I’ve spent a lot of time waffling this year back and forth between traveling or not. On the one hand I’m heading home in March and I should be saving my money to help get me through until I find a job and have health insurance and try to figure out what it means to be an adult in America. (I’ve realized I’ve spent most of my independent adult life in South Korea and as well as most of my adult job experience in South Korea and it’s going to be a weird transition which I’ll discuss in some later post.)
A lot of that really concerns me, I’m leaving what is essentially financial stability and all these other things to go home to great unknowns and the idea of just staying in Korea and saving my money for a rainy day seems like the smart move. I also need to pack. I have 5 years worth of my adult life in South Korea that I need to go through. But maybe first I should watch “Tidying up with Marie Kondo?” (ah that’s procrastination at its finest right there)
But on the other hand I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel again after I’m in the States. It feels like I’m jumping feet first into cement and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to break free. I’m sure I’ll be able to travel within the continental United States, but branching outwards again seems like it’ll take awhile to work up to. And that’s what made me decide to go. The next step was where. I wanted to go to Hong Kong or New Zealand but both places seemed like it wasn’t the best time to go. And surprisingly France was fairly cheap for around when I could take vacation days. So I decided for the first time since moving to South Korea to leave Asia for a vacation and go, not to the States, but to Europe. I double checked a couple times that there weren’t any travel warnings and there were month old notices about the strikes but it seemed no one had updated those to say that things were unsafe. I downloaded Citymapper, purchased some travel wifi, and the Paris Pass, and prepped my plans which I then sent to my parents. Here’s the plan, edited a bit from what I sent my parents to be more accurately reflect my trip: Paris 2020.
A lot of my friends in South Korea are in a similar boat as me. A lot of them are planning to go home soon or are in the midst of moving, so many many of them are staying home this winter, or they’ve already made plans. I figured if I was going to go I had to go on my own.
I’ve traveled alone before. I’ve traveled all over Korea on my own, as well as Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan. I knew that one of my professors that took us to Prague would be in Paris around the same time so I made plans to meet up with her, but that was it. The other person I thought I knew in Paris actually wasn’t in Paris or even France at all. So I read some blogs and figured, as long as I looked like I knew what I’m doing, stayed busy, booked a hotel in a good area then I should’ve been fine. I also figured it’d be a good test run for moving back to the Chicago area. In Korea I can just leave my phone on a table and it’ll be there when I get back. There aren’t really pick pockets, so you can walk around with your bag open and more often than not be fine. There’s CCTV everywhere so if something happens you just have to pull footage, it deters a lot.
Even though it was technically going to be a 6 day trip it was actually only 3 full days in Paris. The cheapest trip I had an option for that I felt comfortable doing had an overnight layover in Osaka and I’d loose a day on my way back from Paris. So I tried to cram as much into those 3 days as possible. A lot changed from my original plan due to the days places were open, the changes in hours due to the strikes and my limited amount of time. I originally planned to spend my last day at Disney, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I tried finding all the unique Parisian Disney things online to get myself hyped up and make a list of goals, only to find almost nothing that didn’t require a reservation months in advance. I couldn’t find blog posts or Instagram posts raving the unique Disney Parisian foods or snacks or souvenirs like they do for Tokyo Disney and Disney Sea. So I scrapped my plans to go. Which with how exhausted I was by the time Monday rolled around was probably for the best.
I was in Paris in early January while the strikes were happening. This will probably get posted several months later at which point I hope they’ve been resolved. Public transportation was still accessible however it was very limited. Depending on the train, the services were drastically cut or not running at all. This meant buses were crammed pack full of people, especially during rush hour times in the morning and evening.
It made getting around really difficult but not impossible. A lot of people I talked to mentioned how due to the strikes; Uber and taxi’s had hiked up their prices. I didn’t use Uber or taxi’s to get around and instead relied heavily on the app: Citymapper. I tried using Google maps only once to try and get to Versailles and it suggested I take a metro line that wasn’t working that day, which I only realized after buying the tickets and making my way to an empty platform.
The one thing I would note about Citymapper is to double check everything. If you can, look up the address then copy and paste it into the search, or make sure the name of the place is correct and in French. Because in English we called Versailles the “Palace of Versailles”, but when I typed that into my map it sent me to the wrong place around Viroflay. It suggested I take the big out of town train down to Viroflay, transfer on a mini little local tram, and then walk the rest of the way to a green looking area that was not in-fact Versailles. (Which is what led me to Google mapping it and end up with tickets going for a line that wasn’t running.)
