Every time it rains, it rains…probably in Paris.
Balcony brunch isn’t real. Wicker chair wistful poses are planned. Everyone Instagrams that pink wall. And all three are wastes of time in Paris.
Paris is my favorite city. I always thought it would end up being London, but ma belle ville, she wins. I went to Paris in March of this year. In researching the trip I wandered, as so many of us do from bed at 7am, down an Instagram rabbit hole to get ideas for my itinerary. I only dropped my phone on my face twice. I travel alone and am a bit of a planner, I like to explore a city vicariously when deciding what’s interesting to me and what is better left to virtual observance. What I noticed right away was that following actual restaurants or shops was far more interesting than following bloggers–American expats or otherwise–because, and I’ll tell you a secret here, bloggers are fucking boring.
Try and count the number of bloggers who use the phrase “tucked away” when talking or writing about Paris. You’ll run out of fingers, toes, and patience. Nothing is “tucked away,” Skylar, that’s how the city is laid out. It’s not the sprawling Dallas suburb or excel spreadsheet grid of New York. It’s different, it has depth, and those alleyways weren’t just magically placed there for you to “discover.” Tuck you.
A charming storefront, a carefully laden coffee shop table, an abundance of flowers, a bicycle. A latte. Standing somewhere charming looking down and to the side toward one’s feet. Pink. An iconic building or street corner at a photogenic time of day. Did I miss anything?
I’m no expert traveler, but with 35 years of practice I do think I’m an expert person, and these people are faking it. They are faking life. Moreover, they’re showing, and perhaps living, a Paris packaged. The city is far more fun when you remove the gift wrap.
For a moment I wondered why bloggers spend so much time generating content, particularly in a city like Paris that has so much to absorb, regardless of the length of your trip, and then I remembered that for professional bloggers, it’s nothing. It’s their job. They’ll be put up at the next Instagram hotel a month from now, it’s fine. It’s a thought that made me sad I guess, the idea of a city like Paris serving as nothing more than a content cow to be milked.
I’m assuming that when you travel, you travel like me, a normal. I enjoy writing normal person travel tips for those of us who can let potential content just…pass on by. Or better still, stay tucked away in our memories.
Again, I’m no pro, I’m just a human being drinking unattractive coffee at her kitchen table on a Saturday morning, but I have learned a few things in Paris that will both stick with me and serve as motivation to go right back there again. Which I kind of want to do this fall. I’ll think about it.
1 — Paris weather is garbage. GARBAGE. There’s a reason everyone Instagrams sunny Parisian days. They’re like a French chupacabra! Buy a waterproof jacket with a hood and carry a tiny umbrella in your bag inside a ziplock for when it gets wet. Make sure your walking shoes are waterproof too, I like a good pair of adidas, and no one is paying me to say that.
2 — Your meals and snacks do not have to be photo-worthy. Dare I say they’re better when they’re not? This baguette to my left was one of the best things I ate the whole trip, and I’m not sure if it was a particularly good one, or if I was just exhausted from walking. Also it was raining at the time. If you look closely you can see my thumbnail is wet. While I’m on the topic, eat a lot of baguettes in Paris. You don’t have to finish them, but you’ll notice snacks are not a big thing there. Buy a baguette or a demi baguette (pro tip for the solo traveler) to fend off any tourism peckishness.
3 — Go to restaurants that are not famous. I think you’ll find that once you start ignoring the Instagram famous restaurants, you’ll start dining at the restaurant famous restaurants, and those are miles, sorry kilometers better than anything in a travel guide or 90s movie. My personal favorite is Brutos, run by an awesome couple I wish I could hang out with every day.
4 — Walk. This seems obvious, but the reasoning isn’t. In a city with so much to see, the instinct is to try to see it. I’m trying to get you to walk everywhere so that you accidentally pass by it. Case in point is this ferris wheel here which is at the entrance to the Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre. I’d already seen this park in the rain thank you, so I literally just paid $1 or so to use their (very well kempt) restrooms and upon leaving bumped into this charmer against a backdrop of gray sky. You can’t sponsor content like this. Then I kept walking toward my destination, which was a taxidermy store called Deyrolle that you’re not allowed to photograph. Gasp.
5 — Think B-list. The instinct is the Louvre, and while that’s 100% valid and necessary, so are the completely known but often overlooked destinations. The Jardin du Luxembourg is incredible, but so is Parc Monceau, a smaller park with a neighborhood vibe and an odd magical sense that it comes alive at night. Either that or I was super jet lagged. You’re probably going to go to the Picasso Museum, etc, but I can’t speak highly enough about Musee Nissim de Camondo, which is an actual house that a wealthy family once lived in and if you had any affection at all for Downton Abbey this is the museum for you. They have an entire room for the dishes. Just. The. Dishes.
6 — Guts, not ‘grams. Do what you want to do, not what will make a good photo. More often than not in Paris, they’re the same thing. This is a place to be lived and experienced, not captured. There’s no photo I took or sentence I could write that would come close to how fantastic it feels to be around a language I don’t speak and a history I can’t fathom and menu I can’t identify. The charm of Paris is a real thing, even when it’s gross outside, and it’s always gross outside. Yes, take a million photos and post whatever Instagrams you want but do so knowing that you love them, without wondering if other people will, too.
I get why bloggers go to Paris. I get why bloggers move to Paris. But I worry that they’re taking the interesting out of Paris and filling the void with letter-shaped balloons. Ignore them. Ignore me. Just go. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. Paris isn’t perfect, give side-eye to anyone who Instagrams like it is. You will get lost, you will get frustrated, you will eat something weird. But you will be happy, a kind of happy you can’t be at home. That’s Paris’ natural resource, and as long as we experience it as individuals rather than guided lemmings, it will always have an abundance of experiential joy–aujourd’hui, demain, toujours.