One of my two fabulous nieces is headed to Europe for a week with her boyfriend (that’s them in the photos below), and they’ll spend just over two days in my beloved Paris.
Young, smart and eager to see the world, Melyssa and Steve can be frequent travelers because of their frugal planning and careful research. Plane tickets purchased about 4 months ago for their three-country spree were surprisingly cheap. I’m thrilled that they wanted my input about one of my favorite cities and happy to share my experiences. I also can’t wait to hear about their discoveries and see their pictures.
General Advice from Aunt Kim
Melyssa and Steve, walk as much as you can, slowly, taking in not just the sights, but the sounds, the smells and the people. With only two days, I would do more walking than anything else and just get a sense for the city. You can go up in the Eiffel Tower or see the Louvre on another trip. I know you’ll be going back, because you will fall in love, just like I have.
The Metro in Paris is great for getting around the city, and usually a lot faster than a taxi or Uber. The traffic jams are reminiscent of large American cities. Get Metro passes and ride when you’re not walking. Your Metro map should be well-worn by the time you leave Paris.
Some more practical tips:
Bring super-comfortable shoes.
Have your camera (or phone) ready at all times, because unexpected magic will happen.
Order food you don’t recognize, keep an open mind and don’t be surprised to fall in love for life.
Be ready for rain, but don’t let it cramp your style. Forego an umbrella for a €5 plastic poncho.
Be careful of pickpockets and aware of your surroundings, but not afraid, never afraid. Paris is very welcoming, and those age-old stories of Parisians being rude when Americans try to speak French just aren’t true.
Don’t miss Montmartre! Take the Metro to the Abbesses stop, get out and make your way to the Funiculaire de Montmartre, riding it up alongside the famous steps of Montmartre.
Or you could take the steps, but it is a loooong way up, and you’ll already be doing lots of walking. Walk all around Sacre Coeur, where you’ll see wonderful views of Paris.
Pop over into the tiny little village of Montmartre and check out the shops and artists, looking out for pickpockets. You may encounter roaming artists wanting to draw your picture, but be prepared to pay for it if they do. It’s ok just to say no and walk away. This part of Montmartre is touristy but still worth doing.
If La Maison Rose is open, you should eat there. It is famous and fantastic. Your cousin Thomas (AKA the Musical Millennial here in the Glover Gardens blog) calls it “The Pink Restaurant,” and we had a very memorable meal there. On a cold, gray day, we sat just outside the front door at a tiny table that only comes out when they’re open (which is sporadic) and had steaming hot plates of pasta that revved up our energy for more traipsing.
All the little cafes in Montmartre are great, and the pasta dishes are what I’d recommend.
The Museum of Montmartre is wonderful, too. It’s in a series of old houses where famous painters like Renoir painted. It’s not expensive and there are great views. Here’s a post about it.
Rue des Martyrs
I like to walk back from Montmartre down the Rue des Martyrs after crossing over Boulevard de Clichy. You can walk all the way to Notre Dame, which takes about an hour. Rue des Martyrs is a historic street that’s protected by city rules governing what kind of businesses can come in (no chains), so you’ll see “real Paris”. You and Steve will love it, Melyssa – it’s like a great big farmers’ market. See my post called April in Paris: Rue des Martyrs for more.
As you leave Montmartre and cross over Boulevard des Clichy, to get to Rue des Martyrs, you’ll be walking through the Moulin Rouge area where you’ll see a bunch of ads for sex shops and erotic dancing shows, but it’s not scary. I promise.
When you get to Notre Dame, you can go in without waiting in line if you are going to a church service or to pray. (Say a prayer for me!) You can walk around inside afterward and should – it’s beautiful. I was there last summer just after Papa died, and the building gave me a sense of peace and connection to him. See my blog post about it here.
After Notre Dame, you can walk over to the Pond Neuf bridge. You’ll probably want to take selfies there with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
Pont Neuf is where a famous scene in The Bourne Identity took place; remember when the Conklin boss-man character was on the bridge waiting to meet fugitive Jason Bourne, who then called Conklin from his own office in the building above? That was the Samaritain building, pictured below. Thomas was doing a Bourne moment there.
It would be fun for you to rewatch the movie after you get home from your trip and check out all the Paris locations you’ll be newly familiar with. I absolutely love watching movies set in Paris and reliving my walkabouts through the City of Light. Hey, maybe we can do a Paris movie night over the Christmas holiday!
While you’re in that area, be sure to walk along the River Seine and see the artists and little shop-booths that open during the daytime and close up like little flowers at night.
Cruise Along the Seine
If you have time, take a river cruise! This one, Vedettes du Pont Neuf, is only about 10 Euro and takes off from near the Point Neuf – I highly recommend it. Take it in the evening and you’ll see the Eiffel Tower all lit up.
