Tuesday, May 18, 2010

First Impressions

I had originally titled this entry Culture Shock as I was pondering in my head last night how I was going to describe my move from Rome to Paris.    Went to bed with this in mind.   As it happens, on one of the ten times I woke up in the middle of the night last night, I thought I had a brilliant brainstorm and changed the title immediately to First Impressions.   You know, because I’m in Paris in all.    Home of the impressionists.   Anyway…

Now that the light of day has arrived I realize this isn’t quite as brilliant as my half asleep self thought it was.   But, it works.   Just keep that culture shock concept in the back of your mind.

A little warning that I am probably going to give you a case of travel whiplash over the next several days as I take you to Paris and then back to Rome to finish off  my time there and then back to final cruise days before returning to Paris.     I am working through quite a backlog.

Left Rome yesterday morning.   3:00 flight out of Fiumincino.    Purposely scheduled it later so I wasn’t having to do everything last minute at the crack of dawn.   Now, that was definitely a brilliant decision.    Up at 8.    Drank lots of coffee.   Got a massive case of anxiety.    Rapid fire final cleaning and packing.    Showered, dressed and out the door for final trash runs, trip to ATM, practice walk to taxi stand for timing and to the phone store to top off my minutes.    In my itinerary for the morning, this activity was scheduled for an hour.  In reality, it took 20 minutes and was back in the now clean and packed apartment, floundering in my anxiety.    Somehow I got time to pass and left.   

Was quite sad to leave my little flat.   Had grown quite accustomed to its quirkiness.     The owls in the walls and plumbing challenges.   My pitch dark bedroom/kitchen.   Couch that sometimes didn’t stay in tact.     Opening my huge windows to the street, letting the cool city air and sounds of people breeze in.   My doorman, who did very little actual work, but pulled through for me one day when I needed him.    It was a great place, fabulous location.  I would definitely stay there again. 

Uneventful taxi ride through Rome.    Asked the driver in Italian to drop me off at Terminal 3.   Fumbled my way through the airport, checked in, somehow broke my suitcase (too much weight?) and then was forced to pay an absolutely ridiculous overage fee for this excess weight.   Seriously.   Embarrassed to share, but they put me in an impossible position.  70 euros.  You have got to be kidding me.   I booked a ‘value’ flight.   This stupid fee was pretty close to the cost of the trip to Paris.   Now I’m annoyed again and decide I want to go home.    Talk to John, calm down, go through security and wait for flight.   Board, take seat, fall asleep.   All of a sudden we are landing.   Paris.   Orly.   First time at this airport.    Small.   Nice.    Find my broken suitcase, call my new apartment manager, agree to meet at 7pm.   Haul my suitcase out to taxi (remember, broken wheel), blow past the gypsy drivers, nice ride into Paris.   Start to get excited again.    See Eiffel Tower for a brief moment on the approach.     Hmmmm… maybe this won’t be so bad after all.   

In contrast to Rome, Paris on entry feels a little more like a really beautiful version of New York City.    Much bigger.  Rome feels more like a small town to me.   I know it is big, but that is the feel I get.   Paris is much more city.   The air is light and crisp.  Green leafy trees everywhere.   Cafes, boutiques, black iron balconies on creamy white buildings.   Yes, I decide.  I am excited to be here.   Maybe this is exactly the change of pace I needed on this trip.    

And then, just like that, my excitement bubble burst as we pulled into my street.   First, it took about ten minutes to approach my building.  There were two trash trucks in front of us stopping every two feet (not a good sign).    Then, here I am, 60 rue Chapon.    Pay my driver.   Ask him if this is really 60 rue Chapon.  Oui.   Ummmm… ok.

My street is full of boarded up storefronts.    My actual door to my building is next to a metal garage door.    Some word written in bright green graffiti along the wall next to it.     From the looks of all the activity occurring, I feel like maybe this is a little Chinatown.    Which is fine, just not at all what I was expecting and a complete and utter culture shock from Rome where I was living among Prada and Dior at my doorstep.

Here’s a little illustration to help you with what I was feeling upon arrival.

My building in Rome.    Doorman.    On a vibrant street in the fashion district surrounded by cafes and boutiques.    Black ornate elevator.   Two sets of marble staircases.    Gorgeous black and white tiles.    Great big black shiny door to my flat.

