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Paris Weeks 2/3/4 – Life in a Paris apartment

My apologies for disappearing for the last three weeks. I thought I would have so much time to blog but instead all I can seem to manage is a steady stream of Instagram posts. (So follow me there at @Jenfreshstart!)

The rest of June for me was pretty much comprised of friends, French lessons and family. First, some Concord girlfriends (shout-outs to Kath, Bonny & Hilary!) made the trip over. For a few days we walked a ton and got in as much as we could. Highlights were the amazing full day food tour of Montmartre (a must do),  a sunset cruise on the Seine, the Rodin museum and some very good meals.

That week was followed by a week of Intensive French lessons at Lutece Langue. I was placed in an advanced beginner class with about 8 other people from Korea, Austria, the UK, Australia and China. We went from 9am-12:30pm with a little café creme break in between. It was fun but also a difficult class because everybody came to the group with varied abilities, vocabulary and experience with the language. Our teacher, rather than explaining things in English like at home, explained them in more French. So the difficulty level shot past my class at Concord Community Ed which by the way is where I started taking some French once per week last September. Basically, I often couldn’t understand the French teacher’s explanations of something that I already couldn’t understand! We had no textbook but played lots of verb conjugation games, did little group projects, role playing with classmates, listening exercises, songs, more games and just conversation. The week flew by and definitely improved my French a bit… and luckily I have two more weeks there scheduled this month!

Next my sister, niece and nephew all arrived for their first ever visit to Paris! In fact, it was their first time in Europe so pretty much everything was all new and exciting to them. They stayed with us in the apartment and we really put our space to the test with 6 of us here. We saw all the top attractions and walked thousands more steps. Jack, with the metabolism of a 16 year old teen, did a pretty good job of trying lots of the bakery offerings. We had a great picnic at the Louvre grounds, rode the giant Ferris wheel at the Tuilieries, spent the day at Versailles, visited the Orangerie museum (Monet’s waterlilies) and the Museé d’Orsay and the Trocadéro for a great view of the Eiffel Tower. Plus too many other things to list. In short, I think they will be back – particularly Jack and Maddie who seemed enchanted with pretty much everything Paris.

Now, for the actual subject of this blog: living in a Paris apartment. Since I work on peoples’ homes and also work in real estate, I obviously am fascinated by how people live and I love houses. Having an apartment in the center of Paris is pretty much a dream scenario for many people – but it does come with it’s own set of quirks. (A small set, a very small set). I will discuss those little cons here and you can be the judge. I think you will decide, like I have, that the inconveniences are well worth the many pluses of this lifestyle.

First off, we’re talking about city living – which is no different than living in any large American city. There is traffic…you hear sirens etc.. You hear construction nearby. You are in close quarters with your neighbors. Privacy and personal outdoor space is limited or unavailable. Parking a car is a hassle so you rely on public transportation and deal with the public transportation delays and strikes. This is the same scenario if you lived in Manhattan or downtown Chicago.

Nope, this is NOT our apartment building. But I would love to see inside that curved room up top!

Having lived in New York City and Atlanta, I find Paris to be a really livable large city. The number of skyscraper height buildings is very small so everything feels more like a series of neighborhoods and less like a bustling metropolis. As you probably know, the arrondissement division of the city (there are 20) really gives each neighborhood its own identity and distinct community feel. There are LOTS of trees and public parks – including cute neighborhood parks where people gather with their kids, dogs or partners. It’s clean and there are trash bins everywhere. The public transportation system here works really well and we’ve been impressed with the efficiency of the metro and the bus system. (Although I hear that the trains have suffered a lot of strikes in the last few months).   There are a couple different bike sharing options and people actually ride bikes a lot. It’s very common to see smartly dressed Parisian women in a dress and heels cruising through the streets on their way to the office.

In general, the ambiance is just beautiful. Outdoor cafes everywhere. Gorgeous displays in boutique or bakery windows. A gilded cupola here. A cobblestoned street there. Haussmann architecture gets me every time. I find that I can’t go five minutes in Paris without looking up and admiring something. The Seine and all its lovely bridges are running through the center of it all add to the old world ambiance and whisper to you to “slow down” and admire the view. But then there are just SO MANY gorgeous museums, sights, monuments and other unique things sprinkled around the city that you pretty much encounter something special wherever you go.

