We Started In Paris.

I am in love with Paris. I feel that I lived there in another life and sometimes I wish I lived there in this one. When we hit upon the idea of our faux Orient Express trip, of course we started in Paris. But what if you’re a Paris newbie? Inspired by The Telegraph’s ‘My Kind of Town’ set of questions, here are my thoughts on Paris for the lucky ones who’ve yet to discover it all.

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Why Paris?
For the architecture. (Nobody does modern architecture like the French). For the art. (Any artist who’s any artist has lived there). For the river. For the food. (That one is a challenge. Those supercilious French waiters can be intimidating). For that certain je ne sais quoi.

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The best place to stay?
For us, always an Airbnb. Sure, as I heard some Americans discussing the other day, there are none of the niceties of staying in a hotel, and less security, but an Airbnb has it’s perks. This time we stayed in the bijou apartment of a travelling classical musician. Up five flights of wooden spiral stairs, into a perfectly packaged apartment, a jewel in the art of tiny living. Beautiful use of hooks and shelves, movable, stow-a-way furniture, mirrors and windows, made the place light and loved. We were in Montmartre – just; it was Kinshasa, with a dash of Serbian spice, and a soupçon of French thrown into the mix. There were two boulangeries in our street. Every morning Jim would fetch our croissant and pain au chocolat. ‘I feel like a local, I love it’, he said. ‘Past the Serbian church, and the playground. There’s no-one on the street, just me and the smell of the boulangerie’.

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What’s the first thing you should do?
Raymond Blanc drinks a glass of champagne and John McEnroe orders a steak. Whatever your pocket, it’s food and terrace related. Sit and watch those Parisians strut their stuff. Notice how many of them walk around carrying a baguette, or count the dents in their cars. Admire their style, sit away from their cigarette smoke and then plunge in.

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Where to go?
Walk or take a boat trip along the river. Every building of note is on or not far from the banks of the Seine. Don’t be afraid of Montmartre. Many warn against pick-pockets and yes, it’s touristy and crass. It’s also full of charm. The view from outside the Sacre Coeur is wonderful (and free). There are always buskers (if you’re lucky you’ll see the free-style footballer Iya Traoré’s antics aloft one of Montmartre’s lamp-posts) and everyone’s having a good time. Whatever you do walk often. That’s how you’ll discover delicious fromageries, hidden parks, sweet pavement cafes and some of the idiosyncracies of Parisian life.

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What to avoid?
I love Montmartre but the Place de Tertres should be avoided at all costs. The food is no good and the drinks are overpriced.

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Where to eat?
That’s a hard one. Everyone lauds French food, but this is the city where I have more trouble than anywhere else to find a place I’d like to go back to time and again. And those waiters. I remember a friend once ordered pigs trotters. ‘Non’, said the waiter with a resounding no. My friend tried again. I don’t remember his second choice, but the waiter still wouldn’t agree to serving him it. On his third attempt he picked something the waiter liked. Ma Salle á Manger features all the French classics, portions are large and the service friendly. And Place Dauphine has to be one of the prettiest squares (it’s a triangle) in Paris; leafy and green, it’s lined with cobbles and people play boules.

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Practical Stuff.

Ma Salle á Manger. 26, Place Dauphine, Ile de la cite.

23 thoughts on “We Started In Paris.

  1. Because my husband Ben is French and grew up in Paris I have been fortunate to have been there many many times over the years and it feels like home and I do love it. For food our primary source are the street food markets for creating wonderful picnics. When in restaurants I love how seriously waiters take their job – in Paris it is a well respected career choice – and I love how they will give their honest opinion about what you order… thereby often steering you to choose the freshest and most original dishes on the menu.

    We usually use home exchange so that enables us to have a kitchen and be in a neighborhood away from tourists, much like the benefits of using Air bnb.

    Peta

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  2. The trouble with AirBnB is that it is pricing regular Parisians out of the market, and the city is taking steps to reduce the number. If the apartment does not have a 13 digit registration number it is illegal. The renter is not committing a crime, but if an apartment is not registered it might be pulled from the market right before their arrival.

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    1. I did not know that about the 13 digit number. I will check that in future. I always try to pick a listing that I feel is genuine – where I feel someone is renting their place while they are away, and have not bought it solely for the purpose of renting it out. But I agree that Airbnb is far from perfect. I am always on the look out for an alternative.

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  3. Oh I’m just aching to go back and you made me remember! I’ve loved Paris from my first visit in 1975 to my fifth (I think) visit in about 2008 when Don and I rented a tiny apartment in the suburbs for 3 weeks. I could do all the things you mentioned and more. Paris is a city that requires a lot of slow meandering people-watching time. And eating!
    Alison

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  4. If only I could double or triple like this post! How I adore Paris! You’re so right – lucky are those who have yet to experience this city. The football antics always make me laugh and Place Dauphine is one of my all time favourite places! Here’s to hoping we both see it again soon 😉

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  5. Catching up on some of your beautifully written postings after our own recent travels…..We love to just wander, get lost and people watch in Paris but actually do have a restaurant we always go back to!… La Vache et Le Cuisinier just south of Montmartre. Great local food and relaxed friendly service. Thank you for your posts!

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