We're just back from our week-long trip to Paris, where we - my colleague, Chris Tait of www.christait.ca - and I made the work for our upcoming exhibition. We're four years in to a project we thought was going to be a one-off, but now looks not to really have an end date.
Chris had been to Paris previously, as a kid, with his parents. I had not, despite my ancestors coming from Montbeliard, which is near the France, Switzerland border;
Paris is a beautiful city. The Seine sweeps through the centre of the arrondisments like a shimmering ribbon bordered by gorgeous and stately architecture. The city is immensely walkable, as it isn't large in terms of area. One can become happily lost with not a worry, as there are metros everywhere by which one can quickly orient themselves and return to their starting point.
Otherwise, Paris is a stately city. The pace of life is peaceful, owing in some part to the reality of two-hour lunches and late dinners; it's usual for people to have their evening meal around 8 p.m. That said, Chris and I were both a little surprised at just how laid back things were. Unlike London, where the communities around any given tube stop have very much their own character, and where there is a certain electric vibrancy, and also unlike Mexico City that is a riot of colour and noise, or New York, where there is endless bustle, Paris was calm; endlessly calm. We walked some 85 kilometres over our five days in the city and found there was little difference from community to community.
The upswing is there are cafes on every corner, where one can go, have a coffee or wine or a little meal totally undisturbed, particularly by the wait staff, who are generally expert at leaving patrons alone. The idea the waiter would barge in on a conversation is unheard of. I LOVED that.
There are pastry shops and sandwich shops and street-side fish shops all over the place and the quality is excellent no matter where one ends up. The baseline food quality is beyond compare - even the late-night kabab shop we ate at (for so cheap!) was excellent. Of all the yum we consumed, Du Pain et des Idees was utterly brilliant. Thanks to Anthony Bourdaine for the recommendation via The Stopover.
We both understood why Paris is a top-shelf choice for honeymooners. Peaceful and lovely and not taxing, even in crowded places - assuming the crowds were Parisians rather than tourists. It was challenging, however, to find the soul of the city. Because we were working, we avoided tourist spots for the most part. We did indulge ourselves in a couple gorgeous installations at Musee d'Orsey, which is, frankly, a MUST-SEE if just for the delicious building. It was a train station set for demolition until some smart, forward-thinking person decided it should be a museum. Fantastic.
You're hereby invited to our exhibition, Tripping the Streets Fantastic: Paris. It goes up February 1st in the lower-level gallery of 209 - 8th Ave SW, Calgary. We'll post more information closer to the date, and you'll find our listing in the 2016 edition of Exposure Photography Festival's program, which should be out in mid-January. http://www.exposurephotofestival.com otherwise.
Tips for Travel to Paris:
Transportation from Orly (ORY): take the ORLYVAL train to metro Anthony, and take the metro to your hotel, or taxi from here. It's fun, inexpensive and fast. That said, if there are more than two travelling, and your hotel is down town, taxi right from Orly is your least expensive option if you're ready to try out Parisian traffic. The Orlyval train and metro combination is fast and safe though, and filled with people who live in the city.
While in Paris, if you intend to use the metro more than twice a day during your stay, get a metro pass. It's called a Navigo Pass and you can purchase them in most metro stations, including Anthony. You will need a 1" x 1" photo of yourself for this pass, so bring one, or you'll be stuck paying 5 Euros for photos in a photo booth. The pass is, as Chris put it, an arts and crafts project involving sticking things together and then fitting the two-part card into its plastic holder, in the correct manner so the numbers line up and your photo and signature are stuck down correctly. The metro police are in full swing on weekends, so a properly created Navigo pass is de rigeur.
Walk. Just do it. The city is really beautiful and there are cafes and parks everywhere. Like I say, we walked 85 Kms in five days and it was zero effort.
Eat. Because you will walk a lot of kilometres and the food is gorgeous. I lost about 5 lbs the week we were there and ate lovely cheese and meats, pain au chocolat, brioche, and eggs for breakfast - washed down with also-lovely coffee.
Watch your wallet; an inside, zipped pocket is a really, really good idea. Also watch your phone, which should also be in an inside, zipped pocket. Otherwise, you may discover your phone being hawked on a side walk near a metro in an out-lying community...
Learn to say No several times in succession: in Montmartre and at the Tour Eiffel, and various other tourist spots, there are groups of men selling all sorts of crap, including bracelets made of embroidery floss - read: worth about 3 cents - which they will make and attach to your wrist before you know what has hit you, and then demand money. Say NO and also "Do Not Touch Me." English is fine. Also say NO to groups of young women who approach you to sign a "petition" and give money to the deaf. They're not deaf and they're pocketing your money - and your wallet if you're not paying attention. Hold on to your wallet and your cash. Same goes for busy metro cars and cafes; don't leave your phone or wallet on a table at a cafe, as occasionally people will pass by and hook your belongings, and make a run for it.
The cafe at the Grand Mosque of Paris is well worth going to. They serve lovely sweets and savouries and a delicious, sweet mint tea. There's a restaurant there as well if you want a meal. You may enter the mosque itself if your head is covered (women).
Go to Le Bouillon Chartier. This bistro is a very authentic, turn of the century restaurant that offers homey traditional food served up by severe and very efficient waiters. Fantastic. 7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre. Nearest metro is just two blocks away: Bonne Nouvelle.
Also go to Du Pain et Des Idees. Just go. Seriously. You will thank us. Fantastic, world-class pastries, particularly the "escargot" made of pistachios or coffee and noisette. There's a coffee shop facing. You'll need that coffee. Address is 34 Rue Yves Toudic and the closest metro is Jacques Bonsergent. Three block walk in a lovely area.
After you're filled up with delicious pastries you can walk about 20 minutes east to Pere Lachaise cemetery, or take the metro from either Jacques Bonsergent or Republique to metro Pere Lachaise. You'll need the walk and the cemetery is amazing. Jim Morrison and Edit Piaff, among about 90 notables "live" here. Map at the entrance (take a photo with your phone). Free entry.
The area around Jules Jovin metro is lovely and quaint, and has some pretty interesting butchers. Apparently it is traditional to leave some of the feathers on the bodies of birds, and the heads still attached, but skinned... fascinating but gross for the unprepared. Excellent food directly across from the metro station at Nord Sud. Stuff on the "Snack" part of the menu is HUGE, particularly the Croque Madame. Fun metro; they have a manege - meaning merry-go-round and a sweet shop right there.
Talking to folks
Paris is a pretty bilingual city, all in all. People who can will speak English, if you don't speak French. Even if you do speak French - I'm fluently bilingual - if your accent is from somewhere else, likely they'll revert to English. If you want to speak French, persist, or ask to continue in French.