he city of light probably boasts more world-class museums and restaurants than any other spot in the world.... but that's only part of the story. Paris is a big, bustling city with neighborhoods that have a small-town feel, where people take time out to wind down and enjoy the simple things in life. Just look at how crowded the sidewalk cafes are! The scale is human and the pace can be as fast or as slow as you want it to be.
ust think about this: started in AD 1163, the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral ended about 200 years later, in AD 1345. Would we invest 200 years in building a house of worship today? Well, that's the spirit of old Paris where for over a thousand years painters, sculptors, composers, poets and writers have been flocking to, singing the city's praises on canvas and paper, in stone and metal.
ver the past two millennia Paris has developed into a dense, highly-walkable network of 6,000 streets ranging from the narrow, winding passageways of the Marais on the Right Bank
and the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank
- two of the city's oldest and most charming neighborhoods - to the wide, tree-lined Avenue des Champs-Elysees, a major East-West axis running from Place de la Concorde to the Arch of Triumph. Dubbed 'most beautiful avenue in the world', the Champs Elysees avenue is especially worth a sightseeing trip for the
impressive views of the arch, especially just before dusk, when the sun sets just behind it.
aris is built on a wide curve in the Seine, a river that flows all the way to Normandy and empties out into the English Channel. It divides the city into a larger Right Bank, on the north, and the Left Bank, with two small but historically significant islands. In between are the Ile Saint Louis and the Ile de la Cité, the original heart of the city and the location of that old hunchback hangout Notre Dame Cathedral. Paris may not have as many bridges as Venice, but no less than 38 of them cross the river, spanning the centuries from the Pont Neuf (the 'new bridge' which today sounds ironic since it is actually the city's oldest and dates back to 1578) to the sleek, modernistic Solferino footbridge completed in 1999.
peaking of things modernistic, despite the presence of over 1,000 buildings and structures listed as historic landmarks, Paris has never been a 'museum city', a place frozen in time, prisoner of a glorious past, whose economy is entirely based on tourism. Paris has never ceased being an attraction pole for arts, architecture and technology. Consider this: Paris had its own subway system as early as in 1900, four years before New York! In more recent years were added the avant-garde modern art museum 'Pompidou Center', the state-of-the-art 'Bastille opera house' and the stunning 'Cité de la Musique' complex including the national conservatory and cutting-edge concert facilities.
hat's the thing about Paris. The latest innovations in architecture, music, opera, dance, painting, sculpture and theater exist side-by-side with old-world traditions like smoke-filled cafes and open-air markets. In the morning you can shop for dinner the way Parisians have for generations, strolling between stalls overflowing with farm-fresh,
brightly-colored fruits and vegetables, and in the evening attend an avant-garde play or experimental dance performance in one of the city's countless cultural venues.
id you know for instance that Paris counts over 70 markets and more than 60% of Parisians shop there? They can be divided into three kinds: covered markets, which are often housed in beautiful 19th-century cast iron and glass buildings; streets lined with open shops displaying their produce right out on the sidewalk; and traveling outdoor markets, which visit certain neighborhoods one or more days a week.
he rue Mouffetard in the 6th arrondissement, which is perhaps the city's best example of the indoor/outdoor marlet, may be the oldest market in Paris; some scholars say it dates back to the 13th
The rue d'Aligre in the 12th
district is one of the only remaining street markets still operating six days a week (mornings only; closed Mondays; check out the covered market there, too, open Tuesday to Saturday, mornings and afternoons, and Sunday mornings), one of Paris's busiest and cheapest markets. Both the market and neighborhood feature a rich ethnic mix. Vendors and shoppers come from North Africa, Asia, the Carribbean and, oh yes, France. Here is where you will see a gray-haired bourgeois dowager squeezing cantaloupes, a veiled North African woman choosing turnips for that night's couscous, and a trendy young artist sniffing basil, all right next to each other.
he 'Marché aux Enfants Rouges' - so named because it is located on the site of a medieval orphanage where the children wore red uniforms - off the rue de Bretagne in the 3rd district dates back to the Middle Ages,
although the structure housing it went up in the
18th century.The place re-opened in 2001 after an extensive restoration. A bit more upscale and expensive, is the picturesque rue Montorgeuil, a pedestrian-only zone lined with cafes, produce stands and gourmet food shops.
