A native of the Netherlands, Elisabeth van Hest fell in love with Paris 30 years ago, and has shared her passion for the City of Light with vistors ever since. Elisabeth works as a local guide for many Rick Steves Best of Europe tour groups, as well as the tour guide for the entire tour on some Rick Steves France tours.
How did a young Dutch girl end up in Paris?
I arrived in Paris in 1973 to live with a French family for more than a year. I was employed as an au pair, which means that I was in charge of the housekeeping and cooking. Every day, except for the weekend, I went to the Alliance Française for French classes. After this, I started classes to become a licensed guide. To be honest with you, I don't know if, after nearly 35 years of Parisian life, I've remained Dutch or become more French!
How difficult was it for you to become a licensed national guide in France?
When I first started classes to become an official guide I did not know a lot about Paris, and I had problems understanding the teachers who spoke French so fast. They also talked about things that were obvious for French students but incomprehensible to foreigners. The guide school lasted three years, and each year I had to pass exams in history and art history. After a few years of guiding I was able to pass the exam for to be a "national guide." This allows me to guide not only in Parisian museums and monuments, but in all national museums in France. Thanks to my national license I've been able to guide in many different regions in France and to get to know most of the country.
Where do you enjoy guiding most in Paris?
I really enjoy giving tours in the Louvre to so many Rick Steves groups. Whenever I can, I like to take my guests to other museums and monuments as well. I feel happy when I can help other people enjoy themselves as much as I did discovering Paris, which I consider now to be my home town.
Is there an important sight that Americans tend to overlook in Paris?
In my opinion Paris itself is the most exciting museum of all. One should allow oneself time to stroll, to forget the time, sit along a sidewalk and soak in the atmosphere of Parisian street life. In Paris you never feel bored. There is always something going on, something to discover. You can never know this city completely. Maybe if we had three lives to live!
What places do you recommend outside of Paris?
Paris is like a town made up of 100 different villages, and the rest of France is like that, too. Every region has its specific scenery, history, gastronomy, and traditions. The first region I discovered after Paris was the Loire Valley. I fell in love with this region, but the more I visited the rest of France, the more I understood that I was going to need a very big heart! If you have a chance to visit Brittany when hydrangeas are blooming, you'll never forget it for your whole life! But last week when I was visiting the battlefields of World War I in northeastern France, I realized what a beautiful part of the country this is. The same happens to me when I return to Burgundy, Normandy, or the Perigord. It's impossible to choose just one region as my favorite!