Tips for a Post-Christmas Parisian Winter

As I write this blog, I am hugging a mug of tea against myself, and counting the minutes until I can justify turning the heating back on. The rain is attacking my single-glazed windows with their poorly insulated frames, and I am contemplating putting on a second jumper. This, ladies and gentleman, is a Parisian winter.

As a lifelong resident of the UK (until last September, at least) I am used to the wind and rain that accompanies winter (and spring, and autumn, and summer). When I was younger, I used to love the rain. My parents called me a water baby, and any time rain clouds started to gather, I prepared to run outside as soon as the first drop arrived. But, at some point in one’s life, dancing in the rain becomes unacceptable, so we have to find coping mechanisms (and other ways to expend energy).

Anyone who has ever visited Paris between November and March knows that it can be an exceptionally bleak time. Leading up to Christmas, gaudy decorations and flashing lights do their best to brighten the place up. But in January, it’s a different story. The grey pavements reflect the white sky, and the beige buildings surround you on all sides.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite socially acceptable to hide at home all winter. So, one must find ways to enjoy the city, whatever the weather! Here are my tips for surviving a Parisian winter.

1. Prepare yourself.

With the Paris soldes in full swing (they started on 8th of January, and will finish on the 11th of February) now is the time to invest in that perfect winter coat. Mine is from Zara, and my friend Thérèse tries it on every time she comes round. I’m almost sure it’s the only reason she’s friends with me. I will lament the day when it is too warm to wear my coat: it makes me feel like a true Parisienne, and therefore was worth every single penny.

Also, don’t be afraid to spend a bit extra on an umbrella. Those €5 brollies from the street vendors may look incredibly attractive when your hair is dripping and your whole body is shivering, but they WILL break, usually within about five minutes, and you don’t want to be caught out in front of a crowd of camera-wielding tourists like this poor couple.

Umbrella couple

2. Take advantage

Those attractions which are normally bulging at the seams with tourists are now relatively tourist-free. For an example, I spent last Friday at Versailles. When I first visited the château in June 2013, the combination of stifling heat and a conveyor belt of tourists transporting you through the house made for an overwhelming and frustrating trip. In January, however, the place was near deserted. We didn’t have to queue at all (compared to the 45 minutes I spent in June) and we could stand in wonder in each room for as long as our hearts desired. Plus, the obligatory hall-of-mirrors selfie had far fewer awkward loiterers in the background.

Now is the perfect time to take that picture you’ve been desperate for since you got here – maybe holding the tip of the Pyramide du Louvre between your fingers, or looking pensive on a bridge. Snap it now, because the tourists will soon return.

3. Change your perspective.

The tourist-less places and rues mean that you can take a clearer, wider look at things.  I’ve never seen Place de la République as glorious as last week, when the Lady Marianne of the Republic held her head high despite the rain on her Phrygian crown. The redeeming feature of those grey pavements is that their shining clean surfaces (as ensured by the cleaning trucks assaulting Paris’ streets every morning) reflect beautifully in the rain. It’s the only chance you’ll ever get to see all your favourite monuments twice.

Statue of the République

Marianne, Lady of the République, holding her own in the rain.

What are your top tips for winter in Paris? Let me know in the comments!

Paris Essentials

There are some things that you just can’t leave behind when you move anywhere. The following three things are, in my opinion, absolutely essential for a successful stay in Paris.

  • An umbrella. Life doesn’t stop for rain here. The tourists will still be queuing for bell towers, people will steal be eating outside restaurants (albeit with a transparent marquee that seems to appear from nowhere around their tables) and Parisians will still be walking. It’s time to embrace umbrella chic. I favour a big transparent bubble umbrella, but as long as you didn’t buy it from a kiosque for €5 (sounds like a great idea now, but it WILL break in the next ten minutes) almost anything goes – after all, everyone else is staring at the floor, hoping the weather won’t ruin their Louboutins!
  • A stern resting face. When I moved to Paris, I discovered a terrible habit I never even knew I had: making eye contact with almost every person I pass on the street. Aside from making you look a bit weird, this can also attract unwanted attention, and in Paris, that must be avoided beyond all cost. Adopt a stern resting face à la Tavi Gevinson and if anyone still tries to approach you, just intensify it.
  • Shoes that won’t give you blisters. I do a lot of walking in Paris, and after a week here, my feet were torn to goodness. Spend a little bit of money on some good-quality, well-fitting shoes, and make sure you wear them in. Then, nothing can stop you from indulging in some flânerie!

What’s made it onto your Parisian essentials list? Let me know!

The Struggling Flaneuse

“To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.”

― Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays

The flâneur is a shameless wanderer. A person who is comfortable passing through a cityscape at their own pace, with no need to hurry in accordance with the wills of others. To explore without purpose. Paris is a city built on flânerie, on chance encounters and unexpected moments. With so many treasures in such a compact space, you can’t help but be pulled into the folds of the city’s streets.

When I first heard of the flâneur, I thought (in that special way only teenagers can think): “Finally! A word that describes me!” And that was the case for a very long time. Trips to London, Cambridge, my move to Canterbury, were all full of aimless wandering, happening upon hidden treasures and new favourites by chance.

However, since moving to Paris, the home of the flâneur, I find myself less and less able to wander in that same way. Maybe I’m intimidated by the huge, tall buildings, begging you to discover their secrets, the plaques and clues to the history within. This is the city where the flâneur was born, and I can’t quite live up to that legacy.

Another factor is the fear. Or, if I was being supremely existential, the Fear. I have a place to live in Paris (thank God) but I don’t have a home. Not yet. I don’t know these streets, and if I suddenly had to break flâneuse character to escape a difficult situation, I wouldn’t know how to.

I’ve found the key to successful wandering for me is a structure. To know the places where I should ‘check in’: a shop, a statue, a restaurant. Then the spaces in between are open for flânerie!

Maybe some day I will be able to be a true flâneuse, wandering freely with no need to stop and check the street name every few metres. But I doubt I will ever go without my trusty map book (you know, just in case).

What’s your favourite way to explore Paris? Do you plan it all out, or just go where the city takes you? Let me know in the comments!

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