Paris is one of the most amazing cities in the world and I want to urge you to visit Paris despite the current disruptions. As I am sure you are aware, the last two months have been trying for Paris and the Parisians. Throughout France, the outcry over an increase in the gasoline tax has driven French people to don yellow vests and protest in the streets. Mostly, these have been peaceful. In Paris, what began as a peaceful gathering was turned ugly by hooligans. It might have been said that this was due to an overreaction by the police but I really don’t think that was the case. You could have made that argument after the first instance of violent protests, but for the protesters to show up week after week and each time be better prepared for the police response, it shows they are there for the action. It is hard to say if the peaceful protesters naturally had hooligans in their makeup or hooligans chose the protests to come out and wreak havoc.
But even with the “riots” Paris is still the Paris that you love. The protests started on the Champs-Élysées and pretty much stayed there until the police tried to clear the rioters. This caused it to spill over from the Champs, but it only moved about three blocks each side. Yes, the hooligans did break storefront windows, spray-painted graffiti, burned cars and vandalized centuries-old statues. Why they would even uproot Christmas trees and burn them in the streets is beyond me, but they did that too.
Having our trip dates set and our non-refundable tickets and hotel, we did not want to cancel because of the rioting. We had scored a hotel in a prime location, only half a block form the Champs. We were there on December 1st, the biggest day of protests. You will probably see the coverage of the ongoing protests, and the news will show pictures from December 1st as it was the most disruptive day. Since we were right in the middle of that mess, we decided to get away and explore other parts of Paris that we had not been to. The metro was still running, so it was easy to be far away in less than a half an hour.
We went to the 11th Arrondissement and walked around the rue Oberkampf. As we walked we saw a line out the door and down the side of this little boulangerie (bakery and bread shop). We got in line and ordered some coffee, baguette, butter, and jam and grabbed one of the few tables. The coffee was good but the bread was out of this world. We are always amazed at how much better the baguettes taste in France/Paris. It could be that we are usually on a low-carb diet when not on vacation or they really are that much better in France. I have trouble describing how heavenly simple baguette and butter tastes is it the right amount of crust or chewiness or.. This is something not to miss when you visit Paris. If we had not been away from the Champs we never would have found this place. Also they had a little Christmas market right there in the wide median area of the adjoining boulevard. We got to see local delicacies and handicrafts. Sometimes just walking through undiscovered parts of a city without a mapped out itinerary and timetable is the best way to really get to know a place. Stopping in at a Bistro for a charcuterie and glass of wine makes for perfect people watching. Taking a chance on an unknown spot and finding an excellent place for dinner, was all because of the problems in the Champs.
Two days later, Paris was still cleaning up the Champs when we stopped in at one of our favorite restaurants, La Cordonnerie. We were discussing the disruption with Chef Hugo and how his restaurant only 5 blocks away form the Champs was untouched. He commented that it was untouched by the riots, but those riots were televised around the world. As the news has a tendency to do, they dramatize the events and make them a lot more sensational than is usually the case. Hugo’s family run restaurant depends on tourism and the Parisian love of good food. When a few hooligans make news and disrupt business, the ripple effect on the everyday working Parisian is felt.
Paris is a big city and small disruptions should not scare you away from experiencing this magnificent city. Chances are the Parisians will be appreciative that you are willing to visit their city, and they will show you an even better time.
Jon and Carol are owners of Vista Adventure Travel specializing in small group tours to incredible places.