As I write this, one of my close friends will be leaving Paris after her first ever visit. As a vicarious Parisienne, I think I probably banged on to her about it rather a lot, and I was desperately hoping she wouldn’t be disappointed – thankfully, yesterday I discovered she is not – a “Paris convert” is how she described herself, with her and her husband loving it. She found it beautiful and “drenched in history” – perfect descriptions I would say. Her being there has encouraged me to complete my reflections on our recent time there, and to include few suggestions for first time visitors – not that I am an expert of course, these are simply observations based on my own experience.
Paris – where do I start? It has heart, soul, culture and history – not to mention great cuisine and fabulous shopping…. What more could you want? I had a bucket list for Paris which I prioritised, and I ticked most items off. If you have seen my posts about our four full days in the City of Light you would know we crammed in an awful lot – fabulous Versailles, The Louvre, Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop, The Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invalides, Sacre Coeur, Sainte-Chapelle, historic Notre Dame, Ile Saint-Louis, The Pompidou Centre, The Conciergerie, Les Tuileries, Le Jardin de Luxembourg, Place des Vosges, and walking, walking, walking for miles, to simply absorb that infectious Parisian vibe.
There was no way to add anymore in our four days – it was just not realistic– so what did I miss? Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise, Rue des Abbesses, Clignancourt Flea Market, Galerie Vivienne, a visit to Laduree , Opera Garnier, and visits to the roof top of Printemps and La Tour Montparnasse to simply to see the view… these all seem like things that will be great to do at my leisure, in the future, rather than at the fairly hectic pace we took on this visit. I certainly am not disappointed that I still have a Paris “to do” list, because what we did was so fulfilling, so utterly intoxicating, that “je ne regrette rien” as they say – and besides, it is a good excuse to return in a couple of years.
If you are a first time visitor, I suggest leave being indoors for another visit (if the weather allows) – take a hop-on hop-off bus to orient yourself, and walk as much as you can. Perhaps choose one museum and check it out thoroughly – my pick would be the Musee D’Orsay. It was the only Museum we went to on our first visit, preferring as we did to walk and soak up the atmosphere – and it remains my favourite. However, this time round, we found that getting out early to tourist attractions like the Louvre, Versailles etc., allows you to join a shorter queue – but you have to be prepared to make the early start. It fits in with the French life style well to do this, as then you can take a long break in the middle of the day like the locals do. We loved getting out around 7am, and walking the almost empty streets looking for a nice café for coffee and croissant, omelette or pancake. It amazed us that the streets could be so empty at that time of day. Not only that, the early morning light is truly beautiful, and is the Parisian dusk. .
And my personal favourites from those iconic tourist attractions we visited this time? Napoleon’s Apartments in the Louvre (literally stunning!); climbing to the first level of the Eiffel Tower – that’s plenty high enough in my opinion to get your view and move on to another attraction if you are short of time, plus it is a great way to escape the long queue for lifts; picnicking in the beautiful Jardin Du Luxembourg (Theadora made me do it and she was right), and watching the stylish locals take their Sunday stroll in the park; viewing the exquisite stained glass windows in Sainte-Chapelle; taking in the magnificent Notre Dame ; strolling through Ile Saint Louis at dusk; watching the Parisian sunset from any of the bridges spanning the Seine; exploring the Latin Quarter and enjoying ethnic food choices.
It would be remiss of me not to mention how we got to Paris – we chose Eurostar and it is lovely way to travel and arrive – it feels much more relaxed to me – probably because I hate flying – and there is something special about train travel – we even got pensioner rates (60 years and over), so it was extremely affordable! What’s not to like?
My final reflections? Paris for me is an enchanting city – it is absolute magic. I feel so drawn to it – to the architecture, the history, the people, the vibe – to everything about it – it is hard to explain, but all I can say is that I will be back for more. There is so much to see and do, that short visits will probably never allow you to do everything you may want to do – but I figure this – do not lament what you did not see – simply remember and savour what you did see, and enjoy the precious memories you have will surely have etched in your heart and mind …
Here are some of my favourite places from our recent visit.
As I continue my reading on Paris and France in general, I keep stumbling on more great posts like this: How to Spend Three Days in Paris by Bryan Pirolli , hosted on the excellent Eurocheapo daily blog. The latest one to take my fancy is this: Fifty ways to save time and money in Paris. It has some great hints and I must remember to revisit it before we arrive. David Leibovitz continues to provide more gems via his Facebook site – I thoroughly enjoyed this : How to be a Parisian – 11 ways to fake it, and this too: 10 things France does better than anywhere else (both via CNN).
Total immersion? – well, what do I mean by that since I am not actually there yet? It means I am completely enveloping myself in things French in my spare time, reading, watching movies, continuing my French lessons, doing French homework (which I really enjoy), and using Duolingo, to reinforce my basic French skills.
