Fulfilling a Bucket List Experience
I’ll start by saying this three-month stay in Paris is the fulfillment of a 25+ year-old dream. Early in my junior year at UCSB (Go Gauchos!), I remember meeting a couple of classmates returning from their year-abroad study programs. Their experiences sounded so cool, that I immediately felt a sense of loss for not figuring out how to do the same.
A few years later, when the company I worked for folded, I looked into getting a job abroad. But the mortgage on my recently purchased townhouse was underwater (the worst investment decision of my life) and I couldn’t find a way to make it work.
Fifteen years later, a position at my company opened up in Nice. But Diana and I determined the finances wouldn’t work as we would have less income and would need to put the kids in private school in France. Foiled again, I extracted a promise from Diana that we would arrange to live in Europe for an extended period after we retired.
As we started making plans for post-retirement, this extended period of stay got delayed by the nomadic lifestyle we chose to pursue for the last four years. Yet, my desire for immersion in one place in Europe remained. Finally, we agreed to a three-month stay in Paris so I could check off this bucket list desire, probably my biggest.
It was kind of shocking, honestly, when we began to compare the cost of housing in Paris, one of the great cities of the world, to what we were paying to be in Scottsdale or Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Admittedly, the housing in AZ and MX was during high season, but, still, neither of those could hold a candle to Paris for food and culture during any season.
I should add that none of the three apartments, in AZ, MX, and Paris, was comfortable and we will endeavor to find better digs even if it costs more. Still, our Paris flat was well-located, there were plenty of shops and restaurants nearby as well as access to the Metro.
Ah, the Metro. There were two stations connecting to three lines within a five-minute walk from our flat. It didn’t take long for us to arrange our passes and the whole Metro system put the entirety of downtown Paris within 30 minutes. A cheap luxury. We never even noticed the bedbugs reportedly infesting one of the lines we used regularly. To be sure, it could be crowded or delayed, but the Metro was generally clean and reliable.
We rode the Metro nearly every weekday to attend French class across town. Our prior experience with French class in Nice left a bad taste in Diana’s mouth. After careful consideration, she settled on a program focused on conversation. I was all for it since conversation is my weakest French skill. After a little effort to settle into the rhythm of the class, we settled into a wonderful environment where are pronunciation and vocabulary grew with every visit. When (not if) we return for an extended stay, we hope to be back in the language right away. We loved it.
Generally speaking, we try to book a place with a well-outfitted kitchen if we are going to stay anywhere over a week. Not only do we want to reduce the cost of always eating out, we want to reduce the hassle of always eating out. I mean, sometimes you just wanna grab a nibble. Why should you have to get dressed to go out for that?
One reason I wanted to stay for so long in Paris was to allow time to get to know what the local shops and markets had. I feel it is a great way to understand the culture and thus the people. I enjoyed my shopping trips as each trip provided a little more insight into the cool things the city had to offer.
One aspect that took some adjusting was how all of the stores had less of almost everything. Instead of the 15 varieties of canned tomatoes you see in the US, there were only three choices. France had a lot variety of cured meats cheeses and wine. Israel had a lot of hummus. Cool.
As I said before, Paris is a top-notch city for culture, and its museums are a big part of that. Being in the city for three months, it made sense for me to buy a pass to the Louvre, because it is so massive. True, you can see the highlights in a single visit, but I wanted to take a deeper dive into what it had to offer. The pass allowed me to make more frequent visits and not feel like I was throwing away Euros by not lingering for hours.
Of course, the other well-known local museums, like the D’Orsay and the L’Orangerie are great, too. The extra days allowed us to enjoy Some of the Paris Museums That You Never Heard Of. These spots held many treasures as well, from art in smaller, private collections to historical artifacts of Paris and France. These smaller institutions often came with a smaller ticket price, or even free, as was the case for the 14 museums managed by the City of Paris. Yet more culture to bathe in.
When we first discussed our extended visit, Diana started dreaming of “nearby” overnight trips we could take. I mostly countered these ideas with the following argument: “Why leave Paris until we have exhausted what it has to offer?” Like that could ever happen.
