Sunday, August 3, 2014

10 reasons why Paris is worth another visit (Summer 2014 Travelogue - Part 1)



In June, Junior and I went to France. This year, like every single year since I moved to Seattle in 1996, I went back to Paris where I lived for 10 years before I became a French expat in the United States. Even if I am not a Parisian, this is the French city I know the most intimately. As soon as I land at Charles de Gaulle airport, everything starts feeling familiar. The ads on the billboards by the baggage carrousel may be different every time. The Information counter may have changed places. I switch airlines like I trade scarves during the week. No matter. Everything feels familiar. This is France. This is home. And as we ride in my parents' car, blurry-eyed, jet-lagged, familiar sights zoom past the window. Majestic Concorde, grounded and on display for all eternity, looks like she might decide to break the rules, and like in the old days, dazzle us all as she soars into the sky. Stressed drivers, honking, impatiently switching lanes on the busy freeway, because that is what you do if you live in Paris. The depressing high rises lining the northern suburbs, remnants of the Parisian urban landscape in the 1960s and 1970s. Not an Eiffel Tower in sight, nor a bistro, or a café terrace. I always have a thought for first time visitors: This will be their introduction to Paris, and la Belle France. Do they worry, or are they too tired to notice or to care, relieved to be out of their airplane seat, safely ensconced (they hope) in the back of a taxi or an Air France shuttle en route to the city center? 

Not to worry, Paris will work her magic later. There will be time to tick things off buckets lists, for the first-time visitor, the more seasoned traveler, or the expat returning home for a short vacation. 

Bucket list. I still have one when I return to Paris, even after all these years. Throughout the year, from my corner of American suburbia, I read about new trends in the French capital; a new restaurant; a new food fad. Parisians *love* burgers, did you know? And they *love* food trucks too. Who would have thought? Eating and standing, in the street? Mais oui. And it is finally possible to drink good coffee in Paris, not that disgusting brew most cafés have been serving since... forever. So I dutifully highlight areas of interest in my trusted Plan de Paris par arrondissement, and I start planning my walks. 





If I believe the international media, the demise of Paris is underway, her traditions are disappearing, eroded by globalization. Paris, c'est Brooklyn, you know. 

For a second, as we drive back to my parents' familiar place, I worry: Will I still recognize you, Paris? Will I still like you? 

Les amis, good news. I am happy to report Paris is still Paris. I took a lot of photos, and I can't share them all here. For those of you who followed my travels on the French Girl in Seattle Facebook page, thank you. I am always in good company. For those of you who don't use Facebook, voilà my travel journal. Bullet point style. 


10 reasons why Paris is worth another visit
by French Girl in Seattle


1. Grandiose sights: La Tour Eiffel.

It doesn't matter if you have already gone up the Eiffel Tower. It doesn't matter if you hate crowds. You are not a Parisian: You can't be blasé about it. It is the Eiffel Tower! You should at the very least walk past once, and marvel at the incredible engineering prowess, the once-controversial structure the Parisians worked so hard to tear down. Parisians can be wrong. Gustave Eiffel was a genius, and he did not deserve to be outshone by his most famous invention. Travel tip warning: You did not make a reservation? You can't bear to stand in line for hours? Man-up and walk up the stairs to the second floor. It is surprisingly manageable and will take less than 30 minutes. No lines. A fraction of the cost. And it is so incredible to do it the way Eiffel and his crew did it every single day between 1887 and 1889. 


My nephew, age 8, so proud he is on his way to the second floor!
From the Trocadero gardens, water canons blasting! 

2. Parisian cafés. Cafés terraces.

I am not referring to the new coffee shops I mentioned in the introduction. I am talking about the traditional Parisian cafés, imitated the world over, never duplicated. The ones with the iconic rattan Gatti chairs; zinc countertops; terraces swarming with smokers. Yes, cafés are expensive. Welcome to Paris. Yes, Parisian waiters can be rough around the edges. But when they are good, they are very good. Des pros. Professionals. I did not think I would miss waiters when I moved away from Paris 19 years ago, but I do. It is not a real trip to Paris and France, if you have not sat down at a café terrace for at least an hour and watched the world go by...





3. The food. The wine.

You did not have a single good meal in Paris? What were you thinking, ordering food Place du Tertre, or stepping into a restaurant showcasing a menu translated into 10 languages? The New York Times wrote a story about Parisian restaurants serving frozen, reheated food? I know. It is possible I was served frozen, reheated food during this trip. Maybe I was lucky. Most of my meals were simple, affordable, and ordered in out-of-the way places. I have no complaints. Do you research; use common sense, and you shall be rewarded. As for the wine, I am no connoisseur, so for me "un pichet" (carafe) - usually a tasty local wine - makes my day... or a glass of rosé de Provence. Wine is the best-kept secret in France, the one good deal you will get (in spite of the atrocious exchange rates.) Look at the price of wine bottles at the local supermarket. You will not believe your eyes, and when returning stateside, will resent American wine price tags - as I do. 



oldies but goodies: Entrecôte-frites, sauce au  poivre
Oeuf-coque (soft-boiled egg,) "mouillettes" (toast,) crudités

4. Boulangeries and Pâtisseries. 

They deserve their own category. Baguette. Croissant au beurreMillefeuille. Eclair. Need I say more?