My building in Paris.   See above for outer appearance.   Hit code to enter.   Weird aluminum type second door for little key.   Dark.   Low ceilings.    “Rustic” wooden circular staircase which seems to get less and less stable as you reach higher floors.   Dark.   Stairs maybe used to be painted a pale shade of blue.   Feel like I am going to slip and fall.   Lugging my overweight and broken suitcase up this narrow circular hell was all kinds of fun.

So you see, I was in panic mode.   I must have asked her ten times whether the apartment and area was safe.   Truly ready to catch the next plane out.   But, right then, I decided that I should keep an open mind.  I remembered that I wanted to be somewhere the Parisians actually live.   A little more quaint, off the beaten path, and quieter.  

I started feeling better when we walked into my cute little apartment.   It is definitely smaller.   Quite cozy actually.    A little rustic with one brick wall.   Decorated in red and white.   Black and white photos of Paris on the walls.    Three lovely windows overlooking the street (just don’t look down and the view is quite nice).   Cute little functional kitchen.   Washer/dryer.  Wifi.    Ok, maybe this isn’t so bad.    A little freaked out again when she demonstrated the tv for me and the first 10 channels we flipped through were gay porn, but okay, I got over that too. 

After my apartment manager finished her tutorial, she walked me down the street to the local market.  The G20.   Quite nice and very convenient.  I picked up immediate things for dinner.    Tomatoes, hummus, olives.   Yogurt for this morning.  Some Perrier.    Found my way back to apartment.  Things are looking up again.    Regained hope.    Unpacked (good sign).    Ate, drank a little red wine, perused all of the prior guest comments in the book and read a little about Paris.     Went to bed feeling really excited again to be here.  

I think it was ultimately just such a shock from where I was to where I am now.  Both are equally good.   Different is good.   I just wasn't mentally prepared for the change.  I was also tired and a little disoriented.   Lesson learned for next time around.  

And now it is official Day 1 in Paris.   Today, my plan is to wander around and figure out where I am in relation to everything.  I have a feeling that I am actually quite central.   3rd arrondissement.   Le Marais.    A wonderful neighborhood.   This is where John and I stayed on our last visit to Paris, two years ago.  

No coffee to be found so I am working my way through a perfect cup of English breakfast tea.    With the cutest little brown sugar cubes that I loved from prior visits.  

This is the view from my kitchen window while I was making water for tea.   Out, over, up and down. 

Going to read a little more about Paris, get ready and then head out for a long day.   The weather is vastly better than it has been in Rome.   Can’t wait to see how the day unfolds.   I will say, I have two food goals to achieve either today or tomorrow.  One, a nutella crepe, of course.  Two, a falafel from the absolute best falafel place in Paris.   John will remember this one.

Au revoir. For now.      

PS - I think its funny that blogger thinks I am french and tells me that almost every single word I have written here is spelled incorrectly.   Just a heads up on what I'm dealing with in the event you run across typos!


  1. Loved reading this post - love Paris.

  2. Loved your blog post. I first went to Paris for 4 months when I was 16 and had a similar apartment situation to you.....started the day crying...ended it with a glass of vino and some new friends and have been in love with Paris ever since.....:-)

  3. Yes... this was so me yesterday... If I had the energy I would have been in tears! But today, a whole different situation! I LOVE this city. I am so happy to be here and had forgotten how wonderful it is. Let the fun begin.... :) And 4 months, wow... sounds fabulous!

  4. What an adventure! Thanks for posting this it was a great read :) I hope you enjoy your stay there!

  5. Nutella crepes are my FAVORITE! I used to eat them all the time during my seven years in France :)

  6. nutella crepes are the BEST!

    i truly felt the same way when i was in Paris. absolute joy at seeing these landmarks i'd studied for years and years in french class, terror at realizing my own french was...poor. up, down, up, down.
    i think you are right -- Paris is very cosmopolitan, a little less 'open arms' welcoming, but ultimately completely worth a little anxiety. :)
    lovely apartment! i'm sure you will have a great time!

  7. Thank you all so much for your comments... truly helping me feel better! And I love, love, love that you are all nutella crepe fans. Fabulous. Funny story... I asked one of my friends if she would visit me in Paris... free place to stay and all. She said to me... "you know all I am thinking about is the nutella crepes don't you?" We have a little history together on this topic... so was pretty funny :) Off to explore...


Thanks so much for your comments! I love hearing from you and read each and every one!