Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Paris, mon amour...


They say third time’s the charm.  But when it comes to visiting Paris, the idiom doesn’t hold true.  I was equally charmed on my first visit to the City of Light (back in 2001) as I was recently during a weekend stop in late May!  

Despite the legendary ‘rude’ inhabitants, overcrowded tourist attractions, and the visible effects of an increasingly immigrant population, the city is still vibrant, unique, classy, sophisticated, yet modern, having – as the French say – a certain je ne sais quoi.

Now, the ‘rude’ label is not mine.  It’s owed in equal measure to the opinion of ‘limited’ Americans who think everyone in the civilized world should speak English, the French's own patented disdain towards those perceivably less sophisticated (meaning anyone…. ahem… not French), and years of contentious history with Great Britain – hence the apparent displeasure towards those speaking the Queen’s tongue).  But I have a simple antidote, which proved very efficient – and it would work in any country, for that matter: learn a few useful phrases – like “Bonjour, parlez vous anglais?”, “s'il vous plait”, “merci” or “Je ne parle pas français” and the ‘rude’ shield will vanish instantly.  More, they would appreciate the effort and go out of their way to help.  As they say, you catch more bees with honey!

Alors, then… 

Let’s quickly touch on the mandatories.  Paris is HUGE.  Even the “touristy” area is pretty big, so my advice for first-timers is to get a 2-day ticket on one of those double-decker buses that allow you to hop on/off at every major attraction, and provide audio tours on several languages.  Once you get acclimated, the Metro is an easy, fast and clean option for getting around…

Let’s say you start with the Eiffel Tower – the iconic landmark that was built in 1889 as a temporary structure for the World Fair, and it’s easily the most photographed landmark in the world.  124 years later it’s still the #1 local attraction, which means it WILL be busy.  You can book [elevator] tickets online1 well in advance (and adjust your itinerary based on admission time), or take the walk-up option:  328 steps to the first level, and another 340 to the second (from there you’ll have to take the elevator to the top).  Do mind the pickpocket warnings posted in the elevator.  They’re there for a reason!  And if you want to minimize your wait in line, either go first thing in the morning, or at dusk (that way you’ll catch daylight views, the sunset, and the lights show).  We did that on this last trip and it was amazing!


The Seine from above

Views from the 2nd level

Sunset views from the top

This could easily be a postcard!
... and this, an artists' painting!
Last of the Eiffel Tower pics. (I promise!)
Once down, you have several options:

1 – walk across the Seine to the Trocadero, for a few nice pics of the Tower.  Disregard the myriad of persistent sub-Saharan immigrants peddling cheap trinkets and souvenirs, avoid the beggars or the girls asking you to sign some petition for orphanage (they’ll go through your purse/bag while you focus on filling that out)

2 – take the Batobus (water bus) down the Seine all the way to Notre Dame to admire the city from the water

3 – walk a couple blocks to Rue Saint-Dominique and enjoy traditional Romanian cuisine at Restaurant Doina, or better yet fantastic nouveau cuisine at either Café Constant or Les Cocottes (both owned by Christian Constant; we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the latter), or

4 – [continue to] walk to Les Invalides and visit one of the most brilliant history museums in the world (complete with Napoleon’s tomb).  Set aside a couple hours for it.

If you went for the water route, and want to check out a museum, Orsay is on the way and worth a stop.  There will likely be a line (again, getting tickets ahead, online, will help) but the old railway station turned museum displays a comprehensive collection of impressionists: Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas and Cézanne; even the famous VanGogh self-portrait, among many others.  A few blocks away lies the most exquisite bridge across the Seine: Pont Alexandre III.

Bare-breasted women depicting the six continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, N&S America and Oceania

Next stop on the Seine (or the double-decker) is the Notre Dame cathedral.  Although initial construction started in 1163 (no, not a typo) it wasn't essentially completed as it stands today until 1345.  It is majestic. Timeless. Grandiose.  A grand dame indeed.  And for a close encounter with Victor Hugo’s fictional Quasimodo I recommend climbing the 387 spiral steps for a close look at the gargoyles and the famous bell.  Not to mention spectacular views across the 4th arrondissement and beyond…

And while you’re still in Île de la Cité, another MUST is the Sainte-Chapelle, a 12th century Gothic gem of a chapel with the most amazing display of stained glass I've ever seen.

