1. It is important to eat crepes from roadside sellers, both the savory ones and the sweet ones (not the sellers, the crepes). Chicken and Emmantaler makes a fine dinner. Nutella and banana is especially nice.
2. It is also important NOT to make eye contact with any of the 4,322 sellers of little Eiffel Towers at the big Eiffel Tower.
3. Light is different in Paris. Smells are different, too, especially when you realize in your tiny hotel elevator that you’ve stepped in dog merde…
4. Cleaning dog merde off of Dansko clogs is a royal douleur dans le cul (pain in the a**). Méfiez-vous! Beware!
5. The WWII Wing of the Army Museum is an oft-overlooked peek into a remarkable period in human history. Girls, as well as boys, will find it fascinating. I did.
6. Checking to see if the most beautiful example of a stain-glassed cathedral in the world (Ste. Chappelle) is under renovation before you wait for 45 minutes in the rain and sink 8 euro into the admission price is a really good idea. But, if you neglect to do this and then end up inside the partially-scaffolded and hidden cathedral, stand in awe of that which you can see. The sparkling jewel which is Ste. Chapelle can change your life.
7. The Musee D’Orsay is a revelation and a must-see! The collection of Impressionist masterpieces is unmatched and the former train station in which they are housed is an architectural marvel itself! (But be careful not to make eye contact with umbrella sellers outside of the Musee D’Orsay – unless of course you need an umbrella! They may ask if they can be your escort on your Paris adventure. And then you will have to refuse them. And that might hurt their feelings. They might even cry. But, DON’T be swayed!)
8. Rainer Maria Rilke (a poet I’m currently discovering) was Rodin’s secretary.
9. The Musee Rodin is a little museum in the 7th Arrondissement, filled with treasures. It is my favorite museum (so far) in all of Paris. Do not miss the gardens where many more Rodin sculptures can be found.
10. An ice cream at Bertillon on Ile de la Cite or Ile Ste. Louis, no matter what the weather, is always a good idea.
11. The Route #69 bus across town from west to east starting near the Eiffel Tower and ending at Père Lachaise Cemetery is a great, economical tour of many landmark areas of the city.
12. No one ever, EVER, will be able to see and absorb all there is to see and absorb at Le Musee du Louvre. Try anyway. Start perhaps with the Great Hall and Mona Lisa. Don’t miss Venus de Milo. Or, alternately, wander according to mood. After all, you’ll be back.
13. Hitler, when he saw that retreat was inevitable, ordered one of his generals to bomb Paris and the Eiffel Tower. His general refused, not wanting to be known as the man who destroyed the City of Lights. Hallelujah.
14. One mustn’t go so fast in Paris that he or she does not have time to sit in a cafe for hours to write, read, contemplate.
15. “Contemplate” in French, is envisager (on-vees-ah-zhay). I just love that.
16. Buying a “Museum Pass” is a grand idea for skipping to the front of lines. It is a stress- and sore feet-inducing idea if you feel you need to try to see as many museums as you can in the time allotted to get the best deal for your money.
17. The Arc de Triomphe is an impressive historical monument. It becomes even more impressive when you climb the almost 300 steps to the top to take not-so-great pictures in the rain. You’ll pay for the privilege and may even develop a wheeze.
18. Transportation may take a little focused effort to learn but then you can whizz around Paris (or, à siffler autour de Paris) like a pro. You can do it! (Or, tu peux le faire!)
19. The Metro is speedier than the bus and best for rush hour times (squeeze in close, hold on tight, you might want to put on your red lipstick first for this up-close-and-personal adventure, guard your belongings, and look down and admire all the pointy Frenchmens’ shoes – the shoes, not the Frenchmen). Buses offer a more scenic and quite enjoyable ride. Taxis to and from train stations save a headache or five.
