It’s been 20 days since I left Paris, adequate time to reflect on an adventure of a lifetime and offer an assessment on what I believe to be the best of the City of Lights. I, by no means, can declare myself an expert, but I did my best to see as much, do as much, and, as as already documented, eat as much as possible, and collect enough wisdom to pass on to friends and family who might follow in my footsteps. As a show of my bonafides, let me present Paris by My Numbers:
# of visits to Paris to date: 7
# of arrondissements visited on this trip: 16 (out of 20)
# of Paris-specific posts on ARudeAmerican: 24
# of museums visited: 8 (including 2x each at Musée D’Orsay, Georges Pompidou and the Louvre)
# of Space Invaders spotted: 7
# of Metro tickets used: at least 40
# of truly memorable meals: countless!
Now on to Kristin Rolla’s DO!/DON’T! list, Paris-style. Again, this is not definitive, but if you are a foodie/artie/adverturie type, these recommendations should serve you well!
Opt for an apartment – No matter how short or long your stay in Paris, this is the most economical option available, especially as the Euro rises against the dollar. You do give up some advantages, such as a concierge to make dinner reservations, but you do gain flexibility, such as the opportunity to shop green markets and prepare home cooked meals, a quintessentially Parisian activity. Apartment living is also an excellent option for families, as you have a plenty of room for your brood, as well as a comfy place for a daily cat nap! There are many agencies that offer rentals, but the company I worked with, My Apartment in Paris (www.my-apartment-in-paris.com), is an excellent option, extremely reliable, and do not require any extra fees. I will definitely use them again.
Brush up on your French – A little goes a long way, even if only to determine if someone speaks English (“Parlez-vous anglais?) You might be able to defrost a bit of that icy French attitude with an attempt to speak the native tongue. I also recommend learning how to book a dinner reservation if staying in an apartment (asking for a table for two on Monday at 7:30 is “Je voudrais une table pour deux personnes le lundi à sept heures et demie”), something I was never able to accomplish! iPhone and Android have some great language apps, such as French for Dummies and SpeakFR.
Hit the sales – The large department stores (Galleries Lafayettes, Printemps and Le Bon Marche) have spectacular end-of-season sales with deep discounts, in June for spring/summer and January for fall/winter. They also offer select sale items in March and October. If you are a power shopper, these are good times to plan a visit, and to also take advantage of the significant tax savings available to tourists.
Get on the (Bato) Bus – A great way to see the sites and also get across town is to take the BatoBus, a hop-on, hop-off boat cruise on the Seine. There is also the Bateaux Mouches, a formal boat tour that is also a lot of fun and a great way to learn about the city.
Be a hopeless romantic – You can’t walk across one of the Seine’s many bridges without noticing thousands “locks of love” secured along the railings. If you are with a special someone, head to a grocery store and buy a lock, and then go to a Muji or other art supply store to personalize it with a permanent marker, and pick your spot (just like Jeff and I did – that’s ours with the black ribbon!)
Eat ethnic – The abundance of North African and Middle Eastern immigrants makes ethnic food as delicious an option as the traditional fare (and likely more affordable.) Don’t just stick to falafel in Le Marais, try some couscous at the famous Le 404 or in the Bourse street market, or head to Urfa Dürüm for a flatbread kebab while en route to the Canal St. Martin.
Admire art everywhere – I am an absolute museum junkie, but the streets are littered with art in the most non-traditional venues. In addition to the oft-documented Space Invaders and street art, there were photo installations in the least likely places, such as English ephemera photographer Martin Parr‘s Royal Wedding observations at Le Bon Marché!
Be too cool for tourism – Words cannot describe the awe-inspiring majesty of Paris’ monuments, especially the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and lesser known lights like the Trocadero. No matter how many times I visit the city, I am always blown away. You don’t necessarily need to stand in line to scale the top of each of them, but just wandering around is worth a lifetime of inspiration. Savvy planners might also be able to take in multiple sites and vantage points at once. The roof of the Pompidou Centre has, in my opinion, the best view in Paris, stretching all the way from Sacre Cour to the north to the Eiffel Tower on the Left Bank. The far end of the Richelieu wing of the Louvre, home to the museum’s Dutch and Flemish Masters collection, offers an unimpeded view of la Grande Arche in La Defense, a business district not often frequented by tourists but an impressive site nonetheless. And post-high season offers short lines at the Arc de Triomphe, where a hike to the top pays off with a 360 degree view of entire city (and nullifies that high caloric lunch!)
