This is much delayed but, better late than never!
Side Note: In an article I read during my pre-French-escapade research, the author mentions that French women are known for being late… so there's that!
This was my third trip to Paris - a city that is assertive in its command for reverence but openly yearns for your love. I’ve met only a few people who have outright hated it; admittedly, I can only enjoy the city in moderation, much like New York. But I still love it. I love the sights, sounds, and seams of the city but absolutely hate the crowds, food (more on that later), and attitudes.
I had intended to visit Monaco for the Grand Prix, which falls on Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. every year, but my AirBnb host cancelled on me at the last minute in a bid to try to command more on the apartment for the busy weekend. The change in plans left me with 10 days in Paris, instead of 6, which turned out to be perfect! A little over a week in Paris at any one time is just right for me. On my first visit, I had to spend a month in the city for work and grew tired of it quite quickly. On the second, I was in town for a mere three days and enjoyed it just enough to want to come back. Alas, here we are!
Most people stay in the heart of Paris, in one of the 20 arrondissements that make up the snail of the capitol city: Reuilly for the partiers or Opéra for the glamorous. I would never dare to stay too far from the city center without a good handle on the culture and layout of Paris. But I felt pretty confident for this trip, and opted to stay in a small suburb in the southwest. Staying outside the city gave me a better idea of what the local French life is like in a neighborhood with an intimate residential feel.
The small area I settled into was idyllic! French towns are so charming. Throughout the day, I could hear birds chirping outside of my window. I observed the interactions of generational French neighbors every morning when I went to grab a fresh croissant from the little boulangerie across the street from my apartment. As the city woke, I walked to the Métro station to join the hectic morning commute that carries over 4 million people in and across the Paris metropolitan area. You can see and feel just what it means to be in one of the densest subway systems, and Europe’s second busiest.
Unless it’s really necessary, I try to avoid too much structure in my day when I’m visiting other places so that I can explore without feeling pressured. I usually make a big list of sights to see and things to do before I get into the area, then spend my time at breakfast looking through my list to find the best logical pathways between the places I want to go. Since Paris is pretty walkable, this gave me the flexibility to wander the streets and get lost in the amazing, varied architecture that fills the city.
There’s usually no fun in window shopping, but this is one of the most renowned cities for fashion and food. I am neither wealthy nor exceedingly skinny, so for the sake of both my bank account and waistine, I do much more looking than I do consuming when in Paris. Luckily, taking in the storefronts is just as rewarding.
One of my favorite places to shop is Galeries Lafayette. It is a huge, beautiful department store with designer clothes, home goods, and gourmet eateries.
I also love strolling Avenue des Champs-Élysées and looking at all the shops. You can walk northwest up to Arc de Triomphe or southeast down toward Avenue Montaigne, where there are many high end designer shops.
As I mentioned before: I love Paris, but there are many things I hate about the city. A few of those things concern and greatly impact my favorite thing… food.
I have yet to adjust to the style of hospitality in France, particularly when at restaurants. It’s commonly acknowledged that French culture often translates easily into rudeness… though most attribute their harsh demeanor to their honesty, an admirable trait. The language can be throaty and the conversation is often direct. While it leaves little room for misunderstanding an interaction, the traditional southern girl in me does not take well to French candor. Eating out alone can sometimes become an anxious affair.
I also generally dislike French cooking. While French food and food in France (there’s a difference, but I’m referring to both!) are both great at the fine dining level, I find it to be boring or mediocre at most places. I am always agonizing over where to eat when I visit. Thankfully, France has a very diverse restaurant scene and, oddly, many French chefs excel at other people’s cuisine, so I usually end up seeking out some foreign specialty.
One of the things that bothers me most while dining in Paris is the interruption of restaurant service between lunch and dinner. For a number of reasons, cultural and financial, restaurants close temporarily after accommodating the lunch crowd. I find most of the street cafes to be hit or miss in terms of food quality, and many of the nicer restaurants do not offer "service continu". After a pathetic breakfast and a particularly long day of walking right past the traditional lunch hour, I found myself close to fainting of hunger and struggling to decide where to eat for fear of a bad meal. I stopped into a bar staffed by random Brits who made a recommendation for a quick snack before my dinner reservation came up.
On the more positive side of things: I love the excessiveness of the lunch hour in France. It is a long, lazy, and large affair. Instead of the 30-60 minute time we take in the U.S., the French take two hours (one of my French lovers had the liberty of three!) and they take lunch in the most literal way. The cafes and restaurants are filled with cigarettes and well-dressed patrons. They greet each other with kisses and then depart after a multi-course lunch, saying their goodbyes once the last sip of espresso is taken.
Of course, the country excels at wine-making; the cocktail scene in Paris has grown just as esteemed and pretentious. There is so much beyond the French 75 - especially when you visit a place like Little Red Door, one of the most acclaimed bars in the world. At LRD, bartenders dedicate months at a time to creating and curating the already-curated menu, from the cover art to the final pour of liquor. At the time of my visit, the menu paid homage to 11 universal values. Among them: stimulation, hedonism, and universalism.
