Have you ever visited a city and had all those great and ambitious plans to stay off the beaten track and head to local cafés and only eat local cuisine and not get ripped off by tourist traps, only to find yourself on the well-trodden track eating tourist food at cheesy restaurants paying tourist prices?
I have. Many times. And rather than feel like you’ve seen the city, very often I’ve left wanting.
When I visited Paris about six years ago, that’s exactly what happened.
I saw the Eiffel Tower, the immense police presence even back then. I had rather bland moules marinere with even blander bread, paying a premium for being on a popular street. The Louvre was ok. The gardens were nice as it was sunny. It was overall just ok.
Of course, travel is made of iconic buildings and famous streets. What trip to Rome wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Coliseum at least once, right? Who wouldn’t want to take a dip in natural thermal springs in Iceland, even if you pay a steep cover charge? What trip to Bangkok hasn’t included a gander down Khao San Road, tacky t-shirts, 100b noodles and Nutella pancakes?
But really, once you scrape back the shiny veneer of such outings, very often travellers are left feeling a bit let down. After the initial excitement, what’s left?
I felt that way so much about Paris that I told myself I didn’t need to go back. It was ok, a good experience, but I’d ‘done’ it. It was ‘done’ now. Paris, I ‘did’ you.
So when Trip4Real invited me to Live Like a Local for a weekend, I was in two minds. Sure, a trip overseas was ideal, but Paris?
I duly accepted though, despite my family’s concerns, and packed a case for a night away. After hopping on the Eurostar, two hours later we arrived at Gale du Nord train station before being whisked away to our Airbnb rental.
After unpacking and meeting my fellow travellers, we met Jeanne, a former PR girl with a love of fashion and a real Parisian at heart. Born in the city, she’s done lots of travelling in her life, but is drawn back to her home city every time.
Jeanne explained a bit about the 3rd arrondissement, before taking us around a few shops and fashion houses. We also explored Marche des Enfants Rouges, or Market of Red Children, full of locals buying food, fish and flowers.
Odd name, no? Jeanne was happy to explain why it was named so; a local orphanage dressed their charges in red, which was just across the street. As the oldest covered market in Paris, it soon found its name sticking.
After settling down with some savoury crepes, she then took us around the streets to a tapestry and wine bar for a drink. That’s right, tapestry and wine! Something I’d never have thought to try if I was alone.
Saying goodbye, we left Jeanne and met up with another local-by-name, Alex, who is actually French Canadian but it still counts!
We sampled a few bottles of wine at Chateaux getting to grips with the flavours and nuances of winemaking in the area. As he’s a local, he know everything about everything French wine – from what to order with fussy friends to how to know where the grapes were grown. Talking champagne and prosecco, he delighted us all with tales of terrible French men, who are the worst for dates as they seem to think they know-it-all when ordering wine!
Full to the brim with cheese and cured meats, it was another Alex’s turn to show off his city. Alex holds photography tours of the city with locals who want to see Paris from another perspective.
We had a proper French meal at Filippes, a local restaurant with a menu entirely in French (thanks to some of the group who could translate or we’d have all ended up with black putting and haddock mash!). Taking us to a local dive bar full of Parisians and the odd Londoner, we did what all good French people do and set the world to rights over whisky and cheap cocktails.
The loo was a rather sci-fi affair, with sliding doors and actual lasers, and while waiting I got talking to another Alex, this time a Londoner born and bred. He had so many stories to tell about this city, and introduced me to Tiffany, a French girl who hugged me tightly when I told her we were showing British people there’s nothing to be scared about in Paris. She’d lost three friends in the Bataclan attack, and with working in politics, knew France had a lot to do to recover.
Waving goodbye to our new friends – we obviously swapped cards and numbers, with promises to keep in touch – we stumbled into another set of waiting Ubers and headed back to our apartment in the early hours.
Not too bad for our first day in Paris, right? Day two was just as fun, but I think that one deserves a post of it’s own. Until then, mon amie…