ne market that is growing in popularity with educated young urbanites is on the boulevard Raspail in the 6th
district (Sunday mornings), where you will find organic fruits and vegetables. Whatever market you visit, do as the Parisians do: take a break, relax, have a coffee at one of the sidewalk cafes, watch the shoppers go by and enjoy life as it was meant to be lived.
f your appetite has been satisfied but your curiosity is still keen, Paris offers more
museums than most other large cities in the world - around 150 of them. Everybody knows about the Louvre, the former royal palace that today is home to the world's biggest art museum. Most people have heard of the Musée d'Orsay, a fabulous repository of 19th and early 20th-century art, and of the Picasso museum. But do you know about the city's dozens of small museums devoted to more obscure areas of interest such as locks, hunting and dolls (all in the Marais quarter)? Paris has a museum for whatever strikes your fancy. And how about the Gustave Moreau, Zadkine, and Bourdelle museums, which focus on individual artists and are housed in the actual homes where they lived and worked? Or the Nissim de Camondo museum, a faithful reconstruction of an 18th century aristocratic home complete with furniture, rugs, paintings, porcelain and goldplate, and the Jacquemart-Andre museum, a splendid 19th-century mansion bursting with Italian Renaissance masterpieces? And then there's the Rodin museum, an 18th-century mansion where the 19th-century sculptor lived and worked, whose gardens, with their magnificent view of the Dome of the Invalides Church, are one of the most delightful spots in Paris.
espite a long history of mass demonstrations and uprisings, Paris is a rather conservative city in many ways.
At night it does not rock as much as London, New York or Berlin, and the number of hot spots is a bit limited. Still, as the capital of a former colonial empire Paris has become a crossroads and breeding ground for innovative music from French-speaking North and West Africa. The Saint Germain des Pres area (the famed Latin Quarter) is no longer the avant-garde thought, music and art boiling place it was during the post-war period and through the mid-sixties, but the cafes still hop there until about 2:00 a.m. These days tourists vastly outnumber
Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist followers, and the 'Flore' and 'Aux Deux Magots' cafés are more preppy and conservative than revolutionary. Yet the neighborhood still has an exciting buzz about it late on warm Friday and Saturday nights.
n recent years the 11th district (all around the Bastille Square, especially the rue de Lappe, the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and the lower part of the rue de Charonne) has become the busiest and loudest neighborhood in town for multi-ethnic urban trendsetters in the 20-30 group. A little further away in the same district, the Gibus Club at 18 rue Faubourg du Temple is techno-house-trance-tribal heaven. The crowd is usually a straight/gay mix, but nobody's keeping score.
A more exclusively gay scene, which can now rival that of any world city, is in the Marais, along the rue des Archives and the rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie. The area around Les Halles, especially rue des Lombards, also has a high concentration of gay nightspots.
ell, we could easily discuss for days about what marvels Paris has to offer. For you to capture the essence of it, we are building the Paris Eiffel Tower News web site. Each of its pages aims at bringing you a fresh view of what's there to be discovered and admired. Practical tips too, because sometimes you may feel lost in the city, with English-speaking people far and between. Not that French people refuse to help you around: their education system just ill-prepares them to speaking foreign languages (remember Inspector Clouzot's accent?), that's all.
ast but not least, there is a common misconception that Frenchies don't like Americans. This is simply not true. Apart from the usual percentage of 'fubars', French people like American people. Just go beyond the media-hyped 'French cultural exception' and the NYC-like mood of this species called 'Parisians', and you'll find rather nice people ready to help you around. And this holds truer and truer as you sail away from Paris. So don't take Bill O'Reilly's rants against the Frenchies for God's word. Just relax, open your mind to a different culture, drink a little wine, speak a little French, and you'll get along famously with Lafayette's offspring.
hank you for visiting us. We hope you'll find here that which you need to make a lastingly good memory of your stay in Paris. We'll add hopefully interesting tidbits to the site on an ongoing basis, so please don't hesitate to bookmark it and come back. Let us know what you liked, and what else you'd like to see!
Enjoy your trip within and without!