Thursday, July 25, 2013

Off the Beaten Path--What to do in Paris

Yesterday, I gave some advice on traveling to Paris based on our experience there and I promised that next I would give you a must-see list of what to do.  I'm keeping my promise, but here's the thing, everyone will tell you the same basic list when asked what you should see in Paris.  The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Louvre...all amazing and without a doubt, MUST SEE places...

But what I wanted to know when we were making our own must-see list, was what we needed to see/do in order to experience the city of Paris as travelers instead of just tourists.  I was lucky because my best friend Jen spent a summer years ago in France with a family friend.  I knew I could count on her to tell me what to do.  Here's what she suggested: (my comments are in orange)

1. Sacre Coer/Montmarte/Place de Tertre - this is my FAVORITE place in the city. When I was there for my bday in 2007, we went straight here from the train. It's such a beautiful area. I have never been IN Sacre Coer, so I don't know what the inside is like... Great little cafes around here, great little shops. It's a very artsy area. Place de Terte is really my NUMBER ONE. It's the square where all the artist paint and draw. Remember the guy at Newshwanstein we bought the little water colors from? He reminded me of this area.

*We took Jen's advice and headed to Sacre Coer--meaning Sacred Heart--and it was a beautiful place.  I took one of the most amazing photos of Paris while there and it was one of the only days that we were in Paris where it didn't look like it was going to pour! The area was very small and the street vendors were a bit too pushy for my taste.  We made it into the church and it was beautiful.  This area was easy to hit in an afternoon and is on the Moulin Rough end of Paris...

For some reason, the French military was out in force!

2. Jardin du Luxembourg - this is the park we've talked about. If you have the chance/time/inclination to see the puppet show, I would do it. Your kids would love it. It was free in 1993, but not in 2007. It's the original "Punch and Judy" puppet characters.

*We didn't make it to the puppet show but the garden, itself, was by far one of my favorite places in Paris.  It's essential Paris' version of Central Park, except under it lies the French version of the CIA--pretty cool in itself, I thought!  My kids loved the old carousel and the crepes.  This place made me want to move to Paris and spend my afternoons relaxing in the Jardin du Lxembourg with the brats.  

3. The Shakespeare and Company bookstore across from Notre Dame. I'm sure you'll go to see ND, and this is on the Left Bank right there. I've never been INSIDE ND either, but I like to go in this bookstore. It's just one of the best ones in the world, in my opinion.
*Adorable little bookstore that is a maze of classics.  I was enchanted, especially by the lounging area upstairs where people left notes.  Sadly, they had a "no photos" policy.  It's owned by an American expat.  This is also the store when I bought the copies of Leaves of Grass and Beautiful Ruins that I talked about HERE. 

4. St. Sulpice - this is one of the best churches in the city, in my opinion. I would go INSIDE this one if you get the chance. It has some famous art, as I recall, and you will recognize it IMMEDIATELY from The DaVinci Code.

*Jen was right...awesome, awesome, awesome....Steve and I were on a total Da Vinci Code high in this church!  This is the one with the rose line on the floor and where the albino monk breaks open the floor and removes the tablet basically telling him "bite me"....Plus, it was beautiful, although the workers there kept sshhhhhing us. The sshhhhhing *might* have had something to do with the fact that Delilah thought we were in Notre Dame and kept screaming, "Where's the Hunchback!!!" over and over... 

5. I love the Arc de Triomphe. This I'm sure is on every list of monuments and things to do. It has France's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and GREAT views up the Champs Elysee. (Plus, it's free!) (Ok, not anymore--but it is covered on the museum pass)  I don't think anyone would go to Paris and NOT go here, but I thought I would mention that I really like it.
*I digress a bit here....I'm sure that practically every American living over here in Europe has a running "top ten" list of places and experiences that they've had or seen while living over here.  Mine constantly changes with each new place that I see, but usually the top 3 or 4 stay the same.  The Arc de Triomphe is up there in that top 3!  Yes, it was THAT amazing...keep in mind that it's not the Arc itself that is so amazing; it IS, don't get me wrong, but it's the VIEW from the Arch that makes the hard-ass climb to the top so worth it.  But here's some advice (and if you only listen to one that I'm telling you about Paris, let it be this one) GO AT NIGHT.  The view was breathtaking--simply one of the most amazing experiences I've had. Ever. And on the hour, the Eiffel Tower sparkles....Read about that HERE. (no, seriously, go read that one, It's one of my favs....I'll wait for you right here. 

