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 is 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. 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. They say 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? I need not have worried. 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 Paris visit on the French Girl in Seattle Facebook page, merci. 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 always worth another visit
by French Girl in Seattle
1. Paris visit: 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. Paris visit: 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 20 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. Paris visit: 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, and “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. 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. Paris visit: Boulangeries and Pâtisseries.
They deserve their own category. Baguette. Croissant au beurre. Millefeuille. Eclair. Need I say more?
|Chez Sébastien Gaudard, 10th arrondissement.|
5. Paris visit: 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. Paris visit: 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. Paris visit: 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 visit: 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 visit: 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. Paris visit: Les Parisiens.
Quoi? You include les Parisiens in the 10 reasons why Paris is always 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|
Text and photos by French Girl in Seattle
Do not use without permission.