Recently I found an old folder of photos from my last trip to Paris, which was in December.  It seemed like a good opportunity to write about my favorite city. I spent my senior year of college there and fell in love the moment we landed and I saw rabbits on the Charles de Gaulle tarmac.  Of course, that year my life revolved around reading in cafés and drinking coffee and some occassional  wine & cheese.  How bad a life can that be?  My apartment was neat the Gare Austerlitz and I could walk to the Seine and across to the Centre George Pompidou or the Bastille.  The most beautiful image from there, for me is the view of sunset from the metro over the Seine.  If you take the right train you can catch it just as the light streams through Notre Dame, it’s truly breathtaking. You can see my photos here:

You didn’t ask but I am going to offer my tips anyhow.

  • Getting there & around: Most people fly into  Charles de Gaulle but there is another airport, Orly.  I prefer it and if you fly in or out of there you will see why.  FYI:  There is a great bus that will take you downtown from there.
    • From CDG: The best way to get in and out of Paris from here is the RER.  It can take you straight into the heart of Paris.  Normally when I get on and off at Gare du Nord and then transfer to the metro.  It takes less time than a taxi, especially if there is traffic.  The last time I left I was alone and some people there helped me with my luggage (no Parisians are not evil nor do they hate Americans.)
    • The metro: One really easy way to get around and look more like a local, always a good thing, is to get a Carte d’Orange.  You will need a passport sized photo for the card section, this part is free.  It comes with a little grey folder (credit card sized) that will hold your card and the pass.  Just ask anyone at the metro for this.  You can then purchase the pass – they sell weekly, monthly, etc. passes.  The weekly ones work from Monday-Sunday – literally, so if you are there Thursday – Tuesday it may or may not be worth it depending on how much you plan to use it) – and can be customizable to be used though different zones.  The basic plan inlcludes zones 1 & 2, which is all of the city proper so I always get that.  You can get a small metro map that will fit in the folder.  You can also buy a packet of metro tickets if the weekly pass won’t work but I suggest you get the Carte d’Orange packet anyway, it’s free, convenient and will make you look cooler. J Remember to carry your card with you because the Parisian police so sometimes ask, especially in touristy areas.
    • The bus: Not as famous as the metro, metro passes work on the busses and they can be a great way to see the city.  If you go when the weather is nice, spring or fall, you can sit in the open part, you can get great view of the city.  Some places are easier to get by bus, such as Pere LaChaise.  That is the cemetary where Jim Morrison is buried.
    • Walk! Regardless of the time  of year, Paris is a fabulous walking city.  I tend to wander around and just take the city in.  You can find some amazing spots that way.
  • Places to stay:
    • La Louisiane: My favorite hotel in the city.  It is in the 6th arrondissement and is right near the Odeon metro and walking distance from the Latin Quarter on one side and the EiffelTower on the other.  The rooms are quaint, the staff is sweet, they have wireless internet and a breakfast if you want it.  Best deal in the city.  There are also refridgerators in the rooms and a supermarket across the street.  I cannot recommend it enough.
  • Places to eat: If you have a bad meal in Paris, that’s a wasted meal.  Seriously.
    • Street food: Paris kicks our ass when it comes to food you can get on the street.  My favorite street food is a crepe. You can get sweet or savory crepes.  The Nutella ones are awesome but so are the lemon, sugar or cheese crepes.  LOVE THEM!!!
    • Picnics: One nice thing to do is go to a bakery, get a fresh baguette then go to a grocery store and get some cheese and whatever else.  Take it to a park and just chill.  On a nice day, this can be really relaxing.
    • Fondue: There is a restaurant near Montmatre that rocks.  Le Refuge des Foundues.  They seat everyone at set times and the meal includes an appertif, appetizer, meat or cheese fondue, a baby bottle (yes, a real baby bottle) of wine – if you are wearing lightly colored clothes I suggest you get the white wine and a desert.  Be forwarned, if you don’t like being friendly with people you don’t know, this is not the place for you. There are two long tables and we got to know fellow diners very well.
