Brain Brawn & Body
Brain Brawn & Body blogs on health, nutrition/fitness, lifestyle, leisure and finances.
Falling in Love with Paris
As soon as the plane landed on the tarmac, I had the most comforting feeling. I felt like I was home! My relatives have always claimed Swiss heritage, but on one Ellis Island document, a person with my relative’s name claimed to be French, but living in Switzerland. Maybe I was French after all, and that explained my comfort and excitement in being back in France and Paris, my favorite city.
Paris, the “city of love,” is one of the most romantic destinations in the world. With its bright lights, great dining, and rich history, Paris is definitely an exciting city. The air feels different there, the energy is different, like it is in many European cities. I am happy just walking the streets and mingling with native Parisians and street vendors. No matter what your interests are, you can fall in love with Paris too!
Paris represents culture, fashion and high class. But it also represents a way of living that has a lot of merit. People buy their food fresh each day to cook that night. They value the importance of family and friends. They work hard and they play hard. They go on vacation (holiday) religiously. I still find it amazing that in the height of summer, when the warm weather should bring the most customers for their delicious ice cream, Berthillon, my favorite ice cream store, closes shop for the month of August.
Being from the Midwest, I have heard visitors extol the openness and friendliness of Midwesterners. Parisians have a reputation for being rude and snobby. I imagine you can find situations where both impressions ring true. However, I do find that all Parisians just want you to try to speak their language. A few basic phrases in their language warm them up to you quickly. So, practice Bon jour (hello or good day), au revoir (good bye), merci (thank you), de rien (you’re welcome), Ou est la toilette? (where is the bathroom?) and the one I always teach travelers, Je voudrais une biere, s’il vous plait. (A beer please) or wine if you prefer, Je voudrais un vin, s’il vous plait.
Each time I’ve been to Paris I was accompanied by someone who had never been, so we decided to take in the main sites. Getting around the city is extremely easy. From the airport you can take the train into the city. If you print out a Paris train map before you leave home, you will find getting around a little easier. There are two train systems within the city that interconnect: the Metro, which makes more frequent stops, and the RER, which will allow you to cover ground more quickly. Tickets can be purchased at the stations (get a pack of ten, carnet, to save a little money) and can be used on both systems. If you are going outside the city, to Versailles for example, you’ll need to pay a higher fare.
Coming from a city with few cabs, I enjoy taking a cab. In Paris it is not the norm to stand and wave your arm to flag down a taxi. Instead, stand calmly by the edge of the road by a taxi sign and one will quickly come to assist you. I still remember the first time in Paris. I was eager to use my intermediate knowledge of the French language, so I practiced what to tell the cabbie. I asked him to take us to the Burgundy Hotel, but decided to express it in French, so I asked for l’hotel Bourgogne. Upon arrival, the picture looked nothing like we expected and the street did not match. Reverting to English, I learned there was a hotel Bourgogne AND a Burgundy Hotel. I found it is better to provide an address with the name of your destination!
The list of things to see and do in Paris is almost endless. Research ahead of time what days attractions are closed. The Louvre Museum is closed on Tuesdays, as are many things, so we used that day to visit Monet’s Garden in Giverny. That wondrous place deserves its own write-up, so we will save that for another time.
Who can visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Gustave Eiffel designed and built it in 1889 for the World’s Fair. You will see his picture as you queue for the opportunity to ride to the top. Tickets can be bought at the base of the tower and lines can be long, so allow enough time. The views are spectacular during the day and also lovely at night. In the summer, at evening time, sit on the grass by the tower, the Champs de Mars, with a bottle of wine. Then you will feel like you are a part of the culture of the city.
Whether you love art or not, the Louvre is something to be seen. Many people wait to buy tickets in the loooonnnnggg line by the Pyramid, the glass entrance. Definitely an area to view but I found walking around the corner and buying a ticket at another entrance goes much more quickly. The Louvre houses the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo along with thousands of other works of art including select works of Louis XIV.
From the Louvre, walk through the Tuileries Gardens. We enjoyed watching children play with sailboats in the fountain. They use long wooden sticks to launch their boats then adjust their course when they glide to the other side. Pass the Arc de Carousel and window shop your way up the Champs Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe. Be sure to stop on the Champs Elysees for some Berthillons ice cream – no matter what the weather!
There are many boat tours you can take to see the city from the famous Seine River. We chose the Bateaux-Mouches and enjoyed dinner while seeing the city lit up at night. We also enjoyed dinner at Bofinger which offers traditional French dining. There we met up with several other Americans and they were eager to join us on our next stop – the Hemingway Bar in the Ritz. Unfortunately it was closed that evening – but we managed to snap a picture before meeting a nice couple from Greece who kept us from getting thrown out.
Other great dining options in Paris are La Braserade in the Latin Quarter at 15 Rue de la Huchette and Cafe du Marche at 38 Rue Cler, not far from the Tower. To find a fantastic meal at a little lower price, travel out to Aux Artistes in the Montparnasse area at 63 Rue Falguiere across from the Pasteur Institute.
The architecture and gilded statues all around Paris are breathtaking. The many bridges (ponts) that traverse the Seine River are wonderful places to stop and take in the scenery. You will almost always find artists sketching the beautiful views. On this trip we we found students who were drawing sculptures of the Battle at Little Bighorn. I did find that puzzling but my intermediate level French did not allow me to resolve my questions.
There are so many gardens in the city and besides Monet’s Garden which is outside Paris, I enjoyed the Luxembourg Gardens. I loved the special children’s garden within the Luxembourg Gardens and marveled at the multitude of blossoms and colors.
Paris is home to many magnificent churches. For great views of the city, venture up to the white façade of Sacre Coeur. Then walk downhill along the streets to view many artisan’s works. Notre Dame is an impressively beautiful place to visit, so don’t miss its grandeur. We also enjoyed the small but extremely colorful stained glass at Sainte Chappelle.
Some of my favorite shopping is always done at the airport, but in Paris enjoyable shopping is everywhere. The Champs Elysees has upscale shopping. Galleries Lafayette is a wonderful place to buy gifts for yourself and others.
Paris is an absolutely magnificent city. Whether you’re visiting a museum or simply wandering her streets, Paris has an unmistakable and inviting aura. See the sights, enjoy the dining, and immerse yourself in my favorite city. I hope you fall in love with Paris and maybe you will also feel like you are home.
What are some of your favorite Paris sites? Please share them.