Thursday, March 29, 2012

Paris: Epilogue

Observations and Reflections

We had a very nice time in Paris.  By the time we got home, we were tired.  I had to work my evening shift for the next week and it was very difficult.  I had pretty severe jet lag and wanted to go to bed every night around 7 pm.

The Food

One of the reasons we went to France was to experience French food.  Here in Sacramento, we can get all kinds of different food from all over the world, but one type that is very difficult to come across is French food.  After having a few French meals and finding them not as "French" as I would have guessed, I now realize that some of what I thought of as American food - things like steaks, lamb chops, etc. - are in fact French, or perhaps universal.  The only things that we ate that I felt were uniquely French were the liver pate, goat cheese, breads, and croissants.  Also, sparkling water, among my favorite beverages and one that I could pretty much drink all the time, is available everywhere, and is cheap everywhere, except in the Louvre museum, where it is an unbelievable ripoff.

The food we ate was good for the most part.  A few things were excellent:  goat cheese, pate, falafel, and hot chocolate were among the best I have eaten in my life. All of those things were inexpensive as well.  Nancy's Gabonais chicken was very tasty, although not among the best things I've eaten.

We didn't eat very many restaurant meals that were orgasmically delicious.  For dinner, maybe we didn't spend enough money.  I especially had high hopes for the food at the goat farm but Nancy didn't like it at all, and  I thought it was just ok, with one exception: the plain goat cheese, when not cooked or added to anything, was sublime.

Breads and croissants are good, but not better than you can get here.  In this eater's opinion, the best breads in Northern California, from the Cheese Board, Semifreddi, etc., are better than the average baguette in Paris.  However, fresh-baked breads and pastries are available literally everywhere, including in some Metro stations.  That is a big positive.  If you are hungry in the American equivalent of a subway station, there is a pretty good chance you'll be eating shrink-wrapped dreck.

French fries are ubiquitous in France, and ubiquitously bad.  (The French call them simply "fries".) Why are they so obsessed with serving them if they insist on making them soggy?

Also: we did not see a single French press anywhere in France.  We did see several Mr. Coffee style American drip coffee makers.  Perhaps they finally recognized what we already know- that French press coffee leaves a gross residue at the bottom of the cup and makes a big mess.

The French Attitude

We were surprised by how nice everyone was.  People were helpful and really seem to like Americans, and America.  This includes McDonalds and Starbucks, which by the way are everywhere in Paris, except when you need one for its free Internet Access.  It also includes Holiday Inn Express, which had a good number of French customers.

French are big readers - the park was full of people who appeared to be doing their best impressions of Sartre or Camus by reading and writing in notebooks (made of paper that is, with pens).  I also couldn't help noticing how many people of working age (25-60) in the middle of the day were in the park, apparently not at work on a Wednesday at 3pm. We also saw lots of people eating and drinking in cafes during the day, even when the weather was inhospitable.  

The opera was a much more laid back scene than I had expected.  This may be because it was a matinee.  The nudity was quite amusing.

Other People

We saw people from all over the world.  Given its location and facilities, most of the guests at our hotel were there on Business.  Most of them were British (including a BBC Sports crew who was there for a rugby match), and many of them were French and Spanish as well.  Out and about in Paris, we encountered many Brazilians, Chinese, Japanese, people from Middle Eastern countries which I couldn't specify, a smattering of Americans, and at least one Korean there as tourists.  There are also many people from all over the world living and working there.  There are many Africans in Paris and also in some of the smaller towns we visited, although we didn't see many of them who looked like tourists.

Other Thoughts

Some things I especially enjoyed:
  • Hotel was much better than expected, and I loved the location.  Other times we have been in Europe, hotels were small and uncomfortable.
  • Paris was not nearly as expensive as I had feared.  We had done our due diligence and planned carefully, but I still expected to spend more than we did.  The hotel we stayed at probably helped, since it was located away from the tourist areas.
  • Weather was beautiful for most of the time we were there, so walking and bicycling around (when not in traffic) was lovely.
  • The old buildings, gardens, and antiquities are beautifully maintained.

Minorly disappointing:

  • There is dog merde literally everywhere.  I saw a boy walking his dog and they stopped so the dog could do his or her business.  The boy actually had a plastic bag to clean up after the dog, but he only cleaned up about half of it and left the rest there.  First of all, why clean up only half?  And second of all, if nobody cleans up after their dog, why bother at all?
  • The Velib bike system is great, but many of the terminals were broken.
  • You can't get a cup of coffee with a lid, let alone a large American coffee, at convenience stores on the interstate (autoroute).  Maybe this shouldn't be so surprising, but I consider it an injustice, an affront, and a safety concern.


Across the street from our hotel:

In the 5th or 6th arrondissement:
(stenciled graffito of Babar holding a rifle with his trunk)

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