Friday, February 22, 2013

My Top 5 Paris Tips

Paris is my favorite city in the world and there are millions of ways to enjoy it.  
I thought I would choose the top 5 tips that I hope can greatly enhance your visit.

1. The churches of Paris are not to be missed.

Go to church!  Not just for you to go down on your knees and thank the Lord for your great good luck to  be in Paris but to marvel and enjoy the rich and glorious architecture and treasures that each church offers.  
My very favorite is Notre Dame de Paris, which for me is the symbol of Paris. 
But there is a gorgeous church in every corner, like towering and majestic St. Sulpice (pictured above), historic St. Germain, the imposing St. Eustache, Eglise de Madeleine which doesn't look like a church at all, the baroque St. Gervais et St Protase, delicate St. Etienne du Mont,  the glorious 
Sacre Couer at Montmartre, the tiny jewel known as St. Ephraim, the grand and historic Basilica of St. Denis, the quiet and serene Church of the Miraculous Medal, the surprising and hidden Jesuit church Eglise St. Ignace, my "neighborhood" church of St. Medard ... I could go on and on. 
Most of these churches come with magnificent art works so take time to look around!

2. Shop in a flea market.

Go shopping at a Marche aux Puces literally, a market of fleas.  There are quite a number of good ones in Paris. The most famous is the gigantic one at Porte de Clignancourt simply called Les Puces but I prefer the smaller and more eclectic and studiedly cluttered one at Vanves.
The streets are lined with an assortment of treasures and junk, so look closely.
When you find something you like, snatch it up because if you don't, someone behind you will.
And oh yes, don't be afraid to bargain, just smile when you do so!

3. Go for an iconic Paris cultural experience.

And what can be more iconic and cultural than an opera or ballet at the Palais Garnier,  the official home of the Paris Opera that dates back to the 1800s.  The grand staircase, the velvet chairs, the gold decorations,  the trompe l' oeil curtain and that ceiling painted by Marc Chagall ... it's an experience you should not  miss.  

4. Paris is a walking city so... be a flaneur and walk.

And the best place for a stroll is  by the Seine.   This beautiful river separates the left and right banks and flows through the prettiest and most historic areas of Paris.  From the Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower is just a manageable 4.5 kilometer meander.
Browse through the bouquinistes or book stalls that line the sidewalks -- they've been fixtures since the 1500s. Who knows, you may find a valuable first edition!

5. Get a 360 degree view of Paris. 

A lot of people have scoffed at the Tour Montparnasse or the Montparnasse Tower, calling it an eyesore and a blight.  Standing at 56 stories tall and soaring above Hausmann's orderly and historic neighborhoods,  it has one redeeming feature that no other building in Paris has ... an open air deck  that affords you the best view of the city... 360 degrees all around.
The Eiffel Tower, Sacre Couer, the Pantheon, the Louvre, the gold domed Invalides,  the Luxembourg Gardens, the Seine ... you can see them all.
Don't leave Paris without seeing her from the top of the Tour Montparnasse. 
It gives you a perspective of the city,  her architecture and planning which you cannot see from the ground.

P.S.  Try and learn to speak a little French!

Tourists who go to Paris sometimes leave disappointed -- "the French people are so rude!" "the streets are so dirty!" I have read so many comments like these on the internet.  While I can't do anything about the latter, perhaps I can offer a suggestion about the former.
Yes,  the French can be a bit stand-offish.  They are generally nice folks but ...  you have to be nice to them first.
Through all these years of going to Paris, I have never once had an unpleasant encounter with the French.
One of the reasons why I think I have been so lucky is because I try my best to speak a little french whenever possible.
The French, a very proud and nationalistic people,  appreciate it when you make that effort --
I think it signifies to them that you don't think english is the language of the civilised world.
So, when you enter a store or a restaurant, you will always be greeted with a "Bon jour" or "Bon soir" (good morning or good evening).  Please, don't just stand there -- say "Bon jour" or "Bon soir" back and smile,  before you go about your business like lining up for those delectable macarons, s'il vous plait (macarons, please).
That little greeting will tell the shopkeeper that you are a polite and polished individual.
And when you leave, you will inevitably be told "Au revoir" or good - bye -- and again, don't just walk out with your box of macarons, please do reply in the same manner. And don't forget to say "Merci beaucoup, Monsieur / Madame / Mademoiselle" whichever the case may be.
Let me tell you my little secret ... my go - to phrase whenever I am in Paris is "Je suis desole, je ne parle pas Francais",  said in my most amiable and humble tone.  I also throw in an embarrassed smile or a small (hopefully Gallic) shrug.  What the person I am speaking to gets is ... please pardon this uneducated but polite idiot who cannot speak the language of love.
The shop keeper / waiter / cashier / vendor / ticket agent / French person will invariably  smile, chuckle and answer  back with whatever English he or she knows.   Works like a charm every time!
Et voila, tout le monde es content! And there it is, everyone is happy.

Bon Voyage!