Some of my other favorite places for cocktails were Prescription Cocktail Club and Dirty Dick.
I also love the fact that, in contrast to American culture, the French prefer to have a homemade dinner at home and dine out as a treat. This means many restaurants are not super crowded in the evenings. Reservations at restaurants like Pink Mamma, LouLou Paris, Les Canailles, and Sourire Tapas Françaises are much easier to get at the last minute in the evenings.
I always find myself craving a traditional American breakfast when I’m abroad. Breakfast is not a big deal for the French, and certainly not the most important of the day. As a result, it’s met with little fanfare and a corresponding level of interest or effort. Thank goodness for places like Holybelly!
In terms of best times to visit, I would say to make a trip when there’s a big event going on that you’re interested in (like Fashion Week) or late spring/early Summer. The past two visits I’ve made to Paris were in the Fall and Winter respectively. While I do believe Paris is magical year round, I found that Paris in bloom was spectacularly beautiful. There are so many lush gardens that pepper the city's crowded streets. Since almost every museum or landmark has a garden nearby, I passed through several each day. All of the apartment windows have planters in them that are meticulously cared for by the most tender hands! It’s hard not to stop into a different flower shop every day for a fresh bouquet.
The stately Tuilieries Garden is situated between The Louvre and Place de la Concorde. It’s perfect for a picnic after one of the many visits to the Louvre you will have to inevitably take if you are serious about appreciating all of the art housed there. At the West end you’ll find Musée de l’Orangerie. It houses Claude Monet’s massive and canonical Water Lilies, along with Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Pierre Auguste-Renoir, and (my favorite) Jackson Pollock.
I did not get to visit Versailles on this trip, as it essentially requires an entire day (or a half day if you just want to breeze through).
In my Philadelphia photo diary, I made note of my love for The Thinker and The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin. Musée Rodin has always been one of the places I wanted to make time to visit. The museum building was once Rodin’s workshop. It contains many iterations of his sculpture work, personal drawings, and personal photo albums. It also houses several paintings that were in his collection, which includes purchased works from Van Gogh, Renoir, and Monet.
Many of the historical sights in France are enormous and storied. I use audio guides or sign up with tour guides in all the museums I go to.
I have gone into Notre Dame before, but this time I did a free outdoor tour since I arrived just in time (Discover Walks does a free tour every day at 1 and 3pm. Donations are encouraged). Our guide gave some animated insight regarding the history of the church, providing important context about its desecration and restoration. He also pointed out the hidden meanings behind the artwork embedded into its facade, which was used to depict to illiterate churchgoers the magnificence of Jesus Christ and warn them of the destruction that awaits should they choose not to obey his word.
No matter how many times you visit Paris, it’s almost a requirement to visit The Louvre. Mainly because it would take multiple trips to really take in the museum in its entirety, but also because there is always something new to see inside. The interactive guide at The Louvre is done on a Nintendo 3DS. It’s absolutely necessary to talk you through much of the artwork, and especially helpful in navigating the museum if you only have a day or a half of day to look at the highlights. There were a number of pieces, some new and some temportary, that I had to stop and ponder on.
Of course, before leaving, I had to make a visit to Tour Eiffel - it's another requirement for any trip. The eyesore turned icon of the city is perhaps the most endearing and uplifting sight in all of France. You can’t help but feel incredibly privileged to be in proximity to it.
Personally, I have never bothered to go up the staircases, as I’ve always been deterred by the crowds. But if you want to head to the top, get up early to grab breakfast at Kozy (my favorite place for breakfast in Paris; I’ve gone at least once on each visit) and then snag a spot in line. If you happen to have to visit in the evening, you can celebrate your patience, stamina, and accomplishment with a glass of champagne at the top!
Instead of going up, I've always made sure to bring a blanket and lunch to picnic on Parc du Champ Mars. I also try to make a stop in the evening when it glitters against the darkened sky. There’s are many restaurants with great views of the Eiffel Tower; try Les Ombres or L’Oisea Blanc in the Peninsula Hotel.
I can’t wait for another opportunity to visit Paris.
Although I’ve seen a fair bit, I still feel like there’s so much more to do... and there are many places on my list to visit and revisit! I definitely want to commit to the top of the Eiffel Tower on one of my next trips. Seeing the Palace of Versailles and its gardens during the spring bloom would be incredible. I haven't spent much time at Les Invalides or gone to the flagship Chanel or Christian Louboutin stores. Some time up Montmartre to the Sacré-Cœur would be dreamy, followed by a risque show at Moulin Rouge. would be a dream, as would I am dying to see a performance at Garnier Opera and admire the Impressionist masterpieces at Musée d’Orsay. Venturing into the Catacombs de Paris sounds like an adventure! And, of course, I’d love to be a kid again at Disneyland Paris.
Let’s make for a romantic getaway in the city of lights when you have a chance. Or, if you’re already there, could I join you? I’m always available for worldwide travel… and if you don’t feel like making the plans, I’m happy to take care of our arrangements! My international fly-me-to-you rates can be found here.
Au revoir mon amour!