Recently one of the travel channels listed the “Paris Top Ten”. The trouble with doing a top-ten list – it discourages spontaneity. Getting lost in Paris might be the best advice for a first-time visitor, so, put on your walking shoes and get lost. You’ll discover your own favorite places. When you return home, you can compare yours with mine and the travel channel’s list.
When I first came to Paris, I took the Michelin Green Guide and worked my way backwards through the suggested sights. One of the most interesting visits was the Paris mosque. I had a personal tour because no one else was there.
Here are some of my favorites (not in order of importance!):
View of the Eiffel Tower at dusk from the esplanade of the Palais du Chaillot. Metro: Trocadero.
Many people are eager to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower either on foot or by elevator. I much prefer looking at the Eiffel Tower rather than being squeezed into an elevator with a zillion other visitors for what is undeniably a spectacular view of Paris.
The Palais du Chaillot esplanade has been under renovation for the past few years. Hopefully, by the time you’re there, it will be finished. For many years, one portion of the Palais housed the Cinematheque Francaise where Henri Langlois and Mary Meerson guarded France’s film treasures. Although Langlois and Meerson are long gone, their spirits are certainly still present just behind the large doors only to be found if one walks around the Palais toward the adjacent garden walkways.
Ile St. Louis. This is the heart of Paris. The island is connected by a bridge to Ile de la Cite, a few steps away from the Notre Dame Cathedral. Some people say that Ile St. Louis has the best views of the Seine. Others come here for ‘designer ice cream’. I first came here looking for the address of a Guinean masseur, a cousin of a cousin of a close friend. Part of the fun of Paris is staying around long enough to get to know some of the people who live in the buildings – not just admiring the architecture.
Sacre Coeur and Montmartre at night. Yes, it’s touristy, especially in the summertime, but if you can’t stand the tourist squeeze, try visiting either at sunrise or on a Sunday night in the middle of winter. The view of Paris from the footsteps of Sacre Coeur is FREE. I still remember dining with Patricia, Gerard and Nabbe on a summer night in the seventies. The air was velvety and filled with laughter. Renoir should have been there.
Walking along the Seine. You haven’t been in Paris until you’ve walked along the Seine, and to be honest, I don’t know how you can avoid it. Try to find your way to Place Dauphine in your walk and you will feel like you have stepped back in time. I’m embarrassed to say that I overlooked Place Dauphine for years until an artist invited me to her studio. Place Dauphine is located in the middle of the Seine on Ile de la Cite. You can reach it by crossing Pont Neuf from the Right or Left Bank.)
Parc Montsouri. For many years, I’ve walked through Parc Montsouri in the 14th arrondissement. It’s more romantic in style with its central pond and sinuous routes than the formal Luxembourg Gardens. The ‘top of the park’ faces Cite University on Boulevard Jourdain (one of the few universities with dorms for foreign students on a ‘campus’). Henri Langlois and Mary Meerson used to live at 21, Rue Gazin facing the park (for any cinema buffs). Several artists studios and a Corbusier home can be seen if one heads toward the reservoir, on the opposite side of the park. I find this park to be the best place for jogging and also for exploring some less frequented neighborhoods particularly around the reservoir.
The Rodin Museum and the Musee d’Orsay have been two of my favorites, but if I had only one chance to visit Paris, I’d pick the Louvre. The Louvre and Paris are inextricable. It isn’t just a museum, but a palace and most important, a symbol of the rapport between royalty and art. (Dare I compare to the Vatican here?) Some complain that the Louvre is simply “too big”. The best way to visit the Louvre is to focus on a particular area (i.e. French paintings). If you truly focus, you will not be overwhelmed by the immensity of the museum. (Be aware that certain sections including the French painting section are closed on certain days of the week – these closing days are noted at the cashier’s window) Make sure the section you want to visit is open BEFORE purchasing your ticket.
Place de Vosges in the Marais. Which is worse? Touristy or trendy? I’m not sure, but Place de Vosges is worth the detour in spite of its recent self-conscious trendiness. Why? Because its fountain and arches induce zen-like tranquility like no other place in Paris. Parc Montsouri may be the ideal place for jogging, but Place de Vosges is ideal for finding a park bench and watching water sparkle in the sunshine.
Paris a Velo – c’est sympa! Bicycling in Paris. You may think the idea of cycling in this city is slightly suicidal. I did, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Paris a Velo is one of several bike tour companies operating in the city. They also offer bike tours along the Marne River. “Many Parisians are surprised by neighborhoods they’ve never seen,” said our guide. I took the 13th Arrondissement tour (where I had lived for a year as a student) and was amazed to find sleepy neighborhoods that looked like movie sets, not surprisingly inhabited by some French movie directors. Paris a Velo’s offices are located a stone’s throw from Bastille at 37, Boulevard Bourdon. Telephone: (011) (33) 1-48-87-60-01 or email@example.com.
Chartier Restaurant. 7, Rue Montmartre. Metro: Grands Boulevards
Many years ago, a Parisian lady told me to go to Chartier. Chartier mixes ‘turn- of- the century’ ambiance with good food at reasonable prices. It was famous for many years for its ‘bouillon’ served on Monday nights for ten francs. The last time we dropped in, the ‘bouillon’ or Monday soup wasn’t available, but maybe you’ll be lucky. Regulars used to keep their napkins in the wooden cubbyholes lining the walls. The waiters scribble orders on paper tablecloths and some might consider the service rushed or brusque but for those of us who keep coming back, that’s part of Chartier’s charm!
Rue Mouffetarde is my dining alternative to the Latin Quarter (Metro: Monge). During the day, Rue Mouffetarde’s outdoor food market extends the length of the street. At night, a plethora of candle-lit restaurants open their doors. It’s not the likely spot for four-star dining, but fine for an informal meal with informal friends. I first came here with Catherine and her newlywed husband on Bastille Day. He surprised me by reaching his fork over to my plate and trying a bite of chicken. What would Miss Manners think of that? Rue Mouffetard’s restaurants are primarily ‘steak-frites’ or what we call ‘cuisine simple’. Anyone homesick for a Guinness can find one by walking to the top end of Mouffetarde and ducking into a cozy pub on the Contrescarpe.
And one more for good luck!
Chez Gegenne. Chez Gegenne in Joinville- Le Pont is a guinguette bordering the Marne River in the Parisian suburbs. According to one website, Guinguettes are defined as “meeting spots for the working folks”. Guinguettes started around the end of the seventeenth century, but didn’t get into full swing until 1860 when canoeing became popular. In 1906, Sundays were declared an official ‘day off’. People would gather along the Marne River for picnics and dancing, either polkas or quadrilles, until the turn of the century, followed by accordion music and musettes. They would eat fried fish and wine known as ‘guingette’, less expensive wine from the suburbs that did not have to be taxed because it was consumed outside the Paris city limits.
The tradition continues on Sunday afternoons in the summer. Arrive before 12:30pm (official lunch hour in France) if you want a place on the terrace where you can watch people strolling along the Marne River. Order a plate of the tiny fried fish.
Chez Gegenne. Telephone (01-48-83-29-43).
For listings of other Guinguettes and information about the Guinguette museum, visit: www.cg94.net or key in “guinguettes” for your search.
Once you’ve had a chance to collect your own favorites, maybe you’ll want to add to the list. Why stop at ten?
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