6. I know you'll go to the Louvre, but I actually really like the Musee D'Orsay (sp?) because it has all of Matisse's art, and I really like him. There isn't any at the Louvre.

*The Orsay is the museum that is seen in the children's movie "Hugo".  It's actually an old train station, but the tracks didn't fit the station, and so they turned it into a museum.  It's also the one with the big clock.  It really enjoyed this one and so did Jackson, since he's a big fan of Vincent van Gogh.  Sadly, they also had a "no photos' policy...(that I totally discounted and snapped away) Everyone really enjoyed this one :)
7. Here's what else I think: for sure, stop at little shops, one each that specializes in cheese, bread, and chocolate. Amazing! The little shops on the Left Bank are probably the best options, but anything near Sacre Coer/Monmarte would be great too. This is like getting gelato in Italy. :)
*Yep, right again.  We became addicted to Laduree macaroons and I simply couldn't get enough.  I love the bright color boxes of deliciousness all wrapped up with a brightly colored ribbon.  Another reason I'm moving to day.

8. Go to a creperie, if only for lunch once. Your kids will love the food and it's not something you can really do quite THIS way anywhere else in the world. Also, if you see it on the menu anywhere, order Coq Au Vin. This is the French version of a "classic" meal. It's kind of like Pot Roast is to Americans, but it's chicken in red wine sauce. Very good. And you have to get your kids a Croque Monsieur somewhere. These are little ham-n-cheese sandwiches that are VERY good, one of my favorites. They're VERY French, but the French think of them like we think of PBJ, so if you order one for yourself, you might get a funny look. :) I always ordered them anyway! A Croque Madame is just as good, with an egg.

*We totally ordered them all.  We ate crepes in the Luxembourg Jardins and the kids thought they were gross.  Steve and I were delighted....because that meant we could eat ours and then finish off theres.  I got one with Nutelle....yep, good... We at Coq Au Vin and Croque Monsieur and Madame at a tiny little restaurant close to the cemetery.  It was delicious, although we did notice that the French serve French Fries with an omelet (the omelets were delicious, by the way)

Listen to what Rick Steves says about the rest! Ha!!!

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  1. I love this so much! I did a month-long study abroad in Paris, where I ate far too many crepes (with "Nutella et banana" or with honey and hazelnuts...which can be very sticky when you are eating it on the Metro!)
    I LOVE the Musee D'Orsay, and I am so glad you mentioned it.
    A couple of other spots I loved visiting: Musee Rodin (beautiful sculpture garden), the catacombs (historically cool and strangely beautiful), and the tower tour at Notre Dame. You have to climb a million tiny, winding stairs, but then you see the "gallerie des chimeres" the balcony with chimera and gargoyles, the bell tower and AMAZING views!
    So happy about all the wonderful, fun things your family is doing!

  2. Just discovered your blog through Storyofmylife.. Gotta say it's weird seeing the first few ones being about Paris :D I'm French and while I know the city pretty well, it is interesting to see it from a foreigner's point of view ! Completely different. BIG QUESTION: How did you get the policemen (Gendarmes) to pose for your picture? They usually never ever want to! (it's even illegal in a town in Soutern France)
    I'm looking at other posts as well but I thought I would comment on this one, as it is about my country after all ;) Really love your blog! I will add it to my favorite for sure.
    (Oh, and I do not want to sound poshy and annoying, but there's a mistake, it's spelled Sacré Coeur!)


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