A Second Chance for Paris
I am going to be honest with you, I did not love Paris the first time I visited. I liked it, I just did not love it like I thought I would. As one of the most popular and romanticized cities in the world, I went in with high expectations and Paris did not meet them.
Maybe it was because I was a college student trying to squeeze in all that The City of Light had to offer in a long weekend. Maybe it was because the weather was unseasonably cold and I spent an inordinate amount of time buying sweaters and boots to stay warm (and no, not fashionable Parisian ones). Maybe it was because I did not stay in the best neighborhood and found Paris to be dirty rather than romantic. I cannot fully put my finger on what made me feel so let down by Paris, but I tucked my memories in the back of my mind and would recall a few fond ones only when prompted by Francophiles.
I could not decide if I needed to give Paris another chance or if it was just one of those popular places that I would have to accept not falling in love with. Fast forward five and a half years and thankfully it turned out to be the former. When my mom approached me with the idea of having our annual mother-daughter trip be a trip to Paris for my grandmother’s birthday, I immediately agreed. Excited at the prospect of giving the French capital another chance, I was determined to do everything different this time around. I focused on what I had not liked the first time and made conscious choices when planning. And guess what? Spoiler alert: I fell in love with Paris.
Everyone has that place, that place they think they should love, but just did not. Or that place that circumstances prevented them from truly enjoying, either due to bad weather, misaligned travel plans or jet lag. Paris was one of those places for me for a variety of reasons, and I am thrilled that I had the chance to truly understand what makes the city so fantastic. It also turned out to be an important learning experience and by understanding what prevented me from having the best time in Paris the first time around, I was able to make this past trip even more enjoyable.
How did I learn from my first trip? Here are my 5 key lessons which contributed to making my second trip so great.
- Time of Year: After having froze on an unseasonably cold October weekend, I was determined to see Paris in its prime, the spring. The Parisian Spring was nothing short of perfect with warm sunshine allowing for strolls along the Seine and picnics in the Luxembourg Gardens. I was no longer ducking inside to escape the cold, but basking in the sun at the outdoor cafes. The weather is always one of the most important and most unpredictable factors of trips and fortunately this time it was on my side.
- Length of Stay: Don’t get me wrong, I love the long weekend. It is one of my favorite and most utilized trips throughout the year; however, for a city that requires a lifetime to even scratch the surface, a long weekend was insufficient for my first trip to Paris. For my second, third or fourth trip, it would have been more appropriate, but not for my first. And come to find out, my three jam-packed days were very un-Parisian. The Parisians know how to slow life down, sit at a café and let time pass and I did not allow any time to imbibe that part of the culture. It was one of the biggest things I did wrong. This time I was determined to double the time I spent in the city, adopt a more relaxed pace and assimilate into the Parisian way of life. A leisurely week spent visiting museums, exploring neighborhoods, picnicking and relaxing are just what you need to fall in love with Paris. I cannot remember the last time I spent a whole week in one place. It felt so nice to slow my pace down and I will be looking to do it again in the near future.
- Lodging: Shoving four college students in a run down hotel is a way to cut costs, but it is surely no way to see Paris. The hotel had made us feel like tourists and this time I had desperately wanted to feel more like a local in a lovely Parisian neighborhood. Our beautiful and homey apartment in the 7th arrondissement became our haven. With the smell of the croissants wafting up to our living room and friendly neighborhoods greeting us in the hallways, it felt like our home. More on the apartment later, but it will be changing the way I travel in the future.
- Company: While my study abroad friends were great travel companions to Paris as well as many other places, there was something incredibly special about traveling with my mom and grandmother. I had the distinct pleasure of watching them see the city for the first time. With similar interests and tastes, we had a fantastic time together and I know it is a trip that we will all remember fondly.
- Research: While this is usually my forte, I arrived in Paris five and half years ago with an idea that I should see the Eiffel Tower and the Louve. Ha! How wrong I was that that was all the French capital had to offer. This time I researched the best neighborhood to stay in, the best time of year to go, where to eat and which museums to visit. We received wonderful recommendations from people who had visited Paris, which allowed us to plan our days with plenty of time to wander and rest, but also left us feeling like we had seen everything we wanted to. My research allowed me to skip tourist traps, score reservations at top restaurants and attain the authentic experiences that I had been craving the first time.
In a classic example of live and learn, giving Paris a second chance was one of the best travel decisions I have made. As you can see, it was not Paris, it was me. I did not understand the true essence of the city and therefore did not plan or navigate my time there appropriately. I now understand what Audrey Hepburn meant when she said, “Paris is always a good idea.”
Do you have a place that you did not love the first time and wish to return to?
What are your feelings toward Paris?