Paris in August – Busy and Deserted

august song

During the month of August, something very strange happens around Paris. It’s not unique to the city but it is strange nonetheless. It happens every year like clockwork. It starts and finishes at almost the same time every year. It’s been happening for quite a while yet despite this fact, each year, people pretend like it is the first time this has ever happened. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? No!

 

Ok, so if you are visiting the city during the month of August, you might notice something a bit unusual . It’s not the weather and its not an event. It’s about the local people. It seems like there are virtually no local people in Paris at all. The city gets completely taken over by people like you and people like me…. Tourists. That horrible, horrible word that no tourist wants to hear and certainly doesn’t want to admit they are. But I personally don’t mind the term. If it’s used in a nice way of course.

 

The mass exodus of people, is not something unique to Paris. Most major cities in Europe experience the same thing especially large capitals like Madrid and Rome. All the locals of these cities flee and escape to the beach. But it seems that with each passing year, the concept and understanding of why this happens seems to change. Parisians don’t leave Paris because there are too many tourists in August. It’s quite the other way around. Parisians have been doing this long before the massive tourism boom of the 1990s and 21st Century. Any Parisian will tell you this. There is a very famous iconic Parisian movie called Last Weekend, directed by Jean Luck Gordard (if you haven’t seen it, you should, it’s amazing and still to this day, it’s very chic). In this movie, there is a famous scene of a traffic jam which seems to go on and on and on. The scene is a single shot and is over 7 minutes long and highlights the type of jams experienced by Parisians during the 1960s, as everyone tried to go to the south for their summer holidays.

 

The effect of this, has left the city ripe for the picking, so to speak. Before, the month of August meant that the city was abandoned and dead and now, it is one of the most profitable months for the city. Every hotel is full, every major restaurant that has good reviews is full and the museums are full. This bring a lot of economic life to the city. Ok, I know there are down sides. It gets a bit crowded, yes it’s true. It’s a bit more expensive, yes it’s true. It lacks a certain authentic element due to the absences of locals, yes it’s also true. But it not all bad and it seems like every time August comes around, everyone seems to saying the same thing. All the tourists come so the Parisians leave. No no no, my friend. It was quite the opposite.

Plane Problems

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While this blog is normally reserved for activites and events in Paris, I thought I would change the tone a little. It’s still relevant to tourist and tourism, but a bit more serious. If you are traveling to Paris (or indeed anywhere in France), you should know that there is a currently a strike.

 

“Yes, yes, yes but there are always strikes in France” – I can hear you shouting at your computer screen. This is definitely a stereotype that we French have to deal with and we are not why we have this stereotype. I lived in many different European countries and I honestly don’t think our government institutions strike any more or less than some of our neighbors.. But its just one of the labels we have to live with.

 

The strike, I’m talking about is the air traffic controller strike. There is no need to panic, it’s not a bad strike, or even a new one. It’s been going on for a while. I’ve noticed that international media don’t really write a lot about it, because it is really a domestic issue. It’s difficult to write about it without getting into the politics of the dispute. Any attempt to explain exactly what is happening results in somehow taking a side or at least, favoring one side. This blog is definitely not a place for politics (thankfully) but it is related to tourism.

 

My advice is too check with your airline and see what the consequences are. I will be nothing serious and they strikes are only happening in short bursts. It’s not like, they just walked out of their jobs. It’s more of a “go-slow.” But they can be unpredictable. They have strikes 14 times now in since April and it is difficult to see when exactly it will end.

 

Stay up to date with news coverage and advice from your airline. If you are traveled from outside of Europe make sure, you plan for the possibility that you might be delayed just a little bit or you might be held a bit longer in your home airport or stopover destination on your way to Paris or another French city. Once you know and you make provision and you make a plan, it really isn’t;t that big a deal but if it takes you by surprise, it can be annoying. Also, people like to exaggerate the problem – “there no planes… at all flying into Paris, if you go, you could be stuck there”. I heard someone say this in London recently. This isn’t true. Of course planes are landing, it’s one of the busiest cities in the world, in terms of air traffic. If that was true you’d know all about it, trust me.

