Sunday, October 21, 2012

Paris Pour Mark

Half my life ago, my idea of perfect happiness was to spend an evening sitting cross-legged on Mark's twin bed, dipping McChicken sandwiches in sweet and sour sauce, talking and watching re-runs of Degrassi High.  We often stayed up all night.  It was uncomplicated and blissful. 

Half my life later, Mark is still my idea of perfect happiness.  He has stuck with me through everything.  He has been with me through my worst times bringing excessive flattery and imported bottles of gin, and my happiest times, standing next to me on my wedding day.  Our relationship means everything to me and our friendship has remained uncomplicated and blissful.

In a few short days, Mark will visit Paris for the first time.  This is my Paris pour Mark...

Dear Mark,

You may hate Paris at first.  Perhaps hate is a strong word... Paris may overwhelm you and you may wonder what I have been going on about for the last 10 years.  I remind you that I cried the entire first day I was in Paris as it fell so short of my expectations.  Don't worry, you will fall in love with Paris.  Paris will seduce you. 

Take Paris slowly even though you will want to see and do everything at once.  On your first day, resist the urge to jump on a hop-on-hop-off bus, the métro , or a bateau mouche and walk.  Let your legs and your heart settle into Paris.  Find a brasserie order something simple and delicious (Peut-être une omlette du fromage?), drink a glass of wine and watch Paris unfold before you. 

If you must cross something off your "Paris list" on your first day, I suggest one of the following:

  • Notre Dame - It will quiet your mind, open your heart and make you feel small in the best possible way.

  • Place de la Concorde - Go there and stand in the middle, near the obelisk, turn in a circle and you will see the view I love, the view I miss more than anything, the view that is my perfect Paris.  All you have do is turn in a slow circle.    Buy a crèpe from the stand just outside jardin des Tuileries.  Don't buy a coffee - it tastes like merde. 

  • Jardin du Luxembourg.  My favourite jardin in Paris.  Lots of free chairs for lounging and kiosks for snacking.  Coffee is drinkable but they also sell beer and Haribo candies.  Completely calm and it has spectacular views of Paris. 

I know that you will likely visit more museums than I ever ave and I can't wait to hear all about them.  Except for my first trip in 2003, I have taken little advantage of Paris' cultural offerings.  With that in mind, here are some Paris experiences I think you MUST have...

After several hours of appreciating art at le Louvre, buy yourself a cocktail at le  Café Marly tucked away under the arcades of Richelieu wing. Sit outside. 

Go to Publicis Drugstore at the top of the Champs Elysees, sit at the bar and order a café crème.  It will be served with a biting sliver of dark chocolate and likely by a French waitress with short, dirty blond hair and black roots.  She will be the most un-French looking waitress in the restaurant and she will take excellent care of you.  After you are done, go buy yourself at least six

Pierre Hermé macarons- say au revoir to Ladurée!- from the counter at the back of the store.  My favourite flavours are rose and chocolat caramel.  PS - Publicis has a free (!!) public washrooms on the second floor.

Place des Vosges  

When you are out walking the streets of Paris and you come across a market or food stall, buy something.  Even if you aren't hungry.  You will not be disappointed.  Try Rue Mouffetard (5th), Rue Cler (7th), and Rue Montorgueil (2nd, near Les Halles).  On Rue Montorgueil look for the now closed but still creepy horse butcher with the giant, darkened refrigerators.

Ride a carousel.  There is the one in Montmatre made famous by Audrey Tautou and a few beautiful ones near the Eiffel Tower. 

Musée Rodin

Given our shared love of McChicken sandwiches, I would be lying if I described myself as a foodie but I fell in love with Amy Thomas' Paris, My Sweet this past summer and wrote down some of her suggestions.  One of them was a chocolate eclair from Stohrer at 51 rue Montorgueil. Honestly it was one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life. Incomparable. 

Église Saint-Sulpice

At least half a day for exploring Saint Germain and the Latin Quarter.  Don't forget to stop at Maison Georges Larnicol for a kouignette. 

Rue du Bac (7th)

Rue des Sèvres where you will find Hermès, Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche and La Grande Epicerie de Paris.  This is the Hermès of the infamous orange orangutans window display.  It is also a design geek's paradise.  Buy yourself a picnic lunch at La Grande Epicerie for eating at the nearby Champ de Mars.  While you are there, check out the "North American" food aisle.  It may embarrass you more than fanny packs and Canadian Girls Kick Ass t-shirts.  A package of marshmallows sells for about 9 euros.    

View from top of Arc de Triomphe

People watching on Rue Saint Honoré.  Fighting for space amongst the chic Parisians, you will see a shocking display of wealth and bad taste.  Watch for plastic surgery victims and very old men carrying their very young wives Birkin bags.  We had delicious croissants and coffee at Café la Coupe d'Or which is kitty-corner to Colette.

Marché aux Oiseaux (birds!!) on Ile de la Cité.  Sunday only! 

You are going to wish you had more time.

There are a few things to know about Paris that will make your trip easier...

Public washrooms.  I want you to know that last month in Paris I went out of my way to "sample" more public washrooms than I usually do, even descending the stairs underneath both Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.  Both free and I think perhaps less scary if you are a man and don't have to spend too much time underground.  There are also free, self-cleaning public toilets throughout Paris.  However, typically you must pay and it ranges from .20 euros to 2 euros depending on location and luxury.  Luxembourg and Tuileries both have inexpensive toilets but their hours are somewhat limited.  All of the major department stores have public washrooms and they are usually located on a higher floor, tucked into the back, i.e. you have to look for them.  The fanciest public washrooms are at the bottom of the Champs Elysées, Pont Vac.  Unlike the rest of the Champs, it's not open on Sundays.  Washrooms in brasseries or cafes, are almost always in the basement and down a steep set of stairs.  

Try to start every conversation in French.  A little French goes a long way in Paris.

Remember it's considered impolite to enter a store and not acknowledge the person working.  You must also say good-bye (au revoir!) and thank you (merci!) when leaving.  Shopping is a lot less self-serve in Paris so don't be surprised to have several shop assistants descend upon you as you reach for a pair of jeans or a sweater.

Do not fall victim to anyone that tells you that you dropped a "ring" or that you need to donate money to the "Red Cross".  Keep walking and say "non merci".  The same goes for anyone that tries to braid a "friendship bracelet" on your wrist.  Watch out for this when visiting Montmatre, especially as you start the walk up the stairs.  Keep your hands in your pockets.    

You never get up in a brasserie to ask for or pay for your bill - "L'addition, s'il vous plait."  It is always brought to your table, often it will come with whatever you have ordered and you can pay immediately.  If you want to have a quick, and often less expensive drink, stand at the bar. 

Most importantly remember to slow down and relax.  All of the travel guides, the "Paris Top 10's", my ramblings and other advice are worth nothing if you don't find your own Paris.  I hope you fall madly in love. 

I wish more than anything I was going with you.  Next time.  Bisous and bon voyage.  xoxo





Heather Anne said...

I've visited Paris several times and have found the washrooms in McDonalds to be free and clean (but I refuse to eat there, especially when I'm in Paris)...and the lost ring trick has been attempted, as has the friendship bracelet trick (in which I actually got trapped by the guy for several minutes...oh, my days as a Paris rookie!). It was not until my last trip that I finally got to go with my husband, and he fell in love with it immediately. We just love to wander and get a little lost in this beautiful city.

@BhuDeo said...

I loved this blog post.