Why I Didn’t Fall in Love with Paris (But Want To)

I have a confession to make: when I went to Paris, I didn’t fall in love. I didn’t even like it that much compared to my other travels. I saw most of the main tourist attractions, which were great, but I guess I was looking for more.

“What? Everyone falls in love with Paris!” my mom told me upon me telling her this. While I have no problem with having different tastes than the majority of travelers, this situation was a bit different. I knew Paris was a city I could love, given the right circumstances. It seemed like a missed opportunity more than anything.

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There were a lot of of factors that made Paris a less-then-enjoyable experience. Maybe I was European citied-out. I’d already been to London, Prague, and Vienna, and after a while, all the old churches start to blend together. There’s only so many tourist attractions you can see, and while I love the history, many of my favorite travel experiences have been elsewhere. So maybe that was part of the problem.

Prague or Paris?
Prague or Paris?

I think another major factor in my Paris experience was the people I were with. Just a little back story: I was in France for 2 weeks doing a sort-of exchange with some family friends I had never met before. However, the parents were working in another city, leading to me spending most of my time with their 14-year-old son, who was going to come the United States after I was done in France. In Paris, we stayed with his aunt, or more appropriately, in his aunt’s apartment, because we rarely saw her. Who was there though was my travel buddy’s cousin, who was (surprise) 14 years old.

Being 17 at the time, two 14-year-old boys were not the ideal travel companions, for several reasons. We didn’t really have anything in common, aside from the Homeland we watched in the evenings. While my travel buddy was fine, his cousins was (maybe I’m stereotyping here) a Parisian douchebag. While I appreciated him showing us around, he was a bit patronizing and made it clear he didn’t really like me. I can usually deal with this behavior in small doses, but having someone put you down 24/7 in an unfamiliar country where no one knows you is draining.

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Next came the food situation: I was beyond excited to be in a city famous for its cuisine. I was expecting to be going to bakeries, street markets, and generally just eating well. Maybe we’d have a few nice dinners at restaurants. Well, as it turns out, this is not what my hosts had in mind. “Grab anything in the kitchen for breakfast,” they told me. Maybe it was too idealistic to hope that every Parisian household had fresh baguette, but the only bread they had in the house was Wonder Bread. Seriously. I don’t even like eating that stuff in America.

We packed our lunch and came back to the house for dinner (usually leftovers). Admittedly, the leftovers were good, but not very French. The one time we went out for dinner was at an Italian place, and we were rushing to eat before our next activity. Although this eating strategy was certainly cheap, it was no where close to what I was hoping.

Closed...
Closed…

When I think about my Paris experience, I’m disappointed, somewhat about the situation I was in, but also myself. To be fair, I mostly went passively along. I didn’t put myself out there with my French: they frequently made fun of me for being quiet the whole time. And I was. I was alone and awkward and didn’t understand anything. I was so far out of my comfort zone I couldn’t even see it anymore. Now, looking back, I wished I could’ve pushed myself more. Maybe I could’ve gone on my own to get breakfast. Maybe I could’ve used my limited French to try to talk to my hosts. I could’ve made Paris the amazing experience it had the potential to be.

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I’m going to be honest here. My Paris experience really shook me. It was my first really bad travel experience. I came home wondering if I still wanted to travel as much. I went into a spiral of reflection and self-doubt. Traveling is such a part of my identity that suddenly everything was uncertain. However, I finally have come up with a decision: I want to go back to Paris. I want to go eat the food and have the experiences I didn’t have last time. I want to go to one of those cafes that I missed, god dammit.

I’m going to give Paris another chance, and I’m not going to let anyone or anything dictate my experience.

Note: This was just my personal story and in no way represents how other travelers experience Paris.

Have you ever had a bad travel experience? How did you deal with it?

Breaking Down the Language Barrier

Meaningless chatter, incomprehensible street signs…the language barrier is something every traveler encounters. It makes the simplest things, like ordering food, harder, and the harder things, like trying to fix your computer, impossible. Many travelers enjoy this challenge, and I agree: experiencing a different language is an essential part of traveling to another country.

However, I’m here to argue that the language barrier can be broken down, and quite easily. By this, I don’t mean you will be able to read those street signs that look like weird symbols, or strike up a conversation on politics with the person who sells you your coffee. This is just to make small interactions with locals a little more authentic.

