All that Glitters, Paris
My passion for all things Parisian started a long, long, time ago. As a child, my feet stepped onto those higglety pigglety cobble stone streets frequently. You see when we would fly over to visit family in the UK, a little pop over to France was a common occurrence. I would get whipped around Paris through a whirlwind of attractions to 'tick off the list'. Now don't get me wrong, these are places everyone deserves to see: a trip up the Eiffel Tower, a visit to the Île de la Cité to see if we could spot Quasimodo swinging on the bells of Notre-Dame, views from Sacré Cœur- the heartbeat of the City, and the magnificent museums, to name a few, the big 2: the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay. This is the same way most tourists see Paris, and that's just it, there is an abundance of things to SEE. You are in Paris for a couple of days, how could you possibly choose to leave anything off 'the list'? Shall we wander up the Champs-Élysées and see the Arc de Triomphe, head into the Panthéon or around Opéra de Paris, take a boat along the Seine (I hear they turn it into a beach at this time of year), or find the Moulin Rouge at the foot of Montmartre? How can anyone choose? But you will have to make decisions and save a destination, view, place, or attraction for your next visit. I never leave somewhere thinking it will be the last time I go there (except on the very rare occasion that I had a truly terrible time-Im looking at you Valparaiso, Chile, but that story is for another day). I always want to believe that there will be a next time.
So please feel free to choose your "must see attractions" for your visit but below are the places and experiences that have shaped my perception of Paris and I hope these help you to discover a Paris unlike a tourist and more like a Parisian.
Tayah's Tip: Inspiration before your trip
The movie/movies: the French make great cinema, films such as Amélie and The Intouchables delivers a great view of Paris. Also the American movie, Midnight in Paris gives you a glimpse into the city during the height of artistic expression. For something different, the French film I would definitely recommend would be La Haine, a black and white film made in the 90's which will give you a view into a Parisian life you most likely won't see; hard-hitting, raw, and captivating.
The Music: for a bit of classical, a little Debussy and cabaret style with the queen of the genre: Edith Piaf. I would also recommend Françoise Hardy, Serge Gainsbourg and the French/Italian singer who is married to the former president of France: Carla Bruni.
It wasn't until I moved to Paris at 19 that I realized Paris is most certainly not a city to rush through. This is when my love affair with Paris truly started. They say it is the city for lovers and that might be true, but it is also the city to be alone in, to get lost in. The French have a word that literally means to wander, stroll, and saunter, therefore I implore you to do just that, and become a Flâneur. You see, you cant just SEE Paris, you have to experience it. And I know this might sound cheesy, but as you discover Paris with your pigeon french, and lack of a map or guide book, you discover yourself and in a way, what you are capable of. Now this same concept could be true to most who immerse themselves into a city, (an idea I try to live by in each new location) but it is the way the winding Parisian streets invite, lead, and almost pull you in, like Alice discovering Wonderland. You are unsure of where or what direction you are heading, but oh, one more street, it just looks so enticing. Don't be wary, allow this to happen. You will discover that one amazing book shop full of dusty old stories that perhaps haven't been touched for years, or a très chic boutique with clothes you could never possibly buy but oh to pretend! And don’t worry you will always find a beacon to guide you out, if not a Metro, my North Star was mostly the Pompidou Centre with its odd yet alluring shapes. You see I became enamored with Le Marais, an area of Paris I had never been to before. Picture little streets all leading somewhere but it is not easy to find your bearings in (even though you boast to have amazing directional skills). However once you are there you realize you never want to get to the destination anyway because the journey is the truly exciting part. A good place to start you expedition through the Marais is at the Place des Vosges, a square with “Do you hear the people sing” Les Misérables' author (for all your non musical theatre people) Victor Hugo's house as a museum on the corner. Go and explore.
The shop, ok the shops: Zadig & Voltaire, and Comptoir des Cotonniers both of which you can find in the Marais, along with many other locations around Paris. Also check out the two clothing-abundant, architectural gems: Galeries Lafayette and Printemps (there are plenty of bars and eateries inside so partners can sip champagne instead of watching their significant others shop)!
The place to stand: Point Zero, alright so this is a little cheesy, but who doesn't like a bit of Brie, especially while in France. Point Zero is a little plaque in the ground in front of Notre-Dame, and this is quite literally the centre of Paris, and what's more, this is where all distance charts are taken from. They say if you make a wish while standing on this point it will come true, perhaps wish to come back to this beautiful city.
