Paris is a city with so many nooks and crannies that even its residents continue to discover new places. One of the best ways to see the city is to jump on a bus and wander around until you are well and truly lost in Paris.
Lost in Paris
My first stop was the Place des Victoires, a circle of elegant mansions built in 1685 specifically designed to show off a statue of France’s fabled Sun King, Louis XIV.
The original statue, by Desjardins, was placed in the middle with gleaming torches burning day and night.
During the riots of 1792, frenzied mobs tore down the original statue and a replacement statue – that was different to the original – was built in its place.
The streets around Place des Victoires were interesting to explore and every turn brought about an enchanting view.
Many of the stylish mansions have been converted into shops and fashion boutiques with well-known brand names like Espirit, Thierry Mugler, Cacherel and Kenzo.
My next destination was the Opera Quarter, where I browsed through the elegant department stores or grand magasins of Boulevard Haussmann.
For many Parisians, these grand magasins are monuments that rival the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.
While stores like C&A and Burton have managed to find a niche in this 9th arrondissement shopping quarter, there is no doubt that the two best Parisian grand magasins are Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.
I wandered beneath elaborate Art Nouveau glass domes admiring the sophisticated window displays.
On the 7th floor of Galeries Lafayette, elegant Parisian models glided on the catwalk showing off the latest fashion trends in the store’s free weekly fashion show.
The pavements outside the department stores have a myriad of stalls selling everything from kitchen utensils to souvenirs.
I stopped at one of the stalls and parted with €10 ($20) for three souvenir t-shirts of Paris.
The development of railway lines put Paris within reach of travellers from abroad and in 1889 the Grand Hotel Terminus became the city’s first railway hotel.
Once the most elegant hotel in Paris, it offered wealthy travellers the very latest inventions of that period, such as electricity and telephone.
No matter where I found myself in this city, there were scenes of people huddling in cafes. Serving their first cup of coffee in 1686, Le Procope claims to be the world’s first coffee house with regular patrons such as Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire.
While to many visitors, the Paris café scene conjures romantic visions of great writers creating literary masterpieces while sipping on steaming hot brews, intellectuals discussing the state of the nation and statesmen plotting the future of their country in one of the Left Bank’s celebrated cafes, for Parisians the café is one of life’s everyday experiences and I found typical Parisian cafes everywhere.
Oscar Wilde used to stay at L’Hotel in Paris. Here’s a review of that lovely historic hotel.
From the Opera Quarter, I boarded bus 29 for the Pompidou Centre, Paris’ museum of modern art.
The structure of the Pompidou Centre building itself is a work of contemporary art – an ultra-modern assembly of pipes, ducts and cables.
To me, it looked more like an oil refinery – with blue air-conditioning ducts, green water pipes and yellow electricity lines – than an art gallery.
This contemporary anomaly is a startling contrast to the picturesque buildings filled with galleries, gift shops and cafes in the surrounding streets of Les Halles.
Not far from the museum, I discovered a square with the Fontaine des Innocents, the last Renaissance fountain left in Paris.
An old Parisian woman dressed in traditional black sat on a park bench sketching while kids in bright modern street clothes whizzed past on skateboards.
Les Halles is the place to pick up Paris street fashion and has lots of stores that sell jeans, baseball jackets, caps and chunky boots.
A walk along the Seine
A walk along the Seine is a must-do on a sunny day.
As I strolled along the banks of the Seine munching on a baguette, pleasure boats cruised gently down the river to the romantic backdrop of Paris’ distinctive Renaissance architecture and ornate bridges set against brilliant blue skies.
At my bus stop was a man in a trench coat with a floppy hat and bandage on his nose, looking very much like a detective out of a French movie.
I hopped on the bus behind him for my own investigation of the Latin Quarter.
Restaurants, student bookshops, cafes, cinemas and jazz clubs fill this ancient riverside quarter between the Seine and the Luxembourg Gardens.
In 1968, the Latin Quarter was taken over by students and workers protesting against the war in Vietnam.
These protests gained momentum and spread to other issues becoming a thorn in the side of the French Government.
When the revolt ended, ethnic shops, quirky boutiques and avant-garde theatres sprung into existence.
The Latin Quarter in Paris
That evening, I strolled around the Latin Quarter’s quaint cobbled streets soaking in the energy-charged atmosphere with its bright neon signs, billboards, displays of fresh seafood and lamb shish kebabs cooking in the windows.
The spruikers at the numerous Greek, Moroccan and French bistros tried their hardest to lure me in for a meal.
After walking the entire precinct a couple of times, I picked a quiet Greek restaurant, more for its pleasant atmosphere and floor-to-ceiling mural of the Greek Islands than the persuasiveness of its spruiker.
An eclectic collection of Greek pots, pans, musical instruments and lamps hung from the ceiling. I chose a table at the front of the restaurant and spent the evening watching the world walk by.
The spruiker – in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Arabic, Swedish and Greek – provided an entertaining show by switching skilfully from one language to the next.
Within an hour, the restaurant was buzzing with activity and there was only one free table.
That evening, I missed the last connecting bus and found myself walking along Rue de Rivoli checking out the classy window displays.
At Place de la Concorde, I peered past the stream of traffic along the Avenues Champs Elysees and spotted the Arc de Triomphe glowing in the distance.
After all, how could I possibly come to Paris and not at least peek at its most photographed monument?
Paris is an easy city to get around. Purchase tickets to the bus, metro and train system.
I’ve heard many travellers say that Paris wasn’t quite what they expected. When visiting a well-known city such as Paris, go with an open mind and don’t fall into the trap of building up a set of expectations. Here are some great tips on how to avoid travel disappointment.
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