The little grey you-are-here symbol on the left with the clock is the actual Palace of Versailles known in French as Château de Versailles while the other one to the upper right is where Citymapper originally tried to send me. They’re a good 40 minutes away from each other, 50 minutes if you try to walk it. Thankfully I could take the bus but I wasn’t sure if I needed exact change, which I didn’t have. The machines only took coins or a card so I was concerned the bus would be the same. Which meant I also had to hike around to find somewhere where I could break a bill and get 1.90 euros in change to pay for the bus to Versailles. I did eventually make it but it was frustrating how much time I lost.
It was however, the only time Citymapper let me down. It was pretty accurate the rest of the time, though the bus back to the airport did not come nearly as often as it said it would but I can’t hardly fault the app for that one. I was in the right spot and I was very early so I wasn’t too upset.
Generally getting around you can get a train pass. They have card passes like most cities that you can tap to get into the station or on the bus. Or you can get a little paper card that you feed into the reader every time you get on or go up to a turnstile.
Because I paid for 3 days of the Paris Pass it meant that I got 3 days of public transit access between zones 1-3 which sadly did not include Versailles. It is possible, but expensive, to get a pass that includes more zones. It included practically everything else in downtown Paris that was working. For everything else I bought on board (the bus generally) with exact change. For the airport Roissy bus I purchased my ticket down to Opera at the information center in the airport and back to the airport from Opera directly from the bus driver at the bus stop. It was about 13.90 euros which is more than Citymapper quoted, but it might be cheaper if you have a pass.
For every other bus it was about 1.90 in coins which I always made sure I had exact, then would take the ticket they gave me and fed it into the feeder. No one scanned to get out or used the readers to leave the buses or trains so I now I just have a large pile of tickets.
In case the reader doesn’t work you have to show the ticket you are using to the bus driver. Because this occasionally happens you need to write your name on the pass and the dates it’ll be used.
Other popular ways of getting around which Citymapper included locations of were scooters and bikes. It was really nice to see the Strike safe options as well as what my options were.
Usually what I did was a combination of a bus and walking, a lot of walking.
Citymapper also have some fun Easter eggs.
Depending on the location I could play a mini game where I tried to slingshot myself (not actually myself) to the destination. And there was a Cheshire cat that tended to move around the map.
Before I left for Paris I tried to look up ways to stay safe. A lot of them reassured that you could in fact, as a woman travel safely in Paris on your own you just needed to look like you knew where you were going, be careful of pick pockets and be extra careful at night. A lot of touristy and not so touristy places also warned to be aware of pick pockets, even a small English friendly cafe I went to had signs up everywhere warning people of pick pockets.
There are a couple scams I read up about. One was people trying who ask if you dropped a piece of jewelry and someone else will root around in your bag while you talk to the first person. Or they will try to sell you the jewelry. Another similar one is to hand you something or start drawing your picture or try to give you something and then demand money.
I didn’t run into any of these. Instead I ran into “Petition Pick Pocket” a lot. Usually someone would ask me
“Do you speak English?” and then would go into a spiel about how they were collecting signatures to help some cause or another. It was usually handicapped people. To which the first time this happened as I was walking away from the Eiffel Tower I responded: “I don’t live here.”
To which the woman responded that it was an international thing. To which I said again, “I don’t live here.” and quickly walked across the street with one of the men who was a vendor selling Eiffel Tower souvenirs near the area who had thankfully called out to me that I could cross since there wasn’t a sign. Super grateful to him for giving me an out to the situation.
This is a common scam that gets used a lot in different countries. I’ve run into it in Seoul, near the church in Myeongdong, I just hadn’t realized what it was at the time. In that case it sort of made sense due to the location as the woman wanted to gather signatures to do something about abortions. But again, it’s really strange that she’d pick a non-Korean person to gather a signature from. Just like the one’s in Paris it doesn’t make sense.
- Why only ask English speakers? If you want change made for your petition and for any governmental official to actually care it has to be done by locals. Almost no government or political thing I know of is totally chill with you coming up with a list of signatures from random people who don’t live in the area and who aren’t citizens.
- If you just need random signatures that aren’t locals you could just do it yourself with random different names and trying to write differently. You don’t actually need to petition. But the whole point of petitioning is to get support from locals, not tourists/visitors.
- They don’t explain fully what it’s for. The idea though is for it to be something that you’d be a horrible person to turn away from. Helping poor babies or children who need assistance. Usually something that will earn you all the dirty looks if you refuse. But how do I know exactly how it would help? If it’s not explained well but in a rush of words how can I be sure I’m not being tricked like people commonly are when people suggest ending women’s suffrage (their right to vote but it sounds like they’re suffering so sometimes people get tricked). If you run into other organizations then they’re more than happy to talk your ear off if you’ll stand still long enough to listen. But these don’t.