Still, when some friends indicated they would be headed From Paris to Water Lilies and a Spectacular Cathedral in Giverny and Rouen after visiting with us, we couldn’t pass up the chance to indulge in what they had to offer. Embracing Monet’s estate in Giverny was like walking through one of his canvases. It’s easy to see how he was so inspired. And the architecture of nearby Rouen is akin to stepping back in time. The fabulous evening light and sound show on the front of the cathedral is just icing on the cake. Do stay for the show if you possibly can.
We did manage a couple of long day trips from our flat in Paris. Our first was A Day in the Company of Kings at Versailles. The grounds are impressive and more so the palace, which is now a museum “dedicated to all the glories of France”. A second long day was spent Taking the Early Train to the Happiest Place on Earth. EuroDisney is a place to let your inner kid out and embrace the fantasy. And that is just what we did.
When we weren’t learning French, going to the gym, shopping, or sightseeing, we managed to fit in a handful of classes. We enjoyed our wine-tasting and cheese-tasting classes, but the only things I learned from them were that most French people don’t know what grapes are in their favorite wines and that eating the cheese rind sometimes made the cheese taste better, respectively.
The real learning happened when we took a sauce class and a croissant class. Not being a great cook or baker, there was much for me to learn and we certainly enjoyed the fruits of our labors. Mind you, this wasn’t the Cordon Bleu, which is way beyond my skill level anyway. No, this was a good entry-level session for an aspiring home cook. To paraphrase, when in Paris, take the croissant class.
Of course, I couldn’t swoon on Paris without considering the meals we ate out. Mind you, none of these were Michelin-starred joints, those were just more expensive than we felt like paying. Frankly, Paris and France in general are so food-focused that it is tough to get a bad meal as long as you stay out of the tourist hot spots.
We almost always found something good to eat and at a good price. And our top spots were really good, worthy of high accolades in most cities, even if they didn’t have the stars to prove it. We just scratched the surface of the culinary scene in Paris. Another reason to return…
In my mind, although Paris isn’t known as a music town, we still enjoyed some evenings out. Jazz is very popular here, but the two well-known clubs I went to were decidedly just ok when it came to the musicians we heard. Perhaps I picked bad nights. Don’t get me wrong, the players were invested in their craft, it’s just they didn’t seem that skilled.
There were a couple of groups doing concerts in town, too. The one we attended sounded pretty good to me. The Lapin Agile show is what I enjoyed most. Sitting in a small, dank room with firm seats, I felt I was transported back to when Toulouse-Lautrec whiled away the hours with the prostitutes, only there were neither prostitutes nor smoking by the time we got there. The songs accompanied by piano or accordion ranged from bawdy, to ballads, to torch songs. It was a great, unique experience and I hope it continues to draw enough visitors to survive.
Then there was Bastille Day. We could have joined the masses for the concert nearby, under the Eiffel Tower, but as we had a great view from our balcony, we watched the concert on TV and then enjoyed the fireworks. The awesome, fantastic fireworks emanating from the Tower. The platform allowed for the best fireworks show I have ever seen. Go, if you can.
It’s often good to leave an experience a little hungry as an enticement to return. There are still a handful of crevices of the Louvre I haven’t explored, as well as quite a number of other museums. There is still a vineyard in town. Tours showing it and its history are available.
More classes to take. More cheeses and pates and wines to try. And of course, more restaurants, although probably not more pigs feet. I don’t need that delicacy again.
Champagne Wishes and Baguette Dreams
Having waited so long to check off this bucket list item, I must say… IT WAS WONDERFUL. I could live there indefinitely, soaking it all in. Sure, it can be too cold in the winter, and too hot in the summer. Service workers can strike whenever they want, for basically no reason. They still smoke too much. But in the end, that is all part of the charm of Paris, and it is charming. I’ve been charmed.
Paris, Je t’aime. ‘Til we meet again.
What city has swept you off your feet?