Look at any website about what to do while in Paris, and the first suggestion is always the Louvre. In college, I would dream about spending hours wandering the Louvre and seeing some of the world’s most amazing paintings and sculptures. While planning this trip, I had thought about setting full days aside in order to give the Louvre the attention it deserves. And then I got to Paris and didn’t want to step foot in this behemoth of culture. It seems like a travesty to not visit the Louvre while in Paris, but in hindsight it was the best decision I made. Instead of spending hours shuffling through the halls crowded with tourists trying to snap photos of the Mona Lisa (seriously, if you want a picture that’s not as good as the original; buy a postcard, you cheapskate!), I spent two hours of blissful silence in the Museé Marmottan Monet. Instead of shoving my way past masses of humanity, I spent beautiful moments visiting Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Marie Laurencin.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the allure of the Louvre, and I’m sure it’s amazing. But I spent six magical days in Paris and don’t regret missing arguably the most famous museum in the world. Here is what I did instead:
1. Visited Notre Dame during evening services.
Noticing that the line to enter the church was shorter than usual, I was able to get in after about 5 minutes in line. As I was walking around, services started. I took a seat and listened to the Gregorian chanters and pondered how it must have been to go to services in Notre Dame when it was new.
2. Walked around a living, breathing museum… Paris in the spring.
And fell in love. Is there anything better than letting yourself get lost in one of the most beautiful cities in the world?
3. Walked around the grounds of the Louvre and Tuilieres and pretended like it counted as actually going to the museum.
4. Followed in the footsteps famous American ex-pat authors and artists.
I understand that there were dozens of amazing, influential, ex-pat writers and artists in Paris in the 1920’s, but my two favorites are Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway (how could they not be, really?), so I tried to channel them as much as possible. During this trip, I began reading Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’, which is a combination of short stories and memories from his time as a young man in Paris in the ‘20’s. I felt inspired to go to some of the places he regularly went, and had a marvelous time doing so. These moments made me wish more than ever that time travel was possible.
Shakespeare & Co was where most American ex-pats went to find books in English in Paris. Many famous writers read, wrote, and relaxed here. Hemingway had his mail sent here, and called it a library instead of a bookstore, because the owner would lend him books instead of making him purchase them.
I walked through Luxembourg Park, another favorite spot of Hemingway’s, and his usual route home.
5. Ate Berthillon ice cream.
Passion fruit and mango to be exact. Thanks for the excellent tip PE. Mom, the passion fruit was out of this world, I recommend that we take a trip to Paris together just so we can eat passion fruit ice cream from Berthillon.
6. Visited the Eiffel Tower as much as possible.
The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, it took my breath away. You see pictures of it your whole life, but it really is magnificent in person. No, I didn’t go to the top.
6. Got really drunk with friends.
Paris in Paris.
7. Ate crepes…
…And macarons, baguettes, éclairs, and beignets. Paris does sweets better than anyone; ask my waist line.
8. Broke every rule in French etiquette without even knowing it.
And let PE mercilessly tease me about it. Apparently if you bring bread to the table, you should cut it. But if a baguette is already on the table, you can tear it apart with your hands. But make sure it’s on the correct side of your plate (I still don’t know which side that is). And if there is a cheese plate, don’t try all the cheeses. You can try all but one. And NEVER touch your cheese with your fingers, but you’re also not allowed to eat it with a fork or knife (so clearly you have to be really smooth and get the cheese from your plate onto bread and into your mouth without touching it). Pierre-Etienne claims he’s going to compile a list of every rule I broke and send it to me. I’m still waiting, but if I ever get it, you can be sure it’ll be posted here.
Early on in my travels, I was told by almost everyone I know that I would hate Paris. I was told Paris is dirty and dangerous; the French people will hate me, blah, blah, blah. Well I will set the record straight that Paris is NOT dirty (at least not in comparison to Rome!), and I did not get mugged. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with my friend Pierre-Etienne (the one from Lisbon that loves otters) and his family; which meant a room to myself, DELICIOUS home cooked meals, and insider’s opinion on what to see (and more importantly, what not to see) while in Paris. Friends, if you’re going to Paris (or anywhere for that matter), please go in with an open mind. Don’t let other people’s experiences taint yours, but it’s okay to learn from their mistakes. Be polite; try to conform to customs, even if you think it’s strange. Not all French people are rude; if you try they will most likely take pity on you. And don’t feel like you need to go to the Louvre just because you’re in Paris, there are millions of other wonderful things to see and do.