So how is it a scam and not just things that don’t make sense logically? Generally there’s about two ways it can go. But the beginning will be the same. A person with a clipboard (in all cases I ran into it was a woman) will ask “Do you speak English?” and then ask for you to sign a petition of some kind. Either when they manage to foist the clipboard and pen into your hands to sign they’ll take the time to root around in your purse or bag while you can’t see it because you’re attention has been directed to the clipboard, or they’ll ask for a donation and try to shame you into giving something because it’s for a good cause. Either way if you run into them it’s best not to converse and just walk away as fast as you can or pop into a shop.
I’m super grateful for the guy near the Eiffel Tower who I got to walk with. But the absolutely worst time I had with them was waiting for the Roissy airport bus. I waited for maybe 20 minutes with a growing amount of people around me also waiting for the bus and they came in droves every couple of minutes. Because I looked like I was alone they came up to me at least 5 times within that twenty minute period specifically and stopped. Most of the time if I just shook my head and didn’t look at them they’d go away, but I had one who gave me the dirtiest look when I refused to talk to her after she’d tapped my shoulder. I couldn’t go anywhere, I needed to take the bus to the airport. So I just held my stuff close and tried to make sure nothing was accessible. They finally left me alone when another actual tourist asked me if I spoke English and was going to the airport and started telling me the awful time she’d had trying to find the airport bus.
It seemed like they were only targeting women who were on their own.
This of course doesn’t mean don’t talk to strangers who ask if you speak English. It does mean to have your guard up though, especially if they’ve got a clipboard. In my case outside of the bus stop waiting for the airport more often then not people were lost and needing directions. But because people are use to the “do you speak English” being a lead to getting pick pocketed a lot of people weren’t getting helped. One guy near the Eiffel Tower asked if I knew anywhere to buy a jacket nearby because on the coldest windiest morning he was out as if he’d packed for a business meeting somewhere tropical rather than France in winter, and we both realized there was nothing nearby except one tourist spot selling sweaters. Also due to the strikes a lot of Parisans would ask me about when the bus was coming but due to my lack of French I’d lead with a sorry? Which usually they’d re-ask in English except one guy who went “sorry? Sorry?! Sorry!” as if he’d never heard such a ridiculous thing before in his life before leaving in a huff. And then there was the Puerto Rican mother who had had the worst luck with finding her way around because no one would answer her or stop to help her when she asked for help and who became my airport travel buddy. Thankfully after a lot of asking she did eventually get help but it was after finding non-Parisians who could speak Spanish or English. Sometimes I’d also just have concerned people with tourist maps walk up to me and show me the map and I’d confirm on my phone and point them in the right direction or in cafes when people realized there was no wifi and thus they couldn’t look up their directions as they had hoped.
Anyway just be very careful and make sure all your stuff is zipped up and you’re guarding it well and avoid people with clipboards asking if you speak English trying to collect your signature.
I don’t always write about how my flights to places went. I’ve had awful flight experiences and great experiences. There’s airlines I love and airlines I hate. And generally an airline named after the country it’s from are pretty decent. There is one that’s pretty awful that I hope I never fly again, but that’s besides the point. I took a couple different airlines to and from Paris. I took Korean air to Osaka, and KLM to Amsterdam and then out of Amsterdam. But my Air France trip from Osaka to Paris was magical.
I sat in a row with two women, one Japanese who spoke fluent English, and one Korean who was doing her best. I tried to help with small things like soup and snacks with the words I knew and the woman was delighted I knew some Korean. Lo and behold after some chatting she lives in the same city I live in in Korea and was flying with her daughter who spoke more English but was seated in a different row. On my left side was a French family of four with two small children. The small eldest boy kept getting lost in his wanderings of the aisle so I’d put out my hand and would point towards his row, to the point whenever he’d toddle over he’d first look up at me, confirm it was me, and then head into his row to his seat. It was quite cute. It was also a pretty stressed family since they had two small children who did not want to sit for a 10 hour+ flight and at least one of which kept jumping off to go into the aisle, where he nearly got crushed by the flight attendant with a trolley. (I awkwardly had to put my hand on the guys back because I didn’t know any other fast way to stop him from crushing the kid, but thankfully this was greatly appreciated since he hadn’t seen the child playing in the aisle.)
