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    France | Paris – a Snapshot

    Paris Snapshot for first-timers in Paris.

    I wrote this blog some time ago and never published it? Reading it again I believe it’s still worth sharing on our blog especially for those of you who are visiting Paris for the first time.

    Transport: L’Open Tour

    Before you do anything buy yourself a ticket on the L’Open Tour bus. It’s the best way to gain a sense of direction, see the top tourist spots, and learn about Paris, its history and culture. You can hop on and off at whim which makes it an inexpensive mode of transport.

    Art galleries:

    The Louvre (www.louvre.fr/en) is probably going to be your first port of call. It is a must for all art lovers but for those who don’t have the time to spend at the Louvre (one day and you’ll only scratch the surface of the museum’s literally massive collection) then consider gallery Musée d’Orsay (www.musee-orsay.fr) which is great on rainy day, closely followed by Musée Rodin (www.musee-rodin.fr/)  which is wonderful in spring time.

    While I contend the Pompidou Centre is not the most architecturally beautiful building you have to see it…buy a Perrier rondelle (with lemon) while you’re there. Did you know that from the Pompidou you’ll be looking at Paris from the middle!

    Destinations on foot:

    Stroll through the Palais Royal and the garden of Tuillerie leading to the Pyramide due Louvre on the right bank.  Grab a Perrier water at Le Cafe Marly (93 Rue de Rivoli) a cafe located outside, on the left side of the pyramid. This café is beautiful. If you’re hungry or want a ‘drink with a hit’ then pop into Le Fumoir www.lefumoir.com 6 Rue Adival-de-Coligny M. Louvre Rivoli, which is at the back of the Louvre near the church. Website www.worldsbestbars.com summed this spot up perfectly: “Smoother than Sacha Distel’s underwear, you won’t be surprised to discover this handsome bar and restaurant has a definite ‘smoking room’ feel. Conveniently close to the Louvre you can reward yourself for soaking up some culture with a long Pastis or one of the many excellent cocktails. The chic leather chairs are great to unwind in and there’s also a selection of international newspapers to peruse should the fashionable regulars not keep your attention!” Salute.

    On another day slip on your comfy walking shoes and make your way along the little pedestrian streets in the first and second districts from Places des Victoires to La Bourse and Rue Reaumur Sebastopol to Les Halles district – it’s full of life and you’re bound to find concerts by the church.

    Whatever you do, don’t miss out on a leisurely stroll around Le Marais. This district spreads across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. It’s breathtakingly beautiful all the way to La Place des Vosges and Rue des Francs Bourgeois. Very cool shops in this neck of the wood! While there visit Le museé Carnavalet…I have read about this museum and have been told on good authority it is worth seeing. www.carnavalet.paris.fr/en/museum-carnavalet The museum, set in a charming Renaissance mansion, is dedicated to the history of the city of Paris. Last I heard, the museum was temporarily closed and will reopen in 2019.

    Place de la Bastille: Turn left away from the river and walk to the Canal Saint Martin www.paris.fr/english/heritage-and-sights/canals/canal-saint-martin/rub_8274_stand_34642_port_19138  This area is a total mix of French and Northern African culture with an interesting combo of cafes and family bistros. The old French fellows play Petanque along the canal. Ask if you can join them? Don’t be surprised if they reply “bien sur” (of course).

    Chic boutiques:

    Even if you don’t have the money to splash out on haute couture you must take a walk along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré for fashion-envy window shopping. Nearby is Avenue Montaigne. In these two streets you’ll find the best of the best…Hermes, D&G, Versace, Chanel, Lanvin, Dior, Vuitton, Bulgari…

    Luxe hotels & bars:

    While you’re wandering along Saint-Honoré look out for L’Hotel Costes. The decor is truly sublime – it’s Napoleon III. There is a great indoor garden as nice as the one at the Ritz or Georges V.

