Le Money Pit
What the hell happened in Paris?
In ten years, Paris has become the most ridiculous place I’ve travelled to.
Call it being spoiled from the low costs and excellent service in China, Cambodia and Vietnam, but they take it to a new level here. They were experimenting with pay toilets last time I was here, and now they have them almost exclusively. The train stations, parks, the Louvre. Good luck finding one at the restaurant you just visited. If you can find a free toilet (nearly impossible) it probably won’t have a seat. That’s insanity. There will be many women with bladder and kidney infections because they didn’t have 1€.50 in coins on them.
No water fountains, and I’ve noted an extreme lack of public seating. I walked for 5-6 hours last night and with the exception of some major sites I either sat on my backpack or kept standing.
10 years ago you’d constantly stumble into backpacking hostels as you explored the city. Last night I walked for 5-6 hours while peeking into each bar I passed to check on the World Cup scores. I thoroughly covered 4 arrondissements and didn’t find one until 11:45 pm. I asked people as I walked along and nobody could recall seeing one recently. And for that matter they felt they didn’t see a lot of backpackers in general. (footnote- obviously I would normally travel with a new Lonely Planet but I had not planned to stay in Paris. My copy of Let’s Go Europe was from 2011 but they barely took the time to list more than a dozen places. Also for a short one day visit I would simply pull down wikitravel entries onto Pocket, but alas- no WiFi!)
There are police armed with machine guns standing on so many of the busy corners and streets. They are in every hall of the terminals at the airport. And coed teams of them roam the streets like young, fashionable special forces units. They even patrol the roads in camouflaged all terrain vehicles. You get the edgy sensation that Paris is occupied, albeit by an army of Grey’s Anatomy casting rejects. When I landed at CDG I thought perhaps there had been a coup while I had been flying from Hanoi.
The prices are mind-blowing, particularly that you get so very little. Image one of the most expensive places you’ve been to in the States. Say Boston. Take those prices, double them. That’s the sticker prices. Then, remember it’s Euros and add another 50% for the crap value of your dollars. I thought it was just high prices in the airport, but when I paid 8€ for a small beer at a pub further out in the city I knew I was wrong.
Then there are the measures used for when they actually give you something under the auspices of ‘gratis’.
Wifi at Starbucks? It’s free, but apparently the government forces them to record all of your information- home address, phone number, and email address, and track your internet browsing. This is to prevent terrorism apparently. By the way - you are required to check off the box that says they can use your information and sell it.
Not to pick on Starbucks that’s any ‘free’ wifi spot.
And besides the strategy of severely limiting ‘free’ seating, they use other measures to get you out quickly. For instance here in this cafe right now, on July 5th, they have the heat set to 87 degrees F. Everyone around me is sweating. And they leave quickly.
The area is beautiful and you can’t pack more culture in one place than Paris. But given what’s happened here in a short time, I won’t staying here for awhile. I’m sure they are crushed to read this.
I was going to simply land at CDG and head to St. Jean to start the Camino de Santiago, but I felt that it was wrong to just hop over Paris on a train. You must spend at least a few hours- right? But when you pay $2.25 USD for your 5am croissant, it gives you pause. It kills the impulsivity of wandering the streets and being able to explore. You constantly have to calculate.
To their benefit, I feel the people of Paris were a lot warmer this time, more tolerant of my bad French, and far more accommodating than before. It was a refreshing change.
And 12 Euros is still an awesome price to visit the Louvre, even if it’s just for an hour.
But I have visited a lot of places over these years and I would recommend nearly every destination over Paris, other than something like earthquake-ravaged Haiti. But you’d still at least have a genuine experience. Hong Kong is very expensive, but at least you can find a public bathroom. These are fairly critical services for any traveller.
I’m sitting here waiting for the train to Bayonne. Using the Starbucks WiFI gratis,the only reason I would choose Starbucks over any French Cafe. With bogus information in my bio- no you can’t sell my information for the security of the state.
And I wish I didn’t feel so relieved I was leaving.
The Paris that inspired artists I love like Cartier-Bresson, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Maugham was pure potential because it was affordable and spontaneous and full of spirit and beauty. Now it is just the latter with a sprinkle of modern police state. I just can’t anticipate young creatives coming to set up shop here unless they have a degree and are working for a corporation or university. I’d wager the next literary revival starts in Bangkok, or Cape Town, not Paris. Large cities like the City of Lights will do well to be sure there is a balance to their luxury priced tour economy with accessibility for young people on a budget if they want to continue to fuel the inspiration that made our modern world so beautiful.