JG and I just got back from a week long vacation in France. I don’t know if I’ve explained this in previous posts, as a couple we don’t go all out on special occasions like birthdays, anniversary, or holidays. Sometimes we go out for a simple dinner date, we don’t exchange expensive gifts, and there are times when we would just spend it at home. But once a year we would use all the money saved from all the occasions we skipped and go somewhere, something I’d like to call the one-time-big-time annual vacay.
Paris was the first trip that started this tradition, and it was a great experience as I explained in previous posts. We initially decided to go on a Sound of Music tour in Salzburg this year, but we thought it would be great to come back. Mostly because we wanted to conquer France with a vengeance.
I think I briefly discussed a snobby bus driver, and getting overwhelmed at finding Mona Lisa in my post of our first visit five years ago. But looking back now, we seemed to have found ourselves in over our heads. Because even though it was a great experience to be able to see one of the most famous tourist destinations ever, back then, we sort of had no idea how to go about attacking this great big place and how to experience it as much as we can.
JG planned our trip then as best as he could I know, and we had a generally good time, but again so much to see, so little time, no idea how to do it in a smart way.
On our first trip we just went head-on and hit as many of the tourists destinations as much as we can, without having any idea what to expect. What this did was exhaust us to the point of not fully enjoying where we were because we got too tired trying to find the place to too hurried trying to squeeze in all the other things we wanted to see.
One of the mistakes I made was that I allowed myself to get distracted, I’d see this shop and spend hours thinking about stuff to buy, thus wasting even more time on the more important things on the itinerary.
What did this naive and newby approach also did to two very young and still hot-headed newly weds was create friction that started several heated arguments. Suffice to say that the city of love left some ironic memories of petty bickerings and cold treatments.
Case and point of how clueless we were was going to see the Eiffel tower. Of course you’d go there to get this great romantic picture together, and so went we did. It wasn’t all that bad seeing the famous tower up-close but both of us soon realized that getting a good angle of the whole thing that close was a bad idea. It’s a good thing I don’t show pictures of our faces in the blog, because now I have a convenient excuse not to show you our horrible pictures that looked like we photoshop-ed half our faces on side of a postcard that showed one leg of the tower. Not even ONE decent picture together…
Imagine a sweaty girl and/or an even sweatier chubby man on the corner of this picture…
But now, five years and about nine other European cities later, I am pretty sure we now had a pretty good idea how to go about things. One of the best things we discovered over the years and our other trips are the free walking tours of Europe. It’s not exactly free, but they are a tipped-based scheme where funny and very informative tour guides takes you around the famous spots, tells you it’s history and interesting anecdotes, and at the end of the tour you decide how much you think the tour was worth. You can even just walk away without paying if you think you weren’t that satisfied at all to give a tip. We usually take the Sandemans New Europe tours, and so far we had never been disappointed enough not to pay.
The tours eliminates tourists from walking around a big place like Paris like headless chickens not knowing where to go. It’s also a great way to learn about the city in a funny and more interesting way, especially if the guides are really good. (For example the guy in Berlin did a great job of eerily telling Hitler’s final moments in the area of his bunkers. Another is the hilarious American lady who told the story of guy who wandered into Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom in London). Our tour guide in this recent Paris visit is bubbly Nancy, originally from Yorkshire, but fell in love with the city so much that she decided to talk about it for a living.
We also got better at taking their subway systems, most importantly buying a five-day ticket (in the Philippines what we call a stored-value card). During our first trip to Paris, every time we used the Metro, we would buy a ticket, which 1, wasted time; and two left you with a wad of train tickets and heavy pocket full of coins.
We got a lot better at planning our trip, this time, agreeing before hand the things we wanted to see, and places we wanted to visit. Not to mention, setting a day for just buying the stuff we wanted, including finding out where exactly to get them.
Some good news and bad news is that we were able to find a great place to take an awesome picture with the Eiffel tower. There is an area somewhere a bit further out of Paris on a hill called Trocadero where you could finally get an awesome view and a finally take that memorable photo. The bad news is, thanks perhaps to the Internet, everyone else is also there, as well as some constructions that are taking place. And if that is not bad enough, the angle of the sun was not agreeing with us that day so our pictures looked a bit dreary. I guess some things are really out of your control. Also JG and I are quite shy about bothering people to take our picture for us, so we mostly end up taking it by ourselves.
On this subject I would like to add that we refuse to purchase and use the now widely-used contraption called the selfie stick, which some would say is perfect for lone travellers like us, but alas we both agree that we are too old for such things and feel kind of silly waving a stick around just to get a picture.
And finally perhaps the best thing about our come-back visit to Paris, which is also known as a walking city is as compared to our other trips we are now slimmer and fitter. Some of the arguments I mentioned earlier were brought along by fatigue and staminas that were easily defeated by a flight of stairs, weak respiratory and cardiovascular systems that were rarely tested for long walks, and undetected diabetic symptoms that affected our moods and energy. Thanks to a now healthier lifestyle, we felt stronger and sturdier as 30 year old farts, than we did as fat and stubborn twenty somethings five years ago. The commute to Tracadero, took a bit of a walk transferring from one subway line to another, climbing several staircases, last year that would have been unthinkable, but as we brisked along for that stunning view, we found ourselves smiling at each other realizing how better it feels, and how lucky we are to get this second chance to experience it this way.
Finally, the reason we decided to come back and redo Paris is this is probably our last European trip in a long time. This vacation is actually one for the road, as we are now counting the days to the end of our first tour of duty. In the Philippine Foreign Service, one tour takes six years, and so two unforgettable years in Tripoli and four quiet years here in Muscat will come to a close in a month or so. So we thought it would be nice to come full circle and come back to France as wiser, stronger, better versions of what all the yearly trips has a molded us into.
It wasn’t all that perfect, but still it was awesome none the less…