This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel abroad to France for the first time. I'd never flown across an ocean or received stamps in my passport (apparently Mexico and Canada didn't care last time I was there) so this was a big deal! My friend Christy, her sisters, and I got to spend several days in Paris with a little excursion to Provence in southern France. This trip was one for the books and it's taken me so long to finally get my photos rounded up with a few of our "pro tips" and fun facts. Things to keep in mind while reading this - I grew up studying Spanish so I knew very little about France, French culture, or the language. I love to learn and found everything fascinating! Also, when traveling, I like to do a mix of the touristy (I mean it's famous for a reason) and a little off the beaten path - trying to find where the locals go. We did our best to fit in and I think we succeeded decently well until we had to open our mouths. I carried around my camera on some days in my purse, but it's heavy and sometimes you just want to be in the moment by not photographing it. I hope you find these insights helpful for when you plan your own trip!
1. Clothing - If you want to stand out as a tourist, wear bright colors and tank tops. Paris is the fashion capital of the world and it seems as such that everyone wears black - maybe with some neutrals thrown in. We were also surprised to find that everyone seemed to be wearing jackets, coats and boots in the middle of summer. Yes - it's not as hot there as it is in hot and humid Georgia, but still - it's summer and the sun was shining! Unknowingly, I packed mostly neutrals (hello mix and match!) and we did our best to blend in. My goal is always to look like I belong enough to get asked for directions - and it happened - twice.
Another way to stand out as a tourist is to wear a rain jacket and carry an umbrella. Apparently, for the Parisians, if it rains, they just get wet.
2. Local - We stayed in Le Marais for the first few days of our trip and there is the coolest shop located in that neighborhood called Merci Shop. I heard about it from some other friends who had travelled recently. It's kind of like Anthropologie, but with a coffee shop/ used book store inside of it. If I lived there, I imagine I would spend a lot of time in that cute little cafe.
3. Coffee - If you know me, you know I love a good cup of joe. However, it took a few tries to figure out how to actually order coffee in Paris. If you ask for "cafe, s'il vous plait" (always learn the important phrases before you travel ;)), you might still get a confused look. Drip coffee does not exist. It's all expresso based. This means if you ask for coffee, they might just give you a tiny shot of espresso or offer you an americano, (espresso+ water) the closest you'll get to our traditional drip coffee. Eventually, we figured it out and mostly I just ordered lattes and cappuccinos, but still haven't quite figured out how get the "big" cup. I'm talking about anything more than 6 oz. I'm not quite sure if a 12 oz of anything exists, but if you've figured out how to acquire it, let me know for next time. It's also possible that I'm stuck in my highly caffeinated American ways.
Speaking of tiny cups, we never figured out how to get a tall glass of water at a cafe or restaurant either. They may leave you with a carafe of water to share at the table, but the cups are still tiny. Waiters also don't come to check on you because they don't want to bother you. It's all very leisurely, which is nice, but that also means making lots of requests for more water.
4. Dogs - Let's talk about dogs for a second. First of all, I don't think I ever saw a dog on a leash, but they weren't necessary because dogs didn't run off - neither did children. Everyone seems to be very mild mannered (apart from inside soccer stadiums). This might be another way to easily spot the American. Often times, we're the loud, giggly ones.
Most of the homeless we saw also had puppies. You could argue that they took better care of their puppies than they did for themselves, but it did make tourists want to stop and take photos and offer money to the owner as compensation. They typically weren't French either. We found out that many of them were refugees speaking little or no french.
5. The Louvre - It is gigantic. Make sure you schedule at least half a day to go. Also, keep in mind, Mona Lisa is actually a small painting and you'll have to stand farther away. Plus, all the tourists are trying to take selfies with her. If you're patient, you might be able to manage to get close (for about 60 seconds). Also, if you buy your tickets ahead of time, you can skip the line.
6. Google Maps - Kudos to Christy on this one. Did you know that you can download a map from google maps to your phone and use the maps app even if you don't have wifi? All you have to do is download it when you do have service or wifi. Genius! I opted not to spend the money on phone calls and texts or data while traveling and saved my communication needs for when we made it back to our airbnb each night, but having our phones to be able to get around was so handy!
7. Soccer - When you travel, try to find a local sporting event to attend. It's an easy and fun way to immerse yourself in the culture. The Euros were happening while we were in Paris and Christy somehow managed to find us tickets to the Iceland-Austria match in Paris' largest stadium "Stade de France" via the French version of stubhub. The underdogs, Iceland, won 2-1! I loved it. It was so fun and exciting. The stadium was never quiet and I learned some new chants.
There are many more photos and facts, but I'll save those for Part II comin' at ya in the near future. For now, feel free to share any of your travel tips with me in the comments below!