I won a trip to Paris. Yes, nurse you read that correctly. In fall 2016 I was entering contests every day, a result of the fact that one of my friends won a trip to Jamaica. I thought to myself: “If she can win a trip (something which is completely up to chance), I can win a trip too!” Although this was poor logic, I won. Of course, since winning this trip, I have continued to enter contests when I see them, hoping for a similar result.
The trip was offered though Grand Marnier and was a simple series of information boxes to be completed online. A random draw, a simple math question and I officially had won a trip worth $10,000. The prize was a trip for two and included airfare (business class, oh la la) and four nights accommodations, three in Paris and one in the Grand Marnier Chateaux in Cognac. GC and I extended the trip three extra nights to really enjoy Paris and we were off.
Business class is amazing, ridiculous and indulgent and everyone should experience it: they check your coat, provide you with proper table settings and tablecloths, a glass of champagne before people in economy have even boarded and you are essentially in your own pod, able to fully recline and sleep during the flight. The luxury, food and service established the tone of the entire trip.
Our first days in Paris were filled with strolls through historic streets, visits to see priceless pieces of art and of course, food.
I had a few struggles with Paris:
1. As someone who lives in a major city, you don’t expect to be completely shocked by how expensive everything is. The galleries and museums were very reasonably priced but the food was ridiculous. Paris is easily the most expensive place I have visited and made me realise why people think Spain and Portugal are reasonably priced.
2. There are so, so many people in the city. And so, so many tourists! Paris is the busiest place I have visited, beating out Rome and London,and we were told that tourism is down 20% since the attacks! We left the Louvre in the early afternoon and the galleries were filling with people who only care about Mona Lisa and when we were at Versailles, the actual palace was filled with people throwing elbows, trying to take photos of every bust in the place. I cannot imagine visiting or being able to enjoy Paris at the height of tourist season.
3. Things are either very posh or very not. This of course happens in every city: in Toronto there is a difference between Yorkville and St. Jamestown but in Paris this disparity seemed even more apparent. Right now there is a huge number of Syrian refugees in the city and it is absolutely heartbreaking seeing young mothers huddling their infants in the streets while people just walk by not caring. And pee. It smells like pee EVERYWHERE. I get it. It’s a city, men can pee standing up but I have never experienced this in any other city. Maybe it has something to do with all the parks?
4. The food. French food is obviously delicious, no one is denying that but when you live in a city where you can get almost every type of food whenever you want it makes the lack of variety a little difficult. My next visit to France would include more visits to markets (both for price and variety) and seeking out more of the variety France does have to offer: Middle Eastern and North African food.
5. I just didn’t love it. Paris is beautiful and filled with history, art, culture, wine, food and so many things I love but I just didn’t connect to the city like I thought I would. Paris is a city of neighbourhoods (or arrondissements) and this made it difficult for me to feel really connected to the city. Our hotel for the first half of the trip was in the first arrondissement which is primarily a business and administration area. I started to enjoy the city and its neighbourhoods more once we moved to our AirBnB in the sixth arrondissement; a neighbourhood known for being expensive but with a bohemian and intellectual vibe. This was a neighbourhood I could see myself living in with my local bakery and flower shop on the corner, the metro less than a 10 minute walk away and historic sites literally being across the street (our apartment was across the street from a building that Gauguin and Modigliani had lived in).
But there were things I absolutely loved about Paris and France in general:
1. Cognac. If you visit France, you must visit the south/wine country/outside of Paris. The train ride alone was gorgeous, passing fields of farmland, vineyards and thousands of wild poppies. Once we arrived in Cognac we learned so much about the history, the process of making cognac, the barrels and importance of wood and soil, and the difference between Grand Marnier and other cognac. I am officially a huge fan of Grand Marnier, having switched from my token gin and tonic to GM and tonic and cannot say enough food things about this company and the people who met who work for this company.
2. The seafood. I loved walking past restaurants and smelling the ocean. The seafood in Paris is fresh, salty and brining from the ocean because it was literally in the ocean that morning. We visited Restaurant La Coupole and both ordered ridiculous platters of seafood. It was some of the best seafood I have ever eaten.
3. The parks. I love the public parks and amount of green space in Paris. It makes you feel like you aren’t even in the city. Our apartment was about a five minute walk from the Luxemburg gardens which were expansive and beautiful. My favourite thing about the parks in Paris is they have hundreds of green steel chairs set-up in every park and no one steals or defaces them. They remain in the park for everyone’s common enjoyment.
4. The food. French food is delicious and I ate the most amount of cheese in a week that I’ve probably ever eaten. And probably should ever eat. We enjoyed French cuisine the way the French do, rich food over long meals with good wine and better conversation. Our best meals were in Cognac but I loved the atmosphere and energy in the French bistros and cafes, perfect for people watching.
5. The art. I saw Mona Lisa in person for the first time and I absolutely feel in love with her. I likened seeing this painting to seeing pandas in person for the first time: you want to hate it, you want to think it is overrated but in reality, it is worth the fuss. Mona Lisa is beautiful, so vibrant in colour and energy and not as small as you think she is. You can get close enough to have your 30 second moment of her and then you are off to see the thousands of other priceless works in the Louvre. The highlight of the trip for me was the Musee de l’Orangerie which houses 8 massive paintings of Monet’s waterlilies. It left me breathless and in awe.
6. The Queen’s Hamlet at Versailles. Yes, Versailles is epic, overwhelming and the embodiment of the ridiculousness/amazingness that was Louis XIV. The palace itself is beautiful and ornate but GC and I were both more impressed with the palace in Madrid. The garden at Versailles are incomparable but unfortunately, the fountains were all off when we visited. The Queen’s Hamlet is the most perfect picturesque place I have ever seen, looking like the town right out of Beauty and the Beast. I was so in love and at peace in the hamlet, able to actually stop for a minute without getting elbowed by an eager tourist and take in the history and beauty around me.
I would visit Paris again, for a few days between cities or on an extended layover. Several people I have talked to have said they didn’t fall in love with Paris until their second visit. Maybe Paris is like a stinky, strong, French cheese: at first you are overwhelmed and confused by what you are tasting but then the taste grows and builds on your palate, revealing layers of flavor, passion and history.
Grignotant heureux! Or happy munching!