A Minty Guide to Paris

I’ve always said ‘I like Starbucks, but I wouldn’t want to work there’. This Robert-ism is meant to illustrate the idea that working somewhere, like living somewhere, can erode the magic or mystique of a place. Sometime it’s better just to visit rather than stay. I am not in fact a massive fan of Starbucks for the record and only say this little ditty to make my point clear. I am however a massive fan of Paris and think that this could be a great place to live, not just visit. If I didn’t already love London so much I think I’d be looking for small flats around the fifth arrondissement of Paris otherwise known as the Latin Quarter. Given I now think I am an expert on the city (you can be the judge) I would like to present you my guide to Paris.

Firstly, if you are travelling by Eurostar you will find yourself in the not-so-great Gare du Nord Station. Get this bit over quickly and avoid being accosted by strangers. Thieves, (usually Eastern European) expect you to be a little disoriented and will try to take advantage of you. So my advice is zip-close non-conspicuous bags, everything safely away and don’t be distracted. You will need to get out of Gare du Nord and off around the city; to do this you will need a fist full of Metro Tickets. You can buy them on the EuroStar saving you unnecessary stress at the ticket booths. Be sure to buy lots - each ticket is good for just one trip. A used ticket will have a tiny ink smudge on it you will struggle to spot. Be sure to bin them or you will get confused.

Now that you are in the city and ready to see the sights it remains only to know where to go.

For the best views:

Obviously the Tour Eiffel built in 1889 for the Universal Exhibition, offers the an unsurpassed Paris vista best observed around sun-down. I say this because you can first enjoy a view over the city in glorious golden sunlight followed by beautiful moon-lit Paris where the roads look fiery and full of passion and the lights shine like earthbound stars. The queue time can exceed 2 hours but is well worth it . You will queue in two stages, first for the double decker diagonal lift that takes you to the 3rd Level (Level 2 is the restaurant) and the second lift takes you vertically to the top. Even the intermediary view is breath taking – the top view is unforgettable.

Montparnasse tower South East of the Tour Eiffel is a plain looking skyscraper looming over Gare Montparnasse and a bleak, soulless shopping centre. The Tower is a hidden Gem with a viewing platform at the top offering stunning views Northwards of the entire city. After an ear popping lift ride to the top you can take in Sacre Coeur rising up on a  distant hill and the entire city in between. This is a view savoured best in light of day under a blinding sun.

Near the foodie-favourite Latin Quarter and is best taken on the same day. The Gothic Roman Catholic Church is located on the ‘ile de la cite’ or Island of the city and dates back to the 12th Century. Stunning from the outside, stunning inside and, for the adventurous amongst you, a challenge awaits climbing the western façade. This is a beautiful view of the city and the Seine peppered with great photo opportunities. Pose with gargoyles or allow the gargoyles to survey the scene alone depending on your artistic temperament. This is a daytime only affair and very weather dependant – not one for an icy winter. Be prepared to climb hundreds of steep, stone steps and channel your inner Quasimodo.

The Arc De Triumph located at the top of the Champs Elysées is a grand testimony to the military might of Napoleon. Standing at L'etoile (the star) it has literal panoramic views down long spoke-like avenues in every direction. The most famous of these, the Champs Élysées, looks decorated with sapphires and diamonds in full night time splendour as every tree is dressed in light. At night, on the hour, every hour, you can view the Eiffel tower as it puts on a glittering light display. The Arc de Triumph offers perhaps the greatest perspective for this enchanting spectacle. Looking the opposite way from the champs élysées you can see the finance district with it's own triumphant arch. The arc de triumph stands proudly between the world of tradition, romance and beauty and a world of finance, power and business.

Sacre Coeur or 'sacred heart' is a deceptively modern addition to the skyline. Completed in 1914 on top of 'Butte Montmarte', it seems to quietly observe the city from the artistic north-east corner. This part of Paris feels authentic perhaps more than any other with tall shuttered buildings in pale stone, eclectic shops and a plethora of pharmacies. This beautiful anathema to tradional imposing churches perches over it's surroundings atop a manicured sloping garden. Built from white stone and topped with multiple domes it is distinctly feminine in it's design and this is just the outside. Inside, it has a distinct (possibly intended) womb-like darkness; combined with a heady scent of fine inscence the effect is a blissful calm. But, before you zen out completely, there is the essential climb to the domes for what could be the ultimate view of Paris. From below the view is impressive but now, climbing the dome steps, each leg toning heave brings you more stunning scenes to feast upon. Before you know it the city will spill away before you with the famous landmarks hiding, waiting to be spotted.

Where to go:

There are many great museums in Paris; The Centre Pompidou, Musee D'Orsay, Petit Palais, Rodin Museum to name a few. But, it is the Louvre that houses the most antiquities. Almost too vast, it is unsuitable for an unplanned leisurely stroll and demands planning and forethought. Highlights included the 'Jaconde' or the Mona Lisa as we refer to it, Venus de Milo and Michaelangelo's David. There's also Napoleon's private quarters which reveal an argueably tasteful decadence from an era that knew better. Ornate beds, tables, dressers, chairs and vases sit in rooms with painted relief ceilings and wallpapers worth more than an arm full of Rolex watches. Then there is artefacts from ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, art by Italian masters, French impressionists, German surrealists. The art and antiquity seriously never, ever, ever stops.

For a different pace Pere Lachaise Cemetery is a quieter affair in the East. Famous graves include Jim Morrison of the Doors, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Playwright Moliere. It's a tranquil, beautifully manicured setting with graves running along avenues creating a peaceful village of the dead; certainly worthy of a visit. Maps are available so you can best find the gravestones that interest you and best of all entry is entirely free.

Finally the Latin Quarter which is possibly the culinary heart of the City. French Restaurants sit next to Tunisian, Moroccan and Italian eateries and everywhere there are patiserries, creperies and coffee shops. With a proper French meal you would typically start with a complimentary Kir Royale followed by some L'escargot or Soupe a L'onion. More French it does not get. After an unforgettable dinner a short night-time stroll along the Seine will have you wishing you could stay forever.

Paris has so much to offer and the things described above are just a tip on a giant French iceberg. If you have been your self and have anything to add I would love to hear from you.


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