Paris really is a romantic city. In the spring, the cobblestone streets look beautiful contrasted with the manicured green of city parks. In the winter, the steamy cafe windows blur your view of parisians sipping espresso while talking musically with friends. Go whenever you can.
I scribbled the below notes in my journal on the flight home from Paris - it's all the little details and first impressions that create memories of a city that's not your own. I've been to Paris a few times now, though this was the first I'd visited in the winter. The Boyfriend and I stayed in a perfect little apartment on the top floor of a very old building in the 3rd arrondissement; we spent the entire trip wandering, eating, looking at art, and generally not wanting to come home. Paris really is a romantic city. In the spring, the cobblestone streets look beautiful contrasted with the manicured green of city parks. In the winter, the steamy cafe windows blur your view of parisians sipping espresso while talking musically with friends. Go whenever you can. (Except August, when its only tourists who suck all the romance out of this city, and locals escape on their 'holidays' to avoid them). Sun or rain, hot or cold, the people and architecture make Paris a dreamy urban landscape.
January is cold, cold, cold (for a California girl).
Baguettes! Every day I saw someone leaving a boulangerie with a fresh bread under their arm. There are like two bakeries per block minimum. And chocolate shops. And patisseries (pastry shops). Everywhere.
French girls are wearing coats, adidas sneakers with exposed ankles, and the occasional beanie. Coats are either long wool or short fur. French boys are well dressed compared to the California variety...skull caps, long coats with hoodies underneath, joggers, sneakers.
SNEAKERS. I think the French are all sneakerheads. Adidas, Nike, Converse, Reebok, Puma...
No one seems to be in a hurry. It's not a slow city, but no one is rushing anywhere.
Whoever laid out these city streets was NOT thinking ahead for modern times. Nothing makes sense - no grids, no symmetry, no numbers or letters. Paris could aptly be described as the beating heart of France, with sprawling streets as branch-like as arteries. Good luck without patience, or GPS.
Cheese shops are real.
Street signs are blue and green plaques mounted on the sides of buildings. Is the building without a convenient open space for a street plaque? Well then they don't put one there and you just have to figure it out.
Look up. Steam coming from narrow stacks on charcoal rooftops and narrow windows with individual rot iron balconies are probably one of many reasons people describe Paris scenery as romantic.
Couples are not holding hands. They are, however, leaning over a small outdoor cafe table, faces close to one another, flirting over a cigarette.
The metro is easy to use and can get you everywhere.
Color anywhere in the city really stands out, because of how de-saturated the city is (especially during the rainy winter). Grey sidewalks, beige buildings, charcoal grey rooftops...faded color, but high contrast. Pops of green grass or red shoes seem electric.
No drip or pour over coffee here. Instead, ask for a cafe americano (though it's weaker than the jet fuel we tend to order in the USA)...
Everything is named 'le petit something or other'. The little everything. Bakeries, shampoo brands, shops, rasberry jam, breakfast...Le Petit Olivier. Le Petit Indices. Le Petit Dejuner (breakfast, literally translates to the little lunch).
Every city block has multiple cafes, bars, or bistros with small tables and wicker chairs that sprawl onto the sidewalk - some have enclosed their cafe sprawl, and some have not. It seems like the most Parisian thing you can do is order a 'petit vin rouge' (small red wine) and sip it on the sidewalk-half of the cafe with a cigarette - preferably while engrossed in a conversation with a friend. If you're going to eat while doing this, it should be a pastry of some kind, ideally a croissant.
Every street vendor at every tourist attraction sell the same things: Eiffel Tower keychains housed on giant metal rings to carry around), Eiffel Tower statuettes, and knitted beanies with pom poms, laid out on blankets on the pavement. All of them. Everywhere.
Be prepared to climb a lot of stairs to reach your authentic parisian apartment. These buildings are too old for elevators, so you'll huff and puff - a quick way to burn off all the pastries you just ate!
Apologizing for your horrible French goes a long way. (After thanking a waitress for speaking with me in English she said: "Bien sur ('of course')! It's not hard. I'm trying anyway." She was both polite and painfully honest at the same time. Note to self: learn French.