    However, if you have time do pop in for a glass of champagne at the Hermingway Bar at the Ritz. You don’t have been in your ‘glad rags’ to gain entry; we wandered along a long corridor displaying all sorts of high-end products before reaching our destination. Jeans are acceptable here; not so the bar opposite.

    Don’t be taken in by Hemingway Bar’s cocktail menu. We ordered a special champagne cocktail and it cost us plenty; little did we realize we could have looked at another drinks menu and asked for a couple of palatable reds which were more in line with our travellers’ budget.

    Panoramic Parisian views seen from iconic structures:

    The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) will give you the best view…but you will have to stand in a long queue and, depending on the time of year you are there, the wait is for a very long time. If that’s not on your agenda, then go one step down the tourist ladder and enjoy views from a less lofty spot on top of the Arc de Triomphe which stands at the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle (also known by locals as Place de l’Étoile). You’ll feel giddy just watching the Parisian drivers navigating their way along the 12 major avenues leading to Place de l’Étoile and the busy roundabout in which Arc de Triomphe stands.

                                                                                                                        

    Panoramic views that won’t cost you a euro:

    One of the best views of the city skyline was from the rooftop terrace of the historic Paris department store, La Samaritaine. Sadly, when were last there it was closed for renovation due to reopen in 2018. Check with locals to see if is open and the terrace is accessible. It will be worthwhile.

    An equally impressive view can be gained from the terrace restaurant in the Printemps department store and it’s free! It’s in the Printemps de la Maison section of the Printemps department store (Boulevard Haussmann). Take the lift to the 8th floor, then the escalator to the 9th – it’s here you’ll find the restaurant and beyond the glass doors a bird’s eye view of Paris from the rooftop terrace. Manifique!

    Food:

    Sorbet at Bertillon: You’ll find Bertillon at 31 rue St-Louis-en-l’Ile.  The sorbet is the very best. Sit on the river bank looking back at the Notre Dame; walk along the side and middle of the island – this area is so old and splendid, it transports you back to the 15th century.

    Café de Flore: If you are keen for a coffee and a bite to eat then take a stroll along the Left Bank to Café de Flore,  www.cafe-de-flore.com at the corner of the Boulevard Saint-Germain and the Rue St. Benoit. It’s one of those places you have on your must-do list and need to tick-off just like Les Deux Magots (6 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés)…the latter was known as the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite patronised by Surrealist artists, intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and young writers, such as Ernest Hemingway.

    Best places to chill en plein air:

    Le Jardin du Luxembourg is the largest public park located in the 6th district. The park is the garden of the French Senate, which is itself housed in the Luxembourg Palace. In the middle of summer the park is in full bloom; it’s a great spot for children to kick a ball or adults to lie back on a park bench under the canopy of one of the tree-lined paths. Bordered by the Quartier Latin and St-Germain-des-Pres, this park hits just the right spot when you’re seeking a reprieve from a manic day of sightseeing and shopping.

    The Jardin des Tuileries (near the Louvre) is rather wonderful to simply stroll and there are ample grassy patches lining the main promenade.

    Le Bateau Mouche: Take a trip just before sunset. Travelling along the Seine in a glass-roofed boat is a great way to see Paris. Just make sure you check the route – the leaflet will say one thing, but the routes are sometimes shortened; and please note: some boat companies are better than others. We travelled on one of the boats hoping to see the Statue of Liberty (quarter-scale replica of the U.S.A. version) is located at the southern end of the artificial island, Île aux Cygnes. We were almost there, then the boat decided to do a u-turn. The shortening of the route was something to do with a strike at the time?

    Churches: My top three are the Notre Dame (of course), the Sacré-Cœur Basilica (naturally) and La Saint-Chappelle (a Gothic chapel on the Île de la Cité).

    Montmartre: If you choose to visit the Sacré-Cœur, the walk up to this popular basilica will reward you well. It is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city.

