Stepping off the night train from hot, sunny Italy, Paris greeted us with a rush of cool air, gray skies, and big-city swarm. The tourists here were from all over the world and they were in much bigger numbers than in Bologna. Italian words I can piece together, but French was mostly a big blur.
I remember reading once (in part of a Julia Child biography I think), that the first meal you have in Paris – in some simple hole-in-the-wall cafe – will quite possibly be the best meal you’ve ever had in your life. I think this was true for us. After a long train ride and no breakfast, we were licking our lips at a table covered with empty white porcelain crockery and greasy baking paper – the leftovers from a salami-cheese-and-pickle baguette and some sort of buttery broccoli-cheese-potato pie.
Economist husband summed up well our impression of Paris: COLD. Cloudy skies, blustery days, gray walls, cool-tempered, sophisticated Parisians, closed shops, crowded museums, impenetrable (to us!) language.
So, if YOU happen to be travelling to Paris soon, these are the highlights I’d recommend:
- Get a clean, inexpensive hotel room – don’t splurge on this as you probably won’t be spending much time in it. We recommend the Hotel Montpensier. We liked the central location.
- Picnic for breakfast in the Jardin des Tuileries by the Louvre. It’s a beautiful garden that runs along the Seine by the Louvre. Quiet and shady in the morning with Parisians enjoying their morning jog, dog walk or newspaper read, it’s a great way to start the day. We recommend stocking up on groceries the night before for your petit-déjeuner as we found it was hard to locate a decent cafe in the morning…
- In fact, picnic for several of your meals! We found this was a really stress-free (not to mention inexpensive!) way to dine – in a garden, along the Seine or on a park bench. Grab a cheese plate, fresh fruit, some saucisson and a crunchy baguette or flaky croissants.
- Skip the Louvre
- In fact, you might even be able to skip the impressionists at the Musee d’Orsay if you go in July and there are too many tourists. If, however, you’ve never seen a Monet or a Van Gogh up close, you might want to go… Otherwise come to the Pushkin museum in Moscow!
- If you’re going to shop, buy a Longchamp bag and some nice French-girl Bensimmon or Bata walking shoes.
- Get recommendations from locals for a good restaurant (not from a guide book) or just pick the place that’s crowded with French-speakers instead of tourists
- Take a city tour by bicycle!
- Don’t try to take it all on – just pick out a few things you really want to do, and enjoy those
- Go with someone you’re in love with, and be sure to stroll the Seine at night…