Because we are going to Versailles, I recently bought Antonia Fraser’s book Marie Antoinette : the Journey and have been thoroughly enjoying it as I knew very little about the titular character. The book piqued my interest in Marie Antoinette, so I watched Sofia Coppola’s film, Marie Antoinette and absolutely loved it. Coincidentally, I discovered the movie is based on Fraser’s book. While I admit I am not a big fan of Kirsten Dunst, I think she is perfectly cast in this movie, playing the title character. It appears that many do not like Coppola’s take on Marie Antoinette, but I have come to admire her portrayal, isolated and alone as the young woman was in the French court. Not only does the character appeal, also but also the fabulous settings (it was filmed entirely on location in France), and the stunning costumes. The dresses are beautiful and shoes are exquisite, with Manolo Blahnik having designed many of them – you can see some of them here. The scenes at Versailles and Le Petit Trianon are enticing and I am looking forward seeing it in May. To find out more about the film I recommend these reviews which resonate with my own response to it – ‘Palace Coup by David Edelstein ‘, and In Defence of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette by Amanda Dobbins.
As for my French lessons and homework, I am loving working with my tutor Marie, and I feel I am progressing well. Marie now speaks to me in French for much of each lesson and I have found, thankfully, that I am able to understand her. We do practical role plays, reserving restaurant tables, ordering food and wine, asking directions, trying on clothes – you name it , we are covering it. This week, Marie provided me with a really useful link, which will ensure we know how to order our coffee correctly – a pretty important skill since we love a good coffee!
All my homework is based around Marie’s home town of Toulouse, which I feel I am beginning to know, so here’s hoping we can stop off for a break in Toulouse as we drive further South. This week I am learning how to give and receive directions – I have selected Grand Hotel de L’Opera Hotel as my imaginary starting point (for purposes of my homework), as I head towards Marche Victor Hugo. Having learned the route and directions, I would really like to do it now! Talking to Marie has made Toulouse come alive for me, plus, after re-reading Peta Mathias’ book ‘French Toast‘ I would love to see what she describes as ” stylish and beautiful Toulouse” which is “another one of the luminous pink cities, bathed in the Mediterranean light.” Watch this space ….
With Christmas well and truly over, we recently had the luxury of spending a few days at home with our Kiwi travelling companions, Roger and Frances. On their previous visit from LA in August, we sat down over a good old Kiwi-style lunch ( Annabel Langbein’s bacon and egg pie and Jo Seagar’s lemonade scones), and set about trying to create our itinerary – four weeks on the road in France, beginning with another cool ride on the Eurostar to Paris, where will start the trip with a much-anticipated four day stay.
However, deciding where to go after Paris was the challenge – should we scoot across to Honfleur, St Malo, or Mont-St Michel (after visiting Monet’s Gardens at Giverny), or should we head straight on down to the Loire? From the Loire, should we continue on down to the Dordogne or across to Burgundy? Perhaps we could go from the Loire to Languedoc and then down to Provence and the Riviera? So much to see, so little time … but this is where both contacts and research are worth their weight in gold. When our friends returned to Los Angeles in August, the itinerary was still up in the air, and we all vowed to put together some ideas on how the trip should play out.
In the ensuing months I sought advice from Michele at Eurovillas and Tours, with whom we booked the Tuscan villa in beautiful Radicondoli (in 2012). She is an absolute mine of information providing ideas on where to begin, where to stop, where not stop, and offering advice which helped to shape an itinerary which flows…simple things, like keeping one night stop-overs to a minimum and pointing out the value of taking a Eurolease car rather than a rental (this is a great idea by the way, and one we embraced, and latterly have booked).
After just one email outlining our possible routes, Michele had provided informative brochures describing tried and true places – endorsed in the main from her personal experience. I discovered beautiful little Provencal towns, I had never heard of – Eygalieres, and Callas for example, which offer the most beautiful accommodation for a relaxing week in the June sun. I was able to forward all the information and accommodation brochures to LA for approval and before we knew it, everything was booked!
By the time Roger and Frances returned to visit a couple of weeks ago, our itinerary just needed some fine tuning – where should we stay in London for instance, what London show we should see, and on what days should we do the celebrated tourists sites once in Paris etc? ( Versailles for instance is closed on Mondays).
Our final itinerary is based, for the most part, on the first half of a 3 weeks road trip outlined by Rick Steves and Steve Smith in France 2012, and we will be staying in accommodation recommended by Eurovillas, all of which we have found to be very well reviewed on Trip Advisor. To ensure we would have current information, I pre-ordered the 2014 edition of Rick Steves’ book, and as luck would have it, I received it on Friday, just in time to share it this morning with Roger and Frances. They are on their way back to LA, but we managed a final trip review over a leisurely morning tea on the deck, this time with delicious Ministry of Food cheese scones and Annabel Langbein’s divine Choconut slice. Not only that, Roger bought us a gift – a stunning photographic publication called Destination Paris.. just to whet our appetites even more – in fact, I am about to dip into now….
Note: Rick Steves’ website has recently been revamped and is even more informative now than previously. Take a look the all-new site here with the fantastic addition of “Watch, Read, Listen” where you can view free, full-length TV shows, on demand. It is a fantastic resource!