A beautiful language

 

A few weeks ago, I read a post all about the French language and I thought I would share my experiences with the language. I’ve been an English teacher for over 20 years, so I know exactly how students work. I know the kind of problems they face. I can predict when they’re going to have a problem and how to explain it them very clearly. The English language makes perfect sense to me and even when there are times that it seems like it doesn’t make sense, I can shed some light on it and make it easier to understand. At least, I think I can and I hope that my students think I can. I’ve been doing it a long time, so I imagine that I’m pretty good at it.

 

It might surprise you to learn, that I’m actually monolingual and in fact, most of the English teachers I know are also monolingual. This might seem strange and it is certainly something I would never freely admit to a student – “Hello, I only speak one language, I have no idea what you are going through”. This wouldn’t be a good or helpful introduction and definitely not the right way to make a good impression. But sadly its true. Most of my English teacher friends have been living in the Middle East for years and years and can’t even put a single sentence together.

 

It is not entirely our fault, however. I don’t want you to think, that we are making excuses, but if you work and make all your money and do all your socializing in English, it makes it remarkably difficult to acquire a new one. But recently, I have tried. It is by no means my first attempt. I studied German in school and after 6 years, I could just about manage to ask for the bathroom. I tried learning French, with a very attractive teacher. But the moment I figured out he spoke English, we stopped the classes and started dating…… I moved to Spain for 2 years. I took weekly free lessons which we included in my company for all the international employees. I tried a lot at first, but I saw I wasn’t making progress, I lost motivation. That’s why, I think motivation is so important. Even if, my students make lots of mistakes, I always make them feel like they are progressing so they stay motivated.

 

No, I’ve been in Paris for 4 months and it looks like I’m going to be hear for a while, so I figure I better try and make an effort. It’s kind of similar to English. I mean, it’s not Russian or Chinese, so that’s a big plus. I’ve also attempted it before, so I thought, maybe some of that will come flooding back to me ( even though that wasn’t very much to begin with). I signed up for a school (really similar set-up to the one I work in) and begin weekly morning classes.

 

As a teacher, I never had anything to do with the money that students paid. I knew it was a lot but that was all dealt with in the office, not the classroom. Now that I signed up for lesson and saw that the teacher was quite young and not very experienced, I wasn’t sure if it was worth my money. It was truly a remarkable experience to be on the other side of the classroom. She was a Parisian teacher so that was a plus. The major downside was that everyone in the room was a native English speaker. I’ve spent years telling people, don’t go to London to lean English. It’s too international, you will just meet people from your own country or people that speak your language and you won’t learn as quickly as you would, if you went to a smaller English town. But here I was.

 

I was old enough to be everyone’s mother, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I couldn’t believe all the Americans that had come specifically to Paris, in large groups to learn French. “It’s just not going to happen, people”- I wanted to scream from the top of my voice. But I didn’t I just took out my pen and followed the lesson. It was very grammar orientated which is quite different from my classes but I suppose it is important to know the grammar. I’ve just always found it difficult to make it interesting when I teach it.

 

I was impressed that I could follow virtually everything the teacher was saying. Of course, I know she was speaking a lot slower than normal. I do that too when I have a class of beginner students. But like every other attempts, about two weeks ago, I gave up.

 

The classes are not like my classes. And that might sounds arrogant to say, but I know what I don’t like and being almost double the age of everyone else, I felt uncomfortable. Another failed attempt, I thought to myself. All that money, wasted on a fancy school in the middle of the Latin Quarter. I had signed up for one month and I gave it three weeks. And this was the same day that my metro card mysterious stopped working and I had to ask the man why this had happened and if I could have another one. He tried to tell me that my metro card and finished and that I needed to buy a new one. But I knew that wasn’t the case. What could have been a simply exchange of two or three sentences turned into a bit of an argument and a delay on my why home. My confidence was knocked even further.

 

They say, that the French don’t like to speak English but that’s not true . The French and Parisians are lovely people and in my opinion when it comes to language, they have a reputation that I simply don’t think they deserve. No one would ever refuse to speak a language. They can either speak it or they can’t, and it is true that the level of English might shock you a bit. Ok, it’s not as bad as people make out – Paris is an international city and (well known fact) it is the number 1 tourist destination in the world. So, if you’re planning on staying in a hotel and seeing the sights for a couple of days, then everything is fine. From the waiter, to the hotel staff, to the tour guide – everyone will speak English and understand you. But if you stay a little bit longer or if you’re like me and you actually plan to live here, then yes, you need to learn French. The level of English is not as good as say Berlin, Stockholm or Amsterdam. French is a world language and it’s international status is not challenged or under threat based on it’s ability to speak English.

