We chose to fly to Paris in January and did not regret it once. The weather was comfortable enough to spend every day walking around the city in wool coats, without overheating or freezing. Another reason we went in January is fewer crowds. I understand the thrill of seeing trees in full bloom on the streets of Montmartre in April and May. However, I did not anticipate our first impression of Paris to be exhausted by lineups and packed streets. Not that we were the only foreigners over there. No, we’ve heard and seen many other languages and people, who clearly were not locals (a camera, a sort of lost-in-awe gaze and style, can easily give one away). However, it was not overwhelming.
We ate at restaurants where we heard no word of English, and to be surrounded by locals primarily was such an authentic, unforgettable experience.
Whole point? If you are travelling to Paris for the first time, staying away from hot tourist seasons might be a good decision.
Now, this particular itinerary is solely based on what we saw, and how we managed to fit in to see the highlights of the city just in three days. However, I must warn you that you would have to walk. Not just walk from station to station, but waaaaalk. Everywhere. That is, in my humble opinion, the best way to experience such a place, the most advantageous one to watch Parisians, submerge into their lifestyle and atmosphere of the city.
City of Lights gets its share of winter darkness just like anywhere else starting at five in the evening. it was after five when we left the metro and stepped outside. Parisians were out and about their business where one was to squeeze onto suspiciously flimsy and tiny chairs and sit as close as possible, drink and converse. To be fair at a closer look rattan chairs (they became popular in the 1885) here are quite sturdy and spacey enough! To as comfortable as it was possible in the middle of January chill. it was, light enough to see each other's faces and food. Marvellous French food! Yet the Haussmann buildings only revealed their silhouettes. Through the veil of rain and glares of cars and cafe lights, I watched Parisians going out and about their business while tasting onion soup, and looking at my husband’s satisfied face.
Dining: Le Recruitment Cafe
Parisians must cherish that sense of unity when they are all squeezed into tiny (compared to North American restaurants) and enjoy their meals. What I am saying is that restaurants in Paris, at least those favourite-among-locals that we picked offered little to no space for…a stroller. In order to seat us, and bring inside the stroller tables had to be moved, chairs pushed and a lot of ‘excise-moi’ from my mouth said as we struggled towards our table by the window. Just something to keep in mind. The meal was excellent, by the way.
The same size matter applies to hotels. The majority of them do offer smaller rooms, again, if I compare it to Canadian hotels, however, Le Marquise was a warm, welcoming place, with clean beds and hospitable service.
Itinerary: Our hotel (Le Marquis Paris) was only five minutes walk from the Eiffel Tower, hence we spent that rainy evening dining and wandering around the area, waiting for the tower to start sparkling, and dreaming of seeing the neighbourhood in the daylight only a few hours later.
“Once every hour
as the evening glides over Île-de-France
somewhere out there a tower
in lively glisten
in a dancing effort to take on hearts,
like one of those stars,
so now everyone who saw it at least once, owns
even if just one sparkle of it.”
If I’d have to choose only one reason why I would move to Paris (besides obvious ones such as food, architecture, fashion, etc.) it would be the walking accessibility of most monuments, parks and neighbourhoods a tourist (or a local) wishes to see. The next two days we spent in the city, we were able to cover most places on our must-see list simply by wandering around Paris. While the metro system is fairly easy and impressively quick, walking provides a better view of narrow streets, buildings’ facades and, oh, of course, people! If previously Parisians were veiled by rain and evening glimmer, now in the daylight, the crowd of men, women and children appeared as they were, and as they were looked quite pleasant.
Places we visited:
From the Eiffel Tower, we walked to Cafe de Flore, then continued to St-Germain, where we ate onion soup again and creme brûlée at Le Tournon, then crossed the street and ended up in Jardin du Luxembourg. (The area of St German is historic, bourgeois and ideal for those who came to Paris to shop at middle market segment French brands.)
From there we took a turn toward Notre-Dame de Paris, but before going to the cathedral, stopped by Shakespeare and Co. What a magnificent bookstore! It is one thing if you want to take a picture for your Instagram with a famous entrance, and another if you are looking for the first edition of A Moveable Feast. Well, I was both of those people, and the store, that opened in 1951, did not disappoint.
Later on, we crossed the street to see the cathedral, but because of renovation couldn’t even get closer.
Final destination: Louvre.
(On the way back buy a book from a bouquinistes on the banks of Seine.)
We walked again. We had a stop for a coffee (quite a challenge it is to find Canadian-style coffee to-go in Paris.) Parisians truly seem to enjoy their way of sitting on terraces, drinking coffee and chatting, or gazing. Frankly, that would be another reason I would consider Paris as my permanent residence. The culture of restaurants is so well-preserved and structured, that one could not help but feel a sense of belonging when sitting on a ratan chair and sipping on Café Americaine. However, did not just sit and drink coffee. We headed to Montmartre. From the place where we stayed (nearby the Eiffel Towel) to Sacré-Cœur with a few stops, the pleasant walk took around an hour and a half.
Walk to Montmartre.
Get a drink or food at Le Consulate, sit outside and watch locals or imagine a conversation with Van Gogh.
Sit on the stairs and feed the pigeons.
Capture the view of Paris in your heart and memory.
Stop by the Ritz.
Finally, if you are Princess Diana’s fan, you could pay your respects at the tunnel where the car crash happened. It is located right at Pont de l'Alma tunnel.
Walk back via Pont Alexandre III.
Enjoy a few macaroons at Pierre Herme.