Facebook reminded me that I was in Paris around this time in 2013.
It was the first overseas trip I had with H and my bestfriend D. D and I would usually take turns visiting each other every year at our respective country of residence. I would visit her in Hong Kong, then the following year, D would visit me in Australia. She led me to various places in Hong Kong and I even managed to cross the border to Shenzhen, China while I went around with her in Melbourne and to the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns in Queensland.
After a few years of that, her school break and my vacation aligned. Since H and I were already planning to go to Europe, I asked if D would like to join us in France and Austria. Sure, she said.
Finding an acceptable and reasonably priced accommodation in Paris in July was difficult. Eventually, I decided to risk one of those privately-owned apartments for rent. Airbnb was still in its infancy. I found a whole apartment at Rue de Temple good for 6 people. It had no air conditioning but the landlord who happened to live next door gave us all his fans. He said they were used to the heat.
I read up about French attitudes toward tourists so I was expecting a lot of snobbery. To my sheer surprise, we’ve encountered nothing but politeness and friendliness. We kept asking for directions and while some did speak English, more were like below.
Me: Parlez vous anglais?
Lady at the metro selling tickets: No.
Me: Oh, right. (Mentions a train stop)
Lady: (Speaking in French with gestures)
Me: Again please.
Lady: (Repeats self)
Finally, I recognized some words and figured out what she was saying.
Now, some would probably find the above dialogue rude but I didn’t. The lady did try to help. She may or may not speak English and refused to but I don’t take that against her because she’s French. We were in France. It’s their country and it’s their language. As they say, when in Rome, or in this case, when in Paris, do as the Parisians do. I make it a point to learn a few words of the language of the country I would be visiting. It makes my travel a bit easier. I memorized some words in French and managed to communicate with a taxi cab, sales staff, and wait staff.
We walked the 704 metallic steps of the Eiffel Tower to the 2nd floor, marveled at the marble sculptures and paintings of the masters at the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, peeked into the tombs of Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Rosseau, and other dignitaries at the Pantheon, took photos of the Champs-Élysées, and rode the funicular to the Sacre Coeur Basilica.
We were lucky to be there during the Summer Sale, “Les Soldes”. I stumbled upon this when I was browsing about Paris. France regulates the sale in the country and they usually occur twice a year, one around January / February and the other around June / July. We were at the tail end but we still managed to get great deals with items going as far as 70% off.
Since it’s Paris, most of the retail stores (just look for the VAT refund sign outside the store) and all of the department stores such as Galeries Lafayette, Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville or BHV, Le Bon Marche, etc. are equipped to handle tax refund. The minimum spend to be eligible for tax refund is Euro175.
I didn’t have to go through the tax refund center in Charles de Gaulle Airport because our country of departure was Austria. I have found that France has since updated its tax refund system using PABLO. Here’s what the Houston French Consulate Website says:
How do I complete the VAT refund process using a PABLO reader before my departure?
Go up to a PABLO reader. If you are leaving from an airport, you must have your form approved before you check in your luggage. You must have your passport, your ticket, the PABLO form and the items you purchased.
Slide the barcode on the form under the barcode reader to validate it
A message will appear (“OK bordereau confirmé”, which means “OK form approved”). This electronic approval is exactly the same as a customs stamp.
An electronic confirmation will be sent to the store owner as soon as you stamp the form. He or she will then immediately launch the reimbursement process.
Aside from Paris, we went on a day trip to Versailles, but that’s another post.
What do you remember doing around this time in the previous years? Do you even remember? Or, where do you want to be this time next year?