Since this was my — I think — ninth time in Paris, we don’t do the usual touristy stuff at this point. Basically we just walk around and hang out, soaking up the Paris culture, so this list doesn’t include visiting the Louvre, seeing Notre Dame, or going up the Eiffel Tower. Do all that on your first trip. But here’s some stuff that I loved on this particular trip as someone who has been there a few times.
1. Running in the Bois de Boulogne. I had been wanting to see the Bois for, I dunno, our last six trips to Paris. At least. However, it’s situated on the periphery of Paris, outside of the 16th, and since we have almost always stayed in the Latin Quarter, it was a haul to get out there. Especially when Husband was against it. See, he had heard that at night the park was full of prostitutes, and that during the day it wasn’t that much to look at. But this time we were closer to the edge of the city, and I wanted to run it, so off we went. You don’t think of Paris is a place for runners…until you hit the Bois. You guys, I found my people! And really, it’s just like NY’s Central Park in terms of a mixed bag. I have no doubt that at night it can get sketchy, but during the day? Runner’s paradise.
2. Breakfast on St. Michel. We took a train into Normandy to see Mont Saint-Michel, a 14th century abbey on an island — spectacular. There are less than 50 people who stay on the island overnight, and we stayed at an Air BnB that was once a lord’s house and owned by Jean and Ines. The name of the house La Tête Noire, and it is beautiful with wonderful historic touches. The best part though was the breakfast they provided consisting of farm fresh/homemade breads, 4 types of jam (blueberry fig raspberry and rhubarb!), juices, and coffee. Also available were eggs hatched down the street and salted butter. A memorable experience for sure.
3. Staying in Pigalle. Paris has 20 arrondissements (districts) and starting with the 1st in the center, it spirals out like a snail. We usually stay in the Latin Quarter or Latin Quarter Adjacent (4th, 5th, or 6th) sans one time in the 10th, which means that we are usually in the center of town. This time we stayed closer to the edge in a neighborhood named Pigalle which is technically in the 9th but borders the 18th. Pigalle is such an interesting neighborhood. Less than a quarter-mile to the west is the red light district including the Moulin Rouge (OK, full disclosure literally next door is a table/lap dance bar). And less than a quarter-mile to the north is Sacre Couer and carousels. I love it.
Our apartment was an Air BnB with one bedroom and quite comfortable. It emphasizes how different we live in the States where everything is Big – including Big living spaces. This is our kitchen – it has everything we need including a washer/dryer. One just makes due with limited counterspace and storage. Guess you just need less Stuff, right?
4. Thanksgiving at Melinda’s. Since Husband has been here three years in a row for several weeks at a time, he has made many friends, and we were graciously invited to Melinda’s for a Thanksgiving with ex-pats. Melinda was married to a Frenchman, and her apartment was everything I imagined a swanky French apartment to look like – including a parlor. Swoon. Her son wore a suit and played butler! Too cute.
5. Shopping at L’Ecritoire. My favorite store of the last few years has been L’Ecritoire located in the 4th by the Pompidou Museum. One of my five favorite things in life is stationery, and the French still care about making and using fine paper goods. So every year I pop in and buy a stash of bookmarks. Lovely, decidedly French, and easy to carry back home.
6. Playing Flash Invader. To be more precise, watching Husband play Flash Invader. So Invader is an urban artist who is known for his ceramic tile mosaics that are up along the city walls (usually by the street signs) and are modeled on the pixelated art of the 70s-80s — like Space Invaders — which is his the inspiration for his pseudonym. They are all throughout Paris, as well as other cities, and if one is observant, you can spot his “work”. If you download the app, then you score a point for each new Invader you spot and photograph. There are over 2600 total, and Husband found 113 on this trip alone.
7. Eating a Fancy Vegan Meal. Eating vegan in Paris is not too difficult nowadays. If you’re staying at an apartment, it is easy enough to shop for groceries and make food at home, and there are plenty of fast and casual places to pick up something on-the-go (think falafels, wraps, burgers). However, eating fancy vegan – like Michelin-rated* vegan – is a bit more challenging. Les Fables de la Fontaine is not a vegan establishment, but when Husband dined there, he noticed that its dishes were vegan friendly and, if the chef was amenable, thought could be made vegan. The chef was amenable! This was my favorite bite of the meal: a cauliflower panacotta in watergress sauce. Exquisite.
*Was a former one-star Michelin rated restaurant but lost its star and is now one step below at a Michelin Plate rating.
8. Going to Meetings. As sober members of a 12-step program, we have an automatic built-in set of friends all over the globe, and Paris has an active and lively fellowship of English-speaking recoverees. Especially fun is that not all of the English speakers are from the U.S. since English is so commonly a second language for many Europeans, and thus you get to hear perspectives from many different countries. We even attended a sober holiday party. Turns out sober holiday parties are the same world over: awkward, fun in a different kind of way, and filled with the spirit of gratitude that we’re not drinking anymore. Yay.
9. Experiencing Atelier des Lumières. Since we’ve been to Paris several times now, we have hit all the big museums: Louvre, D’Orsay, Pompidou, Rodin, etc., and have even traveled o Giverny to see Monet’s home. Because of this, we tend to hit the free museums. Yup, Paris has so many headliner museums, that they’re like “Here you go. These are on us. Free-99.” So throughout Paris one can find wonderful free museums, such as Petit Palais.
However, the one museum we did pay for this time is Atelier des Lumières…and wow, totally worth the 14,50 €! It is an immersive exhibit of three shows comprised of the works of Van Gogh, the world of Japan, and space imagined. There is a separate studio for a more intimate and Star Tours like experience of Verse (the space show). And a super secret room that is similar to Kusama Infinity Room — just that the infinity part are Van Gogh’s works. A must-see but often sold out, so buy your tickets online.
10. Marching in the Protests. OK, more like walking through the protestors. Ha. Is there anything more French than a protest? Apparently the government is planning on delaying and reducing pensions of future retirees, so the French took to the streets. The metro and all transport systems were shut down for several days, and even the police went on strike for a few hours. It is totally safe and such a great experience. Vive la Révolution!!
After all these trips, there is still something so magical when you first lay eyes on the Seine, or Notre Dame. One had forgotten how fraudulent American bread is until you bite into your first baguette. Before my first visit, I was certain that Paris could never live up to the hype…It has by far surpassed it — over and over. A bientot, City of Lights.