Paris has to be one of the most magical cities in the world. It’s full of romance and dreams… but like many cities there is a reality of summer that one can’t deny once you’ve lived here. At the age of 22, I started making my almost yearly summer visits to Paris. I thought that I was immersing myself into the Parisian lifestyle by avoiding what I considered tourist traps. I wandered the streets as far away from the map yielding tourists as possible and spent many hours in cafés writing, reading and watching people. It was my unspoken mission to get a feel for what I thought was the real Parisian lifestyle. As I walked aimlessly, I enjoyed the quiet streets soaking in the calm and beauty of the incredibly gorgeous historical architecture. It was pure heaven compared to that of my busy New York lifestyle.
It wasn’t until after living here for several years that I began noticing patterns and learned that the Parisian lifestyle I thought I was living so many years ago was far from that. Truth be told, summer is probably the least Parisian moment of the year. The influx of people with suitcases begins in July. Then, there is that moment around mid-July when you realize that you hear more English on the streets and in the metro of Paris than French. The suitcases become more and more prevalent as the summer moves on and in August you realize that many of the real Parisians have already flown the coop, leaving Paris to the tourists.
Vacation is considered a right that all people should enjoy in France and many companies even impose this vacation on their employees. That said, we are not talking about the one week or even two-week vacations Americans might be lucky enough to get. Vacations here can total anywhere from one to two months. This in itself is actually an incredible concept. One must not leave out that vacation is taken so seriously that it even includes the unemployed, who at times go on even better vacations than the working people… but I’ll leave that subject for a later post. 😉
Many shops, restaurants and special art expositions are closed during summer and your favorite places to buy bread, meat, fish and croissants will also close at one point or another. This in itself can be quite frustrating if you like good food and enjoy cooking. On a more serious note, you really don’t want to get sick or God forbid need surgery in August, because of course, your regular doctors are also entitled to their vacations. If you are smart and can hold out, you might want wait until September.
On the plus side, those quiet streets I mentioned enjoying as a tourist are actually that. Everything slows down, especially in August, and you can truly enjoy the beauty of this city. In addition, you can actually take your car out and find a parking space directly in front of where you want to be instead of going round and round in search of a spot only to finish by parking in a garage. One must not forget the metro. If you can get over those summer metro odors that at times make you squint in pain, you can actually get a seat during rush hour and don’t have to worry about someone rubbing up against you. As for you photography buffs, summer will be perfect for you as deserted side streets photograph brilliantly with no worries of a passerby getting in the way of your shot.
Back in the day when I was a tourist, I didn’t have the benefit of reading blogs or typing ‘Paris in summer’ on Google. I had to go with the flow, in ignorance of course, but in retrospect that wasn’t half bad. I always stumbled upon something while wandering the streets of Paris that will left me in awe or made me laugh. My mouth dropped when I saw a man-made roadblock during a 14th of July Bastille celebration. It was actually made of police officers who stood in a line across the Champs-Élysées. I stood there watching them and kept thinking, can’t they just use barriers? Don’t those officers have something better to do? Then, there was the Porta Potty with a VIP sign hanging on it during the arrival of the Tour de France. I couldn’t understand what made it so special at first because it looked like a regular Porta Potty. I was tempted to go inside to take a peek, but it was roped off. When I saw the door open, I realized that this Porta Potty was exactly the same as the others but apparently just for Very Important People. Silly me to think that they could use the same bathroom as us normal folks!
One of my very favorite discoveries was the ability to rent a bicycle in the Bois de Vincennes, as well as a row-boat that I took me around the water surrounding two little islands in the Bois de Vincennes. Who knew Paris had such natural beauty? Oh right, probably you since you now have Internet and Google.
Anyway, if you do come to Paris in summer just keep your eyes open. Sit back, take in the sights and enjoy. As a tourist, Paris is beautiful anytime… that is if you stop running around trying to see everything in a day. Yes, most of the Parisians do skip town and life is indeed slower, but soak it all in… for Paris is beauty in itself.