We went to Paris for a five day visit on our way to Boston for Christmas. It wasn’t a trip to dart between museums. It was a time to relax between our hectic move to Bratislava and an always hectic Christmas back home. We saw the major museums during prior visits, so we limited ourselves to our favorite; the Musee D’Orsay. This is a jewel box of impressionist art in an ornate, old train station. The museum was renovated last year and is now fully opened. The venue is as lovely as the art it holds. There’s a beautiful restaurant in the
D’Orsay where we had our only mediocre meal of the trip. The painted ceilings made us forgive this sole culinary missstep. Unlike the Louvre, the D’Orsay is a museum you can cover well in a half day. If you visit just one museum, this is the one I recommend. Or you can pair it with the Orangerie (which delivers a similar, though softer, impressionist power punch) as a museum combo ticket. The rest of our trip we wandered the streets of the left bank. I could do this for the rest of my life; combing thru the eclectic new and used book stacks at Shakespeare and Co., popping in and out of cooking stores; drooling on the window of a patisserie; and stopping at whatever interesting place we stumbled upon for a long lunch.
Finding a good restaurant is easy. Put your guidebook away. Notice which restaurants are busy and return the next night. Parisians appreciate good food, good wine, and good company. Mediocre restaurants don’t stay open long in Paris, especially if you wander off the beaten path.
The last day it rained. The city lined up to visit the Louvre. We elected to tour the old opera house, the Palais Garnier. The hint is in the name, “Palace”. For 90 minutes a sweet young woman with an adorable accent and a head for opera regaled us with stories of the history of the building, society at the time, emperors and empresses, and a cocky young architect – brash enough to bid on the most opulent building commissioned in his lifetime. We sauntered out proud of our cultural inquisitiveness and thrilled with the quality of the tour. Afterwards, we savored a 2 hour lunch with a glass of good Bordeaux. This is my version of Paris.
Whatever you want your version of Paris to be, go create it. It’s waiting for you. Don’t bring a tour book and don’t worry about what you’ll do. The Mona Lisa is a fine start and for many a must see. So brave the crowds and go see her. Marvel at her impish smile. Some wonder the source. I’m pretty sure it’s because she lives in Paris.
Make it happen:
Chez Janou: (2 Rue Roger Verlome). A small, classic French bistro. The food is very good. I always eat the duck and the chocolate mousse. It’s crammed, noisy, busy and very Parisian.
Reservations for dinner are almost a must. Or risk it and arrive just as they open (which is generally 7:45). It’s close to the Place des Vosgue but feels surprisingly remote. The closest metro is Chemin Vert.
Café Constant: (139, Rue St. Dominique) There is a small sitting area downstairs, a bit bigger one upstairs, and a line out the door. No reservations. Arrive right when they open for dinner – 7 PM. It is one of four restaurants in a row owned by Christian Constant. The “Le Violon d’Ingres” earned him a Michelin star. The food at Cafe Constant is outstanding and – for the quality and reputation of the chef – cheap. Located near the Eiffel Tower (and the Hotel du Champs de Mars), the simple breakfast of bread, yogurt, fresh squeezed OJ and coffee can’t be beat – in price or quality.
La Table du Vin Vignon: (20, Rue Vignon) The upstairs is quite small – but it is the place to sit. The downstairs is larger, but not nearly as scenic. The wine list is superb and the food is very good. We generally eat lunch here. You need to avoid the 12:30 to 1:30 rush – or you’ll wait. We had the special, a steak wrapped around blue cheese, roasted potatoes, and mixed greens. It’s just around the corner from the Place de la Madelaine. Exit the Place in front of Fauchon… and turn left down the Run Vignon. It’s on your right.
The Hotel du Champs de Mars: (7 Rue du Champs de Mars). I always stay here: cheap for Paris (around 100 Euro per night for a double), well located, with a standoffish tres French couple as owners. What could be better? It is just off the Parisian market street, The Rue Cler. Rick Steve’s made this street popular – but it doesn’t feel overrun with tourists. It feels very French. Reservations are required months in advance. The neighborhood is filled with nice restaurants in a wide price range. It’s around the corner from the Ecole Militaire metro stop – nestled between the Eiffel Tower and the Place des Invalides. The bed on our last stay was small (I think a US double size). But I have also had the more typical two twins made into a king. If you care, make sure you ask.
Categories: Life in Paris