February 10, 2016

Paris!

After a very long flight that changed in Singapore, I said baai baai to Hong Kong and bonjour to Paris.

I’ve been to Paris before (once on a high school trip and another time a few years ago), so I was under less pressure to visit the typical sights and more able to relax my pace and add some joie de vivre to my visit.

This time, I skipped the Louvre in favor of first-ever trips to the Musee d’Orsay and Musee de l’Orangerie. I really enjoyed the very intimate l’Orangerie and its breathtaking Water Lillies by Claude Monet that cover the walls in two conjoined circular rooms. You can see it yourself by taking this virtual tour.

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Musee d’Orsay is a stone’s throw from l’Orangerie on the opposite side of the Seine. It’s a much bigger museum in comparison but still easy to “do” in a day or less. The Orsay was built inside a former train station, so the architecture is an attraction all by itself:

Musee d’Orsay has multiple floors and a maze of rooms filled with the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art. So many iconic paintings … like these:

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Since I’m visiting Paris in the low season (and, sadly, in the wake of the recent terror attacks), I haven’t encountered the large crowds you’d expect at the major sights. In fact, there are days when it seems like I have the whole place to myself.

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Being an early riser also makes a difference. That’s what led me to be the first person in line for elevator tickets at the Eiffel Tower. I could’ve taken the cheaper, heart-healthy stairs … but, sorry, no 704 steps for me!

I got to the base of the tower at about 9:00 a.m., approaching from the west side (for the lovely view) via Trocadero metro station. The ticket kiosks open at 9:30 a.m. and, even though I was a bit early, I was still surprised to find so few tourists there – especially since it was a rare, rain-free day with blue skies that made for beautiful views.

But there was also a lot of wind! So much so that nobody was allowed to take the elevator all the way to the top of the tower. The highest I could go was the second floor, and that was just fine with me. There were times when it was hard to keep my balance because the wind was so fierce!

Here are some things to know about Paris:

  • Coming from litter-free Tokyo and quite clean Hong Kong, I don’t think I’ve ever realized how dirty Paris is. So much litter! So much grime! It’s really interesting to visit different places back-to-back and compare cultural and societal norms.
  • Another comparison: In Tokyo, there are crosswalks as wide as city blocks, yet nobody will cross the street until the sign says it’s okay. Hong Kong was similar but not to the same degree. In Paris … jaywalking is so normal, anyone waiting for the sign to change (like me!) ends up looking odd.
  • In Paris, I’ve had to bid adieu to the bounty of super cheap eats I was able to enjoy in Asia. However, I can still eat pretty well and cheaply in Paris with favorites like fresh bread and croissants, falafel, shawarma … and Nutella crepes!
  • In order to travel light and minimize my daily routine, I don’t pack a lot of make-up or toiletries, but visiting a French pharmacie for skin care items is so much fun! I’ll have more on this in another post.
  • I’m not usually one for organized tours, but taking a food tour in Paris can be really educational and … delicious! I attended one called Paris by Mouth, which I really enjoyed. I’ll share more on this later too.
  • I love walking through big cities in the morning before they “wake up” and Paris is particularly perfect for an early AM stroll. The historic Le Marais district can get very crowded during the daytime, but it’s really magical in the morning when no one’s there. The same goes for walking along the Seine before the traffic and crowds hit.

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  • Le Marais is also a great place to visit on a Sunday. With its Jewish roots, many eateries and shops remain open while those in most other Paris neighborhoods are closed. It’s also one of the few places where you can find a pharmacie open on a Sunday.
  • Visitors to Paris often stress over which arrondissement (or district) to choose for their accommodations. Personally, I find Paris so compact and walkable, it’s pretty easy to get anywhere on foot or with a short metro ride. For my current visit, I’m staying at an Airbnb in the 11th. It’s not a tourist destination, but I consider that a plus. Similar to my recent Airbnb in Hong Kong … staying in a neighborhood that’s off the tourist’s beaten path gives me a better sense of how the locals go about their daily lives.

More to come from Paris!