We are currently in Paris and plan to stay here for one month. The logistics of getting a place have not been easy. Unlike elsewhere, many of the apartments available are primary residences of young people who will move out (i.e. stay with family or a friend) if you want to rent their place. However, they only move themselves out and not all their stuff, so that leaves us living in a small apartment with limited storage space and someone else’s decorations. To complicate the issue, it took us contacting about a dozen people who showed availability on their calendars before finding one who actually had availability. Once we secured an apartment, life didn’t get any easier!
Our arrival in Paris was rough and one of the more challenging travel experiences we’ve encountered. The first day, there were some small things, like miscommunication with our Airbnb host so we waited in a stairwell for her for close to an hour. The bigger issue was that the place we rented didn’t feel safe or comfortable. It was dirty. I mean dirty like nothing in it had been properly cleaned for a long time. The walls were covered with splashes of spills, grimy hand prints, dust, and scrapes. You couldn’t really see out the windows. But, we know how to clean and worked to make ourselves comfortable. What we didn’t know how to deal with was the street scene. Directly outside the building, a large group of young men (300 at most) gathered every afternoon and evening. They were engaged in an active black market and the trade often came with shouting and very loud amplified music. On top of that, we twice saw guys from the black market kick in the front door to our building hard enough to break the magnetic lock! Our last evening police, raided the black market with dogs, dispersing the crowd and detaining many people. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that there were mice in the apartment. The mice got into our food and left droppings on the kitchen counter. When we contacted our host, she asked us to not kill them. She said the mouse is very intelligent, is like a pet for the whole building, and is nicknamed ‘Brain.’ Thank goodness she loved the mouse enough to offer us a refund and a way out. As soon as we could find another place, we moved out and our experience here has been much better since.
We are now staying on a quiet street in the 20th arrondissement (officially defined neighborhood). There are few tourists in this area. Our west facing balcony has a view over the city including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur. Sun streams in during the afternoon. We have three delicious bakeries in a two block radius, and many more bars, cafes, and restaurants. There are parks in all directions. It feels like a safe, classic mixed-use area; mostly residential buildings with the ground floors dedicated to commercial purposes. Our host is a sound engineer who is really into tea (there are about 15 tins on the 3 kitchen shelves) and eclectic music. One of his band/DJ posters says “deep cerebral and inventive, the future of UK hiphop.”
Paris is a city whose reputation precedes it so you won’t get our typical introduction to it here. It is the most visited place in the world, hosting 30 million tourists each year. The metro area includes 12 million Parisians. It is full of beautiful buildings, parks, bridges, streets, and public art. The city benefits from past generations; it has been a settlement for at least 8000 years! The earliest known inhabitants were a Celtic tribe. If you look you can finds signs of the Romans, of Napoleon Bonaparte, and Baron Haussmann of course. Paris has seen war and revolution firsthand many times. Informational plaques are posted on walls or posts regarding important events, lives of historic figures, and buildings that once stood. You could probably find one on every block in the city! It feels like a modern metropolis while balancing being an old city with a strong sense of culture and tradition.
Lovingly planted window boxes add a splash of color to the stone buildings. Some of our favorite signs of modernity and urban planning are the comprehensive city-wide bike-rental program that discourages using cars, and a clean safe subway system where trains run every five minutes or less and the nearest stop is never more than a 5 minute walk. People love to eat outdoors and if a neighborhood restaurant is open, it will have customers. To keep the food culture strong, employees get a government-subsidized voucher from their employer that covers the cost of a cheap lunch. There are other food protection laws such as a business cannot use the word boulangerie unless they bake bread onsite daily. The city is cleaner than any US city we’ve been to and everyday we see public employees cleaning public spaces. Parks are everywhere, from a small piece of land between streets to planned acres of green. Pets are excluded from most parks, keeping these spaces focused on people.
We’ve noticed some distinct cultural differences between Paris and the States. People here appear to spend a lot less time and energy face-down on their phones. Instead, parks are filled with people reading paper books or engaged in conversation. Food is always fresh and preservatives are often not allowed to be added to products. To support this, large green markets happen every day of the week. Our neighborhood has three, the closest one takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Additionally, grocery stores with real produce and basic ingredients are practically on every block. There is no such thing as a food desert in this city. On the other hand, Parisians smoke a lot. Thank goodness the city is breezy or we’d be choked to death by now! There is a high value in polite, clear, and quiet communication. We first learned this from a guide book and have seen it to be true. On a packed subway train, there is only a low hum of conversation, even during rush hour when there is a crush to get in or out. Voices are rarely raised. Shopkeepers always call us madame and monsieur. Walking down the street, you rarely hear cell phones ringing or music from passing cars.
Tales from our sightseeing and adventures will come in the next post. In the meantime, you can look at more pictures by clicking here.