Little Black Book...Paris to see
My Paris To See List
- The Louvre: If you're on a budget admission is free the first Sunday of every month, the line is long but it moves quickly. If you want to avoid the crowds, stay away from the Mona Lisa and Winged Victory, check out the sculpture gallery instead. My recommendation; don't expect to see it all, prioritize and plan ahead, the interactive floor plan is a great tool for that. http://www.louvre.fr/en/plan
- Musee d'Orsay: As sacrilegious as it sounds I enjoyed the d'Orsay more than the Louvre. It is located just opposite the Tuileries Gardens, in the old Orsay railway station which was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900 and is beautiful in its own right. It houses more "modern" works spanning from 1848 - 1914 including Van Gogh, Manet, Millet and others.
- Shakespeare and Company Bookstore: Located at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie Shakespeare and Co. is everything a bookstore should be. It has become a bit touristy but has not lost its charm. If you are there in the evening the restaurant next door "Le Petite Chateau" is pretty good and has a nice ambience. Further down the street things get a little too touristy, at least for my taste.
- Cote Bergamet: Located at 8 Rue de Montfaucon this little restaurant served one of my favorite meals of the week; duck with rhubarb compote...it has a two page description in my little black notebook.
- Walks on the Seine: Walking back to our hotel along the river was one of the highlights of our trip. In the evening the light is perfect and musicians sit in the little riverside amphitheaters strumming their guitars singing softly or chatting with one another. Lonely Planet has a great little walk mapped out that nearly follows our daily haunts. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/france/paris/travel-tips-and-articles/77204
- Museum of Natural History and Jardin Des Plantes: We were right across the street from the Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy which is on 2 Rue Buffon. If you have kids I would definitely take them there, it is a 10 year olds paradise.
- Pantheon and Jardin du Luxembourg: If your an architecture person, don't miss the Pantheon. The building is stunning. It's near Jardin du Luxembourg and the surrounding streets are quaint. A nice plan for an afternoon stroll if you want to see both sites in one day. Incidently there are several nice bakeries near the garden if you're in the mood for a picnic.
We all have our vices, and mine (well one of mine) is travel. And it all started with Paris.
I'd just turned 21, busy avoiding responsibility, working several part-time jobs and a little depressed about how my life was shaping up...or rather wasn't shaping up. So when a friend invited me over for a girls night I started ranting about how boring my life was and how I wished something exciting would happen. In response, my three friends, all strong outspoken women, poured me another glass of wine and set me straight by asking "What do you really want to do?" and "What's stopping you?"
The answer was, after a lot of hemming and hawing, travel. I'd loved it since my parents brought me to Europe as a teenager, since then though I had taken only small trips in the U.S and Canada and had yet to go anywhere I really wanted. As our glasses emptied we hatched a plan, and a budget; if saved for the summer I could afford a short trip to Paris in the fall, a taster, so to speak, to start me on my new life.
Tired from all our scheming we congratulated each other on an excellent idea then went home to bed. But I couldn't sleep. Paris...I'd wanted to go there since I was a little girl, it had a little of everything I loved; good food, art, wine, architecture and of course books. In fact, one of the spots highest on my already growing mental list of "to see" sights was the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore.
That bookstore was good motivation when my budget turned out to be even narrower than I figured. In the end I took a humbling but convenient extra job of dish washing two nights a week at a local restaurant for the summer. That little job netted me $1700 dollars and covered my whole week in Paris; airfare, room and expenses.
Six months after our "girls night" I stepped out into the Charles de Gaulle airport, a new friend beside me and no idea where to go. Since we were both relatively new to travel and neither of us spoke any French beyond "Bonjour" the airport experience proved to be just that, an experience.
But once our maniacal driver drove us past the ugly outskirts of the city into its heart, all was forgiven. Our little hotel was small but quaint and just across the street the Jardin des Plantes overflowed with late summer color.
I fell in love with Paris on that first day as we walked through the park, eating brown sugar and butter crepes in folded parchment paper as we strolled. The little crepe cart in the corner of the garden became a morning ritual for us. Since we couldn't afford cabs we walked everywhere and each day started off with a shortcut through the garden with our crepes in hand as we made our way to Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and of course the highly anticipated Louvre.
We had no real plan, just a list of things we both wanted to see, which is something that has stuck with me through the years. I have never liked itineraries and if you have never traveled without one I would recommend giving it a try, if only for a day. Travel is, at least for me, ultimately about freedom, and what is more invigorating than standing on a street in some far off corner of the world and knowing for a certainty that no one knows where you are at that exact moment? Infinite possibilities stretching out before you in the form of shops and restaurants, streets and people. Which one will change you? Which will stay with you forever?
I have not been back to Paris since that fall, I suppose I have this fear that if I start going back I will stop moving forward. Silly I know, and as time passes I think more and more about going back, seeing if my favorite spots have changed and finding new places and people to love.
So to all you weary, indecisive procrastinators like myself that have that secret little seed of wanderlust that burns every time you read a travel magazine or spot a photo of some far off place, my advise is to go. Stop justifying and dreaming, just go! Even if you can only afford a week, take a chance, it may change everything.