I am a little jealous of my friends who have visited France and have returned with romantic tales of beautiful cities (especially Paris) and the dreamy afterglow of a perfect vacation. While our time in France wasn’t so idyllic, we still managed to have a great time.
Paris in Chaos
It was October 2010. We had scored a great deal on an AirFrance flight that put us right in Paris on our first anniversary. We had read several travel guides, practiced our basic French, made a list of places to visit and things to see. We considered ourselves prepared.
Just before our trip, the 2010 pension strikes broke out. We were determined to not lose our money on the hotels we had booked and our flights, so we carried onward. We landed in a city that was hosting a large number of protesters. Trains were cancelled, trash littered the streets, and a tense atmosphere was everywhere.
We had purchased a Eurail pass to travel to Belgium by train, which was now obsolete because the trains out of Paris were shut down.
Despite these setbacks, we still had a great time, visited some incredible places, and tried a wide variety of amazing food (including macarons from the famous Ladurée).
Here are a few tips that helped us enjoy our vacation:
Attempt to Speak the Language. Even if it’s just to say hello. Even if you butcher it. The attempt is always appreciated.
Dress for Success. Try to blend in. You’ll be more comfortable if you can fit in with the locals. You’ll also be less of a target to pickpockets and thieves.
Safety First. Read up on some of the common scams that can occur while travelling. David Leibovitz’s article, Paris Safety Tips, is a must read if you’re going to any large city. Read through the comments, too, as there’s a lot of first-hand experience and advice that could be useful.
Read up on Restrooms. We didn’t consider how difficult it would be to find a working restroom in Paris. Budget Travel has an excellent guide on the topic.
Enjoy yourself, no matter what. Even at our most stressed out times, we were in France and reveled in the experience. In Paris, there were still quiet parts of the city to enjoy- for us, the Notre Dame Cathedral was a wonderful sanctuary.
Relaxing Vacation or An Adventure?
France is a beautiful country full of incredible art and a rich heritage, there’s no denying that. While we faced protests, cancelled tours, and missed train rides, we still salvaged our trip. Some trips are relaxing vacations, and others an adventure.