Monday, September 26, 2011

An Expat's Guide to Paris

My favorite thing to do in Paris, walking, walking and walking anywhere and everywhere in this glorious city, and every turn reveals something more breathtaking. My favorite time of the day is at dusk just before the sun sets, when I can still make out the outline of this breathtaking city and see the twinkling lights begin to appear.

Although it has become a bit of cliché in the past years, my favorite area in Paris remains to be the Latin Quarter (5th & 6th Arr). I love to stroll through the small streets around la Sorbonne, observing the magnificent architecture of the Pantheon and on a beautiful night, sit at one of the outdoor cafes and enjoy one of the most cherished past-times in Paris, people-watching.

Parks in Paris are wonderful for children and adults alike, and the great thing is you can be as ambitious or laidback as you want.
  • le Jardin de Luxembourg – Absolutely mesmerizing and even after all these years, it remains to be my favorite place in Paris, and each time I’m there, it’s as memorable as the first time I’d visited Paris.
  • le Jardin de Tuileries – Although it’s in the center of a touristy area, it epitomizes Paris for all visitors and locals alike. There are a lot of playgrounds/areas and a beautiful carousel, a definitely must if you’re traveling with children. 
  • le Palais Royal – a beautiful park as well as a magnificent architecture
  • la Place des Vosges – One of the loveliest parks/squares in Paris filled with quaint cafes, shops and galleries, and esp. on Sundays, it’s one of the few places in Paris where the stores are open.
  • le Forum des Halles in front of St Eustache – A bit grittier and known as “the belly of Paris” but nevertheless it’s a lovely area, filled with inexpensive ethnic restaurants and fun shops.
  • Parc Monceau (8e) – Less known to tourists, it is perhaps one of the loveliest parks in Paris.
  • Parc Montsouris (14e) – Most visitors would never venture out to this area; however, during my studies at Cité Universitaire, which happens to be directly across from the park, I enjoyed many morning walks through this beautiful park.
As far as lodging goes, there is a place for everyone in Paris, and on the contrary to the popular belief, there are plenty of charming and comfortable hotels that won’t leave you bankrupt. However, there are two things you should consider before deciding on lodging. First, find out what area is right for you according to your visiting goals, and then choose the type of accommodation matching your budget and taste.

Here are some of my favorite hotels. Not surprisingly, most of them are located on the left bank near the Latin Quarter; however, I’m also all about charm and comfort, and these hotels embodied everything I was looking for and has always made my trips to Paris more enjoyable.
  • Hotel Duminy Vendome (1e) – a charming hotel few steps from le Jardin de Tuileries, perfect for 1st time visitors
  • Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais (4e) – right in the heart of le Marais, another one of my favorite areas in Paris, with exceptionally friendly staff
  • Hotel de Lutece (4e) – a charming hotel located on the Ile Saint Louis 
  • Hotel de la Sorbonne (5e) – a quaint little hotel in the heart of the Latin Quarter, great distance to everything
  • Hotel des Grandes Ecoles (5e) – Hotel des Grandes Ecoles is what I'd always envisioned a perfect Parisian hotel to be with beaucoup de charme, great location, and spotless & spacious, which is hard to find in the more charming hotels ... a true oasis in the heart of Latin Quarter.
  • Hotel Lutetia (6e) – A beautiful hotel located in the heart of St. Germain des Pres; hence, it was very convenient to walk to/from some of my favorite areas and attractions in Paris. The rooms are a little smaller in comparison to some of the bigger chain hotels at the same price point, but the charm and the friendliness of the staff more than made up for it. 
  • Best Western Aramis Saint Germain (6e) – Anyone who has traveled extensively in Europe knows that Best Western chain provides some of the loveliest and the most charming lodging in France ... shocking, I know. Nevertheless, from castles to cottages, BW has converted and renovated historical buildings in ideal locations, and offers clean & comfortable lodging at a great value throughout the country.
  • Hotel L’Universite (7e) – a charming hotel with a friendly and helpful owner
There are two secrets to dining in Paris. One is that you don’t have to pay for water in restaurants; you simply have to ask for “une carafe d'eau”, which is an equivalent of getting tap water in the US … and yes, the tap water in France is completely safe to drink … and that Parisian do not have 5/7 course meals every night. For the majority of Parisian, le diner usually consists only 3 courses, and you’ll find many of the younger generation of Parisians sitting in brasseries or at an ethnic restaurants enjoying a simpler meal.

