Let’s recap: It’s my first day in France and I’ve finally met up with my CouchSurfing host, Raphael. He graciously took me to his apartment to drop off my bags, and now I’ve been kicked out and must entertain myself until tonight when we meet up again.
1. Walk around until you are lost, and then find your way back
This serves a few purposes—you’ll better acquaint yourself with the neighborhood and you will develop more of a sense of direction for the future. Also, you’ll find numerous useful things: metro stops, bars/cafes/tobacco shops, cool stores, parks… If the place you spy is open, go in and check it out! If not, just take note of where it is and come back later.
This was an awesome store that I found in Paris, right by the Canal. The name was exactly what it was—a store devoted exclusively to design books! If I lived near here, I’m sure that place would become a very expensive habit; all the books they stocked were awesome! There was an entire section devoted to books on typography and another exclusively about color. I browsed this tiny store for about an hour.
When you get tired of walking and browsing, it’s time to take a break.
2. Enjoy a delicious beverage in a cafe or bar
Just pick one of the places you previously saw, order a drink, and sit down. In the USA, it’s not always acceptable to languidly sip a coffee, but I found French culture to almost encourage this. Take your time, stretch your legs, and enjoy the experience.
I really like to people-watch when I’m in a cafe. I love to get a seat by the window and check out what people are wearing, how the styles seem to be different, even what they’re eating!
Depending on where you are, you may have better luck with a local tea shop or bar. If you’re feeling out of place as I was on my first day, don’t concern yourself with making friends and just be friendly and curteous to the people who are working there. This simple act really seems to go a long way.
Bonus idea: I always like to ask bartenders how to say “Cheers” (or make a toast) in the native language. If they seem like they might not be a local, ask where they’re originally from and what they would say before drinking.
After having a drink and seeing people go by, I frequently have seen someone eating something that looks delicious.
3. Eat what the locals eat
While sitting in the cafe, I saw people walking by with paninis and crepes. Mmmm, delicious crepes—I’m getting hungry just thinking about them.
I really like seeing what people walking around are eating. Sure, it might not be the traditional cuisine of a region, but it’s what the locals actually eat.
If you started at #1, you’ll already have found some little restaurants and food vendors who will sell you one of these treats. If it’s the evening or a busy time, here’s a quick tip I’m stealing from Ryanair magazine to find a good place: Go wherever there is a big line. The locals already know what’s good!
4. Ride the train.
Specifically, I recommend that you buy an unlimited metro-pass or bus-ticket (more than one day if you’re going to be staying in the area) and get your money’s worth.
Usually these passes will let you transfer between bus and metro several times, and change subway lines as many times as you want. I simply picked a place on the map that I wanted to visit and got there. In fact, I chose Pere La Chaise because it was a huge green patch, not knowing that it was a cemetary!
Finally, it was getting dark. I’d managed to spend the best part of the day out and exploring. I also became comfortable with getting around on the public transportation systems, and found a few cool places to boot. I was physically exhausted and yet the coffee was keeping me moving. There was one thing left that I wanted to do.
5. Capture the experience
Of course you should take photos, but I really mean you should take out a notebook and write. I’ve been keeping a journal for a little while, and what better time to update it than at the end of a big day like this one?
Near to Raphael’s apartment, I found a park and sat on one of the few benches still covered in sunlight. Put down anything, and it will help you remember how you felt at this point in time. If nothing comes to mind, just start the flow of words with some stream-of-consciousness writing.
I frequently start writing on some subject to think it out on paper, and end up with twice as much output as I expect. It’s a very gratifying feeling to fill up a notebook, as well.
I head back to Raphael’s apartment and meet him in the courtyard. He asks about my day and I tell him some of the numerous activities and sights that I’ve seen. He seems surprised, and this is the first (but not last) time someone remarks “Wow, you did all that?”
I’ve realized that If I keep going into this kind of detail, it will be weeks before I finish recounting the 6 days I spent in Paris. What do you think, is this too much?
Next time, I’ll give my first impression of CouchSurfing, tell you about my favorite restaurant in Paris, and say how I found someone to put me up for the last 4 days of my trip… with only 24 hours of notice.
Do you have any great ideas on how to entertain yourself anywhere? Leave them in the comments!