Chez Sébastien Gaudard, 10th arrondissement.

5. Shopping.

You do not need to visit Paris' designer boutiques to have fun. That is what "le lèche-vitrine," (window-licking) was invented for. On a budget? A visit to the indispensable Monoprix chain can be a lot of fun. But if labels are what are you looking for, then Paris has them all. Time to splurge.



Colorful window display at Antoine et Lili (10th arr.)

6. Iconic Paris. 

If you are looking for Parisian classics, you will find them. They are all around you. You never knew clichés could look so good. Postcard-perfect Paris... 



Neighborhood newsstand, Left Bank

Fermob chairs at the Luxembourg gardens... and grey skies

7. Charming Paris.

Paris can be grandiose, magnificent. Paris also knows how to turn on the charm. She is best explored on foot. She surprises. She seduces. She inspires. You will catch yourself looking more intently at your surroundings. Papa Hemingway was right: Paris will stay with you wherever you go.


Musée de la Vie Romantique

Canal St Martin

8. Paris is smart. 

If culture is what you are looking for, culture you will get. Independent bookstores at every street corner (take that, globalization!) Museums. Monuments. Exhibits. You can't visit Paris and not see at least one exhibit. Two popular "expos" (exhibits) this summer, include August 1944: The Liberation of Paris, (Musée Carnavalet) and Paris and the 1900 World Fair (Petit Palais.) Travel tip: Reserve well in advance.



Paris and the 1900 World Fair,  Petit Palais. 

"L'Arbre du Voyageur" (the Traveler's Tree,) 
bookstore, rue Mouffetard, Left Bank.

9. Paris has a top-notch transportation system.

Buses. Trains. High speed trains. You take them for granted until you don't have them anymore. Dear Métro: You get packed. You get hot. You stink. But damn, you are good. Some things don't change. Favorite station (it is outdoors and so pretty on a sunny day:) Corvisart, line 6.  Favorite line (it is fully automated, and so fast:) Line 14.


Station Corvisart, 13th arr.


Line 14: Fastest way from A to B

10. Les Parisiens.

Quoi? You include les Parisiens in the 10 reasons why Paris is worth another visit list? Don't you know who you are dealing with? They are stressed. Arrogant. They do not like tourists. They never smile. They despise the rest of France. Waiters are the worst. In fact, Paris would be a wonderful city... without the Parisians. 

I beg to differ. Paris would not be Paris without les Parisiens. They are not perfect. They are not as bad as the legend claims either. Many can be helpful, and even charming when approached the right way. They live in a big, crazy city they love to hate. I used to be one of them. Now, as a tourist, I enjoy watching how they debunk stereotypes, one at a time... They are their own people, les Parisiens. Take them, or leave them. 




"Parisian women never wear jeans. Parisian women never wear tennis shoes..."

Two girlfriends, enjoying good food and conversation

Parisians at play: Enjoying her city, and a good book


A bientôt.



All photos by French Girl in Seattle
Do not use, repost or Pin without permission.

Thank you.







44 comments:

  1. Hello Veronique

    Lovely to see you here this morning and to read about your visit to France. I love hearing about your observations following a year away. It is a joy to follow you on the subway and see local establishments where everyday people frequent. What colour and style repetto did you purchase?
    Continued joy as the summer continues.
    Helen xx

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    1. Dear Helen. Wonderful to hear from you. It had been a while... It felt good to return to le Blog and type away ;-) I confess I splurged on a pair of Repettos, but did not go for the ballet flats. Instead, I picked a pair of "Zizi" shoes, (once favored by French composer and singer Serge Gainsbourg,) in Camel. The leather is soft as butter, and they are hand-sewn. The shoe box alone is a collector's item. As I said, a splurge! Happy summer to you as well.

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  2. Your pictures make me want to go around the corner and get a steak frites (minus the frites) around the corner at bistro Celestine!!!
    Instead of salad, salad, salad!

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    1. Bonjour Carol. How about steak-salade? I do that often. See? Problem solved.

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  3. Now you are making me miss "le gai Paris"!

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    1. Paris is not always "gai" especially with her temperamental weather. I have to say not many cities can pull off grey skies ("la grisaille,") as successfully as she does! Thankfully, there are so many other things to focus on...

