I just finished listening to the re-play of the 2000 This American Life episode “An American in Paris” which features David Sedaris and others stories about living here. I particularly related to David Sedaris’ thought that many of the people in line for the Louvre are there because people back home told them they should visit it, not because they have a particular interest in art. I only recently visited the Louvre about 6 months ago. I do enjoy museums but I consider myself a “museum person.” So it’s got me thinking about what to tell people when they ask me what they should do in Paris as many friends and friends of the family email me for suggestions. I wonder if any one takes my suggestions as they don’t include the Louvre, the Père Lachaise Cemetery or the Catacombs. Alternatively, I’m not as fringe as David Sedaris suggesting a taxidermy store.
I list out some smaller museums, a few streets to meander along or an arrondissement to explore.
Movies and Vide Greniers
You might shutter at the thought of going to an American movie while in Paris, but I’d ask that you reconsider. You don’t have to see THE HUNGER GAMES as there are a handful of theatres that show original 35mm prints of classics! I’ve seen TO CATCH A THIEF and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF in a little theatre buried in the 5eme. What these adventures give you is a chance to go to side streets and find other hidden gems. My favourite theatre is Grand Action 5 rue Ecoles, 75005 Paris (Metro: Cardinal Lemoine). The current list of movies playing: GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDS, 39 STEPS, PHANTOM OF THE PARIDISE and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.
Another of my favourite activities in Paris is to go the vide greniers and brocantes around the city. These are structured garage sales. I’ve found tons of almost brand new and new Petit Bateau baby clothes to a Nespresso machine. Going to these instead of another museum that you feel you have to visit or people at work will chastise you when your return, is an easy exploration of different arrondissements. There is a fantastic site that with a little filtering, you can find vide-greniers and brocantes based on days of the week. Fridays are great days to go as if it starts on a Friday, it usually is a three-day event and all the good stuff will be there first thing! http://vide-greniers.org.
13eme Arrondissement: Butte aux Callies. This is a great area that no one ever goes to. There aren’t any “landmarks” but cute resto and cafes. http://goparis.about.com/od/parisneighborhoods/p/Butte_Cailles.htm
2eme Arrondissement Covered passages. They are written about in books but are really worth the trip. There is lovely one called Galleries Vivienne and Colbert accessible from rue des Petits-Champs, rue Vivienne or rue de la Banque. They are really magical. http://www.betterparisphotos.com/paris-blog/places/80-covered-passages-of-paris
18eme Arrondissement Abbess Metro. This up near Sacré-Cœur church but it’s the post card Paris and taking the stairs is a must. Lovely but very touristic.
7eme Arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower, there is a street Rue Cler. It is written about by Rick Steves but for a reason.
Transportation and Getting Around
Everyone must buy a Paris Partique. These can be found at any PRESSE (newsstand) for between 7-10€. Everyone loves their iPhone in Paris, but this is old school and costs a lot less to replace if it gets stolen. Many theives will grab the phone right out of your hand as you are positioning yourself out of the metro. Be sure they take the bus too. I love the 39 line as it wanders through narrow streets and right in front of the Louvre right to where you can go to the Galleries Vivienne and Colbert. Also on the 39 line you will go down Rue St. Anne which is where all the Japanese restaurants are located. You might not want to come to Paris to eat noodles, but trust me, there are some gems on this street.
Visit Pass or Tickets? Depending on how much walking you may do, I suggest the Paris Visit metro pass. It’s good for 3 or 5 consecutive days and can be used on bus, metro and tram then you can supplement with metro tickets.
Exploring the pharmacies of Paris is one of my favourites things to do. I’ve come to discover that not all pharmacies are priced the same but I think for visitors, it’s not worth making a special trip to one of my hidden gems but I will list them just in case. I now have a good variety of products from asking sales people with my broken French to trial and error. Here are a few brands and products I like.
Avène (Lotion Douceur/Gentle Toner, Lait Démaquillant Douceur/Gentle Milk Cleanser, Crème Nutritive Riche/Extremely Rich Cream)
Phyto (Cuir Chevelu à Tendance Grasse/Daily Balancing Shampoo, Cheveux Colorès, Méché/Color-Treated, Highlighted Hair — Any of the products are great.)
Uriage (Bariéderm Lèvres – Baume Isolant Réparateur Apaisant/Soothing Repair Barrier Lip Balm)
Rene Furterer (Naturia-Shampooing Sec/Dry Shampoo, Any of the shampoos/conditioners as the products are frequently on special.)
Klorane (Gel Douche Nourrissant Velvet/Nourishing Shower Gel Soap Free). I buy this brand as it’s frequently on special and it’s a nice texture. There are Gel Douche with almost every brand of product so it’s up to you which you want to try.
It can overwhelming to shop in Paris especially if you are on any sort of budget. There are few things Paris is know for: scarves, the little black dress, coats and black heels. Remember that the French clothes run small especially across the back and as I have noted in previous post, some stores don’t go above a size 40 (8/10 US). But there are some places that you can still find real sizes. I would plan on budgeting 30-75€ for a scarf, 125-300€ for a dress, 250-500€ for a coat and 100-250€ for heels. These prices might seem high especially if you convert to US$ but trust me, the style and quality you get for those Euros surpasses anything you’ll find at JCrew, Nordstrom or Club Monaco. If you decide to go to a department store: BHV, Galleries Lafayette, Primtemps or The Bon Marche, note that you will have to wait at each mini-store front for the sales person to get your size. It’s not like in the US where you can grab from brand to brand and go in for one big try on session. So plan on being there for awhile. There are also shopping streets where many of the good brands line the streets. Here are my suggestions for brands/shops (many are already in the US) but nevertheless, for your reference. If you are very adventurous, check out the link to the list of the STOCK store (last seasons clothes that are “discounted”. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to a sale rack! http://www.mylittleparis.com/cartes/carte-stocks-marques-secrets-paris.html