Paris: an introduction to the City of Lights

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Paris… just the word conjures romantic connotations, dazzling lights, quaint cafes, charming boutiques. My favourite French word is Flaneur, it defines the simple act of observing, walking without purpose nor destination, purely to note and soak in the beauty around us. And you can see why the French came up with this word by looking to Paris, the city is a symphony of symmetry, but not without reason. The man to thank for this is one Baron Von Haussmann, elected by Napoleon III (Not Bonaparte – his nephew) to beauty Paris at a time where the city of Lights was overcrowded, disease and crime were spreading as a result. Haussmann’s job was to replace the medieval slums with elegant boulevards and avenues and symmetry was one of his main values, evident in the way Paris is today poetically characterised by it. The best thing about Paris is that all the clichés are true: it’s romantic, cultured, glamorous and full of good art, wine and food. Audrey didn’t lie, it is certainly always a good idea! So how does one tackle the city with so much to offer? Here is a quick guide to the geography to help you get your bearings:

Hotel De Ville – there was a guillotine installed at this square during the revolution! The building is beautiful, it has 108 statues of Parisian leaders adorning it.

Orientation of Paris:

Look at a map of this city and you will see the Seine River splitting it in half, dividing the two banks: The Left Bank (South) and The Right Bank (North). Now, don’t yawn when I say the H word because this ole river has her fair share of quirks, but historically speaking Seine has got some interesting tales. It’s the birthplace of France, where the Gauls first settled, but it has also transported the body of Napoleon and the statue of liberty, a gift from France to New York. The ashes of Joan of Arc apparently were thrown in and Nicholas Flamel’s ghost (he was a real guy, not just a Harry Potter character!) is said to haunt the banks. On top of that, the only Olympic obstacle and underwater swimming races were hosted! There are two natural islands in the Seine: Ile de la Cite and Ile St Louis.

One of the massive stained glass windows inside Notre Dame

How to get around Paris:

Paris is so beautiful that it is worth walking and observing between some attractions with a shorter distance, otherwise to save your legs the easiest way to get around in Paris is using the metro: it runs from 5:30am-12:30am. €1,80 for a single ride or €14,10 for a book of ten one way journeys. You can also easily use the RER (overground) from the city centre to get out to Disneyland or Versailles

Super ready for Paris Disneyland!

Are Parisians actually rude:

Now as a trip leader, the thing I see most with my passengers is there are two main reactions to Paris: people either love it or they hate it. I’ve been over a dozen times and I do truly fall more in love with it upon each visit. I think this all comes down to people’s expectations and the secret is to respect where you are, forget how things run at home and embrace being a traveller in another culture, a new language. If you believe the rumours, you will see French men everywhere, wearing striped shirts and a beret, patting their poodles and nibbling on their baguettes – they are snobby, unshowered and unshaven, but that’s okay because they are amazing lovers. Let me do a bit of myth busting here! The French are proud of their identity; there is even a café in Paris which charges different prices depending on how well you used your manners. Be polite, and make an attempt to at least say a few French words and smile big! This will change your experience of Paris drastically.

As for the unshowered / unshaved bit, this is just a strange stereotype! Perhaps it comes from WW2 when there was a lack of razor blades during the war effort, but you certainly won’t encounter any unusual excessive amounts of body hair. Oh, and the amazing lover part – I will leave that bit to the reader to research if they choose! Wink wink.

A sneaky cheese platter and wine/champagne is a must!

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What to do in Paris:

There is SO much to do in Paris that this section deserves it’s own post! But just a quick run-down… If you have never been to Paris, here is a tip: Stick to the beaten track. You can’t go to Paris and not take photos of the Eiffel Tower or walk the Champs Elysees, stopping for a macaron at Lauderee then admire Arc de Triomphe!
Here are some of my favourite things to do (but I wasn’t kidding about making a post on just this subject!):

  • Palais Garnier is one of my absolute favourite buildings in all of Europe – it is so grand and opulent inside, truly stunning and it gives you an idea of the grandeur of the Bourbons as one of the rooms inside was based on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Put this on your Paris hit list!
  • The view from atop Arc De Triomphe is one of my favourites in Paris, the one from the Eiffel Tower is surely magnificent but you get amazing post card like photos from the Arc which feature the Eiffel Tower in them! And as it’s in the middle of a 12 lane roundabout, you get beautiful views of the symmetry and set up of Paris.
  • Watch the sunset from the top of Montmartre, after exploring the colourful neighbourhood
  • Go to Notre Dame, probably the world’s most famous gothic cathedral (at the nearby St Chappelle is beautiful, with floor to ceiling stained glass windows)
  • Visit the catacombs to sight the interesting collection of human bones, stacked upon each other. A bit eerie but interesting nonetheless.
  • Go to a traditional French cabaret show
  • Enjoy a bike tour of Paris – while the traffic can be busy the city is flat, so it’s quite easy to cycle around, especially with a guide in a group.
  • Have a “Paris moment” at Angelinas, the café where Coco Chanel went for their famous hot chocolate – apparently the best in the world (it’s written on a board out the front so it must be true!)
  • Go to one of the famous art galleries! If you aren’t keen for the long lines at the Louvre (secret entrance off Rue Du Rivoli) then look at Musee d’Orsay or Musee de l’orangerie. -Get the train out to Palais Versailles (In the summer time there are quite long lines for some of the main attractions, so plan your time accordingly – try for at least three days in Paris).

Inside the glass pyramid In the Louvre courtyard – added as another entrance due to long lines by famous Chinese American architect, I. M. Pei.

Safety in Paris:

Paris is not a scary place and I have never felt less safe here than any other place, but just remember bigger cities and tourist hot spots mean more people about, which unfortunately attracts the minority with bad intentions. For this reason, keep your wits about you even though youre relaxing. Be aware of your valuables as Paris is known for pickpockets. Don’t sign any petitions as when youre distracted with the clip board they will swiftly search your pockets and handbags without you noticing. One of my passengers even signed one to find out her signature meant she agreed to give them ten euro, so just avoid all together. If anyone approaches you and ties a bracelet to your wrist to show you how it looks, don’t let them, they will demand money. There are plenty of other little tricks they have so just stay smart and safe.

Bars in the Latin Quarter, Paris:

My favourites are found in the Latin Quarter! Check out La Lucha Libre, where you can have a drink then put on a sumo wrestling outfit to jump around, or head to Caveau de la Huchette, a jazz bar.

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