Most readers of France Today have probably been to Paris at least once in their lifetime. Like many visitors, you’ve already seen The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, The Champs-Elysées, etc.
But what about the second time around — or third, fourth, fifth? If you’re one of those fortunate souls who have visited the City of Light multiple times (I stopped counting after a dozen visits), you realize it’s never enough. And the proverbial sixty-four thousand dollar question is always the same — there’s never enough time to see/eat/drink/experience everything you want to do.
Here’s how I do it. I make a spectacularly impossible list or as my husband says with sad eyes, “THE LIST”. If I have seven days in Paris, I’ll “plan” 18 museums, seven parks, a couple of cemeteries, four new neighborhoods, 40 restaurants, countless new streets… Get the picture?
Yes, you’re right. Even a champion eater like me can’t possible dine at 40 restaurants in seven days. Or visit 18 museums. So why the long list?
A great deal of the pleasure comes from planning the trip. Seeing/tasting/feeling it even before you’re there. When you arrive with great expectations, you’ve already won half the battle. A well prepared list doesn’t cause travel fatigue. Rather it makes you prepared to find the fulfillment you’re looking for. When you’ve written down Musée Guimet and Musée Galliera along with their address/Metro/opening hours, you can easily see they’re physically close to each other and you have a chance to experience both, one before lunch and one after. When you’ve chosen Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimone, you get to not only see architectural models from all over France (it’s a virtual walk through France), but you’ll see one of the best jaw-dropping images of the nearby Eiffel Tower from their second story window. Part of the joy of Paris is seeing new things but another part is re-living your favourites, even on limited time.
On my last visit to Paris, I discovered two new parks, Parc de Belleville and Parc de la Villette. Both opened my eyes to the amazing divergence that Paris parklands offer. I immediately fell in love with each and wondered why they’re not more well-known among my fellow American travellers. Conversely, I also found the time to return to Luxembourg by enjoying my morning petit dejeuner collected from Eric Kayser. That’s double the pleasure because not only are you re-living an old favourite but you’re engaged in the timeless experience of savoring a picnic in France. Do you see how this works? A little bit of new mixed in with a few of the old favorites.
Returning again and again only teases my appetite for more. The choices are staggering. What to try next? I look for pleasure, for inspiration, for the pulse of the city. When I order an aperitif in a café, I don’t order a kir just because it’s easy to pronounce. I want to taste France in every sip so sometimes it’s a Pineau des Charentes, a pastis, a coupe de Champagne, or perhaps a Suze. It’s easier if you do your homework before you leave home. If you arrive ready to take the plunge into a new world, you’ll likely find the nerve to try something new and might even engage the café server in your er, interesting pronunciation of a new word (I usually have to write down Pineau des Charentes in order for the waiter to decipher my request).
Berthillon is synonymous with ice cream in Paris as far as I’m concerned. But yes, I want to taste Grom and Pozzetto too. Being a gourmand in Paris doesn’t just refer to food. It refers to an appetite for all things Paris, whether new or old. I’m obsessed with marchés and proud that I’ve been to more than most Parisians probably see in a lifetime. If you haven’t been to the Aligré market, then make sure you go on your next excursion — but don’t forget about Raspail, your all-time favourite. One complements the other. And when people comment, “Well, haven’t you already been to the Louvre” — look them straight in the eye and say, “Did you know it would take nearly three months of eight hour days to see everything there?” That will get their attention.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to look at faces. Come again? Faces? Yes, look at Parisians — being Parisians. On the Metro (fashion icons and disasters in equal proportion like a Glamour “Do and Don’t” page – such fun!), in the café, as you walk in the park. You’ll be rewarded. In one two-day period, I came across Daniel Auteuil, Patricia Wells and Pink Martini, all in the 6th arrondissement. Talk to people. There’s nothing like an engaging conversation and fresh debate in Paris where I find students more knowledgeable about American politics than my next-door-neighbours. For most visitors, a good vacation is a happy mix of satisfying vignettes, a mini-collage embedded in your brain. Personal connections are the best way to hit the play-back button in your head.
Just like the shoes in your closet, Paris is a combination of sexy stilettos and comfy loafers. You need/want both. Your personal Paris experience is like a Dagwood sandwich. You keep building onto the masterpiece, adding a pickle here or a tomato there until at last…. at last….. well, almost, I haven’t quite finished. Bon appetit!
Michelle Moggio has been experiencing the joys of Paris since the ripe old age of eleven. She is a fan of duck fat, raw oysters and bad French movies. Her long career in advertising helped pave the way for drinking at lunch. When she is not living la vie en rose, she and her husband live in Brentwood, Tennessee where they stay busy planning their next travel adventure and offering unsolicited advice to their daughter.
Moggio is the author of a new novel The Paris Effect and the blog of the same name. The Paris Effect asks: How Would You Spend Seven Days in Paris?” through the lens of four different characters who are discovering the city for the first time. The book is available (both print and digital editions) at Amazon and other e-retailers. Follow Moggio on Twitter (@MichelleMoggio).