When you are primarily a pedestrian, you learn quickly there are certain items you must always have in your possession. There is not the safety of your car to protect you from the elements which means there is also no car trunk or glove box to hold an extra grocery bag or tissue pack. It has taken months and although we still are not experts and we still find ourselves caught somewhere without something we need or want, we have found the following to be essential to our survival as “city folk” (and the fact that I used the term city folk probably means I am not really one):
Umbrella: Required. You are absolutely jinxing yourself if you step outside without one. The rainy fall season has bled into a more wet winter than usual and rain here is completely unpredictable. Thanks to Christmas gifts we now have six umbrellas with our favorite being the one supplied by the apartment…big, black and sturdy.
Reusable grocery bags: We have two of these that I have owned for several years but have never seen as much use as they have in the past five months. First, you are shopping every day, sometimes more than once, and you need one for any possible stop you may make at a market or grocery store. Second, almost every store charges you for any bags you need so best be ready with your own. There is also no “paper or plastic” choice. It’s all plastic. Third, make sure your reusable bags are water-proof (see paragraph on umbrellas). Jute is not going to help you here.
Smart phone: No, this is not on the list for the obvious reasons like an emergency call. You need this for logistics: maps, Metro stops and, most importantly, codes. Every building you visit has a unique entrance: a buzzer, a first code, a possible second code, sometimes an elevator code. Every time you visit someone, you are armed with specific instructions to not only find their apartment building but to get in and then actually find their apartment. These instructions include more than just all the codes but directions such as “after entering the building code and crossing the lobby, enter the second code at the third glass door on your right. Proceed through two more doors into a courtyard where you should turn left around the raised courtyard bed, taking a right at the end of the courtyard and then a left through the door on your left when you come to the next right. Now turn right and enter the next door. Take the elevator on your right to the 6th floor (remembering that the ground floor is zero, not one) and we are the door on the right.” (By the way, you are now at our apartment). Now multiply these instructions by the number of playdates, conversation groups, friends, book clubs and parties you may need to access and you’ll understand why you need your fully-charged smart phone at all times.
Reading glasses: You need to be able to read the codes.
Personal favorite Paris guide book: This should be quite portable. Mine is Paris: The City in Section-by-Section Maps. It’s probably 4 x 6 and each section has a fold-out map which includes Metro stations and highlights. This is also where I have created my own system of noting places of interest, restaurants, and recommended shops and bakeries. I’ve tucked in a Metro map as well as a listing of places from Bon Appetit last summer and other random notes I’ve collected. This has been great when I’m in a new part of the city, can check out my little guide and say, “Hey, I’m close to the bakery known for their almond-vanilla creme pastry!”
Bottle of water: You’re walking a lot. And someone is always thirsty.
Metro tickets: We are almost always on foot but there have been a couple times where either time or distance has required us to hop on the train to get to our destination. I’m certainly not averse to walking quickly or even running, but I’ve had several occasions where I was caught a bit too far away and felt I was sprinting back to the school in time to get Elizabeth and Julian. It’s good for staying in shape but sometimes more stress than I need. Again, I prefer walking the streets to riding just because, well, you’re in Paris!
Euro coins: We learned quickly that coins rule and whether you are purchasing Metro tickets from a machine or making a purchase at the market, paper money is either not accepted (in particular machines) or frowned upon. The little Brighton coin purse I’ve had forever is always in my pocket.
Camera: There is always an image or moment that you may not have again. Better capture it. The smartphone camera will do as a back up, but it’s not what you want to use all the time.
And what to hold this all in? Well, it’s amazing the things you used to only use occasionally that have become trusted companions. I have a sturdy black shoulder tote that has been a gift from heaven. I have also had a small black backpack for years. It’s made of that great travel material that is waterproof and wipes clean. It’s small enough to not be cumbersome and everyone in the family is comfortable carrying it. Plus, it’s perfect for when I go for a run as it doesn’t bounce on my back but keeps all the things I need safe and dry. Both of these items were kind of tossed into the suitcases without much thought but I am so thankful to have them.
We’re heading out to the Louvre this afternoon. Better get my bag packed.