Paris is just about the most elegant, beautiful city on earth… in other words very different from London (in London they say “Paris is boring,” but don’t believe it). It’s also very organized—notice all the little green men cleaning everything. It has great vistas, great museums, great monuments, and best of all great food! That said, if you don’t speak French, don’t expect much from the natives. They believe anyone interesting and informed is going to learn French—and generally they have been right! Learn as much as you can and struggle along. And DON’T ever forget to say “Bon Jour” (hello) every time you enter a shop, cafe, or restaurant and DON’T forget to say “Merci” (thank you) every time you are served by someone or leave a shop, cafe, or restaurant. Otherwise you will identify yourself as a hopeless, rude bore unworthy of much attention. Regardless of what you’ve heard the French are not rude—they are in fact unfailingly polite—so make sure you are too or you will feel their wrath.
The absolutely first thing I experienced was the smells, the most delicious smells ever, everything around me came into my nose and made me want to eat it! It was such a relief after London!
~Lily has all her olfactory faculties intact.
All of the glamorus people walking about it is easy to stick out like a soar thumb. But if dressed accordingly Paris can be one of the most hospitably places. REALLY. The Parisians have this reputation of looking down on Americans, but as long as you put some effort in to fitting in to their world, nothing can stop you.
~Stella is as glamorous as anyone.
WHERE YOU SHOULD GO:
We shouldn’t have to tell you why you ought to go here. It’s possibly the most famous art museum in the world and with good reason. But be careful: it’s GIGANTIC. Just take a section at a time, you can’t do the whole thing at once or you’ll be dead after four hours. Take one wing and enjoy.
Ugh. The Italian hall—all those mannerist—just one mediocre painting after another. And it feeds you right into this tiny little room where the Mona Lisa hangs, and where all the tourists who have no interest in painting have only come because they were told that they should. None of them are even LOOKING at this painting that they paid all this money to see, all are just wandering around aimlessly. You have to get as far away from the Italians as you can to enjoy the Louvre at all…
~Isaiah actually loves mannerists…in moderation anyway.
The entire group got lost trying to get out and wound up in the African section which surprisingly was the one of the BEST sections in the entire museum. Beautifully arranged, and wonderfully exhibited. Definitely worth the excursion to the basement.
~Tyson still refuses to carry a map
THE GARE D’ORSAY
The Louvre is for classic paintings… the Gare d’Orsay is for the more modern. It’s also a beautiful museum, a converted train station hence it’s name. You make your way to the back where the escalators are hidden to go up to the impressionists—Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas—for whom the museum is famous, but don’t forget to look for the grand model of the Paris Opera, under the floor… it’s a great view of Paris a century ago, and the model is truly outstanding.
The D’Orsay museum, besides being the mecca of impressionist art, has the most pleasant, comfortable atmosphere. Maybe it is the greenish tone to the light, or the towering ceilings in the main entrance hall, something about it makes me feel as if I am neither in the past nor the future.
~Stella loves open spaces.
It’s filled to the brim with beautiful paintings and it’s a very well laid out museum, but the great surprise comes when you’re wandering along and suddenly you come across this very, very large canvas of a vagina—and it’s MASSIVE—and people are backing away, wanting to look at it, but at the same time really uncomfortable. It’s called the “Origin of the World,” by Courbet and it’s something else.
~Isaiah is still traumatized.
If the Gare d’Orsay didn’t sate your appetite for impressionists you’ll want to see this (what was once private) collection of first rate stuff. Just walk through the Tulleries when you get out of the Gare d’Orsay. It’s the building just before Place de la Concord.
THE BEAUBOURG (Centre Georges Pompideau)
OK. Time for a real modern art bonanza. This museum (huge, but then, aren’t they all?) is a mind-boggling event- just wander around and enjoy. We couldn’t get our students to leave, they were enjoying it so much.
The Beaubourg was so awesome… we spent six hours there, had lunch, saw all the exhibits, visited the Hitchcock show… we just kept wandering and gawking. My favorite place in Europe!
~Stella loves Hitchcock
Now this is my kind of museum. Where else can you see psudo-sacriligious drawings by Patti Smith and giant video “bottoms” by Yoko Ono on the same floor!
~Isaiah loves Yoko Ono’s bottoms.
77 Rue de Varenne
Auguste Rodin is apparently the most famous sculptor to come out of France. The palace that houses his collection used to be his studio when he and a dozen or so other artists took over the place when it was on the verge of being demolished. Wander around the expansive sculpture gardens, sit and have a refreshment in the outdoor cafe, and, of course, tour the house with all his works. Rodin lived here, carried on his affairs, and did a monumental bunch of work. The “Gates of Hell” never looked so heavenly.
LE MUSEE DE LA MUSIQUE
Get ready for a surprising, unforgettable trip. You put on headphones and wander near glass encased instruments which begin playing as you approach. You’re taken on a magical mystery tour of musical history, and you’ll come away humming lots of great tunes from great composers. An education unlike any other for which you’ll be grateful the next time you head off to the symphony.
