21 May Stepping Out: Paris
Paris’s charm is palpable, starting with its café tables full of fashionable people spilling out onto the sidewalks. You’ll be tempted to spend your whole visit people watching while enjoying a glass of Clos Montmartre or an espresso. And if you learn just a few French phrases, you’ll discover that the rumored disdain from waiters is a myth.
At some point, you will want to tear yourself away from the cafés and explore. A good start would be taking a Bateau Mouche excursion, which lets you see Paris from the Seine, the river that divides the city into the Right Bank and Left Bank. Afterward, saunter over one of the nearly 40 bridges, like the stunning Pont Alexandre III with its golden statues and lamps, inaugurated in 1900 to honor the alliance between France and Russia. The Pont de l’Alma’s soldier statue serves a purpose, as a waterline marker: if his feet get wet, Paris is in danger of being flooded.
For many, coming home with a little black dress is de rigueur. Stroll by the high-end shops on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. Move on to Boulevard Haussmann and the department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, as well as the smaller Monoprix. Inside the geometric haven of the Triangle d’Or (golden triangle), formed by Avenue Montaigne, Avenue George V, and Rue François 1er, haute couture reigns. Sail through Yves Saint Laurent’s flagship store and visit Dior, Prada, and more. Check out NAF NAF, known for the grand méchant (big bad) look, with 20 stores throughout Paris. For chic yet more affordable wear, peruse the boutiques on Rue de Charonne, near the Bastille. Or head over to the Marais (start on Rue Charlot), which has tourist shops as well as small, one-off boutiques where locals score finds.
The French, of course, are famous for gastronomy, and you will want to set aside time to sit through several courses. The “bistronomic” restaurant L’Épi Dupin features modern French cuisine with solid vegetarian options. Au Petit Fer à Cheval is more than a century old, and its retro chandeliers and Métro benches add a vintage flair to the bistro fare. If you fancy duck, Le Pre aux Clercs specializes in confit, foie gras, and magret, a duck breast fillet.
Among the many museums, the Louvre is the most visited. You may prefer a smaller venue, like Musée Rodin, housed in a 1700s mansion with an outdoor sculpture garden. If modern art is more your style, head to the Centre Pompidou. The building itself is a work of art, with escalators and HVAC systems visible on the exterior. Its restaurant Georges offers panoramic views and quirky metallic silver tubes in which you may be seated. The Musée du quai Branly has a collection of 300,000 works from Africa, Oceania, the Americas, and Asia, 3,500 of which are on display.
It’s easy to soak up Paris’s literary culture, since many of the places where notable authors ate or drank still exist. Novelist James Baldwin wrote Go Tell It on the Mountain at Café de Flore. Across the street at rival establishment Les Deux Magots, Baldwin and fellow African American expat Richard Wright famously quarreled about Wright’s novel Native Son.
Paris Walks has knowledgeable guides and around 20 possible walking tours; try the chocolate tasting tour or the Chanel fashion walk. Entrée to Black Paris presents 11 walks focusing on the city’s black history and culture, as well as contemporary life, such as a Louvre tour that examines black people in European art. DW