Things you forget about when you haven't been to France or to Paris in years:
1. There's no pretense about security at French border control. While even returning U.S. citizens will cause raised eyebrows from our immigration officers as he/she looks at your passport photo, then looks at you again, then scrutinizes the photo, then you, and asks you why you are entering the country or if your father lives in the U.S. or something equally lacking in relevance, the officer at CDG doesn't even look at our passports but merely flips them open, stamps the page, and, without even looking up at us, slides them back into our possession. So much for spending hours of time documenting that we are not in violation of Schengen visa rules. Our bags are not subject to any security check either, and no customs forms were passed out on the plane or upon landing for us to fill out. Spain and even Italy where we have been in recent years have more border security than this!
2. While Paris is a big city, you always feel a sense of nature. Trees, flowers, and so many pristine manicured parks surround you. The bright blue sky with blooms of white clouds is unfettered by smog and the air is clean.
After coming from 90-degree temperatures in Los Angeles, it almost surprises us that it is actually autumn and that there are 4 discernible seasons here. From the way they dress now in leather jackets and sweaters with artfully tied scarfs around their necks, the Parisians have a very obvious awareness of the change of season as leaves begin to drop and the wind becomes cold.
3. Throughout Paris there are massive structures that get in your way when you think it will be an easy hike from Point A to Point B. One does not simply walk by the Louvre. One side of the building alone is one-half mile long, so it is best to think about packing a lunch and wearing sensible shoes if you plan to do this. Along the main boulevards and the river, all the monuments, buildings and bridges are huge and imposing examples of all of the best architectural styles and designs of the past centuries. The scale is truly enormous! But, then, as soon as you turn onto a side street, filled with lots of small chic boutiques and restaurants with customers packed tightly together, the scale becomes much more human again. Walking into a warm cozy restaurant along one of these side streets is a welcome - and tasty - relief after a prolonged exposure to the sometimes overwhelming cityscape of Paris.
4. Though it is a big city, Paris is still a place ruled by small specialty stores. Even in a big department store such as Galleries Lafayette, things get broken down into bitesized sections. Tiffany's has their own kiosk there on the ground floor. Near our apartment, there is a tea store with rows and rows of brightly colored tins containing dozens of different kinds of tea. And, that's it. . . they just sell tea! Other specialty stores seem to have equally singular and thorough selections. We wonder how they manage to stay in business. Shakespeare & Co., the English-language only bookstore, manages to cram every possible book worthy of reading into a tiny cave on the left bank.
5. A radical left wing still exists here that is alive and well, however, they seem to have chosen an easier fight: going to war with tourists rather than with the capitalist oppressors! The protesters are making loud noises with air horns and whistles in the Louvre the day we visited and then, sadly for us, the day after, they shut down the Musee D'Orsay with a strike during the duration of our visit.
6. There is no guilt about liking traditional music. Classical music concerts (not the ones just for tourists) seem to include plenty of composers throughout the past 4 centuries and the playlist at our favorite restaurant (yes, it doesn't take long to acquire a favorite restaurant in Paris) included Marvin Gaye, Edith Piaf, Otis Redding, Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones as well as jazz and classical. Even in the Metro station you can get treated to a string orchestra performing Mendelsohn and Brahms! (See video following)...
7. Okay. We are "cheating" with this last entry on the list because it is not specific to Paris since we have already been to and departed from Amsterdam and a few smaller cities as well by the time we are sending this first post to you all...but, having now stayed in multiple cities and in a variety of accommodations, can we just say that we are baffled by the following observations:
a. Everyone seems to smoke...what, didn't they get the memo on cigarettes here?? It is ironic to us that the French and the Dutch who in general appear to have such very healthy lifestyles are virtual chimneys... so what is up with all this smoking?!
b. Why no top sheets? Really, not in hotels, B&B's nor the AirBnb apartments we have rented - no one provides a top sheet. There is a bottom sheet and then just a heavy duvet inside a sheet-like duvet cover on top...apparently there are no warm blooded people here otherwise they would realize that it gets too damn hot to sleep beneath a thick comforter all night long! We miss our nice thin high thread count top sheet which continues to cover us even after we kick aside our blanket when we get too warm.
c. No toilets in this place! Really, in the U.S., we never consider the logistics of plotting out our bathroom breaks since a free toilet is always available at the next gas station, department store or fast food restaurant. Hell, you can even go into any supermarket or pharmacy to use the restroom. But here, you have to seriously consider your liquid intake because "public" bathrooms just don't exist. You must be a paying customer to access a bathroom here. The recommended approach is that you go into a bar and order a cup of coffee in order to use their bathroom, thereby defeating the purpose of why you went into the bar in the first place! Even this technique doesn't always work since, occasionally, one cup of coffee later, you are told the toilette is out of order!
d. Don't the women in France and Netherlands use hair conditioner? We take it for granted that hair conditioner will be among the toiletries in even a lowly hotel bathroom at home but not so here. We wonder how many female travelers experience "bad hair day" after their first shampoo here before heading to the pharmacy to buy a remedy!
Now we are traveling through the Netherlands and Belgium so we can once again forget what Paris is all about until next time...next travel blog entry contains a photo file on Paris and then we will write about Amsterdam and the Netherlands in a few days...