 

SO the moral of the story is that you better start learning. A large part of Parisian daily life will be unavailable to you, if you don’t speak this language. And of course, like every other city on the planet, if you some words in the local language and don’t immediately just launch into English, they will appreciate it.

 

But I digress somewhat on what I wanted to talk about ( a problem that happens in a lot of my classes as well). There is a whole world of people in Paris who want to learn English and if you really want to speak French but you hate classrooms or you’re not willing to pay rocket money for classes then try and find a language exchange. I ‘m not great with online stuff and I just started blogging and writing blog posts in the last couple of years, so if you’re like me, you might not know that such platforms and sites exist. My friend pointed it out to me, when I was just about to lose hope and walk around with a pocket translator.

 

Couchsurfing.com is the best one in Paris in my opinion. I thought this was simply just a free version of Airbnb and I have heard of it before but I never logged on to it, because frankly it was really my thing. I didn’t realize it is also home to thousands of events across the globe. Every day in Paris there are so many different things happening and virtually all of them are free. The energy of couchsurfing is very & “meet and greet” and chilled out, so the people are all really friendly. Ok, I’ve only been to three meetings but I was sold within the first 20 minutes of my first meeting. I’ve only been to the language events but there are other events.

 

Once people found out, I was an English teacher, all the local people wanted to talk to me to improve their English and once they saw that I was helping them a lot, they switched and started teaching my the basics. I honestly can’t praise it enough. And how much does it cost? Nothing, Rein, Nada. And you can drink a nice class of wine and because its in a bar, it’s more relaxed.

 

Another great site is MeetUp. It’s much more dynamic and has all kinds of different events. I tried a language exchange on that site and it was great fun. Based on my own personal experience, I preferred couchsurfing because people also wanted to help me and well as speak English but in the MeetUp crowd, I felt myself talking a lot of English and eventually saying (more than once) “ hey can we try a bit of French for 5 or 10 minutes.. you’re basically getting a free English class here”. Of course, it was all friendly and lovely and I’m definitely going to give it another shot. It’s just my opinion but so far Couchsurfing is winning. So the real point of this post ( and I totally shouldn’t be saying this because I’m an English teacher ) is, forget the expensive classes and do a language exchange. You have nothing to lost because it’s completely free and if you click with someone you might save a lot of money and their local so you get a free tour guide included.

 

Go and search and learn.

Cycle Free and Explore

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Almost every major city across Europe now has one, but like almost everything else, the movement, apparently started in Paris. Home to so many cultural institutions, artistic innovation and important historic events, Paris has given the world so much. But this post isn’t about what you would expect. I confess, I’m not much of an art lover. Well, I think it’s great but its not exactly why thing. I’m much more of an outdoors person and I was happy to discover the Paris was the first city to spearhead the free bicycle movement.

 

Home to the finish line of the most famous bike race in the world, the city also has a dedicated bike festival every June. According to my sources (Wikipedia and my Parisian friends), Paris was the first city to introduce public bicycles scattered across the city for everyone to use as a mode of transport. And no one could have predicted how popular it would have become.

 

How exactly does it work?

 

Ok, so there are literally hundreds of bike stations across the city. As you would expect, most of them are in the city centre. They are available for 24 hours or even for 7 days, if you plan to stay in the city for longer. If you want even longer you can sign up for a subscription. You can purchase the service online or at any of the bike stations. Instructions are available in English and if you get really stuck or you have a problem with your bike or membership there is even a dedicated English speaking customer service team and an English language website.

 

Oh, how silly of me, to forget. In case it wasn’t obvious the name of this blog post, Velo Libre, is the name of the service, just in case you want to Google it. The first 30 minutes of every journey are completely free, libre (free in French). So if you are planning a short vacation to Paris, this is a great idea. You get all the necessary exercise you need, so there no need to feel guilty about eating all that cheese or drinking all the wine. But remember, don’t drink and cycle, you could hurt not only yourself but others around you.

