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Off-Beat Paris

Nobody has to hype the marquis attractions in Paris. Everyone knows what the "must-see" sights are. But often the most lasting memories are the spontaneous, off-the-wall little things we stumble upon that often define the adventure of travel. Since my wife & I will be in Paris for s few days, I would be curious to hear about that particular attraction, street, restaurant, public square, weird shop or other place or event that defined the Paris experience for you. As both a photographer & a traveler, I often find the trees to be an overlooked part of the forest. Thank you kindly.

Posted by
120 posts

I wouldn't say this place "defined" my trip, but many folks go to Paris and never even know it exists. I am talking about Arènes de Lutèce. It is an old Roman Arena. If you are walking the Latin Quarter, it is not too far to walk down to it. It is really a great experience. You can look it up online and get more information. Be sure and check out the link tomsguidetoparis.com for many good ideas. He has several links and some are called "interesting walks" and take you to some really neat places where it is quiet and peaceful and a real touch of Parisian life.

Posted by
1068 posts

A few places for me... L'eglise Saint-Merri (web: http://www.saintmerri.org/) right near the Centre Pompidou. It's an old Gothic style church that has a wonderful arty flair. There is music. There are exhibitions. There are straight-backed chairs hung up near the point of the roof, and hand-made art in the corners. It's wonderful. La Pinte (web: http://www.la-pinte.com/fr,1,7966.html) at 13 carrefour de l'Odéon. It's a wine bar/beer bar with a wonderful owner who has fabulous taste in 70s and 80s disco, and will shave you off slices of amazing saucisson, on the house, if you belly up to the bar and make conversation. Just wonderful. Buci News (picture on my flick stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38070893@N07/3547538886/) in St. Germain-des-Pres. Adorable little stationery shop, with a cheerful buttercup yellow exterior. Craveable French office supplies in abundance inside! Nice cafe right across the street.

Posted by
8193 posts

One of my favorite things to do in Paris is to spend considerable time in the Luxembourg Gardens. Some days, I spend all day there :) I love to sit and watch the Parisian neighborhood guys, that have known each other a long time, play petancque (bocce ball). I enjoy watching them interact, tease each other, greet and catch up on news (I speak French so that helps, but watching is fun too). I love sitting by the playground and watching the kids play (used to take my son there so it's also fond memories). I enjoy the cafe over by the bandstand and eating/drinking coffee. I enjoy sitting in one of the reclining chairs with my feet up on another and just relaxing, people watching and listening to French being spoken. It's a wonderful slice of Parisian life where you're surrounded by "locals" who are there to relax and enjoy.

Posted by
922 posts

Somebody else's magic moment will not be yours, precisely because it was stumbled upon or happened spontaneously. On my last stay in Paris, mine happened on a side street in the Marais when I chanced upon a quiet little park in a residential street, and while sitting there an elderly Parisian walking his little dog chose to stop, sit on the bench next to me, and talk for a few minutes. Another at a tiny crêperie when the crêpe man surreptitiously winked and wryly smiled at me while I waited a long time for the couple in front of me to finish arguing over what flavor they wanted. Another - this time in Arromanches in Normandy - when I went into a hardware store looking for something, and the proprietor closed her shop so she could walk me to her friend's shop to get the item because she didn't have what I needed. As you can see, they all involve random, chance encounters with people.

Posted by
8193 posts

I agree with you Rose, the chance encounters with nice people are magical. It's happened to me so many times, just in Paris alone, I could fill a book. Remembering all those wonderful people brings back many happy memories...

Posted by
111 posts

Thank you, everyone, for the "moments". Although I agree that many of the magical moments are unique to time & space and cannot be duplicated, some however, can. And for those .... I thank you. Call be a jaded romantic, but I look forward to sitting in the Luxemborg Gardens recalling the passages in Les Miserables when Jean Valjean savored his moments with Cosette.

Posted by
8265 posts

Especially since the Gardens and Palace are no longer a royal residence. Go Valjean et Cosette!

Posted by
922 posts

If you're going to the Jardin du Luxembourg, try to spend time at the large children's playground. I spent a wonderful hour there once watching the kidlets play. I remember thinking how very patient and sweet and quiet (!) the slightly older children were in helping the younger children. I remember there was also a théâtre des marionnettes that I wish I had had longer to enjoy.

