When we planned the Paris section of our trip we coincidentally decided to arrive in the city on Bastille Day. When we realized that that was going to happens we considered changing our schedule, but ultimatley thought it would be cool to experience the celebration. Plus, if we arrived at the end of the day on Bastille Day, we figured we’d see some of the festivities but by the time we wanted to visit the major sites a few days later things would have calmed down a bit.
In retrospect, I think it was a mistake to go to Paris when we did. The first problem was that while all if France celebrates Bastille Day on July 13th, Paris celebratesna day later. That meant that the crowds were the biggest on our second day in the city (when we wanted to begin site seeing) not the first (when we had planned to just hang out and enjoy the holiday).
And those crowds we more enormous than anything I’ve ever seen before. Walking down the street was a struggle, doing anything at all required long waits in slow lines, and at any given moment I inevitably was walking into dozens of people’s pictures. I’ve mentioned before how a few other places we’ve visited had a lot of tourists, but everything else we’ve seen seems like a ghost town compared to Paris on and around Bastille Day. And the strangest thing was that the vast majority of these crowds seemed to be made up of non-French tourists. It made me wonder if Paris was always that crowded, or if lots of Americans just wanted to go to France on Bastille Day for some reason.
I assume that it’s not always that way, and so the first thing I’d do differently would be to go to Paris on a week that doesn’t include Bastille Day. (Conversely, if Paris is always that crowded the first thing I’d do differently would be to not go to Paris). Honestly, I might just avoid Paris in the summer altogether because even if the crowds had been half as large it still would have been insanely crowded.
The second thing I would do differently is stay closer to the things we planned to visit. We stayed in a relatively pleasant hotel called Hotel Camelia, right next to the Nation metro stop. It was convienient to be close to the metro, but even on the train it took us a while to get anywhere. Though the hotel was th cheapest place we could find, and was located in a nice and untouristy neighborhood, we still spent up to a half an hour on the metro trying to get anywhere.
I know Paris’ metro is famous and iconic, but compared to the systems we used in other cities (European and Brasilian) on this trip, it was pretty slow. Given that reality, and the fact that Paris’ sprawling size makes it less walkabke than other cities, I would definitely chose to spend a little more to be closer to the action.
Unfortunately, the location of our hotel and the crowds weren’t things we could change once we arrived. That really bummed us out because instead of seeing what was at one time the most beautiful city in the world, we were stuck elbowing our way through herds of cargo short-clad, middle aged American vacationers.