Last – if you've ignored my Batobus suggestion so far – there is another water-tour option: at the end of the island, just under Pont Neuf (translates ‘New Bridge’ despite the fact that’s the oldest bridge across the Seine) you can take the hour-long Vedettes trip that originates and ends here, and goes all the way to Pont de Grenelle, where you can see a replica of the Statue of Liberty, and, again, admire Paris from the water along the way.

Pont Alexandre III (above) and Lady Liberty (below)

Are you dizzy yet?  For we haven’t even scraped the surface yet. ;-)

While you’re still near Île de la Cité, take a leisurely stroll along the left bank where street vendors peddle posters, paintings, old books, trinkets, and other not-so-cheesy paraphernalia.

Once you had your fill (said paraphernalia on display starts repeating itself fairly quickly), one option is to spend some time around Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter, the other, to head across Ponts des Arts into the Louvre (on that in a minute).

Off to Sorbonne, then – one of the oldest universities in the world (12th century), if not the oldest.  Balzac, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, many presidents (including Mitterrand) and even the Pope that just stepped down (Benedict) have studied there.  Walk down Blvd. Saint-Michel or Rue Saint-Jaques towards Jardin du Luxemburg, the second largest park in Paris.  Right before the entrance, stop at Dalloyau (Rue de Medicis and Saint-Michel) if you have a sweet tooth.  Then walk across and start with the Medicis Fountain, then the rest of the park.  It’s amazing how the locals just find time to relax, away from the daily hustle and bustle.  Clearly an European thing, as most Americans find that to be a ridiculous waste of time :-)

A couple notable dining options in the area: Les Papilles (30 Rue Gay-Lussac) is a wine store/bar/bistro with a kitchen the size of most U.S. [small] bathrooms.  But what comes out of that kitchen is simply amazing!  No menu; you eat whatever the chef prepares that day, but we had probably the best meal in Paris there.  Well, at least I did, since Laura doesn’t care for lamb (even when cooked to perfection in a fragrant ratatouille).  The sweet potato soup, on the other hand…. gastronomic ‘silk’.

The other option (heading the opposite way, to 9 Carrefour de l'Odéon) is Le Comptoir du Relais; a gourmet bistro, of which I heard great things and have already put on my list for “next time” ;-).  If you plan to go, make sure you call well in advance (or go for lunch, when they don’t require reservations).

While we’re on the food topic, humor me a little intermission.  I've done some research myself, enlisted the help of some of the Food Network chefs, and also reached out to a friend who now calls Paris home (merci beaucoup, Gianina).  I've already mentioned a few places that came from these sources, and will continue to point out others that are in proximity to the next steps in the itinerary, but for now here’s a few more:

Paul Bert Bistrot is a little bit out of the way (18 Rue Paul Bert, 11th Arrondissement) but it’s a favorite among the Parisians.  An old-school bistro with simply amazing food.  After dinner, walk around the neighborhood a bit and see what the non-tourist Paris looks like.  Take Bvd. Voltaire to Place de la Nation (an intersection that almost rivals the one at the Arc de Triomphe), and from there the metro to back to the hotel.

Another candid recommendation (in a non-tourist area) is Le Bouchon et L’Assiette (‘The Cork and the Plate’) in the 17th Arrondissement (127 Rue Cardinet); a neighborhood bistro and personal recommendation from Gianina.  Delicious, unpretentious food, paired with stellar yet affordable wine choices.  

To get there (and immerse in the whole ‘local’ experience), take the Metro to the Villiers stop and walk down Rue de Levis (pedestrian only for a section) where locals buy their meats, produce, cheese and wine.  Authentic is the one word that describes it all.  Toqueville, Villiers and Courcelles are a few other streets in the area that are worth perusing for a while.  And if you have time, Parc Monceau nearby is an oasis of tranquility in an otherwise bustling metropolis.

Rue de Levis: rabbit, oysters on the sidewalk (why not!), and everything in-between!

