En route pour l'aéroport

NOTE: Sorry for being so MIA. I’ve been with limited internet the past few weeks. Slowly but surely, I will start posting again. First, here are some observations I’ve made: 

Panoramic view from Palais Garnier. A 3-minute walk from our apartment :D

After spending six weeks here in France, I'd like to think that on some level, I have an understanding of the lifestyle. Now I can't generalize & say that all French are like this (that'd be rather ignorant of me! D:) because I've only experienced two cities, and even between the two there are noticeable differences. 
Inside Le Louvre. The way these pieces are hung really caught my eye.

However, I must say that the pace here is much more relaxed than that in Toronto. There are people, bikes, and cars everywhere, just out & about--but they're not rushing. 
People everywhere. Roundabouts are scary...I don't know how the French tackle them with such finesse!

They're sipping coffee outside, sometimes reading the paper and/or smoking, but definitely people-watching. You see that a lot. Two people dining but not facing each other. They sit side by side, looking out onto the street. 
Attempting to people-watch. Of course we're wusses and do so from the comfort of the inside of the brasserie. :)

Marche des Enfants Rouges

Now since I doubt many people dream of going to Tours (about an hour's TGV ride south west of Paris) rather than Paris when it comes to a France trip, I'll narrow down my food thoughts to the latter, although both cities are quite similar in this respect. Simply put, there's food everywhere! Vendors, grocery stores, brasseries, specialty shops, bakeries, restaurants you name it, they've got it. Parisians are reassured of their food by knowing its origin. Organic isn't so much the name of the game as the region is. 

"Marché des Enfants Rouges." It's really tucked in there! Behind these gates is a food market where you'll find fresh produce and small booth-restaurants where you'll find a range of international flavours.

With 22 regions (or somewhere around 34 provinces if you use the old map), pretty much each has a unique specialty. Bretagne is known for their crêpes, Languedoc for their cassoulet and Alsace naturally, for their “saucisses de Strasbourg” (well, this is a region long disputed between France and Germany so German influences are very apparent). 
Want to save money? Have a picnic on the steps of Montmartre (Sacré Coeur's behind you) and get a great view of Paris!

Now as for how restaurants work, there are customs established here that can be very foreign to those who are visiting. Please bear in mind that these guidelines have been formulated by my personal experience and advice from friends who have gone to Paris before…they may be a little more extreme than is necessary but I didn’t want to take any chances :D

1.      COURTESY. A general rule that should be common sense. Be polite and you’ll be treated with equal respect. Always say “Bonjour!” (Hello) when you enter a store and “Bonne journée / bonne soirée / au revoir / merci!” (Good day / good night / goodbye / thank you) when leaving. 

View of Champs de Mars from le Tour Eiffel (TIP! To beat the line-ups & save money, take the stairs :D)

(QUICK STORY: My parents and I got the most peculiar look from our waitress when we ordered dessert during lunch yesterday—just dessert. But by being that extra bit polite and appreciative, she was nice back. Who knew you could get full from dessert?! <-- yes, I’d like to believe that friendliness can extend into bigger food portions...) 

2.      RESERVATIONS. Excluding brasseries where dropping in unannounced is expected, it’s always a good idea to call ahead and to make reservations (if possible) even if it’s a day or two in advance. That way, they know who & how many people to expect. You’ll get better seats too! I mean you wouldn’t just drop by a friend’s place unannounced right? Well I guess you could but…anyways you get the point. 
Another garden space: Jardin Luxembourg. Relax, have a bite, play with some toy boats. Mmm that's the life! :D

3.      SPATIAL AWARENESS. Eating quarters are tight—at least less spacious than what I’ve experienced in Canada so take care in keeping all limbs close. It would totally suck (and be mucho embarrassing) to knock over a beautiful dish of food (I cringe at the thought!). 
L'Orangerie at Château Versailles. One of many beautifully manicured gardens I saw during my stay in France

4.      TIP IS INCLUDED. This might be news to you. It certainly was to me! Tip is included in the bill. Whether it be merchandise or food at a restaurant, tax/tip are have already been factored into the price you see on the tag/menu. In the receipt/bill (or “l’addition”), you’ll be able to see the breakdown. If however you find the service you received somehow exceptional then you can tip a few euros extra. It felt super odd at first, not leaving a tangible tip behind, but it’s okay. 
Can you hear the prima donna singing? See the ballerinas floating in their pointe shoes? (theatre in Palais Garnier)

5.      WATER. « Bulles ou pas bulles? » « Pétillant? » You will encounter such questions when ordering water to drink. That’s because carbonated water (think Perrier) is very popular here but of course that comes with a price. If you want your regular tap water (yes it is safe to drink!), then ask for “une carafe d’eau.” You’ll get a bottle of water to self-serve but no ice. Don’t even bother asking for ice, you’ll get odd looks. :(
Le Carrrousel by the Louvre.

Standing out Le Château de Versailles.

6.      WINE. No need to pay a premium for good wine. France is wine country! You can get very decent wine for cheap (I’ve seen 2,85€ wine at the grocery store) so do not look down on the “house wine” that comes in a carafe. Order it and enjoy the wine as well as the money you’ll save. Perhaps buy more pastries with it! :D 

7.      ENTRÉE ≠ MAIN. This is very important. You can figure this one out for yourself very quickly when you browse any menu just by the placement of each category. But I’ll lay it out here too:
1. Appetizer = “entrée”
2. Main = “plat”
3. Dessert = “dessert” (<-- easy! :D) 
4. Wine list = “carte de vins” (some places I've been to have an entire booklet!)

View from the balconies of Palais Garnier (l'Opéra)

8.      FORMULE. At first, I was intimidated by the “cartes” (menus) here; so expensive! You quickly realize how much you can save by eating out for lunch and having a simple picnic for dinner (double win because you can take advantage of the beautiful gardens!). 

To help you save your money and attract you to dine in their restaurant, restaurants often have a prix fixé menu or “formule” as they call it (usually just for “midi”/lunch) ranging from 9€ to the obscene (think 35€). You choose 2 dishes. Entrée+Plat OR Plat+Dessert. 

9.      AUGUST. I arrived in France in the beginning of July but staying here until mid-August was a partial nightmare. And that’s because August is the vacation month for the French (yes, it can be all 4 weeks of it) so lots of restaurants (and stores as well) close. It got pretty frustrating when I’d try to take my parents to restaurants and it’d be closed. It happened only twice and I had plan B’s and C’s but still, you don’t get the chance to come to Europe every year so it was a bummer to miss out. <-- This is where #2 comes in handy. Not only do you guarantee you and your party a table, but you find out whether the restaurant’s even open that day. 
Last day in Paris. Enjoying a day (of perfect weather, YAY!) at Jardin Luxembourg.

All that being said, July seems to be the optimal time to go to France. The weather’s nice,
restaurants are open, there are summer festivals & markets everyday, and everything’s on
sale! :D:D Mhm, January & July are the official sales months in France. It gets so intense that
some people will take days off just to go shopping!