Two Grandmas in Paris

My co-writer, Ruth, just returned from a trip to Paris, so I’ve asked her to share her experiences and some photos. All pictures are from Ruth’s most recent trip in September and were taken by her or her sister. Enjoy! -Elisebet

Eiffel Tower
The famous Eiffel Tower

From Ruth: My first visit to Paris was in—well, I won’t tell you how many years it’s been, but I was just a teenager. I was on my way back to the USA from Iran where I was an exchange student. Iran was an incredible experience, but Paris was different. Paris was enchantment.

In that brief one-day stopover, I viewed the City of Light at night from the Eiffel Tower. I walked the banks of the Seine, browsing through the green bookseller stalls as others had before me for more than three hundred years. I took my first-ever subway ride on the world’s second-oldest underground and walked in neighborhoods that Napoleon frequented. I was fascinated by everything around me, but my time was short. I promised to return someday. Twenty years later I did.

Ruth in Paris

This time I visited the major sites that I had missed before—Notre Dame, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe. I found the history interesting, but enchantment?  Well, I was older now; I had lived in Europe. Romance was gone; rudeness of French “officials” was present, and though locals tried to be helpful, communication was definitely an issue. European tourists might be sought after, but better to have a Canadian flag on your backpack if you hailed from North America.

Fast-forward another twenty years to September 2014. Two grandmas are in Paris for the week.  (Yes, my wonderful sister asked me to accompany her on a trip for two to Paris that she won in an online contest.) Impressions? Paris was both the same and different. What was the same? The history—the opulence and extravagant lifestyle of Louis XIV at Versailles, as well as the decadence and spiritual impoverishment of his reign. Napoleon’s remodeled Parisian neighborhoods with stone buildings rising up from streets of bricks and cobblestones were also the same. The underground, albeit with some new paint and plastic barriers, still carries millions (yes, millions) of travelers daily on the same routes under the same Parisian streets. And tourist sites?  They haven’t changed.

Above Versailles

The Louvre Palace still houses more ancient artifacts, paintings, and relics than one could see in a lifetime of visits. The Eiffel Tower has always offered the best view of the city at night, and kiosks are still rented on the Seine River bank to booksellers (though other items—to the horror of purists—are also now sold amongst the tomes).


Ruth’s sister enjoying the sites

The food of France?  Fresh crescents or baguettes can still be purchased for a lunch on a park bench, and the people of France?  They’re still helpful when needed—pedestrians stopping traffic to assist an ambulance through the crowded streets; a French shopkeeper showing the way to the nearest underground to two confused tourists (me & my sister); a man with a saxophone first shouting helpful directions to all at the station waiting for Versailles transport and then serenading us with a concert as we watched the outskirts of the city slide past from our train seats. But Paris was different, as well.

Ruth taking a pastry class in Paris

We were never far from a Starbucks (with French toast on the menu for breakfast) nor from a McDonalds (serving French macaroons along with hamburgers). H&M now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Louis Vuitton and Mercedes-Benz on the Boulevard Champs-Elysées. An indoor mall with scores of high-end shops greets your entry to the Louvre, and teenage offspring of Middle Eastern immigrants may wait on you at the North American-style food court.

Entrance/exit to the Subway

Those rude French officials? Apparently a thing of the past, and everyone under forty whom you encounter in a shop, on the metro, or in a museum speaks to you in English.  The traffic may still be horrendous, but motor bikes have replaced bicycles as scores of them line the sidewalks outside your motel. Pharmacies, marked with large florescent green crosses, are everywhere. (Apparently the French use them like walk-in clinics. Both my sister and I had occasion to use them, but that’s another story.) Yes, there were some minor snags —a return ticket from Versailles was not accepted, requiring an hour wait in line; our hotel room was not ready in time; airport drivers showed up late; a suitcase was ripped, and Air France was on strike at Charles de Gaulle Airport, BUT it really didn’t matter.  It was still Paris. It was still interesting, and it was enchanting.

Golden gate of Versailles
Have you been to Paris? If so, what did you like the most?

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  1. Sadly, I have not but my daughter has!
    She was at the Eiffel tower when it was evacuated due to a bomb threat.
    Crazy memory to have eh.
    She bought the cutest pair of shoes though so I guess that more than makes up for it!

  2. The pictures are absolutely beautiful. It’s interesting to read about how Paris has changed. I definitely want to visit one day.

  3. The last time I went I was Twenty-One and went with family… before that I was a teenager… We loved it but I would like to go back with Hubby. Think it would be really great for us

  4. J’aime Paris! One of my very favorite places ever. I love walking around the Marais or the streets of St. Germain.

  5. I am so jealous, I would have loved to visit with you two. Paris is on my bucket list of places to visit and I’m actually thinking of heading to the UK next year with a trip to France included in there as well.

  6. I love that it has transitioned back to more of what you remember from your first trip. I went on a high school trip as well and it lives in my memory in a certain way too!

  7. The airline was on strike when we went to Paris too. 😉 I love to visit the city, and I’d love to go back. I’d also love to see other areas of France! My hubby dreams of a week of driving through the countryside. 🙂 I love the pictures.

  8. I would love to see Paris. I mean, really, really LOVE to see Paris! It’s on my list of things to do, especially since it’s tops on my daughter’s list as well.

  9. I have never been to Paris but for some reason I’m just dying to get there. It looks like you and your sister had an amazing time. Wow, cooking in Paris!

  10. I have been to Paris 3 times. The first was on a Fine Arts trip from college, which was beautiful and terrible at the same time. Imagine over 60 of your college friends and classmates on a trip together for Spring Break, and you will have a good idea of what that trip was like. While I was enchanted by the sights and mysteries that Vienna, Venice, and Italy had to offer, others were behaving like typical college students. I was especially excited over getting to Paris, as I had studied French for over 4 years, mostly in Middle School. My sister and I have great memories of the one day where we were apart from the horde of students. It was Easter Sunday, and we were able to visit some missionary friends and be part of their Easter service. It was a glorious time of celebrating the Resurrection of Christ with old friends and new friends across a spectrum of ethnicities, languages, and backgrounds.
    The second time was for a day at the beginning of my backpacking adventure in July, 2013. I found a swimming pool, with a little help from locals, near the bus station I would be leaving from that night. I made a Chinese friend while at the pool, and we got a lot of funny looks during our hour-long conversation in Chinese. She took me later to a nearby French grocery store, where I was delighted by the varied offerings of yougurts, cheeses, jams, and fresh breads. It was excellent!
    Then there was the 3rd trip. During my backpacking I had met up with my 3rd sister, and we were scheduled to meet my 2nd sister in Paris. We eventually found each other, although not having working cellphones or an internet connection made it rather difficult. I need to mention that it was now early August, and most Parisians had already embarked upon their annual migration to the seaside. The city summer fragrances were extremely odiferous, to say the least. Especially after having lived in Seoul, the subway system was ancient and unbearably over-crowded, with no air conditioning, and only a few windows that could be opened for a literal breath of fresh air or fresher air, as the case may be. We had a shopkeeper who cheated us, and got very angry when we called him on it. (He overcharged my 2nd sister by 4 Euros on a loaf of bread, and then he tried to keep 10 Euros from my correct change.) All in all, the 3rd time was definitely NOT the charm!

    tl:dr – Don’t go to Paris in the summer. Especially in early to mid August. It stinks, literally. Go in the spring or fall.
    P.S. I didn’t intend to write a book… Sorry!

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