You could do worse than spend a morning with one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, even if you haven’t ever gotten into his work. This museum has so many outstanding examples of what he did best, it just might change your mind. And if it doesn’t… just fixate on the building, one of the great examples of a French “palace” called “hotel”. Note: take a map, or you might never find this place.
2 Rue de Richelieu
What? You can’t speak French? Never mind. You’ll not forget your chance to see a Moliere comedy and keep guessing what they’re saying. No frowns! This company is one of the world’s finest and if you go around to the left side from the front door, around the corner from the entrance, you’ll see a little window. If you show up an hour or so early at that window you can see a great show for less than five dollars. If you can’t figure this is a bargain of a lifetime LEAVE PARIS IMMEDIATELY.
WHERE TO EAT:
Around noon head to one of the great outdoor markets, (try MOUFFETARD) buy some terrific cheese, a baguette, some fruit, some salami (if you like it) and of course, a little wine, and go off to one of the little parks to eat (remember to bring a knife to cut things). It’s the most Parisian thing you can do and WHAT GREAT TASTES! One excellent place for a picnic is at the tip end of the Ille St. Louis, opposite from Notre Dame. Take stairs down to the water and watch the boats pass in the shade of weeping willows.
Ahh, The markets! MERDE! They smell like the epidemi of summer: fresh fruit, flowers, and sunlight. But in Paris everything smells good—even the subway. I invite everyone to smell the subway in Paris, maybe it isn’t fresh cut grass or expensive perfume, but I swear you will never smell anything quite like it.
There are falafel bars near Notre Dame, in a little side street called RUE DES ROSIERS which runs parallel to the Seine. It’s often packed so you can’t miss it. Very good food for very little money. Outdoor crepe stands are also good there but beware of the restaurants in that street—most are just tourist traps.
If you’re on a tight budget (and you usually are) save up for at least one great meal, because that’s what Paris is all about. Here’s two or three great ones that aren’t TOO expensive.
A LA BICHE AU BOIS 45 Ave Ledru-Rollin
Here’s one of the few family bistros left in Paris, and here’s a time for you to have a 5 course meal at least. You need a reservation at night, but you can just wait in line for lunch. We had excellent food AND an excellent battle of ideologies inspired by the cutlery there.
Ronald: Stop threatening Lily with your knife!
Isaiah: I’m NOT threatening her… I’m making a point!
Lunch at BAR VOLTAIRE on the Quai Voltaire across from the Louvre. (NOT at the restaurant next door, which is one of the most expensive. Ask for the PLAT DU JOUR and you’ll get something terrific from the same kitchen, and you also get a terrific french atmosphere. Also one of the highlights is CRUDITIES which is a salad of vegetables, outstanding.
LE PETITE PASCAL 33 rue Pascal
A terrific neighborhood bistro, fairly inexpensive. Lovely food, an atmosphere of locals and you’ll be treated well.
BUT…. IF DADDY’S PAYING:
WILLI’S WINE BAR
13 rue des petits champs
ph: (33) 126.96.36.199.9
World famous. Brilliant food and wine. You’ll need a reservation.
Try the BOUILLON RACINE
3 rue Racine (on the left bank)
Or LE BOOKINISTES
53 Quai des Grands-Augustins
People line up for this kind of cuisine.
WHERE YOU WANT TO GO:
You’ll notice most places you want to be in Paris serve coffee. Consider it a national pastime. Some people play sports… others are more civilized.
PLACE DES VOSGES
Wander through the HOTEL SULLY (right off the Rue de Rivoli down from Bastille) and go into the back garden. Keep going through the door at the end and you’ll wind up in the PLACE DES VOSGES the first of the grand places, architecture all of the same kind. It’s pretty impressive, and the cafe at the end has great coffee and croissants in the morning.
MARCHE ST. CATHERINE
Around the corner from the PLACE DES VOSGES (turn left if you walk a block toward the Picasso Museum) there’s a little square filled with inexpensive cafes you might want to try.
Right opposite the Museum. Everyone who’s anyone, and ever wanted to be someone, plus a lot of folks that just want to be around them, hang out there, all day and night. It’s great for breakfast—eggs the way you want, the best coffee, juice, croissants, toast all for $12 (well, we didn’t say Paris was cheap.)
On Saturday and Sunday evenings sit upstairs, so you can watch the review. Just go for coffee if you’re needy, but if you can afford it go for lunch, dinner, or just a snack.
Another hangout for the snotty set. Cafe Flor has the best hot chocolate in the world!
This story was brought up to us by the San Francisco Art and Film for teenagers
Photo Credits, Flickr Creative Commons, from top:
Paris…, Paris…, by Ӎѧҧ@Ҷҿ
Paris gargoyle, By Moyan_Brenn_BE_BACK_on_3th_SEPT
The Louvre Pyramid at sunset, Paris, by Marco Boekestijn
Mona Lisa, by Joaquín Martínez Rosado
Château de Versailles – L’Orangerie, by Panoramas
Stairz, By Nicolas Hoizey
Close up of The Thinker, By Brian Hillegas
Costumes du ballet Parade (Les Ballets russes, Opéra), by dalbera
Magasin, by besopha
La Place Royal, by BurgTender
Today has been ok., by piermario
Paris, by Moyan_Brenn