But enough gastronomic suggestions for now.  You probably want to know more about the other attractions.  We’ll return to this aspect of the Parisian experience later in this blog; for now, I just don’t want to lose those of you that are not interested…

A few paragraphs ago – while we were still on the left bank – I mentioned the Pont des Arts entry into the Louvre.  As you approach it, you’ll notice on the railing thousands of things shimmering in the light… they’re love lockets, where people write their names, affix them to the rail and throw the keys in the river, to symbolize that lasting bond de l’amour. Or they simply lock their worries away.  No matter, it’s quite a site!  But it looks like what started as a "romantic gesture" has turned into vandalism and creates serious problems for the city end environmental concerns for the Seine...Admire it, but resist the urge!  

Off to the Louvre then.  Now here’s a decision: do you go in, or not?  The museum has over 35,000 pieces of art on display.  Urban legend claims that if you spend 30 seconds in front of each one (and don’t add in transit time) you’ll need fourteen 24-hour days to see it all!  That scares me.  Which is the reason why – although I’ve been to Paris 3 times – I haven’t visited the inside of the Louvre yet (plus I hear the Mona Lisa is not all that ;-)).  Maybe on the next trip I’ll set half a day aside for that… If you decide to go, however, save yourself time by getting tickets online.  With those, you can get in through the Rue de Rivoli2 entrance (Carrousel du Louvre shopping center) or the Porte de Lions entrance3 (which gets you closest to the Italian Renaissance paintings section).  Regardless, expect serious crowds…

"A piece of art in triplicate" (or getting creative with the camera's panoramic function)

Let’s continue.  Are you keeping up?

One way or the other, you can walk through the Louvre courtyard, take some pics with the pyramid, then continue through Jardin des Tuileries to Place de la Concorde and the Obélisque (yep, Egyptian artifact; they have it all in Paris).  On the way, you can cater to your sweet tooth again, either at Angelina (226 Rue de Rivoli) for velvety hot chocolate, or better yet, macaroons at Pierre Hermé (72 Rue Bonaparte – they have other locations as well).  Pricey, but worth every penny.  The rose-petals-jasmine-filling still lingers on my palate….

Crepes, rose-petal ice-cream and fantastic macaroons = a perfect recipe for a few extra [yummy] pounds ;-)

From Place de la Concorde, more options: take the metro (or the double-decker bus) to Roosevelt and explore Champs-Élysées on foot, or head north to visit the Opera and do some [window] shopping at Lafayette or Printemps on Haussmann.

The Metro it is.

From Roosevelt, walk up the right side towards the Arc de Triomphe (a little over 1 km).  It won’t be what you expected (dirty, crowded, and a bit cheesy in my opinion) but it is Champs-Élysées (widest boulevard in the world)… so when in ‘Rome’…. Just make sure you stay away from the tourist-trap restaurants and ignore the gypsies [I'll "go there" in a minute] that are in abundance here… Most retailers also have their flagship store on C-E.  Ignore them as well.

At the end of the boulevard the Arc de Triomphe is another mandatory stop.  Go up to the observation deck for a nice view of the surrounding area, and an interesting perspective on the traffic just below (12 boulevards coming together in this spot).  If you look towards the opposite side from where you just came from, you’ll see La Défense (the business district, if you will).  Years ago the rectangular structure (Grande Arche) was open for visitors and offered another option for panoramic views.  Regrettably, it is now closed, with no indication as to when/if it may reopen.

La Défense

To complete the circuit, walk back to Roosevelt on the other side of the boulevard.  More shopping, more gypsies [shady individuals who manage to ruin the Romanians’ reputation in France and across western Europe] and more overpriced mediocre restaurants.  If you’re really looking for that street where all major designers display their latest, try Avenue Montaigne (right of the Roosevelt circle).

Allow me for a minute to hit on that gypsies comment I made a bit earlier; for it irks me as to how every time there's something on the news or a documentary about Romanians, the footage exclusively shows gypsies.  Not Romanians, but Roma (aka gypsies, or tsigani).  Less than a year ago National Geographic ran what in my opinion was a very controversial article entitled Roma Kings.  It spoke of how they amass treasures by hard work and entrepreneurial spirit... when we all know it comes mainly from illicit activities, theft, begging, prostitution, human trafficking, etc.  Yet hidden behind the subterfuge of innocence and stories of oppression (which the gullible [liberal] "West" blindly accepts without even a hint of question) they manage to always look the victim.... Even when clearly they've financed a slanted article in a reputable publication [oh, yes, I did contact National Geographic with clear facts that proved the opposite of what they wrote, but of course, I never heard back... and yes, canceled my subscription immediately after]

But I digress.  I cooled off.  I'm better now...