20. The 7th Arrondisement is a great place to stay. The Eiffel Tower, Napolean’s Dome, Musee Rodin, Champs du Mars, charming shops and cafes, rue Cler. Pharmacies that sell little pads for blisters (ampoules) on the fourth toes of both feet…
21. Galeries Lafayette is a spendy proposition that I won’t recommend unless you want a “mall experience” in Paris. The one in the 14th Arrondissement is located on the ground floor of the hated-by-Parisians-as-it-is-a-tremendous-eyesore Montparnasse Tower. I have to say I agree with them. But! At the very tip-top of La Tour Montparnasse is a restaurant – Le Ciel de Paris – with spectacular views of the City of Lights. It, too, is spendy (read: the food was good, but, really?). I am glad of the splurge because the views of Paris were truly incredible, perhaps unmatchable, but I probably won’t visit Tour Montparnasse again…
22. Pain au chocolat is one of France’s great gifts to mankind. So is Bordeaux.
23. Learning how to navigate Gare du Nord train station and the Eurostar train is crucial if one wants to whisk off to London from Paris, or vice versa. En fait (“in fact”), if one does this, then there never really is a reason NOT to go to both cities in one trip. It’s only a 2hr 20min ride!
24. Umbrellas (parapluies) need at least 8 reinforced ribs in Paris. Anything less, and they will undoubtedly – and frequently – blow inside-out which will be embarrassing until you see that this is happening to many other under-ribbed umbrella holders. (Actually, it’ll still be a little embarrassing…)
25. When Parisian childrens’ little umbrellas blow inside out, they think it’s the greatest, most fun thing ever!
26. The rain is never an excuse not to be about on the streets of Paris. You will get wet, yes. Your beautifully-coiffed hair will be plastered to your head, yes. Rain may have leaked down the back of your coat which will be incredibly uncomfortable and goose-pimple-inducing, yes. Still, there is an unspeakable and particular beauty to be found in Paris when the sky is tinged metallic, you are being assailed by droplets, and the sidewalks are so slick that you can almost see your reflection. Grappling with your parapluie and bag (and, perhaps camera, which you will valiantly and probably unsuccessfully try to keep under your umbrella) will become a mere inconvenience when you find yourself in the rain in Paris for there are wonders to behold in this marvel of a city, even in the rain. Plus, you may just find yourself gliding straight through to the entrance to the Eiffel Tower! (Literally!)
27. Art Nouveau is fun to learn about in Paris. It’s a great, proud feeling to spot a curvy-sculpted Metro stop and think, “Ah! Art Nouveau!”
28. Chicken livers, when cooked perfectly and served on a salad with fresh greens and foie gras, and eaten with potato chips (“cheeps”), or “fries” as we say in America, and a glass of bordeaux, can change forever how you view the world.
29. Pied a porc means “pork feet.” It is essential to learn this before ordering and taking that first, creamy/slimy, not-pork-consistency-at-all, bite. Ugh!
30. Un cafe (a tiny little cup of espresso) with a packet of sugar is guaranteed to help you through your day.
31. The French are very patient with you as you try to learn their language (except for grumpy young pretty things at the Boulanger in rue Cler).
32. So many great genius artists were not appreciated during their lifetimes and died in relative obscurity. Why is that? And, many were laid to rest in Paris cemeteries.
33. Père-Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père-Lachaise) is a highlight! How enjoyable (no, really!) to wander about this historic, famous old cemetery in the rain and wind (my new 8-ribbed umbrella withstood the elements swimmingly!) It was like a treasure hunt, only with dead bodies. Gravestones seem stacked upon gravestones in some places. There is a large section dedicated to the victims of WWII. Jim Morrison’s grave was not as ravished as Oscar Wilde’s (that red lipstick comes in handy again – take a look!) and Chopin (judging by the myriad flowers around his grave) is still greatly beloved.
34. One must always plan to return to Paris…
42 thoughts on “34 Paris Lessons You Probably Won’t Find in the Guidebooks”
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