My restaurant recommendations:
  • la Closerie des Lilas – An absolutely gorgeous restaurant at the southern entrance of the Jardin de Luxembourg with wonderful menu and great service.
  • La Cigale Récamier – specializes in delicious, fluffy, seasonal, savory and sweet soufflé
  • le China (rue de Charenton) – A wonderful little restaurant that really takes you back in time. It serves a good mixture of pan-Asian cuisine, which in France means Vietnamese food with a twist.
  • le George – The restaurant on the 6th floor of le Centre Pompidou has the most beautiful roof terrace and one of the most spectacular view of the city at night. The décor is truly corky in a way that only the French can be, and the food, unfortunately, is less than mediocre; however, it’s definitely worth a visit if you want to be amongst the see and be seen crowd.
  • la Brioche Dore and Paul – inexpensive chain restaurants that offers a good selection of pastries, perfect for breakfast or snack
  • Leon – a Belgian chain restaurant that serves up some of the tastiest mussel dishes at a bargain price
  • Soura (14e) – a great little Korean restaurant 
  • Kathmandu (rue des Boulangers)
  • la Grande Epicierie – a spectacular food market inside Bon Marché department store, near rue du Cherche Midi  & rue St Placide, where you could buy everything for a perfect picnic, and rue du Cherche-Midi is a wonderful shopping street as well with an array of celebrated food shops, restaurants, cafés and boutiques.
  • all the cafeteria-style Chinese takeout restaurants throughout Paris, which is a great option for delicious take-outs
  • restaurants in Chinatown in the 13e, esp. on the Ave. de Choisy
  • le Café du Musée d'Art Moderne  – offers the most spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine during the day
Of course, most of the museums in Paris needs no further explanation or promotion and are written about extensively in all the guidebooks; therefore, I’ll mention only my favorites and some of the cost-saving tips I’d learned while living in Paris as a student on a shoestring budget.
  • le Musee d’Orsay
  • le Louvre – First Sunday of the month is free (gratuit), but I must warn you, the line is long and tedious; so get there early if you want to keep your sanity to view all the wonderful works of art
  • l’Orangerie – reduced ticket (tarif reduit) on Sundays
  • Picasso Museum
  • la Maison de Victor Hugo
  • le Musee d’Art Moderne (metro Lena) houses an absolutely impressive collection of the French modern and contemporary art, and the café has one of the most impressive views overlooking the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. And the best part is that viewing the permanent collection is FREE!
  • la Maison Européenne de la Photographie 
For a fashionista or fashionista at heart, Paris truly is a fashion mecca. From classics couturiers like Chanel and Balmain to avant guarde local favorites like Plein Sud, the city is studded with great places to shop, guaranteed to satisfy any discount-hunters, designer divas, window shoppers, and fashion victims alike. My favorite shopping areas are:
  • behind le Forum les Halles on rue Montmartre & rue Montorgueil
  • outside of la Place des Voges on rue des Francs Bourgeois
  • rue des St Peres around St Sulpice
  • along the St Germain des Pres outside of metro Odeon
  • on rue Rivoli in front of Les Halles & along Bld St Martin near the Bld de Sebastopol, where some of the more practical chain stores are located.
Lastly, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen is a definite must for anyone visiting Paris.  Mother of all flea markets, it is the largest and the most well-known outdoor flea market in Paris … or France for that matter. Unfortunately, the area around the metro stop la Porte de Clignancourt is a bit dodgy and the outdoor market area immediately outside can be very crowded and bit of a maze to get through. However, I’ve never felt unsafe or encountered any problems in all the years I have traveled to Paris and have been to the market, and if you can work your way through the bazaar like atmosphere and get to the antique shops/vendors near rue des Rosiers there are treasures to be found … as well as beautiful photo ops.

As the song goes, “I love Paris in the springtime. I love Paris in the fall. I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles, I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles”, and although any time of the year is a great time in Paris, my favorite time is during the holidays in December when the entire city is decorated and lit up (even more so than usual), and if there’s snow, Paris becomes absolutely magical!

For my full reviews of hotels and restaurants in Paris.  


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