Travel Tuesday: My Favorite Things About Paris
Welp. With the coronavirus pandemic outlook in America not looking much better, it looks as though we’ll be canceling our trip to Paris for the second time (we were booked for March and pushed it to September when things seemed like they’d be better). Le sigh.
While I don’t mean to complain about my lack of travel when there are far more important and challenging things going on in the world, I do have to say that this development has me missing the city of Paris more and more. See, since 2017, my wife and I have spent at least some time in France each year — visiting three times last year. Because of this, we’re currently going through a bit of a withdrawal, if you will.
So what is it that keeps us coming back? Well, technically, it’s business as we both write for a Disney fan site that covers Disneyland Paris. Yet, as you can tell my my longing tone, it’s a city we certainly enjoy returning to. With that in mind (and the fact that it’s Bastille Day as I’m writing this), I thought I’d share a few of my favorite things — outside of biggies like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower — about Paris.
4 Things I Love About Paris
The architecture and history
This may sound silly but, the first time we visited Paris, I was struck by just how… French it was. Indeed, the buildings found on any given street looked just as I’d expect them to having seen photos, movies, and EPCOT pavilions about the country. All of the window shutters, balconies, and rounded roofs made strolling through the city feel like I was in a storybook.
Of course, one can’t talk about the architecture of Paris without also pointing out just how old some of the structures are — especially when you consider how relatively young our entire country is. While I’m by no means a history buff, I do appreciate it and find many of the historical tidbits you may encounter along the way to be fascinating. Therefore, Paris has become one of my favorite cities to simply explore with no agenda.
All things bread, ham, and cheese
Just like Oprah, I. Love. Bread. Thus, the boulangeries of Paris have become my happy place. No matter how many times I visit, it always blows my mind that I can buy a gigantic, amazingly delicious, fresh baguette for a mere 1€. Throw in some pain au chocolat for the morning and I’m good on my carbs for days.
So what could be even better than French bread on its own? Turning it into a delicious jambon et fromage sandwich. Beyond the famed croque monsieur, I have found that the combination of ham and cheese prevalent around Paris. What’s great for me is that, as someone who’s a picky eater and despises nearly all condiments, most of these sandwiches are made with only ham, cheese, and butter — making it so I don’t have to special order anything nor do I need to pick/scrape anything off. It’s really quite perfect. Thus, on my last week-long trip to France, I ate no fewer than six ham and cheese sandwiches in some form.
Is it stupid that one of my favorite things about an entire country is a food item that consists of three to four ingredients? Sure. But, hey, this is my list!
Trains and transportation
For reasons that will become apparent momentarily, when my wife and I go to Paris, we don’t typically stay in Paris itself. Instead, we end up taking a train into the city. The first time we did this, I was quite surprised by the experience — and in a good way.
Although the Metro trains you might take to zip from one tourist destination to another are akin to your standard subway cars, those you take into or out of the city are something quite different. In our case, each train car actually had two levels (three if you count the level you enter on before going up or down), with plenty of seating on each. I don’t quite know why this impressed me so much, but it did, making a not-so-short trip much more enjoyable.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to travel even further outside of Paris, there are plenty of high-speed trains that can take you all over Europe. Granted, we have yet to do this, even though I do contemplate a trip to Belgium nearly every time we’re in France. Also, we have made this style of train for the short ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the next item on my list…
Lastly, I couldn’t close out this post without giving props to the reason I find myself in France with some frequency (or did): Disneyland Paris. Debuting in 1992 under the moniker Euro Disneyland, Disneyland Paris has had a bit of a troubled history. Following the initial financial failure, the resort managed to hang on — only to open a second gate that is perhaps the worst theme park Disney has ever built. As it turns out, that was partially because Disney would have lost the land if they didn’t build something in time, so they went with the easiest, cheapest option. Thankfully, Walt Disney Studios Park is now undergoing a major overhaul that should bring it up to the standards we Disney geeks demand.
Meanwhile, the star of the show is Parc Disneyland. Sure, those who have visited the domestic Disney park will encounter plenty of déjà vu moments while strolling the park, but those who pay closer attention will be rewarded. Disneyland Paris has often been referred to as the most beautiful Disney park — and that distinction is thanks in large part to their incredible version of Sleeping Beauty Castle (or “Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant” in French). Elsewhere, fans will notice versions of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Haunted Mansion (Phantom Manor) that are either superior to or intriguingly different enough from their stateside counterparts.
Personally, I still think Tokyo DisneySea remains the all-time king of Disney parks (although the original Disneyland wins in terms of sentimentality), but Parc Disneyland is the leader when it comes to castle parks. A common theory for why this suggests that the park was built by Imagineers who had grown up with the Disney Parks and wanted to honor that tradition while also pushing the medium forward. If that’s the case, they certainly succeeded. So, even if you’re not a huge Disney fan, if you have a free day and don’t mind the 45-minute or so train ride from the heart of Paris out to Marne-la-Vallée, I do think Disneyland Paris is worth at least one visit.
Admittedly, my wife and I haven’t visited a ton of different cities in the time that we’ve been traveling. Instead, we tend to return to a few of our favorites — and Paris is definitely among them. In fact, it’s become our most-visited non-U.S. destination in recent years, making the inability to travel there this year even harder to swallow. Alas, I’m confident we will return with time and I’ll once again be able to enjoy all that Paris and France have to offer.
Also published on Medium.