One of the things that I love about spending an extended period of time in one place (or in re-visiting the same place time and time again) is the ability to develop a “routine.” While my mind tells that me that I should experience as much of the city I’m in as possible, that is, eat at as many restaurants in as many neighbourhoods to develop the greatest diversity in experience, my heart prefers finding a way to make this new place like “home.” Learning how to navigate effectively, understanding the local customs, developing favourite restaurants and finding a way to claim some sort of ownership (however minute) to this new strange land – well that’s the part I love. The day I wake up and stop feeling overwhelmed by the newness (and therefore the intense fear of languages and customs I do not yet know and understand) and start feeling like I have a place and understand how to interact with it in a way that makes me feel safe, that is the moment were I am happiest.
It didn’t take long in Paris to find this sweet spot. We were recommended (again, by my friend Kate, my go to Paris guru) to stay in the 14e. We stayed in this cute little boutique hotel that I got a screaming deal on via Expedia (less than $100/night – which included free wifi and AIR CONDITIONING) called L’Atelier Montparnasse. On our street there was everything you could want for living local-ish (we were far from living like locals, though maybe someday we will get there). Boulangeries, Patisseries, Pharmacies, Fruit Stands, Fish Stand, Butcher (no – Fish and Meat are sold separately), a bookstore, toy store and of course tons of cute little cafes, most of which were liveliest between 10:30 and 12:30pm. There were not many tourists in our neighbourhood – just the locals.
Our first day there involved finding the local laverie (laundry mat). It wasn’t hard to find a groove as a local when your time there starts with doing laundry among them. As I have mentioned, we were close to the metro, and learned to navigate it with ease, so much so that by day 2 we could easily point out, and mock, the “other” tourists who didn’t know what they were doing. Across from our metro station there was a wonderful little bakery. Every morning we would walk there, grab a warm croissant and bottle of fresh squeezed orange juice and make our way on to the metro for our daily adventures. By 12:30/1:00 we would seek shade (and if possible, air conditioning, though rarely possible) at a local café. I would generally order a croque madamé, Ray would mock me for ordering the same thing every day, and then he would try something from the menu he’d never had before. We’d do our best to order our food in French, but our French being SO terrible, the waiter would usually switch to English before we finished ordering. At least we were trying! By 2:00 we’d be boiling hot and TALK about heading home, but then give in and make one more stop. This usually ended with us on the subway at 3:45 swearing that tomorrow we’d hide inside starting at 2:00, with the sun comes out. But we never really did. By 4:00 we’d be back on Rue Raymond (fitting, I know), seeking the coolness of our hotel room.
Every day we would stop at the same Patisserie, 1 block from our hotel. We would order 2 tarts – mine always with fruit, and Ray always trying something he had never had before. The lady who ran the place would NEVER speak to us in English, and make sure to correct our grammar, which we have learned is not because the French are rude, just linguistic snobs. We appreciated it, as we wanted to improve our French – and what better way? I would then walk across the street and buy a bowl of raspberries or fresh nectarine from the local produce stand, before making our way home to enjoy our afternoon treats.
After a cool down, we would seek one more evening activity – but often not leaving the hotel until 7 or 8 – when it started to cool. By 10:30 or 11:00 we would make it back to our neighbourhood – finally ready for dinner. We exclusively ate at hotels that were near our hotel – most of them more the once. There was a little Italian place – no bigger than the size of our bedroom at home – with the NICEST owner. We ate there our first night in Paris, and he made fun of Ray, and constantly joked with us. He had the most amazing mousse du chocolat, and sense of humour, and this kept us coming back…3 times in total. Returning to a restaurant where you are recognized and welcomed totally changed the experience. In addition, as the week progressed we were able to move from our North American attitude of “get in, eat, get out” to a leisurely (close to 2 hour!) meal with slow courses, wine (for Ray anyway!) and great conversation.
This kind of experience just reinforces for us a shift in our style of travel. We want to spend more time in less places. Focusing on getting to know a place – to understand it’s nuances – is the beauty of traveling. While seeing the “big sites” is fun and exciting, the more of them I see, the more I value the small things. In fact, the more I value the PEOPLE. Thinking back on our recent adventures, my highlights include the Pizza guy in Paris, the Gelato guy in Rothenburg and Conversing with the Turkish German family over a Schnitzel. I loved shopping at the market in Hilo, and swimming in tide pools with the locals. It’s the in between moments that I have come to love so much.
So as we continue to travel and learn more about what we love about it, we are left thinking forward to what kind of adventures will be in our future. Don’t know yet, but regardless of where and how, we know that we will be looking to make ourselves a little more at home.