It was May Day aka Labour Day, a designated public holiday recognized almost worldwide. France with its extremely dedicated workforce union was no exception. I had zilch agenda today so it was a day dedicated to whatever my husband wanted to do. So we headed north towards Montmarte well known for its red light district and the Moulin Rouge cabaret. But we were there on other business, to shop!
We targeted Hard Rock Café Paris for our first stop to buy a whole range of collectibles. Boulevard Haussmann is also where you can find two mega department stores, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps located side by side. To my horror the stores were closed for the holidays!! In fact at least 80% of the shops in Paris were shut for the day and the only plausible entertainment were movies or food. I regretted almost instantly for not allocating time for shopping before today as we desperately needed to buy souvenirs and chocolates for our friends and colleagues back home.
This was a culture shock for me indeed. On Singapore public holidays, throngs of shopaholic Singaporeans would descend on the shopping malls which would open its doors as wide as it can to welcome all the liquidity. Malls would be crowded beyond capacity and shops will found all reasons to give incredible discounts. However in France or perhaps Europe in general, public holidays are really rest days. A whole day of simply doing nothing but engaging in pleasurable activities such as chatting over gourmet coffee and delicacies.
Back at avenue Champ des Elysees, we expected the shopping district to be quiet but were surprised again to see many locals combing the streets. Even though all the boutiques were closed, the Parisians found it enjoyable just to stroll leisurely along the pavement admiring mannequins embellished with designer apparels on the glass displays. This was the literal definition of window shopping.
We left Champ des Elysees and walked towards the Eiffel Tower. Other than window shopping and eating, sunbathing in a park must be the next favourite leisure activity of the Parisians. The Parc du Champ des Mars was packed with locals lying on the grass enjoying the warmth of spring and there was a long queue of tourists snaking its way up the tower. I guess for Eiffel Tower, it was business as usual. Thankfully I wasn’t too hard up to ascend the monument, preferring instead to take break on the lawn admiring the steel structure, the landmark that has come to symbolise Paris.
Over dinner, we had an interesting encounter. A tour guide came by the Chinese eatery to enquire on the possibility for his tour group of 30 to dine there. Apparently a miscalculation in his plans found the initial intended restaurant closed for the day and he had been searching around town for an appropriate place to feed his tour group. He instructed the happy owner to budget 10 Euros worth of dishes for each person.
While we didn’t mean to eavesdrop, it was quite an eye-opener for me. How much margins do these tour operators really earn and silently praised myself for having completed our journey through France and Italy all on our own.
Another interesting observation was how much the French and Italians adored children. Joel was constantly getting us attention from passersby who stopped, looked at him and smiled. I guess it isn’t often that they see Asian preschoolers. Perhaps it was also because of Joel, locals tended to be more generous, friendly and helpful towards us. Turned out that even though it was quite the hassle to have a child with us, it did offer us a rare insight into European hospitality. Joel also gets free seats on trains and entrances to museums.