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10 rules for visiting Paris

I visited Paris this time on my own. Not on a tour and not with a group, I was usually a lone traveler. Thus, these rules are more for the traveler taking care of everything herself. However, even if you are on a tour or with a group, these rules apply.

Take care of your feet. You will never walk as much as when you tour the wonders of a big city. Even though I’m a disciplined walker, I often get blisters when my main transportation on a trip is walking. Good shoes and socks are critical. I also wear inserts for better support. You know what works best for you. Bring bandaids, and pay great attention to blisters. Rest your feet in parks and on museum benches. Even using the metro will have you hiking a lot between the train and the sortie (exit) plus you’ll be going up and down lots of stairs. If your feet fail, you’ll see a lot less of Paris.

Take care of your bladder. You can go ahead and drink water, wine, coffee, and Perrier, but be sure you use the bathroom in the cafe or restaurant before you hit the road again. Carry water with you, but also be aware of your toileting options. Use museum toilets when you arrive and before you leave. Even if women have to put up with long lines, use every convenient opportunity to urinate. The free access toilets on the streets can also be a good option. Reduce your liquids intake when you’re planning to board buses, metros, or trains.

Don’t insist on a summer visit. Any season is a good time to travel to Paris. Spring has rain and romance. Fall is cool and less crowded. Winter has charm and few tourists. Don’t dismiss a trip to Paris just because you can’t travel in July.

Allow for spontaneity. I don’t typically visit houses of kings and queens, but a French couple offered to drive my friend and me to a chateau that I’d never heard of. I went, and the visit combined history, drama, walking, camaraderie, green space, and a lovely lunch on the grounds. It was all quite wonderful.

Appreciate the modern Paris. You may have come to admire 17th century architecture or Gothic cathedrals or World War II historic sites, but there is a beating heart of a modern Paris beyond all that. Many ethnic groups, ex-colonials, and immigrants have enlivened Paris since Hemingway and Sartre held forth in numerous cafes. Look carefully at Parisian infrastructure, the cafe wait staff, the janitorial army that cleans up the streets every 24 hours, and the hard-working Parisians who rush off to appointments all around you. You’re on vacation. They’re getting things done.

Rent an apartment. Staying in a hotel has drawbacks. You typically don’t have a refrigerator, a microwave, or the ability to cook. An apartment gives you tremendous flexibility.

Don’t rely on one guidebook. I’ve used six different guidebooks on this trip. All of them have different things to say and have different biases. Find one that speaks to you and then get another one.

Exercise your curiosity. You may have brought guidebooks and printed out all kinds of information from the Internet, but your own sense of adventure will often bring you more joy than other people’s facts and walk layouts. Eat things you’ve only read about, check out the extended neighborhoods around a tourist site, and try foods without knowing exactly what they are.

Always have a Plan B. You can work with Rick Steves’ itineraries or from Lonely Planet’s suggestions or write down your own plan the night before, BUT you should always have a few options for every day. Rain, fatigue, blisters, illness, and feeling museumed-out can thwart best-laid plans. A good Plan B is visiting green spaces such as parks, places, zoos, or botanical gardens. Getting away from fees, cars, and churches can restore the soul. Even getting lost in the great gardens of Versailles for an hour can help you feel you’ve escaped metropolitan malaise.

Experience Paris on your own. If you’re with a group or your partner or friends, allow some time all by yourself. Do an errand, buy stamps, purchase dinner makings. You’ll be surprised how much more you experience and observe when you interact alone with this great city.

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