Now that you’re back where we started the Champs-Élysées tour, take that aforementioned north route towards the Opera – an amazing building, with interior design and decorations that will blow you away.  It’s not expensive to visit, but make sure you check their schedule (it closes early and is not open during performances).  A couple of blocks from there you’ll find the two major department stores I mentioned above.  Both have amazing cupolas, but the Lafayette’s architecture and décor are significantly better.  Just don’t expect bargains in either of them…

Opulence defined
Lafayette Galleries

OK.  Time for a breather.  But let’s do that in Montmartre, at a nice sidewalk café, in the more eclectic part of town...

Take the green [metro] line to Pigalle (or the double-decker again) and walk NE on Bd. de Clichy until you see Moulin Rouge.  The boulevard is lined with kebab shops, cheap souvenirs, and sex toys shops, so you won’t want to linger, unless you’re into that sort of stuff ;-)  As for the Moulin Rouge, frankly it looks better in pictures, although I hear the show is quite spectacular…  Snap a pic yourself and then head up the hill, turn on Rue des Abbesses, find a nice sidewalk café (preferably around one of the small squares in the area) order a glass of wine and set in for an interesting people-watching experience.  You deserve it!

Once rested, explore the area around the basilica, which some call Paris’ response to the Village in NY (although just as in that case, artists and writers no longer can afford to live here, and it’s now more of a tourist attraction).  Nonetheless, it’s a neighborhood with plenty of character and lots of history.  I would advise you check out Matt Burrett’s very comprehensive online guide4 and see if anything there sparks any interest.  I actually discovered his site recently and I think it’s very, very good!

Ultimately, you’ll get to the top of Montmartre, where the imposing Sacré Coeur basilica (100 years old next year) presides over the hill, the highest point in Paris.  It’s very crowded, therefore somewhat difficult to enjoy (especially with all the accompanying trinket peddlers, gypsies, etc.) but it also offers a nice Paris panorama, from a different vantage point.

Now that you spent some time in an older part of Paris (not that any of it is that new, anyway) you’re ready to head out to Le Marais – another well preserved neighborhood, with narrow cobblestone streets lined with designer shops, cafes, bars, you name it… Très chic!  Wonder a bit through the area around Rue Saint Antoine, and don’t miss the Place des Vosges, built in the early 1600’s by Henri IV as the first planned square in Paris.  It’s still amazing, almost 400 years later!  It’s where the old aristocracy used to live, and at some point was home to Cardinal Richelieu, and Victor Hugo (while he wrote Les Misérables) among many others.

That should wrap it up for a quick run through the main tourist attractions.  Clearly you’d need at least 3 days just to scratch the surface.  Five or more to really enjoy it.  And in case you ever decide to visit, and found this useful, here’s a few more ideas, both from my local friend, Gianina, as well as personal research:

Mementos from various watering holes (this last one is pigeon at  Les Cocottes)

  • Le Café du Musée de la Vie Romantique ( 16 rue Chaptal, Paris 9e, Metro Blanche, Pigalle or Saint Georges); it looks like another one of those tranquility oases! [and voilà… found a way to use the plural for oasis… which, frankly, I had to look up;-)]
  • Les Jardins Plein Ciel (1è avenue Kléber Paris 16e, Metro Kleber)
  • L'Andy Wahloo ( 69 rue des Gravilliers, Metro Arts et Métiers)
  • Mémère Paulette (metro La Bourse; the area is inviting for a nice stroll, or a cocktail at one of the many bars)
  • Pramil (9 rue Vertbois, +33 01 42 72 03 60) this one is also on my “next time” list!
  • Le Chateaubriand (129 avenue Parmentier, 11th arrondissement (33/1/4357-4595)
  • Josephine "Chez Dumonet" (117 Rue du Cherche-Midi, +33 1 45 48 52 40) ‎
  • Bouillon-Chartier (7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, +33 1 47 70 86 29); not so much the food – which is ok, but the décor and atmosphere are true Paris
  • L'ebauchoir (43 Rue de Cîteaux, +33 1 43 42 49 31)
  • Le cinq mars (51 Rue de Verneuil, +33 1 45 44 69 13, near Osay)
  • Royal Madeleine (11 Rue du Chevalier de Saint-George,+33 1 42 60 14 36)
  • Septime (80 Rue de Charonne, +33 1 43 67 38 29)
  • La Closerie des Lilas (171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, +33 1 40 51 34 50)
  • La Regalade Saint Honore (123 Rue Saint-Honoré, +33 1 42 21 92 40)‎