Here are the four magic words: hello, good-bye, please and thank you.

There are two parts to this: first, like a mentioned before, it will make your interactions easier. But secondly, the locals will appreciate it. Putting in a little effort shows them you’re truly interested in their culture, and might make them a little more friendly towards you.

So go right now. Look them up in your target language. Learn them so you have them in your back pocket. And when you’re done with that, come back and read the rest of this post.

My sister likes to pretend she knows what's going on...
My sister likes to pretend she knows what’s going on…

EXTRA CREDIT:

Now, the four magic words is something you can learn if you’re staying at a location for even a day. But if you have some extra time that you want to invest into your travel experience, here are a few more words you can learn in the language of the place you’re going to..

Yes and no can usually be achieved through nodding or shaking your head, but in case of confusion, these are handy to know.

How to count from 1 to 10 is helpful when buying things, or when ordering three strudels because you deserve it.

Bathroom? You don’t even need a full question for this one, but it’s helpful to know when in the middle of nowhere with a full bladder.

Sorry! This is just to be polite.

Where is…? You’re going to get lost, and maps are confusing.

How much? Because you really want that street food but don’t want to pay too much.

Feel free to add anything else you might need! Research the country you’re headed to and develop some phrases of your own.

What phrases have you found useful while traveling?

Ice Cream Abroad

A comfort food: everyone has one. This is the food you eat to help you feel better in difficult times. My comfort food relaxes me when I’m stressed, makes me feel less homesick, and best of all, is available almost everywhere.

From Magnum bars to chocolate sundaes, little gelato shops or fancy cafes, ice cream is pretty much universal. The certainty of ice cream is something that comforts me when I’m having troubles on the road or feeling just a little too far away from home. I’ve even ventured out in a snowstorm before to get some cookies and cream! That being said, I have quite a few ice cream stories and recommendations…
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Searching for Ice Cream in Paris

On my last night in France, I was staying with my travel buddy in his aunt’s house, in a suburb of Paris. After dinner, I suggested we take a walk. As we wandered out of the house, I suggested we grab some dessert. I was hoping to find a cute ice cream shop, but no such luck. Paris’ suburbs are mostly residential, with a few small grocery stores and a couple really large malls. Almost everything was closed as we walked through the town square, so we took another street up to a huge mall in the area. The only thing open was McDonald’s. My travel buddy, being French, had no problem ordering a vanilla cone, but I was determined. I flew across an ocean, for god’s sake. If I was going to get mediocre soft serve, it should at least be French.

We ended up walking back to where we came, and managed to find a small corner store that was still open. I peeked in the door and voila! There was a small cooler with ice cream bars. I chose a Magnum bar (one of my all-time favorites), paid, and left. We managed to get lost getting back to the house, but I didn’t really mind wandering for a little bit more with the sunset in the sky and frozen creaminess in my hand.

Property of Wikimedia Commons.

Ice Cream : Vienna Edition

I’ve been to Vienna more than I have been to any other foreign city. I’ve walked around the First District more times than I can count, most times with my mom and sister in tow. I remember many occasions when that walking gets me hungry. After walking around all day, I always want ice cream.

There are a few famous ice cream shops in Vienna, but my all-time favorite is at Schwedenplatz, close to the city center. It’s immediately visible out of the U-bahn station, most likely crowded with people. It’s called Eissalon, and once you make your way to the front, anything’s good to order. You can either sit in the cafe or out in the square, in the company of everyone from toddlers to elderly couples enjoying their ice cream.

Bobtail's hot brownie sundae. Delicious.
Bobtail’s hot brownie sundae. Delicious.

Hometown Favorite

I don’t think there is a fiercer loyalty than than the loyalty you have to your local ice cream shop. I’ve been to ice cream shops from Singapore to London, and still I keep coming back to Bobtail’s ice cream company, about a block away from my house in Chicago. Their ice cream is all made in-store and is creamy and delicious. Some of their more off-beat flavors include Cubby Crunch (with rainbow sprinkles, cookies, and toffee) and Signature Sunset (merlot ice cream with dark chocolate chips). I’ve been there in the dead of winter, and in the middle of the night. This is a must for anyone in Chicago!

What’s your favorite ice cream place? Have you had any interesting experiences involving ice cream?