 

While other cities have followed suit and copied this system, the Parisian version still remains the best one, in my opinion. Barcelona has a great service but its not for tourists, you need to have a tax number to avail of the service. London has a similar service but honestly, despite the cities best efforts, the city centre is not bicycle friendly. I live there and cycling around the centre is great, but Zone 1, just isn’t as a well designed for bikes as Paris. Amsterdam, the great bike city of Europe, its amazing for bikes but everyone already owns one, so there is no really need for a service with this many bicycles. Thank Velo Libre, for helped me burn the calories and seeing the city in a new way.

Eat, Pray, Blog

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am one of those lucky people who gets to travel as part of their job. At least twice a month, a meeting, conference, interview, or some problematic situation takes my to some of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities. I have a favorite and it’s Paris. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, there is always something really cool happening there. It helps if you know your way around the city because like everywhere else in the world, if there are a lot of tourists there are a lot of traps. I know, technically speaking I’m not a tourist, I’m there working but still, I don’t know my way around and I’m only there a short time for each visit. Thats why I use the internet to help me.

Blogging and user generated content has really changed my traveling experiences. Now, with just a couple of clicks, I can find good exhibitions that I’m actually interested in by reading the reviews of likeminded people and most importantly where to eat. That’s the reason for my post today. Reading restaurant reviews has helped me to make informed decisions about where to spend my hard earned cash. I sometimes don’t trust people in hotels, especially in big chains because I always suspect they have some agreement with a local restaurant and they simply just ship the guests in, by the bus load. I prefer to rent an apartment because I like to be by myself. It has nothing to do with wanting the use the kitchen. I hate cooking and if I can avoid even making something as simple as a sandwich, I will. I eat out all the time, that’s why reviews are so important for me, because if I’m not a local, I don’t know where to go. And I would never trust a guide book (does anyone trust them anymore). But here’s one thing I noticed and you should notice too, stay away from the big tourist information sites – you know the ones I mean. The sites that have user reviews for hotels, cities, monuments, sites, and restaurants. I think, it fact, I’m pretty sure that I lot of these are fake and are actually the company writing this about themselves. There’s no way of checking, but a lot of the reviews just don’t sounds like real people. If they sing the praises of the restaurant too much, it probably is not a real review. Remember, just because its online doesn’t mean its real.

 

So what do I use instead? Timeout is great – but make sure you read the reviews by users. Other Parisian based sities with good user reviews include – Paris by mouth and Parisianist. I use them a lot for all things food related. Enjoy, read the reviews and eat, eat ,eat.

 

Je voudrais un Big-mac… Now please!

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Warning this blog post may massively offend French people and especially people from Paris. I decided to write a post all about food. I’ve lived in Paris for two years and the food is just wonderful. But I’m not talking about French food. I do think French food is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. It’s one of the best cuisines in the world and some dishes are beautifully complex. But there are probably over a million blogs and articles dedicated to the task of telling everyone how wonderful the food in Paris is. But if you are a bit like me, you guys probably will get a bit sick of the change and want some old fashioned American food.

 

First of all, if you feel this way, don’t feel guilty. It happens to the best of us. Just because I get a craving for stuffed potato skins or a pumpkin pie doesn’t mean I hate French food and it doesn’t mean that I’m turning my nose up at it either. It just means, there is a little part of me that misses my home and I wanna have a part of that … on a plate. After you have killed the guilt, you need to embrace the pride. If you say you are craving American food to some Europeans, they will literally expect you to either run into a movie theatre and demand popcorn or attempt to find the nearest McDonalds. We have good food and ok, it’s definitely not as respected worldwide as French or Italian food but we need to have some pride in our food. My country’s cuisine is not exclusively defined by fast food. So with this in mind, I decided to write a blog about my favorite American eatery.

 

The place I like to eat at, is called Breakfast in American (easy name, right). And it’s actually so good, that there’s two of them. I just discovered that recently when I was wandering the streets of Paris and found it. Both are pretty much the same. The one I generally go to is in 17 Rue des Écoles that’s in the 4th district of Paris. A nice area and pretty touristy and international so its possible you will be in the area anyway, either to sightsee or because you’ve rented a luxury apartment or a nice hotel room. Think of this place as a cross between a New York diner and a trendy Brooklyn brunch cafe. There are also many more great places dotted around the city, such as Ralphs in the 6th district or Joe Allen in the first district and many many more. Eat with pride my fellow tourists and never let your cravings make you feel guilty. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to have a peanut butter sandwich and an Oreo milkshake.

