A few weeks before Valentine’s Day we decided to head down to the city of love to celebrate the weekend. Ended up the train tickets we way too expensive, so we rented a car and drove down (which was surprisingly way cheaper than the train). The five hour drive flew by (although I’m sure Jack, who was driving, would disagree) and within no time we were in the bustling traffic of paris. We had purchased parking in a garage on the outskirts of the city, but when we got there we had no idea how to get into the structure. After about 15 minutes of pressing buttons, letting other cars enter, and being stared at by some sketchy looking folks who inhabited the neighborhood sidewalks, we finally figured out how to get in by using hand signals to talk to the gas station attendant who apparently also ran the parking lot. Sketchy. Needless to say the first few hours in Paris were uncomfortable and stressful. We finally made it to our airbnb in the neighborhood of Canal St. Martin in the 10th arrondissement and discovered the place was in an extremely old building that smelled like chemicals, was much darker and dirtier than the photos, and had minimal heating. Not exactly what we expected, but what can you do. We set off the explore some neighborhoods and ended up walking in some more sketchy areas and super touristy locations, and finally finding our dinner reservation restaurant and was able to finally relax with some steak frites. It was yummy and we felt almost like locals, until we heard a few other tables talking in english about how they had found this place through the New York Time’s article about the best places to go in Paris. So much for the “locals only” vibe we got.
We woke up the next morning to stormy skies and a very very wet Paris. We had breakfast at a delicious hole in the wall cafe down the street and then set out to explore the city. I had spent the previous week researching like crazy, mapping out each day’s location, must-sees, and eateries. All this to say that we just ended up wandering and altering our plans because of the rain. We found some beautiful places, like the covered passages like Galerie Valerie, but the entire time we felt like we were somehow in the wrong place because it wasn’t as beautiful as we imagined. That’s the funny thing about traveling sometimes – you envision a certain place and then when you get there it’s nittier and grittier and sometimes slightly less amazing that you had thought. We had thought we would be wandering some quaint Parisian streets, lined with cafes and book stores and cute shops – pretty much the Paris we see in movies (Paris, Je T’arime and Midnight in Paris may have ruined it for me). Instead we were pushed around by tons of tourists, walking the busy, traffic-filled streets and serenaded by honking horns. The whole city was much grander than I had remembered, and perhaps it was the constant rain or the fact that a lot of the shops were closed, but the city just seemed dead and less lively than I had imagined.
We spent our second day seeing the Eiffel Tower, which was congested with tourist buses and selfie sticks (and was luckily the only time that weekend that we saw blue skies!). We then wandered around Montmartre, which was our favorite neighborhood in the city to explore, and ended up walking around and stopping in some cafes to relax and dry off. It was a wonderful, relaxing day, and we ended the evening eating at the delicious brasserie Julian with ornate details and a very old Parisian vibe (and also a pretty touristy vibe).
That said, we did enjoy our little neighborhood, despite the lame airbnb. It definitely felt like the area was very up and coming, with yummy cheese shops and bakeries next to sketchy hairdressers and some interesting folks hanging around, but there were delicious restaurants all within walking distance and it was a good central hub for exploring on the metro. We stuffed ourselves wine and cheese and baguettes from local neighborhood shops on our street and had an AMAZING valentines day brunch at HolyBelly (which was right around the corner from our place and was definitely a highlight of the trip, even though felt like we were eating at a hipster place in Brooklyn, not Paris, but oh well, it was still delicious).
All this to say, regardless of the unfulfilled expectations, we had a wonderful time wandering the city and celebrating love on this Valentine’s day. We have been blessed with some AMAZING trips this year that have all gone perfectly, so we were bound to have at least one weekend adventure that we weren’t gushing about. We also realized that this was the first real big city that we’ve been in since getting here, and perhaps we just don’t really like huge, busy, noisy cities. I’m sure the city would have been MUCH better if it wasn’t raining and we were visiting someone in the city so we actually knew where to go. We know we did Paris wrong, so we’ll definitely be back to try it again.