Japan was our first trip out of the country together (sans driving over the Canadian border). The next dream location on our list was Paris as both my wife and I studied French in school and never had the opportunity to actual use it. My wife always dreamed of visiting the city of lights. There’s also something romantic and alluring about the Parisian neighborhoods and culture that make it a must-see in your life.
So we sadly said goodbye to Ory (our dog) for the week as we took a direct flight from Orlando to Paris, giving up delicious Thanksgiving meal with our family for cafés and the Eiffel Tower.
Where we stayed
Unlike when I researched Japan, Paris was much more difficult to quickly find information about the best areas to stay. AirBnb was a must (see above) and the most I could whittle down most searches were which arrondissement the apartment was located. Paris is split up into twenty districts (arrondissements) and each has it’s own personality and attitude. So where did we stay? The 15th arrondissment, spoken in French as quinzième and which I’ll just refer to as 15ème from here on out.
There was no grand reason I chose 15ème other than I found a nice place in our price range that said it was only a 10 to 15 minute walk to the Eiffel Tower (it was more like 30 minutes on a brisk direct walk). Our IKEA-furnished apartment did it’s job with plenty of space for the both of us, a kitchen, a nice bathroom and shower supplied with courtesy toiletries. Plus, it was on the first floor which was a welcome sight after a day of walking miles, going up and down museum, church and metro stairs. Others we had found were on the 7th floor with a nice view but I don’t know if I would have made it up there at the end of some of our days.
My Paris Instagram friends told me the 15ème is the family neighborhood area. It doesn’t have much in terms of tourist sights but we were a short walk away from the metro where we could get to any of those things. This worked for me as our neighborhood didn’t feel touristy and it felt safe as people were always strolling with their little rosy-cheeked babies and well-behaved dogs.
Near our place was a college for perfumery, the UNESCO headquarters, and a mess of delicious restaurants. If you know me, I’m not flashy and I’m fairly suburban so this was the perfect district for me.
What to do in Paris in November
Paris is probably the most visited city in Europe (just looked it up, it’s actually the 2nd after London). Full of historical buildings and museums, the most recognized piece of architecture in the world, and parks galore. In the summer, I can imagine people relaxing on the banks of the Seine, admiring the flora and soaking up the warm weather in the Jardin du Luxembourg and Tuileries Garden, and having a picnic next to the Tour Eiffel. Not in November.
November is an off season for Paris, right after peak-autumn October when the weather is cool and not cold, the sun still shines a little more, and visitors are still heavy avoiding the post-summer vacation crowds in months before.
So while a fun stroll around La Marais or a roof-top Seine cruise may be doable in warmer months, November has different plans for you. The average temperature during our stay most days was high-30s/low-40s (Fahrenheit) with a few days where the sun peaked out and several days of drizzly rain and one morning of snow while waiting to get into the D’Orsay art museum.
But despite the cold temperatures and slightly wet climate, it was still easy to enjoy walks around town if you’re adequately dressed. Plus, chilly weather allows you to really enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or a hot bowl of soup. I suggest bringing a pair of long-johns to make being outdoor for longer periods of time. After all, Paris is the fashion capital of the world and what screams “style” more than a pair of long-johns.
My favorite touristy places in Paris
I can’t believe I’m saying this but I really enjoyed the tourist-populated attractions in Paris. Having lived next to Disney my whole life, tourist-centric attractions have never been my thing—that, and I hate crowds. However, we truly enjoyed going up the Eiffel Tower, seeing the entire layout of the city from above, and just witnessing the enormity of the structure itself.
The Arc de Triomphe is something else, too. What essentially seemed like a something you viewed from a distance as it’s in the center of a giant roundabout I learned you could walk up to it and climb to the top which granted another great view of the city, rooftops, and the streets. The sun was out that morning with a little fog still dissipating which lead to very beautiful views.
Whenever I’ve read about visiting Paris, everyone talks about the long lines to get into the museums and attractions. I won’t lie, that turns me off immediately. But somehow when we visited The Louvre, it was absent of any queues. We walked straight into the museum the afternoon we visited and spent the afternoon watching the sunset in the upstairs café, walking through the giant meandering halls filled with ancient statues and paintings, and not feeling claustrophobic because of the grand size of the space. The Louvre is gigantic to put it simply and whether you’re into art or not, it’s something to see if you ever visit Paris.
What to eat in Paris (Hint: It’s everything.)
I have to start this with a weird story. The first French restaurant I’d eaten at was in Cooke City, Montana (it’s a tiny tourist town outside of Yellowstone, maybe a population of 50). It was my birthday and we had come into town after an evening in Lamar Valley. We weren’t able to eat at the little saloon we normally did but there was a new French restaurant that opened up next door. It took at least an hour for them to serve me an unseasoned piece of boiled chicken and what tasted like half-frozen succotash. It was very expensive for that area and it wasn’t because of the ambiance or service because there wasn’t either. We laugh about it now but we always worried about French cuisine after that.
Worry not, patrons of that quickly closed Cooke City French cookery—French food is great! You heard it here first.