But the magic of the trip wasn’t just the strange community I felt in my area with small children in the aisle or being walked back and forth down the aisle followed by their parents, as a little girl did followed by her super tall multi-lingual French dad.
The magic resided near the bathrooms and in the fact no one seemed to care if you were up and out of your seat. On most flights there seems to be some annoyance to if you’re up and about. You’re constantly in someones way or in their bubble of space if you’re up. It’s only acceptable if you’re out of the way and waiting for the bathroom. But this Air France flight I was on did not care. No one batted an eye, no one complained, no flight attendant told anyone to remain in their seats or to go back, unless there was turbulence and it was unsafe. In fact the area around the bathrooms was made into what felt like, as a young Japanese boy said to us, a party.
Rather than go up and down the aisles multiple times offering water and snacks they set it up near the bathrooms as a self serve area, which some people knew and others didn’t. It took me awhile to get use to the idea. People stood around helping themselves to water, juice and soda and chatting with the people around them. Organically moving to adjust for new people or to let others pass or the flight attendants access their supplies. But there was never any pressure to return to our seats, something I doubted the Japanese boy ever did since every time I came back he was still there, chatting with someone new. About part way through the flight snacks were brought out and at first I thought it was the attendant preparing to walk them down the aisles and returned to my seat only to realize it was self serve. So what had been a big box of sandwiches and momiji manju, when I returned with my seat neighbor and her daughter was now just mars chocolates and ice cream. There was also self serve packets of soup and hot chocolate.
I really greatly enjoyed that flight. I liked getting to chat with other people on the flight who were extremely friendly. The family to my left even gave me a Japanese rolled up cookie part way through the flight. I’m sure to some people having the kids in the aisle and unable to sit still was annoying, especially for the people in front of them and behind them but sitting off to the side was totally fine and I had a very peaceful and fun flight and I hope to one day get to enjoy the magic of that self serve snack and drink section again.
When I was in junior high school and high school we had two options for languages. Spanish and French. Before we decided on one we had to take both for a 1/3rd of a semester. The majority of my grade took Spanish, but on the very first day I was determined that I would not take Spanish. Not because of a lack of interest in the language or a true love of French but because the teacher spoke in monotone without any inflection whatsoever and I feared I’d fall asleep in his class and fail. So I took French and I took it for the entirety of high school, becoming one of the few kids in Independent French which was like self-study where we read and translated books. You would think because I was in French club and in such high levels of French classes that I’d drop into Paris without any concern for the language. But I’ve been in South Korea for 5 years. And in college rather than continuing French I dabbled in other languages like Japanese and a short stint in ASL. All of this has made my French super rusty to the point I sat on the flight shaking my mental language piggy bank for the French I remembered. Bonjour (hello/good morning), Excusez-moi (excuse me), s’il vous plâit (please), au revoir (goodbye), ça va? (It’s okay?), Je m’appelle Lauren. (My name is Lauren) Je suis américaine. (I am an American) Parlez voux anglais? (Do you speak English?) merci beaucoup (thank you very much).
It was better than I feared. But still, on my flight there was a mini French course and I threw myself into that in the hopes of jogging my memory. I remembered more than I had expected when confronted with the games and quizzes. The little song we did for the months of the year was still there and I remembered about half of the days of the week. But when confronted with actual sentences while I did well with the tests and quizzes they didn’t stick. Which meant most of my interactions started with a French greeting, and then delved into my request in English or stumbling to read what it was I wanted to order, and then ending in a French thank you. Which is kind of disappointing. It makes me wonder how I would’ve fared if I’d gone on the French trip in high school. (
Though no one else signed up for the French trip while I was in high school so I don’t think it would’ve happened anyway.) But like most major cities there was a lot of English around and people who spoke English.
Reading blogs made it sound like you needed to announce loudly to every single person you saw Bonjour! or they’d instantly shut off and treat you with disdain. I found as long as I said bonjour first before stating what I wanted I was usually fine. I didn’t have to say bonjour to every staffer I possibly saw which was what one blog I read suggested, after all usually they were busy. I did however say it to the front desk of my hotel every morning and tried to remember to switch to Bonsoir whenever evening rolled around. But I also had wifi that worked 90% of my trip so I didn’t get lost and usually was in touristy areas so I could ask an information desk for help with whatever I was lost with. The only time I ran into “rude” Parisians was when they were super busy and I didn’t find it that rude. It was just more of a bored or quick tone. But I do agree with saying hello or good evening in French and a nice merci in there to help show some respect to the country you’re visiting.
I’m actually really glad I went to Paris this January. I had a really good, though exhausting time.