Public Gardens at The Tuilleries and Jardin des Champs-Élyées
Another great walk is from the Tuilleries Garden through the Place de la Concorde through the Jardins des Champs-Élysées. I love these public gardens so much that I try to get there every time I go to Paris, no matter the weather, no matter the time of year – as you can see in these photos from various trips over a dozen+ years.
After the gardens, you can walk all the way up the Ave de Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triumph. The Champs-Élysées has high-end shopping and quite a few pretty people in designer shoes, but stick to your guns and wear the comfy ones.
Place du Trocadero
The Place du Trocadero by the Eiffel Tower is also a great place for a view of that iconic landmark.
Galeries Lafayette and Passage des Panoramas
There’s a great view of Paris from the top of the shopping center Galeries Lafayette roof terrace on Boulevard Haussmann, which is free. It closes at 7:30 p.m. In that area is one of my favorite little places, the Passage des Panoramas, this cool little set of passages between buildings that has great restaurants in it. I found it when Thomas and I did the Paris and London trip in 2011 for his 14th birthday.
The Italian restaurant on the left (on the right in this pic), just a little way into the passage from Boulevard Haussmann is supposed to be one of the best Italian restaurants in Paris. I haven’t been able to get a table there yet.
My favorite restaurant in the Passage des Panoramas is Canard & Champagne, a “modern French restaurant” that mostly serves duck and champagne. It is divine! And not super-expensive.
The duck burger is fabulous. The paté is fabulous, The duck breast is fabulous. The duck leg is fabulous. The address is 57 Passage des Panoramas. Go there, taste, and be happy.
It’s a great place to eat before going on the boat tour from the nearby Pont Neuf.
A Vietnamese Restaurant Extraordinaire in a Area with Superb Street Art
There’s a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant that only the locals know, Comptoir Vietnam at 15 Rue Esquirol, 75013. I found it through a blogger friend and raved about it in a blog post. It’s in the 13th arrondissement, which has lots of street art, so if you go there, be sure to give yourself time to walk around and view it.
The Latin Quarter
Walking around in the Latin Quarter at night is also fun. It isn’t far from Bistro des Augustins and comes alive at night with live music. No pictures of that yet – maybe you and Steve will collect them and do a guest post!
Have Fun, Be Safe and Collect Those Memories
There’s so much more to do! You’ll have to go back. Maybe one day we can go together.
Culinary experiences are high on my list when I travel. The only eateries I disdain are chains. Unusual foods, new restaurants, out-of-the-way places that only locals go, famous places that I’ve read about- and salivated over – for years, tiny little spots that offer perfect renditions of traditional ethnic dishes – bring ‘em all on!
So many taste experiences, so little time…
So when I get a recommendation from someone on my internal Trusted Buds List (buds as in ’taste buds’ as well as the traditional sense of ‘buddy’, a person who would never steer you wrong), I try hard to make it happen.
That’s how I had the delightful experience of dining at tiny and wonderful Comptoir Vietnam in Paris last month. A Glover Gardens blog friend who has traveled the world a time or two (or three) recommended it on one of my previous Paris posts, just as I was heading out to a workshop there with several colleagues. He had found Comptoir Vietnam by accident years earlier while taking a walk in the City of Lights. He loved it. He went back. He took loved ones there on later trips. Most importantly (to me), he paid it forward by telling me about it. And now I’m telling you.
You need to know about Comptoir Vietnam. It’s that good.
My colleagues are game for anything, and on the night before our return to Houston, they accompanied me on the very crowded, fairly hot, hour-long Metro ride during rush hour to get to this stellar little place. We weren’t sorry! It was everything we expected, and more.
I’ll set the stage for you. It was overcast and rainy, as Paris often is. (How is it that overcast and rainy in Paris doesn’t ruin the mood, it adds to it??) The Metro experience was a little different than usual as we got close to our stop, with elevated, above-ground tracks that provided a great view of sudden and unexpected street art, a number of huge and intricate murals on the buildings.
We alighted from the Metro and found ourselves in the 13th arrondissement, an area of Paris that was previously unknown to me. A couple of turns down wet, gray streets that were mostly residential but dotted with neighborhood businesses and restaurants (primarily Asian) took us to the humble front door of Comptoir Vietnam.
The interior was very small, with only six or eight tables. The menu was delightfully notin English. This ain’t no tourist trap!
Noticing that we weren’t French or Asian, one of the patrons struck up a conversation with us immediately. She wanted to know how we found the place, because “usually only locals come here”. She helped us interpret the menu and decide what to order, and reinforced what we already suspected: this was going to be a great meal.
Oh my goodness!
