Paris is an incredible city - a place where hundreds of years of history are constantly creating friction with the vibe of modernity. In my neighborhood in Gentilly, there is a plaque dedicated to a Frenchman who was killed during the Occupation, and a few blocks over there is a convenience store where I get my late night baguettes. The sun goes down late and the cars have some kind of unspoken agreement with the hundred thousand mopeds zooming around them and there are a lot of smokers.
Living here for a month during the Women’s World Cup makes me feel less like a tourist and more like a visiting friend. This is my routine on non-game days as an American fan in Paris.
SETTING THE SCENE: The house where I’m staying is in Gentilly, technically just outside the border of Paris proper, at least in terms of metro zones. Paris’ metro is divided into five zones, with the city itself being zone one. Gentilly is zone two, which we discovered only when we tried to exit the metro after a long train ride from the airport and couldn’t get our tickets to unlock the turnstile. Our neighborhood is charming and quiet, with at least three cats staking out the local territory. Above is the cat who greeted us the night we arrived, twining around our legs and inspecting our luggage. She seems to have free reign of the place, and is popular with the owner of the excellent Moroccan restaurant next door.
There is an astonishing selection of cuisine in our little neighborhood, from the Moroccan restaurant, to a Lebanse place, a sushi place, a hipsterish French patio restaurant, and Graceland, a combo Chinese/Vietnamese place that will do takeout by the pound. There’s a substantial Vietnamese population in France, among other immigrant groups, and Vietnamese restaurants are easy to find.
BREAKFAST: For me, every morning starts here at the corner boulangerie, which has pastries and breads for sale. There are at least four boulangeries within walking distance of our house, probably more, as well as an open-air market on the weekends that sells everything from clothes to whole roasted chickens to mattresses. The boulangeries act as a combo bakery/cafe, often also selling sandwiches and candy.
Nothing happens without the coffee machine. A lot of the boulangeries don’t necessarily pull espresso from a big fancy machine that makes that sshhhhwwwwww sound and a bunch of steam. They’ll have an automatic dispenser for the worker to use, or a machine like this. One euro gets you a shot of espresso, but you can pick from other options too, like a macchiato or a café long, which is the closest you’ll get to the drip-brewed coffee Americans are used to. The coffee comes out in a shot-sized plastic cup with a tiny plastic stirrer included in case you added sugar. The fresh orange juice machine next to our friend Mr. Coffee is another common sight; the French seem to like fresh squeezed. And eggs. They really like eggs.
LUNCH: Lunch is usually whatever restaurant catches my fancy that day. I have not had a bad meal yet in France, not even when getting a pre-made sandwich from the train station on my way to Reims. Yesterday it was this spot called Esprit Fermes. Highly recommended: the cold chard and watermelon soup.
I don’t have as much time to wander since I’m here for work, but on any given day I have at least a couple of hours to get out. Our metro stop is close by, although it took a lot of googling and some messages to an American friend who lives here to figure out what passes we should be using.
OUT AND ABOUT: The Paris metro is excellent, at least if you’re an American used to the public transportation in the northeast. Trains mostly come every two or three minutes and are clean and generally not too noisy. They’re fast, too, which combined with Paris not being the biggest geographical city, at least within the perimeter of the surrounding ring-shaped highway, you can cover it from southern to northern edges on the metro in about 30 minutes. If you’re anywhere close to a metro stop, it’s quite easy to get out and about and explore the city.
If I don’t feel like watching a game on my laptop at home, there are plenty of bars in the city. For some of them, you can find country-specific bars. I’ve watched games in Australian, Canadian, and Scottish bars so far, as well as one for Liverpool fans. The one French bar I went to for a game wasn’t really a sports bar so much as a brasserie that happened to have televisions in it, or so it seemed from the generally low level of enthusiasm of the diners as France played Norway. That night, the only people in the bar getting noisy for France were actually a group of Americans and one Canadian, four of us in matching Les Bleues jerseys.
Walking around Paris is fantastic, whether you dodge the crowds on the Champs-Elysees or wander into the side streets. You just never know when you’ll turn a corner and all of a sudden something is happening. For instance, a vingtage car show right on the street.
DINNER: With the sun out so late in June, often setting after 10 PM, you can put in a solid seven or eight hours of wandering after lunch before your body starts to think it might be time for dinner. If you’re a fan on vacation, there are a lot of places where you can linger over wine until midnight, although the metro closes up around 1 AM.
This is a great host city for a World Cup - a distinctive and decent capacity stadium in Parc des Princes, sturdy infrastructure to handle the influx of fans, and tons of ways to while away the time as a tourist. Sure, the pollen count is high right now and I wake up every day rolling the dice on whether I’ll sneeze eight times before the first coffee, but it’s all worth it.