Tue Apr 25th, 2006 at 08:57:18 AM EST
Some time ago, back in Feruary, I posted asking for tips about what to do / where to go in Paris. THANK YOU to all those who responded. I used some of your hints, dismissed others, and found out some stuff by myself. Paris is not only a beautiful city, it is impressive. At the same time it is a place I could imagine living. I am posting a very short summary of what I found out in the week I went there by the end of February.
All in all we were VERY impressed with the city as a whole. It feels homey and at the same time it is a luxurious place to go (and live). Parisians are generally friendly to polite, many people speak good enough english.
I found out that my (nonexistent) french is enough to make myself understood, and to understand when people slow down a bit.
The market on Rue de Italia is impressive (hint: we lived in the vietnamese quarter before metro Maison Blanche).
The metro ticket for tourists (orange/silver) lasts 5 days. We found out that the train to/from CDG is not included and you should buy it before boarding the train, because else you'll find the gates blocked at the airport (we jumped them when the guards were not looking). The metro security are a bunch of ugly, low-down thugs, in any case they look like blood-thirsty psychopaths.
Paris is expensive, so take care of your money. The corner cafes ("brasseries") are everywhere, they have more-or-less the same offer. Avoid the brasseries and other places which look too 'tourist-friendly' as they are generally crappy. As a general rule, the menus offered at various places suck. 12, 15, 18 or 20 euro for "that" is misspent money. Better go for whatever they have on the carte in the non-menu version. Avoid the eateries and tourist-traps around the Montmartre.
Per Lachaise is overrated, not worth the trip. We got out after 5 minutes. It is mostly an old, unmaintained cemetery, and it smells.
The Eiffel tower is a MUST. Take the lift to the top and enjoy the impressive view. After sunset it has strobes which go off every hour, giving it a very beautiful sparky look.
We went to the Musee d'Orsay and to the Louvre. Both should be planned in, but the Louvre, if one plans to seriously look at everything, would need at least one week. The gardens outside the Louvre are beautiful enough, the building is impressive in its own right.
Walk around the city, take the bus and look at everything. Paris has pretty much succeeded in pushing social trouble out of the core city, so you'll find a neat, clean place bubbling with activity, all for your privileged gaze. Even 'trouble' spots as the muslim quarter near the Montmartre still have an appeal to them. If you dont know where to go look out from the top of the Eiffel tower, for Paris is one giant collection of beautiful sights. Next to the muslim quarter there is an indian quarter. They have yummy indian food, but very different from what I remember from London.
Weird (to me) is the fact that most places have one toilet for men and women. I guess that the reasoning is that nobody would think of cozying up to somebody peeing or defecating. Hygiene in general seems to be an issue rather far from the soul of Parisians.
Check out the patisseries (bakeries). Paris is dotted with them, and I had the distinct impression that most patissiers (spelling ?) make an art of their profession.
Cathedrals: Notre Dame YES, Montmartre NO.
If you have the luck of being invited (as we were) check out the Maison de Ville. There are many public events there and the rooms accessible to the general public are beautiful enough.
Food: Priceworthy (not cheap) and good and cozy: Cafe de L'Industrie near the Bastille (I'll post GPS coordinates sometime in the future). Looking at the beauties who serve the food there I understood something about some of the paintings in the Orsay, and why they were painted. There is one called "L'Origin du Monde" by Gustave Courbet which more or less says everything about the inspiration and preoccupation of many artists. The issue seems to be current and universal, judging from many decorations throughout the city.
There is much more to be said about Paris but no time, as my life is more-or-less in turmoil.
Overall rating: A strong GO THERE. Consider taking two weeks in town. As a city I'll give Paris 4,5 of 5 stars. Barcelona gets 5 stars, but that is another story.