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Paris (not the food)

It might seem strange for me to do a post about Paris and not center it around the food. However, there is a real reason for it. I just can’t face it (yet). I just can’t face the fact that I am not in a city where I can go to my local bistro for lunch, spend 14 Euros and get 3 courses and a glass of vin rouge.

(Mama Shelter hotel in the 20th arrondissement)

So instead to Paris (not the food). We had to go to Paris before we leave for Hong Kong because Jen is American and that is what Americans think of when they think of Europe and watch Sex and the City the movie whilst eating popcorn. And the annoying thing is they are right. I spent most of this trip repeating to Jen that London is better. London is a proper city and Paris is just a living museum but… when you see it afresh through an innocent’s eyes it is a ridiculous city (in a good way).

(Pere-Lachaise cemetery above and below)
I have always experienced Paris at the hands of a friendly guide, in a drunk and sybaritic twirl through its arrondisements. This time I had to sit down and plan.  And, we even had to pay for accomodation.

We chose Mama Shelter because it has good propaganda which tells you (i) that it is a design hotel and (ii) that the 20th is not in the middle of nowhere but it is actually the coolest arrondissement in Paris.  Despite Mama Shelter actually being a great place to stay the second part isn’t really true. The 20th arrondissement is interesting but not Hackney Wick, Peckham or Deptford “cool”. A few bars, a few bistros, a few galleries but it never feels like you are going to be swamped by hipster haircuts. In fact the best thing about it is walking around the Pere-Lachaise cemetery which contains 1,000s of Paris ex inhabitants.

(some galleries in the 20th)
Apart from that we walked and saw and ate.  The market by Bastille.  Little bistros for lunch.  Up and down the Canal St Martin.  The skeletal green Cite de la Mode.  The Jardin des Plantes. Île de la Cité. The Josephine Baker swimming pool on the Seine. The Marais.  All of it was wonderful and spectacular.

So…. what would we recommend.  What did a bored Londoner who had been to Paris enough times to be blasé about it fall in love with (again).  First, the Louvre at night.  We were lucky enough to fluke being there on the Nuit des Musees when the museums are open late and free.  There is something very special about seeing the Louvre with its sculpture courtyards glowing at night.

(the food market by Bastille)

My other highlight was the Rodin museum which I had never been to before.  We went on the last sunny afternoon before we had to board the train and return. By that stage I had already lost Jen.  She no longer believed London is better.  She was scheming on how we could return to live in Paris.  And at that point I nearly joined here.  As you walk around some perfectly trimmed gardens in a perfectly maintained city where all that I love (food, drink and culture) is good, cheap and everywhere I began to doubt my loyalty to London.

(metalwork at the Rodin museum)

So now we are back.  Back in London.  And I still can’t face it.

PS a major thanks to Etienne for the other highlight of the trip – high speed late night drives around Paris with a Swiss/ French tour guide.

PPS for the others in our trip to Paris look here


  1. The Grubworm

    Paris is a magical city with so much going for it, thank god it is relatively easy to visit. I love it, but i would never want to live in it. I find it too cool, maybe too refined. I like London's slightly rough and frayed edges. And the sheer walkable sprawl of it.

    That said, I could really do with some of those neighbourhood bistros ad cafes, it's something we Brits have ever really got right. And for sheer, almost monotonous, spectacle and elegance, Paris wins hands down.

    I love wandering the Marais lanes, the great boulevards and among the Vietnamese cafes of Belleville. Sigh. Now I want to go back.

  2. Tom

    I am honestly fairly converted. I am still feeling fairly miserable that it is highly unlikely that I will never be able to live and work there. The thought of spending a couple of years living there makes me ache with hope.

    What we really don't here is the average excellence of French food. The fact that any baguette there is as good as the best that the most expensive restaurant London can offer…

  3. The Grubworm

    Never say never – you could always look at freelance opportunities, you are, after all, only a couple of hours from London.

    I agree re the average excellence. Now if you could combine that with the sheer variety of food you get in The Big Smoke…

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