France Travel Tip #4 — Take some time to wander aimlessly in Paris, particularly nearby the largest tourist attractions, at all different times of day. We found street performers everywhere. This is just a sampling! I didn’t mention the fire dancers in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral the first night we were there (close to 10pm, I think). They performed several dances with fire, and there was a huge crowd around them. We also saw some comedian/ dancers in front of Stravinsky fountain, and a “one-woman-band” near the Sacre Coeur. There were several other musicians in various places around the city, too, in front of main tourist attractions like museums, for example, after the museum was closed, or in parks or other “green spaces.” If you’re lucky, you can hear an organist inside one of the many beautiful churches of Paris, so don’t forget to listen as you pass by these. It’s almost always ok to go inside and listen. I made sure to donate a few Euro to each of these performers because it was something that made Paris special to me.
C’est partout ! J’ai entendu de la musique de Paris et je n’ai pas assisté à un seul concert. Au moins, je n’ai pas assisté à un concert où j’ai acheté un billet. Il y a une magie dans la ville de Paris. On a vu un homme qui a chanté dans la station de Métro, un flûtiste près du musée du Louvre, un petit orchestre devant La Comédie Française, une accordéoniste qui vendait des fleurs à Montmartre…magnifique!!
It’s everywhere! I heard the music of Paris and I did not attend a single concert. At least, I didn’t attend a concert where I bought a ticket. There is just this magic in the city of Paris. The man who sang in the subway station, a man who played the flute near the Louvre Museum, a small orchestra in front of the La Comédie Française, an accordionist who sold flowers in Montmartre … beautiful !!
France Travel Tip #5 — Be aware of your surroundings. Yes, I think what they say is true about pickpockets in Paris. There are signs at many tourist attractions warning about them. But with a good dose of situational awareness, you needn’t be a target. My husband and I had no problems of this sort and we traveled by foot and by train at all different times of day. Now, we are by no means experts on this subject, but we did try to take care.
What worked: Cross-body bags with sturdy straps and multiple zippered pockets. We each had a “satchel” like this, and kept our credit cards, ID and cash inside at least two zippers deep. We didn’t carry a lot of cash, either. The credit cards went into a RFID-blocking wallet. A cross-body bag can be held right in front of you, with your hand over the zipper, when in a crowded area like the Métro or at an attraction, but can also give you the freedom to use your hands without setting the bag down.
We went to great pains to try to not look like tourists (e.g. no white sneakers, stuff with rhinestoned outlines of Texas on it, or “I ❤ USA t-shirts, etc.) We didn’t buy and wear things from the tourist trap shops, or wander around with a giant map speaking loudly in English. If we bought little things, we carried them in our satchels, or in our spiffy nylon bags from Monoprix 🙂
We made sure to stick to well-lit, well-populated areas in known “safe” areas of the city. We didn’t go exploring in “dicey” areas or at times and places where we were the only people out. We also stayed off of the trains unless there was a fair number of “normal” people about.
Instead, we were still obviously tourists, because we spoke English, stopped from time to time and sat down on a bench where we could monitor our belongings and our surroundings to look at a smaller, more discreet map, and of course, just the fact that we were visiting the tourist attractions. My husband had his giant DSLR camera with him, but we found a great cross-body strap for it, one that was all-black,and didn’t have a ginormous “Nikon” logo on it. We hoped it made him look more like a regular photographer and less like a tourist. It probably didn’t, but we had that delusion anyway.
When approached by panhandlers or people selling trinkets on the streets, we held out a hand with a firm “Non, merci” and kept moving away as advised by one of my French amis. This worked well, and they generally just moved on to the next person.
I’d like to think that all these things made us less attractive targets, but, hey, maybe I’m wrong, who knows. Anyway, I hedged my bets by bringing a black-belt in Karate and Jiu-Jitsu with me everywhere I went. And two of my proudest moments in France were when we were approached by people asking for directions *in French* because they thought we were locals 🙂 I’m at least 90% sure that these people were not pickpockets. If they were, they were really bad at it.
What didn’t work: We read all the travel guides which said to buy one of those wallets you wear under your clothes, or tank tops or bras with “secret” pockets. This does not work! There is nothing subtle about reaching under your shirt or down your pants to get out your money. Plus, you have to wear loose, baggy, unflattering clothes to make them fit, which is not what I want to do in Paris! Also, the idea of sweating all over them is, well, gross. We bought these anyway, because some well-known travel guides said it was a must. We tried them the first day, and immediately relegated them to the bottom of the suitcase. I started using mine as an envelope to hold receipts. It worked well for that because it fit flat at the bottom of my suitcase.
Et vous, chers lecteurs ? What do you think of street musicians? Do you stop and listen or just walk by? What do you do to avoid pickpockets in crowded cities? Do you try to look like a local? Dites-moi! Tell me in the comments 🙂