But before you visit Paris, a few words of caution. It may seem:
-- Dirty. Looking from the airport to the city, the smog is so thick, it hides the buildings. Despite the best efforts of city workers (the Men in Green) to pick up trash and scrub and wash the streets, there is a constant layer of grit on storefronts, tables, leaves and artwork. Fortunately, the dog poo situation has improved greatly since I first came here. Dog owners were finally shamed into picking up when advocates started placing small French flags into the poo.
-- Overcrowded. 3.5 million people inhabit Paris proper. That number bumps up to 6 million during the day with the influx of workers. More than 12 million live in the Paris metro area. So that’s why so many apartments and hotel rooms are so small!
-- Old. That’s the nature of the place. You can’t swing une chat morte without hitting an old statue or old building named after or created by another dead white person. In some areas, buildings are covered in graffiti, sliced to fit in new buildings and not well kept. Our local friends call these areas “exotic.”
-- Costly. No refills on coffee. Water comes in bottles, not drinking fountains. Many public toilets are pay toilets, even in cafes. Parking can cost a Parisian as much as 1,000 euros a month. And if the waiter asks if you’d like fries with that small, 5-euro salad, expect another 5-euro charge to show up on your bill.
But, clearly, people love Paris. Our friends Eugene and Christy came to work in the Mercy Corps office here for one summer. Four years later, they're still here. This, I think, is why:
-- The food is terrific. We’ve already eaten at several cafes. I can see why the ones we chose are so crowded. When time is tight, we pick up quick items from one of the many alimentations (fruit and vegetable markets) or boulangeries (bakeries). The food is routinely fresh, tasty and satisfying.
-- There is so much to see and do.
Paris is divided into neighborhoods, or arrondisements. It starts with the premiere (1°) in the middle then moves clockwise spiraling out to one of the many walls built over the years to defend Paris starting with Charles V in the late 1300s. The red circle is now a freeway surrounding Paris.
In the 1°, you'll find the heart of Paris, the Louvre and theElysees Palacewhere President Sarkozy lives with his third wife, the former model Carli Bruni. And in case Carla wants to shop, she can walk down to the Faubourg St Honore (known simply as "leFaubourg") to visit the flagship stores for Hermes, Chanel, Ferragamo and the fun stores Colette and L'Eclaireur.
The 4° is where all the bohemians live. These folks are known locally as the Bobos. This area most remind me most of Portland. The 4° is called "Le Marais" or swamp. These are some of the most ancient buildings left in Paris and thus the most affordable and attractive to the young, artistic, environmentally aware types. Good food and great shopping particularly in Le Place des Vosges.
Next door is the 11°, home of the former Bastille and the current best place to buy ice cream, Maison Berthillon.
On the other side of the Seine, the left bank or Rive Gauche, you land in the 5° where I've stayed many times. This is the Latin Quarter so named for all the students who lived there (and at one time, Latin was required study for all students). Here you'll find:
- Val de Grace. Louis XIII and Anne of Austria had been married many years. No children. She prayed to the holy mother for a child and promised a convent in exchange. Voila! Louis XIV. Et voila, Val de Grace – first a convent, now a school complex.
- Pantheon – or royalty once again prays and Paris gets another church. This time, Louis XV prayed to recover from gout. In return, he had the ruined church of Sainte-Genevieve replaced. The architect chose Rome’s Pantheon as a model. It’s now a “temple to the great intellectuals of France.”
- Luxembourg Gardens and Palace – Built by Henry IV’s wife, Marie de Medicis to copy her home in Florence. She also wanted to move from the existing royal palace, the Louvres, on the banks of the Seine. By 1612, the river was an open sewer. She didn’t live in her new palace long. Her son, Louis XIII, force her into exile.
Next to the Latin Quarter is the 6° and Saint Germain de Pres -- home of the art shops and galleries and the Musee d'Orsay, the museum that houses the best of the impressionists from Cezanne to Monet to VanGogh.
Moving clockwise to the 7°, you'll find the Eiffel Tower. Completed by Gustav Eiffel in 1889, it's theirst building taller than the pyramids. They held the title 4,000 years. The tower held it for 41. Eiffel went on to create the armature for the Statue of Liberty using what he learned at Le Tour Eiffel. You'll need to wade through a horde of trinket salesmen and wait two hours to get to the top. But the views are unforgettable.
Finally, my favorite arrondisement, the 8°. Napoleon's Arc de Triomphestands at the head of the greatest street in the world, theChamps d'Elysees. From the top of the Arc, you can see clear down the Champs to the Place de la Concorde where the guillotine once stood. Now it holds the grandstands for July 14's Bastille Day celebrations. Further down, you see the Tuileries where a palace once stood. Now it holds a carnival of fountains, ferris wheels and rides. At the far end you see the Louvre in the 1°, where our grand tour began.
I believe that if it exists on this planet, it exists on the Champs, in the heart of Paris. But that's a story for another day.