. The Wave and Women Gossiping were really, really green in color, which is given no justice in photographic reproductions.

After all that walking I was starting to get tired, so I decided it was time for a break at the cafe in the garden. I got some ice cream and it was AMAZING. I’d love to go back and actually eat there some time, but man was that ice cream good. I got vanilla pecan and chocolate. If you ever find yourself at the Musee Rodin, make sure you get some!!

IMG_20131007_224645

Next I headed down the street to finish my exploration of Les Invalides, but this time to the dome were Napoleon is buried. I had to get a ticket to get in but it was free (yay!). Being a student in Paris really has its advantages. My student ID is magical.

IMG_20131006_175540 Edited_56_JPEG Edited_57_JPEG

When you first walk in, there is a tomb to your right. This is not Napoleon. This is his older brother.

Edited_59_JPEG Edited_60_JPEG

Like pretty much every other building in Paris, you can spend a lot of time looking at the ceiling.

Edited_61_JPEG  Edited_63_JPEG Edited_64_JPEG Edited_65_JPEG Edited_66_JPEG

The Baldacchino I was talking about earlier:

Edited_67_JPEG Edited_68_JPEG Edited_69_JPEG Edited_70_JPEG

This is Napoleon.

Edited_62_JPEG Edited_71_JPEG  Edited_73_JPEG Edited_74_JPEG Edited_75_JPEG

What a guy.

Edited_76_JPEG Edited_77_JPEG Edited_79_JPEG Edited_80_JPEG

There are really beautiful gardens in front of the dome. They have tons of plants I’ve never even seen before.

Edited_84_JPEG

This looks like something that fell off a Muppet.

Edited_82_JPEG Edited_83_JPEG

So that was basically my Sunday! This week is going to be super crazy for me, because I have so much to do before Thursday, when Shelby and I take a night bus to Amsterdam!! We are spending Friday and Saturday in Amsterdam, then leaving early Sunday to spend the day in Brussels before heading back to Paris. We are soo lucky that Dov’s brother lives in Amsterdam and is gracious enough to let us sleep at his house! I am so excited, but first I have a lot of work to do… for some reason even though it’s the first week of October, I have to write three proposals for final projects/papers. And do research at two different libraries. And prepare another PowerPoint presentation. Ahhh!!

Week 7: Playing Tourist

Monday started off with my internship, which was spent finding quotes Annie used for the French publication of her book in their original English translations. This is not an easy task, but I’m motivated by the fact that this is for a really important book that is going to be published by Yale. It’s pretty intimidating!

For class that afternoon we met at the Pompidou to get library cards to the Kandinsky library and see the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective. The Kandinsky is a reference library that claims to have every art book ever published. I’m not sure if this is true, but I know I will be using it a lot this semester. I was conveniently able to look up a quote for my internship while I was there, too. We spent several hours looking through books full of amazing works that are difficult to find otherwise. Some of my favorites were a book of Claes Oldenburg’s sketches and a beautiful book of Andreas Gursky’s work. I’ve decided that he is a perfect photographer and one of my favorites. I really want to see his work in person.

Then, we went to the Lichtenstein retrospective. This was probably one of the most complete exhibitions I’ve ever seen. I don’t quite know how to explain, it, but it was like reading a book. By the time I had gone through the whole thing, I felt completely satisfied. I can honestly say I’ve seen every Lichtenstein work of art that you would ever want to see, and I learned so much about him as an artist that I didn’t previously know. He was incredibly inter-disciplinary and art historically-aware. I’ve always appreciated him stylistically, but I really had no idea where he started as an artist and where his work went after his most well-known pieces. Considering how thorough this exhibition was, I am really excited that I will be in Paris for the Pompidou’s next exhibition on Dali. If it’s as good as this one, they will be two of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen.

IMG_20130930_172948_646 IMG_20130930_172755_400IMG_20130930_203819

Tuesday morning I had my internship after French, where I went through every chapter of Annie’s book and copied all the quotes I need to find translations for. I will now get to spend some quality time at the American Library in Paris, because she will be out of the country for the next few weeks. Tuesday I also had a major scare with my computer. It glitched during an update and looked like my computer had completely restarted and I lost all of my information. After freaking out for a while, I restarted my computer and everything was back to normal like nothing ever happened.

After that stressful, short amount of time, I decided that even though I had a good amount of work to do, I really needed to do something fun and relax. One of the things I’ve been realizing is that even though I’ve been in Paris for practically a month and a half, I haven’t fully let myself be a tourist, and I think this has been causing me a lot of unnecessary pressure. I decided to dedicate the afternoon to letting myself be a tourist. First, however, I made a stop to do what I has originally intended to do last Sunday: get second ear piercings. This is something I’ve been wanting to do forever but just never did for no particular reason, and decided to just do it since the place I went to was actually pretty inexpensive.

Right across from the jewelry store is the Saint-Jacques Tower, which is all that remains of a cathedral that once stood here. Nicolas Flamel was a patron of the church and is actually buried here!

Edited_2_JPEG

I kept walking down the street to the Paris Hotel de Ville.

Edited_10_JPEG Edited_6_JPEG Edited_5_JPEG Edited_4_JPEGEdited_12_JPEG Edited_15_JPEG

And then walked across the bridge over to Notre Dame.

Edited_20_JPEG Edited_21_JPEGEdited_18_JPEG Edited_16_JPEGEdited_23_JPEG

Finally, I was actually at Notre Dame during the day!

Edited_25_JPEG Edited_28_JPEG Edited_27_JPEG Edited_26_JPEGEdited_58_JPEG Edited_57_JPEG Edited_54_JPEG Edited_53_JPEGEdited_55_JPEGEdited_62_JPEGEdited_60_JPEG

And then I went inside…

Edited_30_JPEG

The way the cathedral is lit on the inside, it looks like an HDR photograph in real life. It’s crazy.

Edited_31_JPEG Edited_32_JPEG Edited_37_JPEG Edited_35_JPEG Edited_34_JPEG Edited_33_JPEG Edited_38_JPEG Edited_41_JPEG Edited_42_JPEG Edited_40_JPEG Edited_43_JPEG Edited_46_JPEG Edited_48_JPEG Edited_45_JPEG Edited_47_JPEG

After Notre Dame, I wandered down the Seine and through the rest of the island, which was pretty empty.

Edited_65_JPEG Edited_68_JPEG Edited_67_JPEG Edited_66_JPEG

I then crossed the Pont des Arts, one of the several lock bridges in Paris.

Edited_70_JPEG

After that I walked down along the Louvre and Tuileries until I got to the Metro stop on my line and headed home.

Edited_73_JPEG Edited_72_JPEG Edited_71_JPEG

Oh, and if you ever wondered how they move things into tiny little Parisian apartments with 2 person elevators, this is it:

Edited_74_JPEG

I have so many more photos, so I’ll be putting them all on Facebook as well!

The rest of my week was pretty uneventful; just schoolwork. I did go to Chipotle for lunch on Thursday because I can only go so long without guacamole. I’m not even a big Chipotle fan but man, it was so good.