Written by Waseema from Our French Adventure
In February 2019, we decided to drive from Strasbourg to Paris for our flight home to Cape Town. The kids were looking forward to the road trip, and we managed to squeeze in a few hours to see the Eiffel Tower before leaving.
I was so excited to see the Eiffel Tower; hubby visited Paris twice before, so he’d seen it before me, but I wanted to experience it all for myself – the city of love; the people, the atmosphere, the food, and just immerse in the ambiance of it all.
I always imagined visiting Paris and having my freshly baked croissant with coffee, wearing my red beret sitting in a café and experiencing it all, watching the locals — exactly how it is portrayed in the movies: all fancy schmancy.
The morning we left for Paris, it was dark, freezing cold, wet, and raining, but I was hopeful to see the Eiffel Tower. I had high expectations of how the next few hours in Paris would be, but for starters, the weather wasn’t playing along with my plans!
After four hours of driving and sightseeing along the way, we finally arrived in Paris. I was all excited, like a small child walking into a candy store.
But driving from the outskirts into Paris was not what I expected to see at all! It was nothing like I imagined it to be and not what I saw and pictured in the movies and on the internet!
The area we drove through looked like the slums and really not what I pictured in my mind!
We followed the GPS, and it led us straight to the Eiffel Tower, which was amazing; so big and beautiful, and I couldn’t believe that I was seeing it with my own two eyes, for real!
We managed to find underground parking (as it started to rain), so my idea of having a coffee in a café on the road fell through the cracks! When we got outside, we all got this horrible stench, which was utterly gross and not what we expected.
The month before we left for Paris, I told my friend that we were going home via Paris, and she said to me that her husband (a German guy) couldn’t stand the place because it smells and it was dirty, but that didn’t deter me from going because I wanted to experience it for myself.
We finally managed to find our way to the Eiffel Tower. We were all cold and soaked in the rain, but we managed to get a few photos.
We drove to the airport in shock at how dirty the place was compared to Strasbourg – where we are currently living – and then with a massive disappointment in my heart, we left for Cape Town.
Fast-forward to December 2019 when we went home via Paris again; we decided to spend two days in Paris as a DO-OVER! I firmly believe in second chances and boy oh boy were we so pleasantly surprised the second time around! *smiling from cheek to cheek*
We decided to be a bit more adventurous this time around as we travelled by train from Strasbourg to Paris.
We got to see beautiful green landscapes, which took us about 2 hours, so no hassle of my husband having to drive and me having to stay awake as co-driver, haha.
The only downside was that we traveled with our four children, three big suitcases, with backpacks on everyone’s back!
We hopped off the TGV train, onto the Metro train in Paris and then a tram to get to our hotel – all with the help of Google Maps (thank goodness for Google Maps and Google Translate, especially in a country where they don’t speak English)!
The hotel was beautiful; exactly what we needed after a hectic day of adventure, and we took the rest of the day to just rest and recuperate.
The following day we got up early, went down for breakfast (my children LOVED the buffet breakfast with croissants, crepes with Nutella, yogurts, and so much more) and then decided to go explore Paris on foot.
We walked from the hotel to the major tourist sights like the Arc de Triomphe, then down Champs-Élysées Avenue to the Louvre Museum and lastly to the Notre Dame Cathedral (or what’s left of it).
We slowly walked down Champs-Élysées Avenue – a shopper’s paradise! This Avenue is home to luxury brands such as Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and so much more. We also saw other brands like Gap, Zara, Adidas, and Sephora, etc.
We got to experience an authentic Parisian vibe and ambiance by walking down these amazingly beautiful cobblestone streets, passing through beautiful walkways and parks, and seeing stunning architectural buildings from every period – going back to the Middle Ages to the 21st Century!
The best way to explore and see Paris like a real Parisian is by foot, cycling, and jumping on and off the Metro: which I timed – it takes about 20 seconds from one station to the next with the Metro! How cool is that?!
Taking your car to explore really won’t do it any justice as you need to be able to go where the cars can’t go — that’s the secret!
On every road, you will find a flower shop, bakery, or a café. The smell of freshly baked baguettes, croissants, crêpes, and strong espressos, is everything!
Just thinking about it is making my mouth water, and by closing my eyes, it’s taking me back to the fantastic smells straight out of bakeries and into the streets.
Near Note Damn Cathedral, we found a halal Lebanese café, and I tasted Laban drink for the first time — it was different, and I don’t think I’ll try it again!
After a day filled with lots of walking (16 km’s to be exact!), eating crêpes, ice-cream, Doner Kebab, drinking espressos, window shopping, and just taking it all in, we made our way back to the hotel.
I left Paris with my heart gleaming with happiness and gratitude for being able to experience it all properly for a second time!
I can honestly say, I’m happy that my first impression of Paris didn’t last forever, and I replaced it with the good memories we made!
Remember, any city you visit in the world has two sides to it. The images you see on the internet and in the media is not necessarily what you would see in real life as these images are curated to make a place look perfect to attract tourists!
If you are planning on traveling post-COVID, then go visit a country or city you’ve never seen before.
Take it all in, make the most of it, let go of your expectations, take chances and experience the place for yourself, take every opportunity, day or experience as an adventure and treasure all the good memories!