Last year's trip to Spain was a blur, quick and hectic. This year when we went to Paris, to celebrate my 50th birthday, it was well planned and longer in duration. One of the few things I can say about both of them, Europe is awesome and beautiful and her people are friendly. I am not sure why anyone would spend a cent on a Disney vacation, when Europe is so close, especially for anyone on the East Coast like us.
I don't go to Europe often. If I had more money, I would remedy this. I've only been on that continent four times. It is not cheap, but with the Euro not doing so well, it is a pretty good time to go. If Greece pulls out of the Europe Union, which it might shortly, expect the Euro to crash and this becomes an affordable trip for anyone not in the EU, provided that non-EU currencies don't go along with it. My first trip to Europe was to the western half of Ireland (the Ring of Kerry, Galway, Killarney, etc.) for an in-law's wedding. This was a great trip with no problems with language. The greatest challenge was driving on the left hand side of the road with our rental. I caught a bug, a Europe travel bug. I loved it. In 2007, we took a river cruise on the Danube that went from Prague in the Czech Republic through Germany and Austria and ended in Budapest, Hungary. It was one of the best times I've ever had. Last year's Spain trip and this month's Paris trips are only other times I've been.
It is difficult to compare these two trips because they were so very different. Spain was coastal so we rented a car and hit many towns and cities while in Paris, we stayed in one city and took the Metro. Spain was spontaneous and short while Paris was well planned and twice as long.
Spain: Last summer my wife and I were contacted by a single friend who received a week of free time at a time share in Spain. She had no one to go with and since it had two bed rooms and she is friendly with both of us, she asked us to accompany her. We took the opportunity, she picked the city and we paid for the rent-a-car. The car and flight were the big costs, the food wasn't so much because we had a kitchen. We were there for only a week. From the apartment's porch we could see the Mediterranean Sea, but we were atop a huge hill. There was little close to us, with no coffee maker in the apartment, I had to drive to get coffee. We were in the Costa de Sol (translate to the Coast of the Sun) which is aptly named. It is quite beautiful. It is in the Andalusia region near the stunning city of Malaga which I heard pronounced about ten different ways. We drove up and down the highway all week going to different spots, a couple of days were just beach stop. We had a great time, but it was tiring. Driving in Spain sucks.
Paris: When I was pondering what I wanted for my 50th birthday. We thought of some material goods, like I've thinking of buying a scooter, but the idea of going to Paris for a week seemed so much more appealing and special. We learned from our trip to Spain last Summer that a week was too short of a trip. By the time you recover from jet lag, half of your week is done. So we stayed for ten days. Renting a car was out. I don't want to drive in Europe again if I can avoid it. We decided to stay one place the whole ten days and do day trips from a home base. France is famous for their mass transit system, so we did everything we wanted to do via train, metro and walking.
We stayed in Montmatre which meant nothing to me until I visited. It is a gorgeous urban neighborhood in Paris famous for its big hill with the Basilica at the top. It is home to the Moulin Rouge and the neighborhood where they filmed, Amélie , one of my favorite French films. It is also famous for all the artists that lived there like Picasso and Dali. We found the apartment on HomeAway.com, a web site which has served us well. We haven't yet had a bad experience and have used it about a half dozen times. The apartment was small like most Paris apartments. When we pulled the couch out for a friend, we had to move the kitchen table. Its smallness didn't matter. This was basically just a place to sleep and eat, a home-base. It was perfectly situated on two major Metro lines. When we stepped out of our front door (see above), we were surrounded by cafes and bakeries. Each morning we planned our day's adventure over breakfast.
The Two Complaints I Hear About Paris:
Our experience of Paris couldn't have been better. The two complaints I've heard the most was the rudeness of the people and dirtiness of the city (namely, lots of dog shit). We didn't have any problem with rudeness. It is a large city and we expect a certain level of "urban flair," but Paris is no more rude than New York or Boston. Most of the residents (non-service people) that we talked to were very pleasant and downright enjoyable to talk to. One guy started talking to me on the Metro because he noticed we were playing the same game on our phones, Two Dots. Between his broken English and my very poor French, we talked a while about the game. Compared to the stone-faces I get on the Boston T, this was downright joyous. My guess, is that the people who complain about Paris being rude, aren't very good tourists. They are probably are rude themselves. Probably the same people who complain about Montreal being rude.
On my last trip to Manhattan, I stayed in a neighborhood that had a dog shit problem. You really had to watch where you walked, the sidewalks were very gross. This is what I expected from Paris. In the ten days I spent in Paris, I think I saw only one pile of shit and it was on the side of a trashcan. Apparently, this really was a problem at one point. It has been illegal to not pick up after your dog in since 1982 but they just started to enforce it. This NPR story covers it well. I guessed, I timed my trip well. Bon voyage sans excrement! (something like that).
The Best Of Paris:
Our experience is that the best of Paris are the smaller things. The Louvre was okay, but we preferred the smaller museums like the D'Orsay Museum which is in a spectacular old train station. Of the museums we visited, we enjoyed the Musée de l'Orangerie and the Rodin Museum more. While the Louvre was overwhelming and extremely crowded even on a Wednesday, these other museums were intimate and not so crowded. The L'Orangerie is mostly Impressionistic paintings with two room size circular Monet paintings. You stood in the middle of these paintings surrounded by them. Because the Rodin Museum is mostly sculptures, most of his work is in a garden. We were there on a beautiful Summer day and we got to see of his major work, The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell.
We bought a couple of five day Museum Passes that covered the entrance to all of these including a pass to a short boat cruise on the Seine and a double-decker bus tour around the city. It also covered the Metro for those days. We did the math and we saved about $50 by buying the pass. You also got to go to the front of the line with the pass. Our friend, Julia from Germany, who used to be our foreign exchange student, stayed with us for a few days. She got into all the museums for free because she is a student in the European Union. Gotta love Europe!
Like the museums, the smaller cathedrals were more interesting. Notre Dame was spectacular but we enjoyed the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (Sacré-Cœur Basilica) and Ste. Chappelle more.