Paris, je t'aime – yes the clichés are all oh so true. I have seen Midnight in Paris and of course Amelie so I knew I was supposed to fall in love with Paris. However, the truth was that I was a bit apprehensive – my first non-English speaking country; friends who had said it was dirty and the people unkind.
None of this is true of course and in fact the clichés are closer. Here's some stuff I did, learnt and experienced over the last 5 days:
The French do a good garden
This is for two reasons: they are manicured to within an inch of their lives (and are therefore gorgeous) and they provide an abundance of free seating so you are forced to sit and enjoy. And enjoy they do. It made me realise how little we use, or encourage use of, green spaces in Australia. The chairs are such a simple gesture but a really pertinent reminder that these spaces are for lingering in.
Gardens visited: Jardin de Tuileries, Champ de Mars and Jardin Luxembourg.
They have perfected cafe society
You can tell this straight away as they place chairs and tables on sidewalks facing out – no one has their back to the street and everyone has a view. This arrangement is perfect for singles and couples and people watching. All you need to go with is it 'un cafe, si'l vous plait'. A note on these – I paid anything between €2 – 5.50 for a coffee in Paris. They cost more if: you sit outside; you add fancy things like milk; or, you upsize. Do it like Parisians – short and black.
When in Paris, Patisserie
I ate a lot of macarons. The best I had were from Pierre Herme and I wrote about eating them under the Eiffel Tower here. However, there are boulangeries and patisseries in every neighbourhood – they even sell macarons in McDonald's. Therefore when in France, eat. Sample as many as you can because they are sooo excellent and also eat other pastries too.
Pastries sampled: macarons from Pierre Herme and Laduree, the most amazing fruit and chocolate and pear tart from Les Petits Mitrons on Rue Lepic, Montmarte, 'Plasir Sucre' also from Pierre Herme (I cannot even), a to-die-for almond croissant from a neighbourhood boulangerie in Belleville, a savoury chèvre pastry from a fromagerie also on Rue Lepic.
Parisienne style is out of this world
I think it's because the people are so exquisitely beautiful that anything they wear looks amazing. But yes, they also know how to dress: their men wear jackets and scarves and good leather shoes, they don't wear trackies, or shiny things, or synthetic fibres, or bright colours, or garish jewellery. As a result they are in every way perfect.
Montmarte has my heart
I blame Amelie, my favourite film, for making me all goo-eyed at Montmarte's cobbled streets. Though very touristy in places it is gorgeous – you just need to spend some time wandering off the beaten track. CultureFish run a great walking tour that is a good overiew of the history of the area and what makes it so special. Of course, I also did the Amelie thing too discovering 'her' cafe, grocer and metro station. On my last night I walked up to the Sacré Cœur in the mist and the rain and one of the tourist places was playing the Amelie theme music but I didn't care because it was so lovely and beautiful and fitting for the place. In fact I had ‘a moment’
– call it my Paris moment and it was so cool
The other area I loved was the Latin Quarter – worth a day wandering.
Art off the beaten track is worth searching for
I had two great art inspired experiences in Paris and neither was in one of the main galleries or museums. The first was 59 Rivoli a former squat now supported artist studio space. It runs over 6 floors in the centre of Paris and is a treasure trove of art and colour and beautiful things. This is a must do in Paris.
The second was a streetart tour in Belleville with Underground Paris they use the tours to fund documentation and preservation of Paris’ underground scene. The streetart walking tour is fascinating and takes you off the tourist trail. You see some amazing art as well.
Other things worth doing:
– a bike tour through Bike About – I did this my first morning and it was so informative and a lovely ride.
– Stocking up on berries – 1/3 of the price in Oz.
– eating escargot – actually really nice
– brush up on your basic French – yes they speak English often but life is so much easier if you can ask for the basics
– Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower are amazing structures and worth a visit
And, because I trained as a journo and believe in a balanced view – the bad bits:
– tourists – carefully consider which big tourist attractions you want to see as the queues are crazy and you could miss seeing Paris while you wait.
– rain, rain and more rain
– river cruise on the Seine – it’s actually not that pretty and the cruise is naff
– Champs-Élysées – just a shopping strip