The world's most romantic city is also one of the most walkable
Paris knows drama; it's fiercely romantic and determined to preserve its past, but never looks back. It invests as much into safeguarding its monuments as it does rejuvenating its green spaces and accommodating bicycle lanes. Combine a sitting-president with any anniversary related to the French Revolution, and a parade of grand monuments, all ahead of their time, are soon erected. Before long, an eyesore of protruding metal and glass looks oddly natural next to a massive 17th-century palace.
If we’re to believe Wikipedia, Paris is the most touristed city on earth. Yet, its real pleasures remain simple and often free. You're in the world's most walkable city. Choose a neighbourhood and explore. Your only expenses will be metro tickets, a baguette and some cheese; park benches are easy to find.
Your biggest problem will be where to go if time is limited. L'Île de la Cité and the Latin Quarter (Saint-Michel) are loaded with history; peak into tranquil courtyards then turn a corner onto a square overrun with people.
Le Marais is the neighbourhood of the moment where you'll find trendy shops and upbeat cafés as well as the Jewish quarter; you can pretty much walk to anywhere from its main street, Rue de Rivoli: the Left Bank, Les Halles, to the Bastille and, though it may take you all day, the Arc de Triomphe. Reaching the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Gardens) or Place de la Concorde from Le Marais's metro Saint-Paul might be enough of a hike.
You can spend an afternoon in the village-like neighbourhood of Montmartre or Père Lachaise Cemetery where some of the world's most famous people are buried. Then there’s the posh shopping district of Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Besides the Tuileries, you'll also want to spend time in Paris’ other famous park, Le Jardin du Luxembourg.
To help navigate your way, download these two free apps to your smartphone before leaving Canada: City Walks (by GPSmyCity.com) and Urban Trip Paris-Lite. You don’t need an Internet connection to run their program. For info on the Paris’s excellent metro system, go to parismetro.com.
At the conference
The Palais de Congrès de Paris, in the 17th arrondissement, is close to the expansive Bois de Boulogne park for jogging (not safe at night) and next to the tony Neuilly-sur-Seine neighbourhood. Metro Port Maillot (connected to the Palais de Congrès) is on the same line as the Hôtel de Ville and Saint-Paul stops, so you can spend your evenings in the Latin Quarter or the Marais, respectively, and make it home on the last train (around 12 to 12:30am).
The Palais de Congrès itself has good breakfast and lunch spots, including the chain Boulangerie Paul if you want fresh bread. It’s also close to a good selection of two-, three- and four-star restaurants. The Truffenoire (tel: 011-33-1-4624-9414; truffenoire.com) is an upscale eatery that specializes in that French obsession, truffle. Le Bistrot d'à Côté La Boutarde (tel: 011-33-1-4745-3455; bistrotboutarde.com) is a laid-back bistro with reasonable prices. Note that most restaurants in Paris are closed all August.
When the meeting is over, leave as many full days as you can to visit Paris’s large museums. The Musée d'Orsay (musee-orsay.fr) and its sumptuous Belle Époque restaurant, overlooking the Seine and the Right Bank, is sure to leave lasting memories. For a quiet alternative, visit the Musée Rodin (musee-rodin.fr) located in an 18th-century mansion will a gorgeous walled garden. The museum is next to Les Invalides.
The Dada and Surrealism movements are well represented at the Centre Pompidou (centrepompidou.fr). Warhol, Jackson Pollack, Rothko, Kandinsky, Miro and Picasso feature prominently.
Goodbye Google news, hello Paris allure
Pack your Kindle or, better yet, visit the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore (tel: 01 43 25 40 93; shakespeareandcompany.com) located across from Notre Dame Cathedral and buy a second-hand copy of any of these. Read for yourself how the City of Lights has served as a muse to many.
A Moveable Feast was Ernest Hemingway’s memoirs of the time he spent in Paris during the 1920s. The book is full of major players: Aleister Crowley, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Hilaire Belloc, Pascin, John Dos Passos, Wyndham Lewis, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. For a Canadian perspective, read That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan, also a good friend of Hemingway’s. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is Gertrude Stein’s autobiography of her time living with Alice B. Toklas. Encounters include Pablo Picasso, Hemingway, Henri Matisse and Georges Braque.
If you want to impress your French collegues, read Les Misérables, considered France’s best 19th-century novel. Then pay a visit to Victor Hugo’s tomb in the Pantheon. If you’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth this year, read Tale of Two Cities.
Fans of Julia Child will want to read My Life in France. For a more contemporary version of a chef’s love of Paris, try The Sweet Life by David Lebovitz.
If you love British humour à la Bridget Jones, A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke, is a hilarious take on every-day French life. Ordering a cup of coffee will never be the same.
If you’ve got young girls, then anything from the Madeline series, by Ludwig Bemelmans, should be considered required reading.
If light reading is what you crave, Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice brings nocturnal Paris to vivid life in this late-20th-century version of the vampire myth.
Henry Miller’s sexually candid Tropic of Cancer is as unlight reading as it gets. The story of a struggling young writer and his pals in Paris during the ’20s and ’30s, the book was so controversial when it was first published that it ended up altering United States censorship laws.
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