Summer Reading

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As the peak Summer season draws ever closer, we are all getting prepared for our summer vacations. For some people this will involve months and months at the gym, as they work tirelessly to get into shape and get the beach body they’ve always dreamed of. For other people, it’s about getting all the accessories, the clothes, the glasses, the bags, the right suitcases ( because you really need to separate yourself from everyone else at the baggage collection point). Other types of people, who are better than I am, might even try to learn the local language and pick up some facts or general knowledge about the area. What a great idea, but not something I will be doing. I believe in relaxing during my holiday time. For me the preparation begins and ends with one thing – a good book.

If you have a wander around your local high street now, you’ll find every window display is full of ideas and suggestions for novels and stories you should take with you on your vacation. For me, it is so important to sit back and relax and get into a good story. Every summer, I rent a apartment for a couple of days in central Paris and spend a considerable period of time, reading outside a cafe, while sipping my coffee, or reading in a beautiful local park, or my personal favorite, on the balcony of my apartment in the morning and just after sunset.

I’m a pretty slow reader. A book of about 500 pages can take me well over a week to finish. I know some people, who love reading like me, can literally finish a book in 24 hours or even less if the story is that compelling. So I decided to write this post for all the tourists out there, who spend ages choosing their summer read and then finish it in rapid time and don’t know where to get another one.

Paris actually has a lot of English language bookshops. The vast majority of them can be found in the centre. Ok, it’s true, a lot of the iconic bookshops have disappeared and this is a terrible shame. It seems like a difficult business to try and create an independent book shop exclusively selling books in English in the heart of Paris. But there are still many options available, even if they are slightly on the more commercial side of things. For me, WHS is always nearby. It’s on the same street as the Louvre, so you will definitely be in the area (number 248). It’s also great for English and American newspapers, so you can catch up on the latest news, if you don’t have a T.V in your apartment. Another great option is Shakespeare and Company ( no connection to the man himself) Just across the river in the 6th, this place has a better stock and is less commercial than WHS, so you can spend some time here and get lost in the titles. So much better than ordering online and a great way to spend an afternoon.

Paris from a high

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I recently read a book called my 20,000 wonders of the world. It wasn’t a travel guide as you might think. It was a kind of an anti travel guide. The book encouraged readers to visit famous places but to see beyond the famous sites and discover something for themselves. I’m not sure, if I achieved exactly that, but I did learn an interesting fact. I love interesting facts.

A nice Japanese man informed me that the highest point in  Paris is….. wait for it……. hold on…. not actually the top of the Eiffel Tower. I always thought it was. It was a nice piece of friendly information, it was just a shame that he decided to make this announcement to everyone in the elevator. The elevator in the Eiffel Tower. There I was, speeding up at high speed in a metal box, only to be told… that its not actually the top of Paris. Some tourists in the elevator ( the ones, I’m guessing that could speak English) asked our Japanese expert friend what was, in fact the highest point in Paris. Any ideas? I think if you live in the city of Paris, it’s not that much of a secret but it’s not something I ever knew or gave much thought to. If you look at the skyline of Paris, it does look like the Eiffel Tower is the tallest building in Paris and this is true, it is. Although, I’m not sure if it’s correct, to call it a building. Lets call it a structure, just to keep everyone happy. Our Japanese friend told us that theres a big hill in Paris in the 18th district and on top of that hill there is a church, a rather famous church, that you can climb to the top of (with a lot of difficulty, if you smoke a lot, like me) – the Sacre Cour.

The Sacre Cour is not a secret to anyone. Apparently after Notre Dame, it’s the most visited church is Paris. But I never knew it was higher than the Eiffel Tower and when you take a picture of the Parisian skyline, its cool to have the Eiffel Tower included in it. .

After doing some basic research on the internet, it seems the largest structure in Paris still the Eiffel Tower but Bellville on the Rue du Telegraphe is the highest elevation point at 148 meters above sea level. The Sacre Cour is built on a 135 meters elevation. So while the Eiffel Tower is much larger, the church is built on much higher ground. So, I guess the Japanese tourist was right unless anyone out there cares to challenge him. I do always love a good debate and I hate when I don’t know stuff that’s apparently obvious to everyone.

