1. Back from Europe: a Crazy/Amazing Rollercoaster of a Trip
Review of Popovic Apartments in Kotor, Plus Hotel Points Options in Montenegro
Why I Loved and Hated Paris at the Same Time (this post)
When I was originally planning this trip to Europe, Paris definitely wasn’t on the agenda. The scheme was complicated enough already: meet my Belarusian relatives in Montenegro and then fly to Iceland for four nights. The latter was my husband’s request. And let me tell you, getting from Montenegro to Iceland is no walk in the park, literally and figuratively.
But I was happy to find some Finnair flights via AAdvantage, leaving from Dubrovnik. Then, a month before the trip, I got a cancellation email. Great. See my reasoning process on piecing together a way to get to Iceland without going bankrupt.
Long story short, our journey would take us to Paris for two nights. And I literally had weeks to plan everything in this rather challenging city. This is not a budget-friendly destination, that’s for sure. Plus, Paris is huge, so finding the location that would help us maximize our very short stay was a difficult task.
In the end, I decided to book connecting rooms in Hotel Eiffel Blomet, ironically via AirBnB. I will do a separate post with the review of this place, and highlight the pros and cons. For now, I will say that all in all, I’m happy with my choice and have no regrets.
Overall impressions of Paris
Many of our readers have been to Paris and absolutely love the city. In fact, Nancy is visiting it with her family right now, and I can’t wait to hear what she thought about it now, many years after her first trip.
For me, Paris was a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, I said it. It was a place I’ve always wanted to visit, so I’m happy it finally happened. I absolutely believe it’s a must-do destination in Europe, along with London and Rome. But am I itching to go back? Not really.
I realize I’m very much in the minority, but I found Paris to be overwhelming, and not in a positive way. It’s a beautiful city, but it’s also very crowded, busy and hectic. Do you want to stroll peacefully and admire the views of the Eiffel tower in the evening? Good luck. Some dude offered me drugs (I think?). To be fair, I went for a walk by myself the first day because my husband decided to take a nap.
I didn’t feel unsafe, as the guy who bothered me was not aggressive. But it definitely didn’t make a very good first impression. The next day, we went up the Eiffel Tower as part of a guided tour, and the whole area right next to it was full of guys hassling tourists and begging them to buy plastic souvenirs.
I don’t blame them, of course, as they would be earning money some other way if they had the option. But it did feel very tacky. It reminded me of a carnival fair. It was also very crowded, and we had to navigate multiple lines to finally go up the Eiffel tower. I was totally exhausted by the end of it.
This gives you the idea of how big Paris really is
The crowds in the Louvre were also absolutely insane. If you are claustrophobic, I recommend looking into a private tour during after hours if your budget can handle it.
This part of the museum wasn’t too bad
The Mona Lisa exhibit, on the other hand, had a swarm of humanity right next to it. People were pressing against each other, all trying to get a good shot.
I’ve mentioned in one of my previous posts that our kids got into a fight here and had to be led outside by my husband. Oh, and after entering one of the exhibits, my son loudly exclaimed in disgust: “Another naked sculpture?! There are children in here!”
It was definitely a memorable experience.
Honestly, none of the things I’ve mentioned should surprise you. Paris is a very popular city, so you should expect tourist crowds. It’s also home to over 2 million residents. Hence congestion, traffic and noise that come with it. And of course, drugs. Also, guides constantly reminding us to watch out for pickpockets didn’t exactly put me in a relaxed mood.
So if I sound overly negative, that’s not my intent. I simply advise potential first-time visitors to manage their expectations. Paris is often portrayed as this romantic city, where you can stroll with your partner with not another soul in sight, while French music is playing softly in the background. I think the reality is quite different. I’ve mostly heard sirens in the center of Paris.
That being said, Paris is most definitely a beautiful city. Its architecture is unrivaled in Europe, at least in my opinion.
And of course, as a lover of museums, I can say that visiting Louvre is still super duper cool, despite the crowds.
The truth is, our two days here barely scratched the surface and perhaps, colored my impression somewhat. Maybe someday I will get a chance at a redo, and even fall in love with Paris.