    Flea Markets: The main one is Les Puces – you’ll find antiques, trash and treasures, clothes and almost anything else. Access is via Porte de Clignancourt metro. Check the times when the market is open…it would be devastating to get there and find it was closed. You really do need to spend a whole day there. Try and choose a pleasant day – it’s not much fun in the rain, trust me.

    Versailles: Do, do, do take a train trip to Versailles for the day. www.chateauversailles.fr/ Again it is advisable to check the opening times. Movie buffs will recall seeing Versailles in Marie Antoinette directed by Sophia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst. Versailles is grand and of epic proportions: “The Palace of Versailles was the official residence of the Kings of France from 1682 until 1790. It was originally a hunting lodge, built in 1624, by Louis XIII. It was expanded by Louis XIV beginning in 1669. He used it as a little lodge as a secret refuge for his amorous trysts with the lovely Louise de la Valliere and built a fairy tale park around it. Jules Hardouin Mansart, the king’s principal architect, drew the plans to enlarge what was turning more and more into a palace from A Thousand and One Nights. The terrace that overlooked the gardens was removed to make way for the magnificent Hall of Mirrors, the Galarie de Glaces. It is here from which the king radiated his power and where the destiny of Europe was decided over a century. The French classical architecture was complemented by extensive gardens.”

    Sophisticated department stores: Galleries Lafayette and Le Printemps on Boulevard Haussman are major musts. Take note of their beautiful stained glass domed-ceilings while you’re there. Monoprix (also on Boulevard Haussman) is a super spot for a cheap lunch. Le Bon Marche Rive Gauche (on the opposite side of the river, on the left bank) is equally impressive and very popular with the well-heeled. The interior of the department store is visually wonderful.

    Night time walks:  stroll along the Champs Elysées and the banks of the Seine…illuminated at night it looks entirely different. You’ll feel as you’re at the centre of the universe.

    Hôtel de Crillon – Salon de Thé: Enjoy lapping up the luxury of an afternoon tea French style. Hôtel de Crillon in Paris is one of the oldest luxury hotels in the world. The hotel is located at the foot of the Champs-Élysées at No. 10 on the north end of Place de la Concorde. A wonderful experience at any age.

    Luxe Food Stops: Pop into a Laudrée shop – there are about six of them in Paris (including one at Versailles). My favourite is the one on the Champs Elysées. Buy a box of iconic macarons – their colours alone will draw you in, and their taste – sensational! My pick: Pistache and Pétales de Rose. www.laduree.fr/

    One for the boys – Hotel des Invalides: Les Invalides is a complex of buildings in the city’s 7th district “containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the burial site for some of France’s war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte.” Napolean’s tomb is a triumph.  www.invalides-paris.com/

    One for the girls – Sephora: the ultimate beauty destination! This is the most amazing girlie haven laid out in a vast hall-like space…there are several outlets in Paris as well as around Europe and in the US.  My favourite Sephora is at 70-72 Avenue des Champs-Elysées. It’s mind boggling…there’s a wall dedicated to women’s fragrances – we’re talking floor to ceiling EDT, Parfum and so on…while the opposite wall is packed with men’s aftershave, fragrances etc. No-one misses out. There are stands showcasing make-up applicators (beautiful brushes of all shapes and sizes to ensure your make-up is Paris perfect), stands for hair appliances, stand-alone displays full of products dedicated to the make-up colour of your choice…pink eye shadows, pink nail polishes, pink blushes, pink lipsticks…then think of another colour…yep it’s there too. The colour spectrum is pushed to the max. Matisse would have been proud. http://www.sephora.com/

    One for the kids – The Catacombs of Paris or Catacombes de Paris. The catacombs are a famous underground ossuary located south of the city’s former “Barrière d’Enfer” city gate (at today’s Denfert-Rochereau). The ossuary fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris’ stone mines. Fascinating place and one that parents can enjoy with the kids.

     

     

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