Posted by
517 posts

Thanks, Kira, for the La Pinte recommendation. It is near the hotel where we usually stay, so I'll definitely stop by when we go to Paris in September to see Jimmy Buffett at La Cigale.

Posted by
111 posts

Brenda, thank you for the link to tomsguidetoparis.com. In addition to the useful content he provides, you gotta love his candid, sarcastic writing style. Reminds me of the old saw that "tact is for people who are not witty enough to be sarcastic".

Posted by
335 posts

I've been to Paris many times (for both short and longer stays) and love finding behind-the-scenes things to do, now that I've done the "biggies." My current faves are: dinner at an ex-pat's home and meeting other travellers there, taking a cooking class (the least expensive I've found - some are exorbitant), walking tours from the wonderful and extensive Paris-Walks offerings, and more walking tours with the equally wonderful Paris Greeters volunteer group. But one mainline tourist attraction that I return to time and time again is to sit quietly in the front part of Notre Dame cathedral and enjoy the beautiful stained glass rose windows for a while. And eating at all the wonderful affordable neighborhood restaurants - but that's a whole other post! ;-)

Posted by
111 posts

Holly: You're preaching to the choir. I agree wholeheartedly.

Posted by
922 posts

I keep thinking about this thread. :) Some of my best magic moments have had to do with the mood I'm in and how it fits with the place I'm in at the time. I remember once being almost alone except for a handful of other visitors in the small garden behind Notre Dame and being captivated by how the light filtered through the leafless winter trees. Sitting with friends in a café warming our hands around cups of insanely thick and delicious chocolat chaud and hearing everyone around us speaking French (which I think is so lyrical). Coming up out of the Metro after returning from Chartres and walking smack into a staggeringly beautiful sunset. There are so many memorable moments like that that can't be exactly planned for but leave an indelible impression. I find they happen when I slow down and focus less on where I'm going and more on where I actually am. They also became more prevalent when I stopped carrying and constantly thinking about using a camera.

Posted by
6447 posts

I loved the Montmartre area. Not just Sacre Coeur and the Place du Tertre but also the Montmartre cemetery and I found Eglise St Jean L'Evangeliste a very interesting church. It's in art deco style which was pretty unique, the outside looks a bit like a movie theater marquee, but also has some beautiful stained glass windows. It's right near the Abbesses metro stop. Also, I enjoyed walking around Parc Monceau with its "follies" including an Egyptian pyramid, a Chinese fort, a Dutch windmill, and Corinthian pillars. Also, had some of the most beautiful flower plantings I saw in Paris. These aren't exactly hidden, but not on most Paris itineraries.

Posted by
3696 posts

I agree that you cannot experience someone else's 'magic moment' but can certainly try to replicate some of those moments in your own way. Being a photographer myself, those most magic moments come when I photograph the unexpected scenes. We all have photos of the Eiffel Tower and they are more or less predictable, but when I find places that are 'new' to me, that makes the image special. My favorite time to go out and photograph and find those unique experiences is before the sunrise. I can't do it every day, but if I make myself get up and out I am never sorry. It's great to have the whole city virtually to yourself.

Posted by
922 posts

I agree so much with the above post. I said I stopped using a camera but that's only when I'm in a place I've been to several times before. On a recent trip I got myself out in the early morning before breakfast and was ecstatic to snap a perfect shot of buildings and bridges at the intersection of 2 canals in Brugge, perfectly reflected in the completely still water, with the light exactly right. It's currently my favorite photo I've ever taken. I would not have even known the canals were like that if I hadn't gotten myself out there.

Posted by
3696 posts

Rose... forgot to say that I agree with you also about putting down the camera. There are times when you just want to enjoy (even as a professional photographer) So, when you go out during the day with bad lighting and lots of tourists, just take your iphone for your camera (if you really think you need something) and experience Paris instead of trying to 'capture' it. Because no matter how great your photos are, there is nothing that can compare to your memories. Sometimes a camera can get between you and your experiences. It is really freeing to just leave the camera in the room... you really feel like a 'local'.:))

Posted by
111 posts

Terry & Rose: Well said. I think of my photography in 2 ways. There are times (like just before a city awakens) that I simply create an assignment for myself. It's all about the photograph. Then there are times I just want to immerse myself in the moment. Even during these times, however, there is always a moment to step back & try to capture a feeling with the camera. The key to experiencing those idyllic gems is to live in the moment with all of your senses. Sorry for spiritual digression.