But for now, I think it’s one-and-done. Glad I went, don’t need to do it again. It probably didn’t help that we came to Paris from a tiny Kotor, a pedestrian-only medieval city in Montenegro. The contrast between the two was quite stark. I think living in a small town in USA over the last two decades made me somewhat allergic to large cities. So take everything I say with a grain of salt. Like I said, so far I haven’t met a person who didn’t love Paris. I guess it makes me a bit of a Grinch.
On a positive note, I was surprised by how friendly Parisians were towards us. I’ve mentally prepared myself for rude French who refuse to help English-speaking tourists. The reality was the opposite. Every single person I’ve interacted with was extremely polite and eager to help. From hotel workers to restaurant staff, I haven’t encountered any issues. Maybe I was fortunate, but it seems the “rude French” stereotype is overblown.
I’ve learned a few phrases and said “Hello” in French to a security worker near Eiffel tower. He responded in French, to which I had to confess that I don’t really speak the language. He started apologizing to me in English. I was like: Dude, you are in France, it’s ok to speak French. We both laughed.
So, my impression of French people was extremely positive. Well, except the guy who offered me drugs. But again, it’s a large city, so be prepared for various encounters. It’s just like every other place in the world.
Another piece of advice: Don’t cram too much sightseeing into a short period of time. My big mistake was booking an all-day tour of Paris. It seemed like a good idea at the time, plus we only had one full day in Paris. In retrospect, it was the case of “too much of a good thing”.
I purchased this Paris In One Day tour via Viator, and got 10% off by booking via app. Even with the discount, the tour was quite expensive at $530 for my family of four. But it included a guided tour of Louvre, a boat ride on Seine river and visit to the Eiffel tower. It was critical for me to be able to skip the line for tickets, and the tour delivered in this regard. Basically, everything was taken care of, which seemed like the best way to have a no-hassle experience.
While it sounds nice in theory, in reality, this tour is not very well planned. For example, we were not able to have lunch until 1:30 pm, and by then, my whole family was starving. The guide took us through Louvre and then another person led us to the boat. We were not able to stop to even get a drink or snack in that entire time. Btw, we had to sit and wait for the boat for around 45 minutes or so.
Then after the short cruise, we were met by another person near Eiffel tower and led to some back alley, where we were told that we would have two hours to find food on our own. We literarily went to the first cafe we saw, which was kind of a tourist trap.
It seemed far more logical to let us get lunch right after the tour of Louvre, but the company obviously felt differently. Also, it was very hard to understand our tour guide, which made the whole thing a bit pointless. Other than “babysitters” who led us places, it didn’t really enhance the experience in any way.
That being said, we did get to hit the highlights and I’m grateful for that. If I had a chance at a do-over, I would book everything separately on my own via respective websites, and skip the tour option. Yes, I would probably have to ask for directions, but it sure beats having a starving family. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but to each his own. I think guided tours can be a great option, this one wasn’t one of them.
Visiting a cat cafe
This was something my kids really loved. I realize it sounds nuts to use our precious time in Paris on a cat cafe, but that’s exactly what we did. I found out there was one near our hotel, so decided to go there after our flight from Montenegro. I had to book a slot in Chat Mallows cafe ahead of time (free), since they don’t want to overwhelm the cats with too many visitors.
Basically, it’s exactly as it sounds. You get to order desserts and pet cats while you are there.
As expected, my kids had a blast. We also ended up buying a bunch of cat-themed junk.
Recommended? Only if you have extra time. I knew my husband wouldn’t be up for much after flying, and this was an easy activity. Plus, the desserts were tasty. This place was kind of hot inside, so I was glad to leave.
It’s definitely not a must-do, but my kids enjoyed it.
If there is any conclusion you can draw from my post is that planning only two nights in Paris may not be a good idea. It’s a city that takes some getting used to, and where expectations may not always match the reality.
I realize it may sound contradictory, but I’m very happy we got to visit Paris. Despite some drawbacks, it is a world-class city you should see at least once in your lifetime. My kids loved it, and my daughter said it was her favorite stop on the trip. She definitely wants to go back, but I’m not quite so eager.
That said, I would love to visit a small French town, and maybe a bit of a countryside someday. So, the problem isn’t Paris, but how I feel about big cities now that I’m older and less tolerant of noise and crowds. Looks like I’ve officially reached the “old and lame” stage in my life!