Sunday, July 19, 2009

France Travelblogue: Leftovers

While I've had a lot to say about my trip to France, I obviously haven't gone into every single detail. But I do have some final observations and thoughts about other places I visited and things I saw.

I'll start with a little bookshop I was dying to visit...

Shakespeare and Company

This English-language bookshop, which happens to be within walking distance of the Notre Dame cathedral, opened in 1951. Its name can be traced back to the another English-language bookshop of the same name. That bookstore — opened by American Sylvia Beach — was open from 1919 to 1941. The original Shakespeare and Company was home to all the major expatriate writers of the Lost Generation (a group of writers I love). It eventually closed when France was occupied during World War II.

So years later, the current Shakespeare and Company opened (and took on the name when Sylvia Beach died). While it's not the original bookshop, it also has a very interesting history since it served as a base of sorts for Beat Generation writers like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.

The shop is cramped and quaint, and definitely a great place for bibliophiles to visit. And you can also get your books stamped in there, in case you'd like to get a souvenir that feels a little extra special.

Another neat thing about Shakespeare and Company is its "tumbleweed" program. Young writers can stay above the shop in exchange for doing a little work around the bookstore. I actually met one of these tumbleweeds outside, while she was filling a coffeepot with water from a public "fountain" outside the store. (Apparently Paris is filled with these little water dispensers — many of which look like pretty sculptures — that people are welcome to gather water from). A Princeton student, she said she was spending her summer in Paris doing the tumbleweed thing after spending a semester abroad. I have to admit, I was pretty jealous — tumbleweeding honestly sounds like it could be a ton of fun. And a great story to tell people when you're older and living the not-so-bohemian life.

Final Thoughts and Impressions

So all in all, I'd say that my first trip to Paris was a great success. We were only there for five nights, and yet we saw all the major sights and even ventured outside the city. And I even wandered through the St. Germain area a couple of times to get some sense of what Parisians do in their spare time (answer: eat and drink a lot, while sitting outside).

I didn't get to shop that much (aside from buying souvenirs), even though I would have liked to buy myself something "chic" from Paris. I blame this partially on our busy schedule and partially on the fact that I didn't really spot anything unique enough to justify dropping Euros on. But maybe the next time I'll go, I'll try looking more into the whole shopping/fashion scene.

I found traveling through Paris relatively easy. The Metro is a great resource and well-priced (people can also buy a "book" of 10 tickets for a good rate instead of wasting money on individual tickets every single time). Tickets can be used on the buses and trains alike, the map is relatively easy to understand (though if you suspect you might need to make a million transfers, you're better off double-checking with a local).

It's true that you can get by with English, but I still have some knowledge of French from my school days, and I have to say that this came in very handy. I wonder if I would have had a tougher time if I'd had no knowledge of the language whatsoever. But even though I used gestures and spoke broken French half the time (though it was incidentally pretty good when I was ordering food), I found it easy to get directions and basic information from people when I was using French. And it does help to use a little French to break the ice — people will honestly do their best to communicate with you and help you out even if they don't speak English.

Meanwhile, I also found everyone I encountered perfectly polite. Though my poor mother apparently had to deal with the "rude French" stereotype when she went into a restaurant asking about vegetarian food — even though someone brought her in saying that they served vegetarian food, the next person she encountered basically shoved her out the door as soon as she tried asking him a question. However, I'm not going to damn the French based on one impolite person because I'm still looking forward to going back someday.

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