In September 2014, I caught a mild dose of the Paris Syndrome. A psychological condition experienced by tourists (almost exclusively by Japanese tourists) who are disappointed when Paris, the City of Lights, fails to live up to their romantic expectations. I hated Paris the first time I visited; that’s probably a little too harsh. I experienced a love-hate relationship, mostly on the hate end of the love-hate spectrum. My first reaction as I emerged up the steps from the underground Opéra metro station was ‘wow’; in the afternoon sun stood a grand, regal building with a glittering gold roof. However, this feeling began to slowly dissipate on route to my hotel. Although my hotel was only a short five minute walk away on the Boulevard des Capucines, the hustle and bustle of Paris’ city streets were already smacking me in the face like tiny grains of sand in a stormy, windy desert. The wide boulevard with its cars, buses, and mopeds dashing around corners was certainly a far cry from the quaint, quiet Paris cobble stone streets I had seen in movies, magazines and splashed all over Instagram. Luckily my room at the Hôtel Scribe Paris provided a quiet, serene sanctuary from the busy street below.
Although millions of visitors descend on Paris every year, it’s still a large, living, breathing metropolis with Parisians and the like going about their daily working life. I quickly discovered Paris is not full of endless fairytale fashion shows, supermodels, movie sets and beautiful people wandering around the streets in French designer outfits. Especially in the tourist areas. There are hoards of tourists wearing cameras like the latest fashion accessories, boulevards full of honking impatient traffic, sneaky pick pocket thieves with fake survey clipboards trying to distract you with the ‘do you speak English’ line, and street hawkers harassing you to buy their tacky black-market manufactured souvenirs at the major tourist sites. That September, Paris was hot and uncomfortably unpleasant for someone who loves walking everywhere in a new city so as not to miss the architecture and ability to detour down side streets. I remember seeking refuge under the trees in Jardin des Tuileries from the blaring sun and resting my weary feet on the famous green chairs scattered all over the garden grounds. Elbowing my way through the hordes of people dashing around the ground floor of the cult store Colette in a frenzy to find that perfect high-tech gadget or quirky design ‘souvenir’ to buy, just to say they had shopped at this iconic Paris store. Far from the sleek, minimalist and serene photographic images I had seen in a magazine article. If you are both a tourist and devoted lover of French culture and fashion, you have to make a conscious effort to seek out those Parisian fairytale moments and experiences in order not to fall victim to the Paris Syndrome.
One of my fairytale moments during this first visit was lunch at the amazing Epicure restaurant, which is located in the luxurious Le Bristol Hotel. A birthday treat to myself. As I was travelling alone, I thought lunch-for-one would be the perfect single girl dining option. In the morning I chose my outfit carefully, a cream linen J.Crew knee length dress and cream statement necklace with nude flat strappy sandals, and then made my way to what turned out to be an experience of a life time. The restaurant decor exuded the epitome of French elegance, beauty and refinement, and I pretty much had the place to myself except for two other tables. The food, service, atmosphere, decor was all impeccable. A truly French gastronomical taste sensation experienced in opulent surroundings. Made even more special knowing the three star Michelin chef Eric Fréchon was in the kitchen that day. I had seen his picture on the hotel website and then spotted him chatting with the maitre d’ that day. I left the restaurant with my visual and taste senses fully enriched and on a Parisian food high. I will always remember this delightfully sensational, exquisite dining experience and hope one day to celebrate again at Epicure, but next time sharing with girlfriends or (yet to be found) future husband.
For me Paris was a slow burn. I left with a few wonderful memories such as the colourful flowers in the Luxembourg Gardens, exploring the quaint shops in the hidden passages of Grand Vivienne and Passage des Panoramas, falling in love with the art nouveau metro signs splashed around the city, drinking delicious coffee which came served in little jugs at the historic Les Deux Magots cafe, and spending time in the presence of the Musée d′Orsay masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cézanne, and Degas. However, these were overshadowed by my encounter with the Paris Syndrome. Where were all the glamorous outfits wandering down Rue Saint-Honoré? Not to be defeated like Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo, I returned six months later to see if my initial love-hate reaction was warranted and the ‘will or battle’ to love Paris not lost.
I wanted to experience a more calmer, local Parisian feel so I chose to stay in the 6th Arrondissement on the left bank in order to avoid the major tourist areas and busy boulevards. The hotel was called Hotel de l′Abbaye, a perfectly small, charming and quaint Parisian hotel. And what a difference changing your mindset, accommodation location and tourist must see/do list can have. Paris is a beautiful city and even more so when you scratch beyond the tourist surface. During this second trip I was more relaxed and open-minded to the reality of Paris and was definitely falling in love with the city. So much so I made my third visit several months later. This time a stay in the Le Marais area sealed my fate and completely cured any remaining lingering affects of the Paris Syndrome. I was head over heals in love with Paris – the City of Lights and undisputed fashion capital.