Is Always on My Mind
by Anne-Marie Macloughlin
Everyone thinks of seeing Paris in the springtime, but, like a lot of major cities in Europe, it has a year-round appeal, and, as I was to find out, some very temperate weather in the late fall
Travel and Tourism
Orly and Charles de Gaulle-Roissy are the two main airports serving Paris. As my flight arrived at CGD, I’d planned to get Le Metro into town (€9.50), a cheaper option to Le Taxi (approximately €40-60). The RER (regional) trains connect with the metro, the journey to the Gare du Nord taking around 35 minutes.
The metro network is as advanced as one would expect from a world class city. Clean and easy to navigate, I felt as confident as a local within a day or two. By far the best way to see Paris, though, is with The Paris Pass (parispass.com).
Purchased online or from the main outlet in the city (randomly, a small confectionary store) close to Bonne Nouvelle metro, the Paris Pass lives up to its online hype. Savings galore come with the package, which vary according to length of visit (I bought a 3 day pass for €109). Entry to many museums and the main attractions are included.
For getting about, the pass includes RER, metro, buses, Le Car Rouge double-decker tour bus, and a cruise along the Seine. For the easy way to see this magnificent city, I would absolutely recommend it. Attractions are not far from each other, connections straightforward, and the French very willing to assist.
Divided into twenty arrondissements, or municipalities, each with it’s own character, one soon gets a feel for the city.
Ah, the smell of fresh-baked baguettes, the salty tang of moules marinieres, and of course, the seductive aroma of a café allongee. Paris is a gastronome’s pleasure dome. I had booked an apartment hotel, The Citadines de Montmartre (citadines.com for information), which meant self-catering in a country known for it’s superior cuisine.
The Monoprix department store, has a grocery store on site, where you may also purchase alcohol. Used to Toronto prices, I found Paris pretty reasonable, especially as the majority of produce was organic, free range and otherwise ethical, and catering to all palates. For late-night shopping, the local convenience store, Franprix, came up trumps the night I arrived, with fresh fruit and veg, eggs, cheese, and a decent liquor section.
Finding somewhere to enjoy a meal out in Paris is a no-brainer. Cheap and cheerful prix fixe restaurants vie for space with the more exclusive eateries. For breakfast, however, do NOT pass up the opportunity for a pain au chocolat – translation, chocolate bread. I was sucked in by the aroma the first day I passed a bakery. When in France, leave the diet at home 🙂
Paris = culture. Home to the world’s most visited museum , the Louvre, which houses 35,000 pieces of artwork in its eight departments, and of course, La Joconde – more commonly referred to as The Mona Lisa. Make sure you schedule at least 3 hours for a visit, and wear comfortable shoes.
The Musee d’Orsay on the left bank can be overlooked by visitors to the city in favour of its famous rival, but it houses some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful masterpieces in art history. My favourites, ‘Starry Night over the Rhone’/ La Nuit Etoilee (Vincent Van Gogh), inspiration for Cat Steven’s haunting ballad, and Monet’s ‘Blue Water Lilies’.
Another must-see, is the Musee Rodin. Housed in a gorgeous mansion set in neatly manicured grounds, this collection from the master sculptor includes his most famous pieces, ‘Le Penseur’ (The Thinker) and ‘Le Baiser’ (The Kiss) . The former poses thoughtfully on a column outside the museum, the gilded dome of Les Invalides in the distance. Stunning in its realism, The Thinker is a stark reminder that, initially, Rodin’s style was derided by his contemporaries and critics.
Failing the entrance exam for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts three times, his reputation as a sculptor was finally established at the age of 40, with The Age of Bronze, his first original work. Good to know even geniuses get rejected sometimes 🙂
Medieval Monsters and Monuments
Hopping on the metro, I headed to (in my humble opinion) the globe’s most iconic structure – The Eiffel Tower. Finished in 1889, it was the tallest monument in the world until the Chrysler Building in New York was erected in 1930. Dazzling enough during the day, the Tower after dark must be viewed for the magnificent light show provided by 20,000 light bulbs, which sparkle for five minutes every hour on the hour, until 1am.
Across the street, lies another glittering landmark – The Seine. For a different view of the city, many mini-cruises are offered. Open-air in summer, the winter cruisers are glass-topped and warmly heated. Recorded commentary is available in several languages; if you’re lucky, you’ll get the guide we had, who spoke at least six!
Disembarking at the foot of the tower, the Car Rouge was waiting. An open-topped double decker bus, it is the ultimate hop-on, hop-off experience. As the route includes all the major attractions, I decided to visit the gargoyles of Notre Dame.
The first stone of this medieval marvel was laid in 1163, and took almost 200 years to complete. The word Gargoyle is from the French word gargouille, meaning gullet, and the verb gargariser, meaning ‘to gargle’, which makes perfect sense, given that these fearsome creatures are in fact, drainpipes. Huddled together on the narrow walkways, tourists can experience these incredible creatures up close, as well as a breathtaking view of the city.
Varied and Vintage
Located in the 4th arrondissement, Notre Dame is not far from Le Marais, known for its many thrift and vintage stores. One of the most famous of these, Free’p’star, has three stores within 5 minute’s walk of each other.
On the lookout for a winter coat, I was directed to the branch at 8 rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie. With the fur trade widely considered by many Europeans as a cruel, unnecessary and outdated practice, many vintage stores are teeming with all manner of donated pelts, which was what greeted me in the cramped Free’p’star basement. Not a fan of fur either, I was relieved to see many faux options mixed in with the exotics, along with some very retro leather and sheepskin.
Finally settling on a long snuggly mouton (a type of sheepskin), I was speechless when I saw the price tag – €10 (around $15). On returning to the hotel, I realised I’d left behind the 3 white tuxedo shirts I’d put aside at €3 each, still in shock from scoring such a bargain!
For my last night, a pilgrimage to the basilica of Sacre-Coeur proved to be the ultimate stairmaster, Perched above the city on the Butte de Montmartre, a steep 130 metres high, with an easy way up in the form of the funiculaire from Anvers Metro to the foot of the church steps. Gazing at Paris by Night, it was easy to visualise the artists of Montmartre (amongst them, Dali and Picasso) gaining inspiration from this, The City of Light.