New York or Paris ?

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A recent walk along the Seine, I noticed a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Yes, a replica. That’s what I thought and that’s what I said to my French friend when she looked at me in a facial expression that was a delicate mix of horror and humor. “This is the original one. The one in your country is a replica”, she replied. Was this something I was suppose to know? I must have missed it in history class.

Walking along the Seine, about 30 miss after the Eiffel Tower, away from the centre, you’ll find a smaller “version” of New York’s most iconic statue. I know the story behind the Statue of Liberty. It was given by the French to the U.S as a gift to celebrate American Independence. I think this is common knowledge in the U.S but I didn’t realize that our American one was the real replica.

I did a little bit of internet research and all I can say it God bless the internet, because although the iconic statue was given the U.S in 1886, the one I was looking at was actually a replica. Don’t get me wrong, it is interesting and to accidentally stumble upon it, without knowing about it was a real surprise indeed. But it was created after the New York one.

The nearest metro station is Javal, and the statue is on a tiny island on the Seine river. You just have to walk across the Pont de Grenelle. It’s pretty cool.

But the reason I wanted to write this post was because I actually found the “original” Statue of Liberty and she really is in Paris. It was constructed by Frederic Bartholdi. Before he made the absolutely massive one, he made a smaller one, 6ft in height and also constructed in bronze. My guide book told me I would find it in the Jardin du Luxembourg and beside her is a memorium to the 9/11 attacks in New York. When I went to look for her, she was gone. The plaque is still there but no statue. With no French, I didn’t know how to ask where it was.

Luckily, the very next day, while I was checking out the Musee des Arts et Metiers, I found her. Right outside. It was the second time in a few days, I stumbled upon the design. Apparently, there are a few other examples or replicas of the statue scattered across Paris and copies of the design can be found in places as far off as Beijing, Ireland and even our beloved Las Vegas, which pretty much has a copy of everything.

So I guess the moral of this story is too not believe everything you are told and see for yourself. Paris will surprise you everytime.

The Best Film Festival

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One of the many reasons why I love Paris so much, is because of the sheer volume of artistic and cultural offerings that the city has. Like New York or London, Paris is a multicultural city and a leader in the world of art. I recently experienced this at the annual Festival of International Documentary Films, or to give its correct French title – Cinema du Reel.

For 10 days every year, the city plays host to an inspiring array of informative documentaries from the around the world. What struck me most about this festival was the diversity of subject matter on offer. When the festival says global, they really do mean global. From immigration. The rules in Canada to the Amazon rainforests, politics and the environment took central stage this year.

The event is held around the middle of march each year and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger as more talented directors and producers attempt to capture your attention by showcasing the issues that really matter to them. It is a competition at the end of the day, but I have to say, as a viewer, I wasn’t particularly concerned with which one I thought was better or worse. I watched a total of 4 over the 3 days that I had off work.

Tickets were not that expensive. The average price was around 3 euros. For me, it’s things like this, that give Paris a massive advantage over other major multicultural cities – events are not that expensive. The competition is funded by the National Library of Paris and so the tickets are heavily subsidized by the organizers. Many people might disagree with me or hate for saying it, but in my opinion if events like these were in London or New York, they would cost triple the price. Art is so accessible in Paris.

The Cinema du Reel, has been going strong since 1979 and has always been hosted in the Centre Pompidou, although in recent years, screenings have been shown in different locations as it has become so big. Each movie is screened 3 times, so theres no need to panic if you don’t get the opportunity to see it first time round.

The reason why I choose to write a blog entry about this particular festival, is that I don’t think theres a a lot of content out there (in English anyway) about the modern art events that happen in this wonderful city. I mean, we all know about Impressionism and the Louvre and so on.. But it’s important to remember that this city is not only relying on its history to attract and inspire people. Events like this one, help remind me that I live in a very modern city. I’m surrounded by hundreds of years of history, yes, but I’m also in a central and dynamic place.

As for the films, although I didn’t think it was competition, I did have a favorite. The Indian production called The Battle for Banaras. It was incredible. It’s about the political story of India’s prime minister. But I guess that’s another blog post.