Oh, and just for kicks, the top 10 restaurants as rated by Zagat (28-29 points, out of 30) – with price tags to match:  Just check out the website to #1 – Le Taillevent (

That should be plenty ;-)

Paris can be overwhelming the first time (and second, and third, and so on) but hopefully this gives you some ideas.  My planning took a while, (and required a few reservations in advance) but it was well worth it.  I have memories to last me a lifetime, and undoubtedly I’ll make more next time… which can’t come soon enough!

For now, off to Gare de Lyon to board a train to MonteCarlo! (read about it here)

Au revoir Paris, jusqu'à la prochaine fois!

  1. Read up on the tower before you go:
  2. Tips for the Louvre’s “side door”:
  3. Porte de Lions Louvre entrance:
  4. A very good guide for Montmartre (and Paris in general):
PS – I started this blog with a small accolade vis-à-vis a tourists’ attitude when travelling to a foreign country (ok, I meant American tourist in Paris).  Here’s something that helps make my case:

As I was researching one of the restaurants above, I found feedback from an American customer who thought they were seated on purpose away from the locals, in a corner of the restaurant, and felt they were treated as a "stereotype" American.  It ended with the opinion that the food was not worth the lack of respect!


How about don’t behave as a stereotypical American, if you don’t want to be treated as one?  And since when belonging to a certain nation entitles one to others’ respect?  There I was, thinking respect is something one earns… ;-) 


  1. great pictures you have there , night ones look excellent ! ive got some pics in paris on my blog just recently too .

  2. you have some nice pics indeed! the city is so "photogenic" ;-)

  3. Simply fantastic! We are planning a trip to Paris this August for 3 days. Arrving early morning, staying at either 5th arrondissement or 43 rue Saint Charles. We are in Paris for 3 days and 3 nights. It will be great if you could suggest an itinerary. Your report on Paris is fantastic however i cant copy paste yours as we are travelling with a baby and i am not sure of the distances. Thanks a lot!

    1. Hi -
      I can make some suggestions, but would like to know a bit about your interests (sightseeing, shopping, museums, art, etc.) and how much the baby factors into the schedule (as it could be pretty tiring even for adults). Oh, budget would help as well ;-)

  4. Wonderful, wonderful blog! Beautiful pictures and great restaurant recommendations ~ I now have a few more to add to my ever growing list. Thank you for sharing this with us!


  5. Great pictures and blog! I am planning a 'day' trip to Paris while vacationing in London. The Arc de Triomphe is one of my stops and I read that there is a tunnel to get to the central area. Can you tell me in detail how/where to find the entrance? This is my first visit to Paris (and London) so I'm researching as much as I can. Thank you!


    1. Sure... Not so much a "tunnel" but an underground passageway that allows you to get to the Arc without having to play "frogger" to cross the intersection. Look for the Metro signs, as the metro station in the area (I think it's Charles de Gaulle - Étoile) is connected to that underground passage. Entrance is on either side of Champs-Elysees.

  6. Thanks for taking the time and super photos for the blog. Great suggestions!

  7. Thank you for sharing info and pix of Paris.
    Me and husband plan for a 3 nights stay at Paris on 11th-14th Sept and would you please gives us some suggestions of itinerary during our stays?

    Other than visiting tourist attractions (not so much on visiting museum), We love visiting places/markets where we could see and do 'what the romans do in rome'

    Also, we have yet to decide on which hotel to stay. Perhaps you could advise also?

    1. I'd be happy to. Please send me your email address and I'll send some suggestions. You can also post this same question on Tripadvisor forums; people are always helpful with ideas and suggestions.