We had dumplings that took a little while to arrive, because they were steamed to perfection after we ordered them – three different kinds (shrimp, pork and beef). There were piquant dipping sauces that someone back in the kitchen probably made that day.
Two of us chose Bo Bun Nem, a dish I had never heard of. It was a big bowl of beef and incredibly rich broth and vermicelli or rice noodles and fresh things like cilantro and cucumber and chile peppers and cucumbers and bean sprouts and whole pieces of some kind of crispy spring roll and a deep, oniony sauce – oh my! “This is North Vietnamese food,” my friend had said. “Nothing like we usually eat in the US.” Umm-hmm. And in addition to being super-delicious, it was cheap!
We didn’t talk much at Comptoir Vietnam after the meal arrived, except to revel in our good fortune. So I’m sharing it with you in case you get to the 13th arrondissement of Paris one day. You should.
As for me, I’ll be back in Paris this week, and I really want to go back to Comptoir Vietnam. And if I can’t make it on this trip, then I will on the next one. It’s that good. And there are soooooo many other dishes to try!
excitement and dread ~ my two constant companions
on overseas flights
Sitting in my window seat in Premium Economy (no irony in that term!), I’m excited to be headed back to Paris but feeling a bit loathsome about the weather. Half of the passengers are on the plane and the rest are waiting at the gate here at Dulles International Airport, because lightning strikes have halted the boarding process. Sheesh!
I love air travel ~
but it’s the being there part,
not the getting there
Once the getting there is done, I promise you lots of peppy Paris posts with pics! ‘Til then, please send good air travel juju, and check out these other Paris-based posts (if you just can’t wait): click here.
A Word about Haiku Therapy
I always write haiku when I’m waiting in line or stressed – you should try it! I call it Haiku Therapy. It passes the time and reduces the dread, and has gotten me into a lot of great conversations with “all y’all” haiku lovers out there.
A week later, after a successful (and super-busy!) trip, I’m just now seeing some of the comments and realizing that this post had a cliff-hanger ending with no resolution. Sorry about that! And thanks for the good juju…
The overnight flight was fine after a rocky start and we arrived in Paris in one of the most beautiful sunny days ever. And since the only way to conquer the jet lag and get onto local time quickly is to power through it and walk, walk, walk, that’s exactly what we did. To close out this tale, here’s a photo of the Eiffel Tower from the gardens in front of the Musée de l’Armée, where Napoleon is buried.
April in Paris is glorious, and that’s why there are songs about it.
And poetry, books, movies, operas, plays, drawings, photography, sculpture, tapestries and just about any other art form you can think of.
And blog posts, like this one.
I found the Musée de Montmartre & Jardins Renoir (Museum of Montmartre and Renoir’s Gardens) last April. I loved it so much that I went back in October and took a friend.
Located just down the street from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, it puts you square into the history of Montmartre in the “Belle Epoque” period (1870-1914) or Golden Age. The museum and gardens throb with a creative, imaginative and harmonious aesthetic that must be been the inspiration for the numerous artists and writers who lived and worked there in the era of impressionism.
These residences, surrounded by gardens, housed the workshops and ateliers of numerous artists such as Auguste Renoir, Émile Bernard, Raoul Dufy, Charles Camoin, Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo. The writers Pierre Reverdy and Léon Bloy also resided here, as well as the sculptor Demetrius Galanis. It is here that Julien François Tanguy, otherwise known as Père Tanguy, one of the first collectors of impressionist paintings practiced his trade as an art supplies dealer.
The museum is excellent, with really interesting exhibits throughout the charming and small rooms of the buildings. In addition to the artwork in the permanent collection, homage is paid to the cabaret, Le Chat Noir and the Moulin Rouge with artifacts and multimedia, including the history of the can-can in films. The bar below is a typical “zinc bar,” so-called because the tops of the bars were made from zinc.
The grounds are full of old stone walls and steps, inviting arches and passages that lead you from verdant terraced courtyards to flower gardens. I spent almost two hours just wandering around outside. It is an incredibly peaceful and yet stimulating setting.
Montmartre is situated at the highest point in Paris, and there are wonderful views of the city from the windows of the museum buildings and the back gardens.
But wait, there’s more! During the time Renoir’s studio was here, he painted The Swing.
The swing is still there. I found that really cool.
There is so much more to this museum than I’ve shared with you today. Hundreds of paintings are in the permanent collection and special exhibits bring Montmartre alive. You walk in thinking of it as the Montmartre of today, with the funicular and famous steps that take you up the hill, the unmistakable hulking white buildings of Sacré-Cœur, and the artists and shops in the square. You leave understanding the soul of the place.
I fell in love with the Musée de Montmartre in the springtime, came back in the fall, and hope to go back and see it in the summer. It is a glorious way to spend an afternoon in Paris.