Oh how I love a bike ride. Despite the fact I didn't bike on a two wheeler till the age of 11, and have had a few very clumsy and exceedingly embarrassing bike falls, I love a good bike ride. And Paris is a perfect place to do just that. Grant it, I have never ridden a Boris Bike in London, something I am ashamed to admit, particularly because I loved zooming around on the Parisian public bikes. It is easy to understand the Vélib’ renting system as there is an English option on every kiosk. Just simply follow the directions and what's more, there are over a thousand bike stations around the city, so plenty of places to jump on and off. The Bois de Boulogne, literally the forest of Boulogne is Paris's answer to Central Park (although is 2.5 times larger than its American counterpart) and is as great place to ride to and ride in. After your 'strenuous' ride there is a lovely restaurant that is surrounded by water in the middle of the park, where you can rest your feet and fill your bellies. They have a little 'ferry' that will take you and your bikes to it. Surrounded by water, greenery, and French wine (or champagne), what more could you want? It is called Chalet des Îles.
Another great place to ride to is the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Now I know what you are thinking, why on earth would I choose to go see dead people, let alone have a cheery bike ride there? But this place is beautiful, and so many amazing artists have chosen this place for their eternal rest, the people buried here will surprise you and the tombs are all individual works of art. I went during an autumn dusk, where the sun cast an aery glow to everything it touched, and I found myself realizing why this place became the chosen spot.
Palace of Versailles...never once while I lived in Paris did I go, why oh why, no Versailles? I mean it is at the end of one of the RER's (c). Paris has both the Metro and RER (kind of like London’s overground system, although the trains are double deckers [so cool] and are actually underground in many places). Now the palace itself is truly magnificent, I mean how could it not be? This was the home to the sun king. It is not however the palace I wish I had discovered before, but the exterior space: the gardens, the lake, the theatre and farm. Oh Marie Antoinette you may have lived in the La La land of cake, but what a truly idilic land you created. Rent a bike there on the grounds and have a cycle through. I want to live on the farm and perform in the theatre, end of.
Next on the list, people watching. Lounging about with some smelly cheese you picked up from a Fromagerie, wine, and a baguette preferably in the sunshine, and if you are brave enough, a sketch book. If you are really opposed to drawing, take a journal or a book but I would ask you to give it a go, no one has to see your art if you don't want them to, but who knows you could end up being an exceptional artist and bam, new career started, it is the city of art. Paris is the best place to observe others, like most countries where they speak the romantic languages, the French really take the time to enjoy life, many prefer to have a long break in the middle of the day, leaving work for an hour or two and working later into the evening. Therefore lunch time is a good time to do this. Paris is full of beautiful gardens with benches and sun loungers, that lean back. The best places to immerse yourself are: Palais-Royal and the Jardin des Tuileries, very near each other, Jardin du Luxembourg, and a cafe, any cafe. Immerse yourself, sit and take in the surroundings, you will find you blend in with the locals.
The place to eat, drink, and be merry: on the Île Saint-Louis, overlooking the back of Notre-Dame, is a hip, chic, and modern brasserie called St. Regis. You can sit outside (underneath heaters in the cooler seasons) overlooking a destination people are constantly crossing through, or sit inside surrounded by warm lighting and tiled walls. They have an extensive cocktail list with happy our from 7-9. And food wise they have some French classics with modern twists, beef tartare but the duck is the star! They even a hearty burger if you are craving one. A mid afternoon delight would be ordering the cheese and meat selection boards and a carafe of their wine, (we had L'esprit, Côtes de Gascogne, the cheapest on the menu and delicious). Whiling away the time, overlooking a stunning piece of architecture and people watching, what could be better?
The bookshop: particularly if you are studying abroad and needing some English literature: Shakespeare and Company, is the place to be. A stunning bookshop full of quirky rooms, book stacked walls, cinema sits to read in, and little notes from people all around the world who have visited. It is like stepping into another world.
The art piece: Rodin's The Kiss...go to the his museum which is situated in the old Hôtel Biron which was his workshop from 1908. This is my favorite museum because it is so personal and intimate. Have a wander through his gardens and perhaps pick up that sketch book again.
Tayah's Take: Bottom line, go with your lover, family, friends, or on your own, choose which attractions you must see, because they are wonders, and then go off the 'beaten track' (if you can call those beautiful avenues that). Stop and smell those roses, and trip on those cobble stones, trust me, it will be well worth it.