One of the tips we had heard in multiple places was to avoid anything listed in guide books or pay an arm and a leg for Michelin-star restaurants (not that I would have anyway). In the mornings and days, we ate at local boulangeries (corner bakeries) and tried all the tasty breads, sandwiches and pastries they had to offer. Imagine Panera, except good.
At night, we ate at local bistros/restaurants that surrounded our neighborhood. My wife had the best vegetable lasagna she’d ever eaten at Café Basil as well as a ravioli soup that words can’t describe (okay, it was a cheesy creamy soup with bowtie pasta that tasted like an open-faced cheese ravioli). I had a creamy risotto that blew my mind with caramelized apple and quince with fresh cream for dessert.
I saw a sign at another neighboring bistro, Le Camélia, that had live jazz on Wednesday nights so we made it a point to go there after I never got to hear any in Japan. I wasn’t expecting much (again) as the 15ème is a family area that seemed to have a mild reputation but the dinner at Le Camélia was amazing. I had a cheesemonger’s salad with baked goat cheese and fresh mozzarella with a boiled egg and croutons from heaven while my wife had the best vegetable soup I’ve ever tasted and a pan roasted chicken with potatoes that put that Cooke City chicken to shame (okay, terrible comparison since anything was better than it). I had the chocolate mousse for dessert which was everything I had hoped for. We’re still reeling over it a week later.
“Are the French rude?” and other common questions.
So are Parisians rude? No. No more than anyone else I’ve ever met. I can’t recall anyone being rude at all honestly. I always tried speaking French to everyone even though they’d always respond in English even though I wanted to keep speaking French (which I did in most cases even if they did think I was murdering their language).
Actually, we had the pleasure to meet up with a fellow Instagram friend Laura who we met for lunch our last day there and had a wonderful meal where we learned about real Parisian lifestyles. I’m thankful to her and my other Paris Instagram friends who gave me such great advice and were so helpful in researching our trip.
Are there lots of thieves and scammers in Paris? Yeah, it’s a real thing. I hoped it wouldn’t be an issue during our visit but we had a few run-ins. Nothing as bad as when my mom and her friend were visiting and her friend’s purse was snatched. They chased after him and called the cops and some people stopped him. The young teen who took it threw his hands up and said he had nothing when my mom’s friend reached down the front of his pants and pulled out her purse.
For me, I was roughly grabbed by the arm as we tried to walk past a group of men blocking the stairways to the Sacre Cœur. I had to finally jerk my arm out of his grip and tell him to let go and before we went along. The scam here is the men put “friendship bracelets” on your arm and then say you owe them ten or so Euros.
For my wife, a group of really young girls rushed into a packed metro car as it was loading and tried to reach into her purse. Little did they know, my wife was ready for them with a locked zipper and anti-theft purse strap (and she was always gripping her purse any time we went in or out of the metro). The point—be prepared.
My thought was that since it was in the off-season and it was much colder (harder to get into pockets) that we would avoid most of these things but it’s year-round. Oh, I have to mention I did see some hustlers playing Three-card Monte in the middle of the street way going up to Sacre Cœur. What is this, 1973?
Will you walk a lot in Paris? Yes. Yes you will. Did I mention stairs? There’s lots of them. Wear comfortable shoes.
What’s the best way to get from the airport to the city? You can take the RER (the train), the bus, or taxi. I tend to be very frugal in these things but this was one of the first times I decided to spend the extra money to take a taxi instead of dealing with public transit to get to our place. Having ridden the metro during our trip multiple times a day, the idea of hauling our luggage in and out of these places to save a few bucks wasn’t worth it. The taxi drive allowed us a view of the city we hadn’t gotten from our walks and metro rides, it let us travel when we wanted without waiting, and it made us feel a lot safer.
Photo Info: Canon 5D Classic and VSCO Kodak Ektar 100
On our trip to Japan, I rented the Fuji X100F because A) I always wanted to try a Fuji and B) I wanted something lightweight that didn’t slow me down during our adventures. For Paris, I was worried about theft a bit and my feeling was that I’d rather my 13-year-old Canon 5D classic would be much cheaper to replace than paying a rental place for a camera I never even owned. Like always, I just keep on my Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM even though I think the Canon 40mm f/2.8 pancake could be a much more compact and lightweight setup.
First, I felt the difference. My shoulders and neck would be sore at the end of the day where the Black Rapid strap was wrapped across my body. The weight of the kit is just a bit heavy for all-day travel but at the same time, I love it. The quality of the photos is much higher than the Fuji X100F because of the full frame on the Canon 5D. Age hasn’t changed that. And actually, the newer versions of Lightroom CC make underexposed and dark photographs very usable these days.
For the processing on these photos, I really liked how the Kodak Ektar 100 processing looked from the VSCO Pack 05. I like to try different packs to show how they work (that’s how most people actually come to my blog after however many years).
The Ektar really pulled out the blues while turning grey-sky skylines into inviting vibrant cityscapes. It worked well with the soft natural lighting of November in Paris, not overly contrasty like some of the Kodaks even though I’d still have to pull my shadows a bit to get some detail back.
Have you been to Paris? What were your favorite parts? Share with me in the comments!