Fill up with Pre Fixes – Used to be dining out in Paris was a lengthy and filling proposition. Many of Paris’ best restaurants offer a multi-course pre fixe option, which means you can eat a delicious, but gut-busting, meal at a set price. And it’s often tempting, especially on shorter trips, to squeeze in as many epic meal times as you can to secure notches on the foodie belt. Reserve the pre fixe option for a only a few special restaurants (such as Le Comptoir de Relais or Le Chateaubriand), for either lunch or dinner (never both on the same day!) and instead indulge in small bites at a wine bar, a sister property of the flagship, or with some unique street meat options.
Neglect your exercise – It’s easy to walk in Paris, given the central districts are nearly completely flat, but it’s also easy to hop on the Metro as there are stations on seemingly nearly every corner. If your destination is only 2 or 3 stops away, save your 2.20 euro and hit the bricks. Your legs, and tummy, will thank you later. The beautiful parks, and generally mild weather, make more strenuous exercise an easy option too, so pack your trainers and kick it up a notch with a jog around the Tuileries or Jardin Luxembourg during your visit. And if you desire a better mind-body connection, and wish to practice your French comprehension, may I suggest a yoga class? I frequented Yoga Yoga in the 7th a few times and had I stuck with it, just listening to the class dialog might have improved my understanding of the language immensely!
Forget to pay your respects – And visit one of Paris’ spectacular cemeteries! Paris is the last resting place of almost as many, if not more, famous dead people than L.A. with a roster of luminaries dating back centuries. If expired musicians (Jim Morrison at Pere Lachaise, Serge Gainsbourg at Montparnasse) or long-passed literatti (Oscar Wilde at Pere Lachaise, Simone de Beauvoir at Montparnasse) are not your thing, then visit on aesthetic merits alone.
Or forget to say your prayers – Even if you are not a follower of the Catholic faith, a visit to Notre Dame during Vespers, or Sunday Evening Prayers, will soothe your soul and assure you a pleasant place in the hereafter. The brief service is conducted by candlelight and the prayers are sung by a man and woman with trained voices worthy of the Metropolitan Opera, accompanied by the magnificent pipe organ. Service are most Sundays, 5:45PM.
Miss micro-museums – No visit to Paris is complete without a trip to the Georges Pompidou Centre, if only to see the whimsical Renzo Piano-Richard Rogers designed “inside-out” building, or the aforementioned breathtaking view. However, right next door is the Atelier Brancusi, a miniscule museum housed in famed modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s former home and studio. Be sure to tack on a quick walk-through the next time you go to Pompidou – it will take you about 10 minutes and set you back a whopping ZERO euros. Be sure to confirm hours before you go, they are a bit irregular.
Pass through the Pyramid – BEST KEPT SECRET ALERT! If you been to the Louvre, you’ve most certainly entered through I.M. Pei’s spectacular pyramid structure, and also waited in long queues for a ticket. On my last day, and last visit to the Louvre, I decided to enter the courtyard through a portal off the right bank of the Seine, the Porte de Lions to be exact. Before I made it to the courtyard I noticed an entrance for the Oceanic and African art collection, along with a ticket desk. The ticket clerk confirmed that the entire museum was indeed accessible from this entrance, and directed me to a staircase that led to “Peintures Italiennes et Espagnoles”, the section that houses all French, Spanish, and Italian painting, including the Mona Lisa and my beloved large format French canvases. You will likely start with Spanish art, but most folks never make it to the Goyas, El Grecos and Velasquez masterpieces, so you might be surprised. All I know is I’ll never wait on line, trek up endless stairs, or pass by Winged Victory again!
While my kind of Paris is not for everybody, I hope this post, or blog, will inspire you to discover, encounter, view, or eat something new and a little different on your next visit. Please share your thoughts and your own experiences in the comments! Au revoir Paris, and on to the next urban adventure!