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  4. You have put a smile on my face. When I first flew intro Paris I was taken back by my initial view of the city. As you mentioned, the northern high-rise apartments are very unattractive and the freeway trip into the heart of the Paris does nothing to enhance Paris's reputation. However, the ride does not take the shine off this magical city. I haven't found Parisians to be arrogant, dour or unfriendly and there is always something new to see and discover. This year a Parisian, whom we had never met took 5 hours out of his Sunday to show us around the area of Paris in which he lives……..Our must do list each trip is never completed as we are usually distracted by the gems we chance upon when strolling through the streets, or by people watching while sitting at a cafe. Warm regards.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by Elizabeth. Everyone should have a bucket list when arriving in Paris... even if you have to realize you may not be able to hit all the items. I am glad you found a friendly - and generous - Parisian to share his city with you. Not surprised. For all their complaining about Paris, they are pretty darn proud of their city. As they should.

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  5. Dearest Véronique,
    Yes, you did sum it up very well! Like going back to Limburg on a bigger scale. The restaurants, the typical food, the culture, the pâtisserie (a HUGE point we miss here...!) etc. etc.
    So glad you and Junior got to go again and stay with your family in France.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

    PS we did go home in 31 years 64 times... so one never gets cured I guess!

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    1. Merci Mariette. 64 trips in 31 years. That is quite an achievement. I will try and beat your record then. I have a few years left here. ;-) A bientôt.

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  6. Oh dear. You are making me pine for Paris (again).

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    1. Bonjour Anne. I just looked up your blog. It looks like you have not written there for a while. I would love to hear about DC. That is another great city. But I am glad if this post brought back happy memories for you.

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  7. Sigh...I miss you,Paris!

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  8. This is a wonderful list. And your photos are gorgeous, even under gray skies. The photo of the patisserie reminds me of a related "love": the intricate window displays, especially in chocolate stores at Easter, and papeteries before la rentrée. And of course, you know I'm a big fan of the metro. Only, your photos remind me how much it's changed in the 15 years since I used it for my daily commute. All for the better, no doubt?

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    1. Bonjour Alison. Oui, Paris has changed a lot in the last few years. So has the Metro (in sections.) Lines 14 and 1 for example, are fully automated now. Older ones, though, remain as hot and as slow as ever. But Parisians (and experienced travelers) know which ones to pick. Hope summer is going well for you. It's really HOT here in Seattle!

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  9. Delighted to see that you had published a new post as it's aways a pleasure popping over here. I lost count of the number of times I have visited Paris some time ago and it's a city which will always be so special to me for many reasons. I find It hard to resist a visit to favourite, iconic places (taking yet another photo of La Tour Eiffel has become a ritual and yes I have climbed those steps to avoid the queues!) and I enjoy planning ahead ready to discover new spots. I've noted a few here including Le Musée de la Vie Romantique and Antoine et Lili....merci!
    Mais oui, Paris is always worth another visit! Great post, Véronique. A bientôt!

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    1. Dear Miss b, always a pleasure to have you here. I know you are an experienced traveler, always on the go, and I have no doubt you have many favorite spots in Paris. It's so much fun to discover "new" spots, or even to re-discover old neighborhoods, though. This year, I spent a wonderful day exploring the old working-class Butte aux Cailles neighborhood. It was a highlight of this trip. Enjoy summer, wherever you may be.

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  10. that is certainly a comprehensive list - very appealing!

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    1. Bonjour Catherine. Long time no talk to... Don't thank me. Thank Paris. It's almost too easy to write about that fantastic city! ;-)

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  11. An annual visitor to Paris, a sometime visitor to your blog, and a fellow West Coast'er (although I'm a little further north than you and into another country) -- couldn't resist commenting when I saw that the receipt you featured here is from the wonderful l'Oisive in the 13th. I've visited a few times,having followed Aimée's blog and watching her dream becoming a fabulous reality. Also happily recognize the bookstore from near the Place Contrescarpe. Thanks for the reminders of a charming city. Have a lovely visit!

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    1. Bienvenue, and thank you for following French Girl in Seattle. It is a small world, isn't it? You are correct: The check is from l'Oisive-Thé, in the charming Butte aux Cailles neighborhood. A clever name for a unique eatery that stood apart from the other restaurants in that street. I will look up Aimée's blog. Thank you for bringing it up to my attention!

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    2. Bonjour! I found your blog after a friend directed me towards it because she caught a glimpse of your receipt from my shop, L'Oisivethé. I loved reading your perspective on Paris.

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    3. Merci beaucoup, and thank you for a wonderful and peaceful lunch at your shop. I will add the address here so my readers can find you: L’OisiveThé et Tricot 10, rue de la Butte aux Cailles Paris 13e. (Great for lunch... and for ladies interested in knitting :-)) - A bientôt.

