Currency: 1 Euro(€) = approx. $1
Weather = 50-60F Sunny, overcast & rain
Click here for part one of my trip.
After Stockholm we flew to Paris via Norwegian Airlines. True we could have flown cheaper via Ryan air ($80 VS $50 rd trip) but considering Ryan Air’s airport in Paris is around 1.5+ hours from the city VS a relatively easy train ride from Orly airport (Norwegian Air’s airport), we’re going for convenience versus price.
As many of my friends know, in the past few years my lodging of choice while traveling is either a condo or apartment. My wife and I like the flexibilty of being able to eat in and they’re generally larger in space also. In this case my wife found a wonderful apartment in the art gallery neighborhood of the 6th district. It’s a stone’s throw from the River Seine and a short walk to Notre Dame cathedral. The bonus is the apartment had a washer and dryer.
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After settling into our apartment, it was time to explore the neighborhood. This being my first time in the “City of Lights” I was quite excited to just roam around aimlessly. It’s one of my favorite things to do where ever I travel. You just never know what’s around the next corner.
I found Paris and especially my neighborhood very rewarding in that there’s numerous alleys and side streets filled with cafes, beautiful architecture and boutique shops. In some ways I prefer these nooks and crannies over the main streets. The first gem near my apartment is the walking street (no cars) Rue de Buci. It’s filled with all types of restaurants, cafes and little shops. I aimed straight towards Paul boulangerie/patisserie.
Although this is a local bakery chain, there’s good reason why it was recommmended by a friend of mine. Their breads and pastries are simply wonderful. And the bonus is that they’re pretty cheap (which I found to be a common theme with other bakeries). For example I’m talking about 8€ for a wonderful baguette sandwich with a cake or cookie and drink! A baguette is about 1.2€! After getting used to the high cost of eating out in Stockholm (example: about $15 for department store lunch & $90+ for Michelin rated dinner), I had a good feeling that eating well in Paris would be an extremely reasonably priced affair.
The next day I decided to play tourist by hitting the major attractions. As you can guess this meant visiting Notre Dame. But I was actually looking forward to seeing Sainte Chapelle, a lesser known church known for its stain glass windows. It basically lives in the shadow of Notre Dame. I also wanted to check out the green kiosks along the river selling vintage books, magazine and postcards. The kiosks were a dud since most of them seemed to be closed. I suspect it had something to do with it being the tourist offseason. On the other hand a big benefit of visiting during the offseason are the extremely short lines to enter the attractions. Sainte Chapelle is next to the Justice buildings and I didn’t realize there’s two entry lines. I decided to wait in the longer line (a dozen people in line) figuring it must be the tourist lines. Little did I know the other nonexistent line was the one going into the church.
Because of the terrorism problems, this is when I noticed the numerous soldiers guarding the goverment buildings (also at main transportation hubs). These serious looking guys & gals all had their fingers on the triggers of their machine guns so I decided against shooting (pun intended) a selfie with them.
After exploring Île de la Citè, one of two islands on Seine River and oldest neighborhood in Paris (Notre Dame located here) we walked over to the quieter (by tourist standards) Île Saint-Louis. I thought the little boutique shops in the narrow lanes very charming. By this time we were starving for lunch and found a wonderful creperie. This was a good example of not following the guide books as to where to eat.
After lunch we explored the rest of the nearby area via public bus. Where ever I travel I enjoy exploring by bus. You really get to see the surroundings much better than the subway and can easily get on and off whenever you see something interesting.
For dinner we did go to a restaurant mentioned in guides. I went to Au Pied de Fouet known for it’s French “home cooking” style i.e. rustic and cheap.
The next morning I had breakfast at another highly regarded bakery called Eric Kayser… also located near my apartment. Ah, so many places to eat, so little time.
Between Eric Kayser and Paul bakeries, I prefered Paul. But it’s a close call.
My objective for this day was to visit the famed Musée d’Orsay (Orsay Museum). In fact this was the only museum I was planning to check out during this trip. No the Lourve wasn’t on my radar. But more on that later.
The Orsay was built on a former beaux arts style train station and houses the largest collection of impressionist and post impressionist art in the world. Simply put this museum bridges the gap between the Lourve (historic art) and Georges Pompidou Centre (modern art). So basically I get to walk around a beautiful building looking at my favorite style of art. Win/win. Finally my art school degree coming to good use.
It’s amazing how much art is in Paris. You don’t have to go to the museums to see quality art. We went over to another major department store (and one of the oldest in Paris) Le Bon Marchè located between the 6th & 7th district which is known for their epicurie (food) department. I wanted to see what I can find for lunch. Most people know department stores might have a food floor or food area. This store has a seperate building dedicated to food! Anyways back to the art scene, I was pleasantly surprised that this store was having an exhibit of the famed (or infamous) Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The bigger surprise was seeing people taking a big interest in the art. I think I saw as many people studying his art as well as shopping.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons for being in Paris was the shopping. We were in the midst of the mandated nationwide bi-annual sales season. The idea is to get there towards the middle of the sales (about 6 weeks long). The reason being sales percentage increases as the the weeks go by. For example it might start out at 10-20% off and towards the end can be 70%+ off. Of course the selection decreases as the weeks go by. I was already seeing up to 70% off towards the middle of the sales season so it was definitely shopping heaven for my wife (uh….and me). My rule was not to buy anything less than 40% off. The problem was that it seemed everything was already at least 40% off. Ok, ok at least I wasn’t hanging out in Chanel. Unfortunately my wife was. Let’s put it this way, it was more difficult to find items at full price than on sale almost everywhere we went. If you’re a savvy shopper you can make a profit reselling items in the US. FYI the next sale season in 2016 is late June/July.
Pictured below are just a few stores I visited. I can also recommend Aigle and also strolling any shopping neighborhood. You never know what you will find. The flagship Chanel store at 31 Rue Chambon is a must go location for any Coco Chanel fan. This store is the original location of Chanel and Coco’s apartment is located above. Currently their lead designer Karl Lagerfeld’s office is located above the store. If you see a luxury car with Monaco plates outside the store, it means Karl is working at his office. And don’t forget to ask to get your picture taken at the famous staircase leading upstairs after your purchase. Yes I took photos there. Message me for more tips on shopping for Chanel items.
Nearby the Hermès store I also went to the famed Pierre Hermè shop. He’s arguably the best macaron maker in Paris. I can vouch that he’s the best because I also tried two other top macaron shops. Hey I needed to find out on my own. Life’s tough.
Speaking of pastries, near my apartment was one of the best eclair makers in town called L’Eclair de Génie. As the name suggest, he’s known as the wildman of eclair makers. His flavors and creations are spectacular. Just check out the colors below or click on the highlighted company name prior to go to his website.
If I traveled to Paris only for it’s food, I’d be in heaven.
The Louvre wasn’t originally on my to-go list because I read horror stories about the long lines and crowds. Yes I know it’s one of the world’s greatest museums (and I have an art background) but I wasn’t in any mood during this trip to bump into crowds. On this rare rainy day I happend by the museum and was pleasantly surprised with the short line so I decided to check it out. After a 20 minute wait I was in the heart of the museum. I was amazed how huge this institution is. I mean you need several days to really grasp this musuem’s collection. My wife made the visit easier by wanting to see only the Egyptian mummy collection and Mona Lisa. As I mentioned before this is a huge museum so just getting to those sections was a long walk. Fortunately walking through the different sections was a real pleasure and formed a plan for a future trip here.
Some good websites I used:
David Lebovitz – an American expat and Chez Panisse alumni in Paris
Feel free to contact me for more traveling tips.