IMG_0328Paris was more familiar than I expected. It’s a big, modern metropolis reminiscent of New York, Chicago, LA and most other major cities I’ve visited. Not to say it’s indistinguishable from the states, far from it. Paris is a modern city and all modern cities share certain characteristics (infrastructure, big buildings, a McDonalds on every street), but it’s unique in it’s own right. FroIMG_0231m the picturesque cafes on every corner to the imposing image of the Eiffel tower, the city is easily identifiable, distinctly Parisian. Justin and I stayed on the top floor of a four story flat, in Vincennes, right on the edge of the city. The home had previously been an apartment building but is now owned by one family. A locked door on the top floor leads to a walkway connecting it to the other half, which I assume is owned by another family. IMG_0146When the home was quiet we could occasionally hear sounds coming from the other half, a crying baby, running water, or footsteps. White, wooden stairs led up to the top level, they creaked with every step. Well-worn stone steps led down to the basement. A fully stocked wine cellar was in the back room. The French love their wine. Every meal we ate with our host family was accompanied with a glass of wine, or more. It was all local. France is one of the largest wine producers in the world and vineyards are spread throughout the country. The meals always started with wine. 
IMG_0142Then the first course, usually meat with some type of cooked vegetables. Salad always came last, often accompanied with a cheese plate and more bread. Dessert was a plate of fruit and yogurt, or a sample of ice cream. French ice cream is made with eggs so it’s thick and custardy. The store bought tubs were small, only a few servings each, unlike the massive family style buckets sold in America.
A meal is an important part of one’s day in FranceIMG_0215You sit down for it. You take your time. Our host family was surprised and bemused when they learned we were buying our lunches to-go, usually a cheap sandwich eaten while walking around or sitting on the metro. One night we came back with half eaten kebab sandwiches and fries, intending to eat the leftovers quick and upstairs while watching a movie. They set down plates and silverware for us to eat at the table instead. Even the fries they expected us to cut up and eat with a knife and fork. The metro system, Paris’s best form of public transportation, was surprisingly easy to navigate. Much easier and more convenient than the subway system in New York. IMG_0133One ticket could take us all the way from Vincennes to Saint Ouen on the other side of Paris. I wouldn’t say the people were ruder, something I’d been told to expect. They’re less likely to smile at strangers, or smile in general, but every person we met was incredibly warm and welcoming. One French college student we met had grown up in Washington D.C. and he explained the difference like this, “People in America know customer service. They smile when they’re just sitting on the bus, but it’s not always genuine. French people aren’t as friendly if they don’t know you, if it’s just some random encounter. They’re more real. But as far as niceness goes, the French and Americans are equal.” IMG_0138Everyone in Paris walks. You can’t get a driving license until your 18 in France, and the process is arduous and expensive. It’s standard to learn with a stick shift. It’s even more expensive to get a license with an automatic. Paris is a city that lends itself to an active lifestyle. However, it’s also not too well built for the disabled. Very few buildings I saw came equipped with an elevator. Every time we wanted to get something from the kitchen we had to walk down two flights of stairs both ways. I’m honestly baffled at how the wheelchair bound are able to navigate. I imagine it’s with difficulty. Like most of Europe, Paris is old. IMG_0093Founded at the end of the third century B.C. by a tribe of people called the Parisii, Paris is a mix of fascinating history and modernity. Some streets are a bustling hub indistinguishable from any other major metropolis, yet turn a corner and you might find yourself wandering down a quaint cobblestone boulevard straight out of a Hemingway novel. Even those bustling streets are still somehow attractive. It seems like every cafe has been so carefully curated, it could be a postcard worthy image of Paris. That’s something that can’t be said for most other major cities. IMG_9925

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