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  12. Good thing I saw your list and advise here. These are very good tips. I will be visiting Paris again after many years. I am excited to go back there. Thanks sharing these tips. Merci Veronique!

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    1. You're welcome Pamela. Make sure to plan your walks in advance, and you will have a blast... but remember to be flexible too. Sometimes, it's just fun to sit down and do nothing but watch life go by in Paris.

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  13. Taxi? Shuttle? RER B suburban city train for us. We visited Paris in June and made a point to ride a Vélib' bike every day. Navigating the city in the bike lane gave us a keen sense of the city that we did not get on the Metro.

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    1. Bienvenue. Good point about the RER B, even if I would only recommend it to people who travel light. As for Velib', yes, it's a different way of seeing Paris. I am glad you survived to tell the story - I witnessed two biking accidents in less than a week while I was there in July!

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  14. Oh such a lovely summary - it does bring the travel bug to life and makes me want to visit your wonderful city again. We came close this summer as one connection from Greece was via Paris; another in New York and we opted for New York (theory: closer to Seattle) - will never do that one again, so perhaps Paris in the spring. . .

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    1. Pourquoi pas Jackie? You know the song: "I love Paris in the springtime..." ;-)

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  15. Paris is always a good idea, right!? Glad you got to get away Veronique. I see you visited some of my favorite places. I think the photo of the Jardin du Luxembourg best. How lovely! XO

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    1. Merci beaucoup Jeanne. It was a chilly July day at the Luxembourg gardens, and that created a different type of photo opportunity ;-) Hope you are enjoying this HOT Seattle summer!

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  16. Thrilled to see your post pop up on my sidebar today. I've very much missed your presence in Blogland!
    I savored every one of these wonderful photos. Paris will always be a part of me, and I return in September for a short visit. I will be in touch for some special suggestions for you to add to my notes. '-)
    Welcome home!

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    1. You are so kind, Sarah, thank you. Glad to have you back chez moi :-) It's wonderful you are returning to Paris in September. The weather should be perfect then. It has been so HOT in Seattle, it is starting to feel like Texas!

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  17. Bonjour Veronique,

    Such a beautiful post and know exactly what you are saying. I enjoyed seeing all your lovely photos and looks like you did a little shopping at Repetto - lucky!
    I have been lucky enough to visit Paris three times, and love it more every time I go there.
    Happy week
    hugs
    Carolyn

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    1. Thank you for your visit, Carolyn. And since you know and love Paris, I am glad you enjoyed my post. Happy summer.

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  18. As a famous man once said, "Paris sera toujours Paris," no matter what else changes in the world. Cela me rassure énormément. Paris me manque et toi aussi. How about a little randonnée together through the Marais un de ces jours??? We'll include Monsieur Dan. After all, it's his favorite city.

    Big bisous, ma vieille, M-T

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    1. M-T, count me in! Maybe if we are both nice to Monsieur Dan he can take us out for some delicious ice cream chez Berthillon on Ile St Louis? ;-)

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  19. It is a favorite of ours and all of your images have us longing for another visit. The food, the culture, the people…love it all!

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    1. It seems Paris still counts many fans worldwide...

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  20. I'm getting so excited reading this!! My daughter is leaving for a semester in Paris very soon and we are visiting her over Christmas. I am going to show her this post and re-read it again for future reference for myself!!

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    1. Excellent idea Heather. I have written other posts about Paris in the past. Your daughter may want to look them up ;-)

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  21. Hello there, my daughter (15 years old) and sister and I just came back from Paris 2 weeks ago. It was the first time for my daughter to fly on an airplane so I wanted to make sure we picked the perfect place ... Paris. Even though it was high tourist season and everything was incredibly expensive, we had a most wonderful time. All Parisienne stereotypes have long since been debunked, including the way Parisiennes dress. From what I saw there isn't much difference. In fact, I felt a bit overdressed at times. And I know the women I saw were Parisienne (or at least French). This was a bit of a let down because I wanted to see the chic I've always read about. Maybe it was the wrong season? It's easier to dress more chic during the cooler months I think. Have you noticed a change in the way women dress now (more casual) than before?

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    1. Dear Anon. Thank you for your insights. I think Parisian women are like New York women, or London women, there are an eclectic mix; with many different personalities; tastes; and means. I have not noticed any changes over the last few years. In general, you will see more elegant women in specific neighborhoods, for example the 7th or the 16th arrondissements. I blame the media and these ridiculous "French-women-do-it-better" books for creating unrealistic expectations about French women (especially in the United States.) No wonder you were disappointed when you saw *real* French women in the street.

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Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle