We love this beautiful city and usually go there at least once a year to try to do Paris off the beaten track. It’s so convenient from London, too. It takes us 20 minutes to get to St Pancras, then an hour to allow for check-in/customs (shockingly lax, easy, and quick, but hopefully they know what they’re doing) and a quick bite, then a bit over two hours on the train to Gare du Nord. From there it’s three stops to our hotel of choice, 4-star Trianon Rive Gauche, located in the same street as the Palais du Luxembourg.
For Paris, it is ok in terms of space (tiny, but less tiny than some other hotel rooms). We don’t like the fact that they got rid of the shower curtains during their recent revamp (what a silly idea, there are only two fixed glass panes, but with a huge opening where you enter the cubicle), however, we’d recommend it. They officially do their doubles starting from €299 per night, but we booked well in advance through one of the main booking websites, and paid just under €100 per night, much less than we’d have been willing to pay.
Many of you will have been to Paris many times before, too, and in any case, I won’t bore you with a summary of the main tourist sites and things to do (do do those things, though, of course, if you haven’t done them already). This post is intended to give you a few ideas about off-the-track sites and activities and to link you up with some of our other posts about Paris.
We met up with two London friends, a married couple, who have recently relocated to Luxembourg, and catching up with them was one of the main interests of our visit.
Considering the proximity to the Luxembourg Gardens, our first agenda item on the morning after the night we arrived, was having a lovely little picnic there next to the central round ‘pond’ that is held together by a small wall. You can hire tiny wooden sailing boats and then let them loose on the water. It’s lovely to watch the enthusiasm of the many kids that get real excited about their boats. Each boat has a flag of a nation, and you choose your nation or the nation of your family’s origin, proudly displaying your roots.
We find the supermarkets (especially Carrefour Supermarches extraordinarily good value (the bigger ones much more so than the smaller corner shops) and purchased fake caviar for €2.19, salmon paste for €2.99, a half bottle of real champagne for €9.99, baguette, and some super-fresh vegetables there, plus some great cheese, cured ham, and oysters at the (very few) market stalls in the area around Rue de Buci.
After some sight-seeing and doing touristy stuff, we had lunch at the much talked-about Au Comptoir du Relais (back towards the Rue de Buci/Odeon area of Saint Germain).
Then, as always early on on every one of our trips, we walked from there (about 30mins walk) to our favourite part of town, Le Marais, the former Jewish Quarter of Paris, to stroll the streets and enjoy the sun, sitting down on the lawn of our favourite square of Paris, Place des Vosges, and checking out the art galleries (for example Modus), cafes, and a local perfume shop.
During our visit, we also ate at Les Papilles, Breizh Café, Au Petit Sud Ouest, Comme au Vietnam, gobbled down delices at several farmers markets (for example Marche des Enfants Rouges), and stopped at patisseries to taste some of their sweet delights. Nearly everything, as you’d expect in the city of love and fine cuisine, was prepared to perfection (highly recommend all of the above!). The only other (besides Au Comptoir du Relais) disappointment was Sacha Finkelsztajn, which came highly recommended as best Yiddish bakery and pastrami sandwich place, but did not deliver (hardly any meat, no taste).
Climbing Tour Eiffel (not very off-the-beaten-track)
We climbed Tour Eiffel with Fat Tire Tours, which I found extremely scary (I’m severely afraid of heights). The last elevator that takes you to the very top looks like it’s from the 1960s, and there is only a single simple sliding door separating you from the abyss. The metal of the Tower looks rather rusty in most places. Climbing down the stairs from the middle-platform was also something I would not recommend to people who do not like the risk of gravity taking possession of their bodies.
We had great sights from the middle platform, but due to fog, were completely surrounded by milky white on the top platform, which, in a way, was a very surreal and pleasant experience (especially for people who prefer not knowing how far above the safe ground they are). It also came with the added benefit of there being hardly any other visitors and no queues. Five out of five in my book.
Shortly after our visit to the Tower, we did another tour with Flat Tire Tours, this time zigzagging on our Segways through the area between the Tower, Pont Alexandre III, and the Rodin Museum (one of our top spots in Paris, which we visited directly after the Segway tour; tres romantique location, so to say). What can I say, it was great fun, highly recommend it!
On Saturday night, we went to Le Caveau de la Huchette. We’ve been to this live music jazz club pretty much every year for at least six years, sometimes twice, and the doorman (it is always the same guy) either does in fact – or at least pretends very well to – remember my wife and me (possibly because we often visited with friends who were smoking and hence spent a fair bit of time next to the doorman outside on the nights we were visiting). And wow, what an absolutely awesomely super-cool fun place!! It used to be visited mainly by admittedly a large number of travellers, but still, also a large number of proper Parisian dance fanatics.
We used to be amazed at the brilliant mix of people and the outstanding aplomb, grace, agility and pure energy of the dancers. Many of them do not come as couples, and even if they do, they switch dance partners frequently during the night. You could watch a 75-year old rule the dance room with a 30-year old relative novice, or an 18-year old, handsome, male dance student rock the room with an overweight, charming lady that could well be his mom. There are no barriers, it’s all about dancing.
Or at least it used to be. Ever since the Caveau featured in a scene of La La Land things have changed a bit, unfortunately. When we arrived just after the club had opened at 9:30pm, there were dozens of 18-year old kiddos queuing before us already, all eager to see this location because of La La Land. They initially completely blocked the dance floor and it took the dancers a lot of time and effort, to gradually make those little prats stand up and go to where the sun don’t shine. Luckily, at around 11:30pm it was bedtime for them and they buggered off, leaving the floor to the people this palace was built for. Well, it was built in the 16th Century and only became a dance club shortly after WWII, but that’s beside the point. From midnight onwards, the old and very much alive splendour and true greatness of this place returned.
Finally, and just on a small side note, we should mention that we enjoyed our dinner at Etoille du Nord at Gare du Nord, next to the Eurostar terminal. Service was impeccable and extremely quick, and the food was pretty decent for the price we paid.