Francophile–a person who is fond of or greatly admires France or the French. Or in my case–a person who is obsessed with, loves and wants to live there. Actually I want to live in Paris, however, I won’t be picky if ever given the chance to move abroad.
It’s a problem for me, in the sense that sometimes it’s all I think about. I love France. I get French magazines delivered to my house. I love all things French and even have French decor sprinkled throughout my home. Don’t get me wrong–I truly love all of Europe. Each and every country that I have visited has been unbelievably beautiful. The smells, sights, food, people, rivers, villages and even the sounds are fantastic. Each unique, each fascinating, each charming and each alluring, however–there is France.
And when I am there, nothing compares.
The very first time I went to Paris will be a memory forever etched into my mind. It was January, it was raining, it was cold, but it was Paris. Everyone from the flight attendants, to the taxi drivers were apologizing for the weather. What I could not express to them were the emotions welling up inside me after leaving the airport and seeing Paris for the first time. As we were driving into the city center I was fighting back tears. I was in Paris. The city that I had only dreamt about.
Paris. It’s only a word, a name, a place and yet from the moment my feet touched the earth, I felt at home. The language, although different from mine sounded wonderful. The people were smartly dressed and the food smelled delicious. And that was just in the airport.
We quickly checked into our hotel, grabbed a shower, a short nap and we were ready to explore. We had only a couple of hours before my husband had his first business meeting. It was important to me to get the feel of my new surroundings as I was going to be spending pretty much the next week alone–walking the streets of Paris. Poor me. And so, we walked and walked and walked–in the rain. It was one of the most beautiful memories for me. Paris in the rain. After a few hours my husband left and there I was alone, in my new city, with my umbrella and a map. I took off on foot and headed to the nearest cafe, where I had my first French encounter with a cappuccino. It was wonderful. I sat studying my map, sipping my coffee, and having a conversation in my broken French with the very nice young waiter. He was enjoying my exuberance over his city. He pointed me in the direction of the best shopping and away I went. Fearless and wet–in Paris.
When I was in the 6th grade my teacher just happened to also be a Francophile. He taught us students some French, which then inspired me to take French as a foreign language for the next 6 years of school. I’ll admit that while I mastered the accent, over the years I forgot most of my French. So, fast forward 30 years and drop me smack in the middle of Paris and poor language skills is what you get. I found though that over the next couple of days while sitting in little cafes sipping my cafe cream, I was able to understand what others around me were saying. At first while distractedly trying not to listen I thought they were speaking English. After a few seconds I realized that no, they were speaking French. I was amazed that I could understand some of what they were saying! I then began to try and read street signs, menus, chalk boards, directions and so much more. I was so excited. It helped so much to feel a part of them–my French people!
In the evenings when I would join my husband and his colleagues for dinner I found that I could master the menu, that I could join in some of the conversation and that I could eavesdrop somewhat. It became a game of sorts for me. While most of the dinners were primarily in English for my husbands sake, every once in a while the others would have to speak French among themselves–and I could understand them. It was exhilarating. Once home, I immediately went out and bought some French language CD’s to brush up on my language skills. I was determined that on my next trip–I would be even more prepared. And believe me I was going to return. And I have many many times.
Now that I’ve been to France several times, so many in fact that I’ve lost count, I have often been asked questions as to what to do, where to go, or what souvenirs to purchase. Many are on tight budgets and do not think they can afford to go, however, let me assure you—you can. If you’ve made it as far as Europe, and then on to France, you can afford Paris. Oh yes, you can. I have so many ideas for you, all you need is your camera, money for a coffee here and there, and your walking shoes (not tennis shoes, never tennis shoes) and your curiosity. You need that the most, that spirit of exploration.
I found in Paris that there are so many free or next to free things to do, just start walking from your hotel or take the Metro. It is so simple, the maps are everywhere and it’s easy to navigate–once you’ve done it, it becomes second nature. One of my favorite things to do is stroll the Champs Eyslees, who cares if you can’t afford anything there, they don’t know that, just window shop and enjoy.
I love to walk on over to Notre Dame, and go into the bookstore Shakespeare and Co, the books are in English and if you buy one you can get it stamped with their Shakespeare and Co logo which instantly makes it a treasured souvenir. Many are used books and at a very reasonable price.
We love walking up the many steps to Sacrecoure to have lunch, coffee or a glass of wine. We take in the views of Paris and walk around through the many artists, and then take the funicular on the way down, it’s inexpensive and fun. And it saves my knees and hips joints for more walking.
My favorite park to walk through is the Jardin des Tuileries, my husband is convinced it’s my favorite because we end up on the Champs Eyslees. I’m not admitting to a thing.
I also love to look through the markets on Rue Cler. With the beautiful fruit and vegetable stands, antiques and artwork, I have always been able to find a treasure there, to take home with me. Some little memento of my trip—earrings usually.
On our very last trip to Paris we decided to finally go to the huge Porte de Clignancourt antique market in Montmartre, it was overwhelming, even for me. And that doesn’t happen too often. It goes for block after city block, room after room. Fortunately there are many restaurants and cafes along the way for coffee breaks, but one could literally spend days looking through the vendors stalls. There was everything from entire curved staircases (think Gone with the Wind) to crystal chandeliers that were 10 foot across. Yes, it was spectacular. I did not buy a thing, but left feeling as though I had visited France for the first time. The real France, the old France.
Oh, and my rule is that one must have a crepe in the Latin Quarter. You just have to.
Go for a walk along the Seine, visit the newsstands and take pictures of the painters, the river, the boats, and the bridges. Please take your cameras with you. Paris is a photographers dream.
And I don’t care what anyone says, the Eiffel tower—a must. The views from the top will take your breath away. Ditto for the Arc de Triomphe. I have done both, and have bought little sterling silver charms to prove it. When I wear my little necklaces, I am reminded once again of Paris, and that makes my heart happy.
One of my favorite places to go is Angelina’s Tearoom on Rue de Rivoli, it’s not quite as famous as Laduree but for some reason I just love it. And, yes, I’ve been to both. And yes, they are both awesome. Beautiful in their own right.
Coffee at any outdoor cafe in Paris is wonderful. Just remember that the more touristy the area, the higher the cost, sometimes there is even a sitting fee. This bothers me greatly and has caused me to seek out other less well-traveled neighborhoods for my coffee breaks. Which however has opened up new and exciting finds.
Back to my first week in Paris—it had come to a close and I hated to leave. However, I was armed with hundreds of photos and lots of souvenirs. I had bought trinkets from all over, I had my memories tucked safely away and I had a huge smile on my face. I would be coming back. And one day–maybe even spend extended periods of time. As in living in Paris for months on end. It’s a dream of mine you know. To split my time between home and Paris. A dream that might not ever come true or maybe it will. Time will tell. For now I will be content to be a tourist.
Yes, I am a Francophile. And I am proud of it. And I love Paris. In the rain. OK, in any weather.
This blog post was written by my dear friend (of over 40 years) La Dolce Veda. Thank you so much!
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