Whether it’s your first, fourth, or 40th visit to Paris, France, the Grand Old Dame never disappoints. She hardly seems to age and is as beautiful now as when so many of the 18th and 19th century buildings were constructed. The challenge is to decide how to explore her. Here are some suggestions.
Art Museums come to mind first. The Louvre and Paris are joined at the hip. With 652,300 square feet of display space, you could spend your time here alone. But that would be unfair to the many other art homes in town. The Musee D’Orsay, with its impressionist collection, and the newest Musee du Quai Branley’s art from France’s colonial past art are two of the newer forums. An Art Museum Pass (purchased at any participating museum) will get you in quickly and is well worth the purchase. But, if you’re like me, two hours is max in a single museum, and that prevents an entire trip of masterpieces.
Check out the churches and cathedrals which seem to be on every corner. Notre Dame has just had the last scaffolding taken down after 23 years of restoration. The result is stunning in the sun. It shines and generates the same excitement as must have been felt in 1225 upon its completion. Choose two or three others to examine (Sacre Coeur and Sainte Chapelle are lovely).
Observe the French. They really do say things like "voila" and "ooo, la, la". Be careful with your Texas friendliness. The French are more private than us and wouldn’t ask if we needed help even if we were hunched over a map and clearly lost. That would be implying we didn’t know what we were doing (actually quite true). If you want help, you should simply ask. They are also the most fashionable people on earth making their stores a delight. The French women wouldn’t think of wearing flats unless they have on boots. (The nice comfortable shoes American women use for traveling give us away.) Surprisingly, they do still wear hosiery and their cleavage is modestly reserved for the home.
Get a feel for the recent ethnic influences. Paris is loaded with residents from Africa and the middle East, most of them living in the outer districts. Great Tunisian and Turkish food are there for the asking. One of the most interesting new buildings in town is the Arab Center, literally across the Seine from Notre Dame. Its metal windows duplicate the lattice design of the Alhambra in Spain and the bookstore is filled with Arabic literature. The Center is quite close to one of the larger Mosques in town that also has Turkish baths. Our adventure there will have to be another story.
Walk the neighborhoods. We rented an apartment in the Marais area, close to the Pompidou Museum. Just a stroll down our street, Rue Rambuteau, revealed wonderful (tiny) restaurants, a flower shop, delis, a post office that will change your money, a couple of museums, a small, local enclosed garden with a ping pong table and sunbathers , and ending at the Place de Voges.. We were drawn into every store along the way by the sharp displays. Feel comfortable buying clothes at boutiques as the asking price there will be the same as in the large department stores. Discount prices or sales are, by law, only allowed twice a year which protects the small shop owner but not the consumer.
Eat, eat, and then eat some more. It’s hard to have a bad meal in Paris and easy to have a great one. Beginning with café au lait (or creme) in the morning and ending with snails and French wine in the evening, good food and drink surround you. From duck to sea bass to crepes, pastries and even seaweed, the choices are almost intimidating. At an outdoor restaurant at the Rodin Museum, I selected a Parmentier (new to me) which had layers of spinach, salmon, and creamy potatoes with gruyere cheese melted on top and pink peppercorns for color. And this was only a cafeteria.
And don’t forget the street and flea markets. The largest flea market in the world is here. At the smaller Puces de Vanves market on a chilly Saturday morning, we stopped at a booth selling pins of all kinds. One page displayed a collection of Eiffel Tower pins. On the top line, second from the left, was our very own Paris, Texas Eiffel Tower pin selling for six euros ($8)! Too bad we had left our sack full of the very same pins back at the apartment. We could have made enough money for dinner. Maybe next time.