You may have noticed that if I like something, I tend to write about it a lot. You only need search the site for posts on Jordan and New Zealand to see the results of my travel affection. Well my first, and still dearest, travel love hasn’t been well represented here, a fact that causes me some concern lest you think I have fallen out of love with what is arguably the best city in the world – Paris. We were last there again in December and as we left the city on the snazzy Thalys train, I began to think about what makes Paris so special not just for me, but for millions of people around the world.
I continued my Parisian pondering on the plane ride home as I watched the mostly forgettable film, “Midnight in Paris.” The movie was too annoying for me, but I came away with one big takeaway: most people romanticize about Paris. Through popular culture and mass media, Paris has been elevated to the top tier of stereotypes we desperately want to be true. And for the most part, Paris tends to live up to these expectations.
Except for the berets, most of our ideas of what Paris should be are true. People do walk around carrying fresh baguettes. Wine is cheaper than Coke. Yes, the Eiffel Tower really is that awesome. For all intents and purposes, Paris is a living, breathing travel stereotype, and that’s ok.
I was talking with a friend the other day about my favorite sights in Paris and I realized they were all the major, uber-touristy destinations. Instead of advising she go visit a hidden neighborhood, or secret cafe somewhere, I found myself rattling off the biggies: Sacre Coeur, Eiffel Tower at night and the Jardin du Luxembourg all made my top ten list of Paris must-sees. To further this, whenever I visit the city rather than try to find “the other” Paris, I instead find myself sitting contently on the steps of the Trocadero, watching the magic of the giant steel structure nestled on the Champs de Mars. Just as Paris is a stereotype, it’s ok to be a stereotypical tourist when visiting the City of Lights.
I’ve written about this before, but popular destinations and sights are popular for a reason, because they’re awesome. I get so tired of the well heeled and supposedly well traveled set of people who wrinkle their cranky noses at being a tourist. “I’m a traveler,” they say while sipping their cappuccino. No, you’re not, you’re a tourist. Unless you have taken up permanent residence somewhere, you are a visitor, a non-native, someone who doesn’t know as much as they think they do and that’s fine. That’s kind of what travel is.
Travel is about learning and exploring, and for most of us that’s visiting popular tourist sights. Sure, I could spend a day trying to find an “off-the-beaten path” spot in Paris, but in a city that’s 2,000 years old, that doesn’t exist. So instead of trying to play the one-up game, I’ve decided that whenever I travel I’m going to do what I want to do, and if that means having a croque-monsieur at an overpriced brasserie in full view of Notre Dame, then so be it. Travel is personal, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.