    • The Latin Quarter: The ‘hip’ area, there are a ton of places where you can go and eat either with their fixed menu or not, and you can get just about everything there.  Cheap, good and fun.
    • Fallafel (sp?): Head to the Marais and pick just about any place.  You won’t regret it.
    • Try things you may never have had before. The French may not make great cars but they make great food (except for pizza, avoid that).  I don’t recommend the restaurants with the Michelin stars because Michelin does that.
  • Don’t worry about being a tourist. Serisouly.  There’s a reason people flock to certain sites and do certain things, they are fun to do or cool to see.  It’s easy to never see the sites in your home town, even if it is some amazing place like NYC or San Francisco, don’t do this in Paris.
    • Cruises down the Seine: I never did this until my last trip and think I was an idiot for it.   You can catch them all along  the Seine and most let you get on and off so it can be a great way to see all the sites along the river.  At night the views are beautiful that I can describe.
    • Notre Dame: I had an epiphany there.  If you can go there at Christmas (regardless of your religion) and not get into the holiday spirit, well then you never will get into it.  When I was there last, there was a huge tree in front, carrolers singing, the lights were up and then there was the church itself.  People were selling hot cider and chocolate out front.  Glorious.  The bridge behind Notre Dame that connects that island (Ile de la cite) to the Ile St. Louis is the most romantic spot in the city. On a different note, there is also a Holocaust memorial on that end of the island and if you can, you should see it.
    • Versailles: Built to remove nobles from the city and isolate them & control their lives (before that the palace was what is now the Louvre), the gardens are breathtaking but the palace itself is just ok.  You can take a RER train out there (you will need a separate ticket) and it is a short walk to the ground.  When I go I just walk around the gardens.  The scale is huge and I always find something new.  There is no charge to enter the gardens but there is one to get into the building or to view Marie Antionette’s village area, she went there to play milkmaiden.  I think that’s worth a look-see but that’s just me.
  • My favorite places to see & go & do: My worldview changed when I studied in Paris.  I went from living in a country where I was raised that anyone who didn’t live there wanted to, to a city where people felt that way.  Totally changed my perscpective on everything.  These are some of the places that make Paris so special to me:
    • Jardin des Plantes: One of the many public gardens, this one also has a zoo.  They recently installed new glass to cover the big cat area but when I was a student it was theoretically possible to touch the lions and took all my restraint to not try to pet them.
    • Musee d’Orsay: Former train station, just great.
    • L’Orangerie: Across from the above museum, the basement is home to the biggest water lilly paintings I have ever seen.  Stunning.
    • Le Violon Dingue: An American bar in the Latin Quarter.  Cheesy?  Way.  Fun? Totally.  In college I went there because it was the first place where I really felt like I was in Paris.  Maybe it was the juxtopostion of Americans and French people, maybe it was the happy house Long Island iced teas but I try to go everytime I go to Paris.  I am a dork.
    • Go to a café in the Latin Quarter (or anywhere) and just people watch: I get a nice café crème in the morning and maybe a croissant and just relax.
    • Musee de Cluny: Latin Quarter, near the Seine.  This is the oldest museum in Paris and is usually pretty empty.
  • Random tips:
    • Learn a phrase (or two) in French. Don’t speak French?  No worries!  Just tell people “Je ne parle pas français” and you will be good to go.  People there understand that not everyone speaks what used to be the international language of diplomacy but appreciate the effort. 
    • Most museums are closed on Monday. Just something to keep in mind.
    • August in Paris: Hot, icky and devoid of locals.  If you like those things, go then (you can get excellent deals then), if not wait until the fall.  April in Paris is famous and the winter can be pretty great but when the sun shines in Paris it feels like God is smiling at it.

Ok, that’s probably enough for one post.  I apologize for being so verbose. Hope you all go and enjoy the city.

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