Posted by
922 posts

No apology needed for that type of digression as far as I'm concerned. It's why I travel.

Posted by
80 posts

Thanks for this question and all the responses. My mother and I will be making our first trip to Paris in late June of this year. The arena was already on my list of must sees. The other suggestions are very interesting. I certainly agree magical momments are just that...magic...in London I overheard a woman named Mary recall to her younger companions in a pub about being a child in London during the blitz.... Again thanks for all the comments...magic! Can't wait to create my own memmories in Paris.

Posted by
335 posts

Let me add another off-the-wall thing to do: discovering the outer arrondisements, away from the touristy areas. You can do this by either researching and then walking around one of the higher-numbered Arr. or by staying in one. This past Fall I rented an apartment in the 13th Arr near the Plc d'Italie Metro stop and loved being (I think) the only non-Parisian in a true Parisian neighborhood. And as a lover of hot air balloons, I also enjoyed researching and searching out the location where the first manned hot air balloon landed in 1783 - 2 blocks from my apartment! So I urge tourists to venture out to other areas of Paris.

Posted by
212 posts

We just got back from our second visit to Paris - no "magic moments," but some less well-known spots we liked: 1) Basilica of St. Denis. If you are into cathedrals, many scholars say "this is where Gothic started," and it is a beautiful cathedral. I will definitely go back next time we are in Paris. 2) Square des Batignolles - we were on a RS tour and were put up in the Batignolles neighborhood. This is an attractive park in that neighborhood - we were entertained by the guys playing boules. 3) Marmotton Museum (specializing in Monet). They have such a large collection, they have to rotate it. I was disappointed that they didn't have any of Monet's caricatures on display, but the museum is still worth a visit after you've done the usual touristy spots and is especially worth seeing if you've been to Giverny. The walk from the metro is also pleasant. 4) Musee des lettres et manuscrits - I'm not sure I'd pay the usual admission fee for this one unless you are really into old manuscripts, but we got in on a "free night." It's a shame they don't have more resources for taking care of their amazing collection. 5) Sunday organ concert at San Sulpice followed by a trip to Pierre Herme for a croissant and an Ispahan! We've done this twice and are very likely to do so again. 6) Back of Sacre Cour - no tourists at all back there and it is not to be missed, especially at night.

Posted by
251 posts

We forgot to buy our museum pass at the airport, so we went to the tourist information office near the Palais Royale. Since we are both big fans of "Charade", a movie featuring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, I told my husband I could show him where the final chase scene unfolded. The Comedie Francaise was locked but we walked through the colonade into the park and had lunch at one of the cafes there. This was not a part of our planned itinerary, but a wonderful moment to explore Paris and discover a hidden treasure.

Posted by
8193 posts

Another Charade tip: We've stayed at Hotel St. Jacques on rue des Ecoles in the 5th twice, it's the hotel they used in the movie Charade.

Posted by
2966 posts

1) Although it's an RS recommended restaurant, we found Chez Janou (near Place de Vosage) on our own, and spent a wonderful afternoon there last May, sipping pastis and eating the complimentary olives. Never ordered food there, but it's supposed to be good. 2) We unexpectedly found a beer shop run by an enthusastic Parisan that specializes in international beers. We had a lot of fun there shopping for the hoppy ales we can't get in Germany. 45 Rue Quincampoix in le Marais. 3) Actually the Marais is my favorite neighborhood that's centrally located and bustling yet doesn't feel super touristy. I like getting falafel or Ashkenazi pastries near Rue de Roisers, sitting in a LGBT cafe, and just exploring that neighborhood in general. 4) For some reason a lot of people skip or don't know about Musee de Cluny. I think it's amazing.

Posted by
8193 posts

Sarah, do you mean Place des Vosges? ;)

Posted by
2966 posts

My french spelling is worse than my English spelling, so yes!

Posted by
111 posts

Once again ... thank you,everyone, for your ideas & suggestions. Similar to my life's "bucket list", my list of things to do & places to see in Paris far exceeds my time. However, I am not the kind of traveler that is hell-bent to rush from place to place to say that I have been there. Sure I do some preliminary planning. But, once I am on the ground, I just stay in "The Moment" & adjust my plans & pace accordingly. I guess that I don't have to tell you that I'm not the kind of guy that fits well into an organized tour. :-) Thank you again!!