    2. Hi Adi,
      Thank you for your prompt response.
      Would appreciate if you could email me at

      Thanks in advance

  8. Hi. I really enjoyed your blog! I will be going to Paris for 4 days mid April 2014 with 2 teenagers. Do you have any recommendations for reasonably priced, CLEAN accommodation not too far away from the CBD? I'm thinking of the Latin quarter. An apartment would be wonderful, preferably with access to a laundry (we will be in Paris following 12 days in Rome).

    1. I just sent you some suggestions to the email address provided. Hope you find it useful.


  9. Great blog! Are you able to provide restaurants/bistros near Citadines Prestige, 53 ber, quai des Grands Augustines? How about "can do's" on Christmas Day? Merci!

    1. I'd definitely try Le Comptoir du Relais, 9 Carrefour de l'Odéon, (about 10 mins walk) or Les papilles (fixed chef-driven menu, and a 20+ mins walk). Other options: La Jacobine (59-61 rue st andré des arts), Le Petit Chatelet (39 rue Bûcherie). I would also ask the hotel staff/concierge; they're usually very helpful. As for Christmas recommendations... Europe in general tends to be a bit "sleepy". Most restaurants and museums are closed, there might be a parade in town (there's one at Paris Disney for sure) but I'm afraid I can't be much help there. My suggestion: post that as a question on Tripadvisor forums and you'll get some tims/ideas from the locals. Bonne chance!

  10. Hello Adi;

    Thanks for sharing your Paris experience so we can better plan our visit and ensure that we efficiently visit all places of interest. My wife and I are visiting next week. My wife is concerned with low season/winter weather and the effect of the outdoor experience. Do you have any thoughts on how to change our plans considering lower temperatures? Thanks.

    1. Eduardo -
      Although there are plenty things that offer indoor options (Louvre, Orsay, or some of the other museums I mentioned) Paris is primarily and "outdoors experience" type of place... My suggestion: bundle up with something that still allows "mobility" and take frequent breaks during the day so you can stay warm. A coffee break here, a quick bite there, a macaroon or French pastry there...and it will become "bearable".
      Hope that helps!

  11. Thank you- wonderful ways for getting around and being able to see lots! We are taking our grown children(just out of college and they don't have alot of cash) with us on our first trip to Paris. We are covering plane and hotel, they are covering food. How pricey were some of the restaurants you mentioned? Any suggestions for the cost conscious? We will be there in early May. Thanks for the help - Kris

    1. Kris -
      I'd say all these places were on the mid to higher end, price-wise (since I didn't pay for air and hotel - used points for both - I had to "splurge" on something :-) ... but there are plenty choices for good eats for the more cost-conscious. You could always go to some of the local markets, get a few sandwiches, a bottle of wine, and enjoy a makeshift picnic under the Eiffel Tower. I's also try Yelp or Tripadvisor for well-rated places on lower budgets.

      If this is your first trip, food should be the least of your worries. Enjoy everything else the city has to offer! You'll have a blast!

    2. Hi Kris -
      Was Paris everything you hoped it would be? Did your family enjoy it? Hope it was fun!


  12. Great post, thanks for sharing :) I'm so excited about my trip to Paris in September! :D

    1. Glad you enjoyed! Have fun in Paris!

  13. Hi Adi,
    I am having fun looking at pics and reading your blog about Paris! I'm the same person afraid of heights (in your MaPi, Peru blog). My husband and I definitely have to go back to Paris! We didn't have enough time to visit all Paris districts/attractions, even though we stayed there the longest, because we went out of town doing 3 different bike tours (Versailles, Loire Valley, & Giverny - Monet's Gardens - these places were beautiful!). After 1 day at the Louvre, Ile de Cite area, and Eiffel Tower/Orsay Museum, it was time to leave! I think your suggestion to take HOHO bus first is a great way to get acquainted with all the different areas of Paris in a shorter time. Thanks for sharing your pictures and travel tips! And I agree, no matter how short you stay in Paris, you can't/and "shouldn't" miss the pastries and macaroons! -PE

    1. Agree. One can never get enough of the "City of Lights". Especially one with a serious sweet tooth ;-)