As for living in the apartments themselves… are some realities. You’re living in a building with multiple floors and elevators are not a given. If you have one it is usually just tiny and retrofit into the tiny center of a winding staircase. So you get a bonus glute workout in each time you leave the house and walk up those stairs to come home.

The apartment windows are big casements that open inward and most also have a set of exterior shutters for controlling light and temperature. Now that the weather is consistently hot, we have finally figured out that we need to keep those outdoor shutters closed during the day to keep the apartment cool and then open everything up in the evening to let in the cooler air. Which brings up another point – no air conditioning. Our fan is our new best French friend.

As someone who works on kitchen design, I find the French kitchen to be a bit underwhelming and my least favorite aspect of life here. Typically, Paris kitchens are tiny. We have a pretty large apartment here but the kitchen is very small, not in proportion to the square footage of the space. We have exactly 4 square feet of free counter space for prepping a meal, so you end up working alone in the kitchen because having two people is just painful. An “American style” open kitchen is less common and you can pretty much forget about a big island and lots of cabinet storage space.

We are lucky to have a dishwasher in our micro kitchen, but the way it opens blocks the trash cabinet entirely. (So no clearing a plate and then putting it right into the dishwasher).

The refrigerator is also probably half the capacity of an American fridge but it works out just fine because you pretty much can never do a large grocery shopping anyway. Remember – you have no car and you have a lot of stairs. . You have very little storage space in your tiny kitchen. And everything here is actually really fresh and for some reason also spoils quickly. It takes you about 3 days to re-learn your American ways and realize that you have to think about and buy your dinner foods that very same day. You can only carry so much home, only manage so much up the stairs and only fit so much in the little fridge. So there you go – you are a Parisian daily shopper!

My fancy new supermarket!

I have become trés familiar with my local Monoprix (look at the photo of it above), boulangerie, fromagerie and fruit vendor.

While we are talking about housekeeping chores, let’s discuss doing laundry in Paris. We are super lucky that our apartment came not only with a washing machine tucked into the master bathroom but also…. a dryer!! In my past European rentals (Italy, Spain, Greece etc.) we had to hang and air dry all our clothing. Everything smells like fresh air afterwards – but your clothes end up physically crunchy. Unfortunately, the dryer in a Parisian apartment is not the efficient appliance we are used to at home. First of all, like most things here, it’s small. Which means small loads. Small loads means doing frequent loads. I am literally finding myself doing a load or two of laundry nearly every single day. With regard to the dryer, your Parisian dryer is probably not going to be vented to the outside. I could be wrong, but to me this seems to slow the drying process down. It is not uncommon for a dryer cycle to be almost 3 hours. After a couple days, our dryer here kept shutting itself off and a mysterious little light was lit up. After Googling the model and deciphering French, we learned that there was a tank on the side of the dryer that was collecting condensation and was full of water. It needed emptying before the dryer could do its job. Who knew?

So those are a few of the quirks. But let’s talk about the charms of the Paris apartment. Creaky herringbone wood floors (not hard cold tile like in Italy or Spain). Big windows that open wide (no screens but luckily very few bugs). You feel connected to your neighbors. Is there a birthday party for the four year old across the courtyard? You know about it. Neighbor is practicing piano chords? You get to hear his progress. I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but personally I love knowing that people are nearby. I would never want to live in the woods at the end of a long driveway and really love having activity and neighbors that city life brings.

Other pluses….having a small space means it doesn’t take you very long to clean it. There are usually lovely fireplaces in these old buildings – plus gorgeous plaster medallions on the ceilings and distinctive trim – all totally charming.  Being in a city center means you can walk to the majority of the places you need to go. And burn calories you can then spend on the baguette, cheese or apparently the crazy gorgeous intricate pastries that are literally everywhere being consumed by what looks like everyone.

But the best part? In a few minutes you can head downstairs and grab a carafe of rosé and a cheese plate at the corner cafe and sit and watch the world pass by. Can’t do that in the suburbs, so I’m willing to forgive the tiny kitchen. I bet you would too.