A Moveable Feast


If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wher­ever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a move­able feast. — Ernest Hemingway

Ah, Paris.

I’ve waited 42 years to fi­nally see the City of Lights. And I fell in love, with its build­ings, its bridges and its cafés.

Paris, je t’aime

Being in Paris in un­like trav­el­ing in other cities. It’s not just the his­tory – the United Kingdom has that in droves, as does Greece, Italy and other parts of the world. It’s the feel­ing you get as you walk down the street. It’s imag­in­ing the his­tory that hap­pened right where you’re stand­ing. It’s the re­spect the city has for its ar­chi­tec­ture and his­tory. (I live in Toronto, where the old­est struc­ture is less than 200 years old.) It’s hard to ex­plain, re­ally. All I know is when I men­tion Paris to those who have been there, a cer­tain look comes over their face: the eyes light up, their heads nod slowly, a sigh es­capes their mouths.


One thing about Paris is that you will want to see every­thing in the time you are there. Unless you plan on stay­ing there for six months, you will not see every­thing. You won’t even get to see the places and things on your list. And if you do, you won’t be able to spend much time see­ing them. Because if you daw­dle at one place too long, you won’t be able to see THIS or THAT, and oh! I never knew THAT was there, and why is there a line-up at THIS place? and those peo­ple at the next ta­ble are rav­ing about THAT, so I’ll just have to go THERE

Okay, take a deep breath. Relax. Accept the fact that you won’t see all of Paris. Instead, ex­pe­ri­ence Paris — walk her streets, take in her beauty and pre­pare to be overwhelmed.

If you’re plan­ning to visit Paris for the first time, read these tips. You’ll thank me later.

1. Buy a good guide book (with lots of pho­tos) and read it all. It will give you a sense of each neigh­bour­hood, or ar­rondisse­ment, in Paris, which is im­por­tant to know when book­ing a ho­tel or apart­ment. Heavily into art and cul­ture? The Marais is a good dis­trict for that, with its gal­leries and ar­ti­sans. Want to be in the mid­dle of every­thing? Les Invalides is a ritzy and cen­tral neigh­bour­hood. Shopping? Try the Opera dis­trict. Also do your re­search. There is no ex­cuse for not know­ing how to ask for your bill, or what to tip your server (noth­ing — the tip is built into cost, but leav­ing a Euro or two won’t hurt if the ser­vice is good).

2. Download the Time Out Paris app. It’s free and works even if you have your data roam­ing off. Leave the guide book in the ho­tel room – you won’t want to lug it around with you. The app has great maps and a GPS sys­tem, which lets you know not only where you are at the mo­ment, but also how far you are from your des­ti­na­tion. Besides, do you want to look like a lost tourist pour­ing through your maps and books? Or would you rather look like some lo­cal who is sim­ply check­ing their emails, while you’re re­ally fig­ur­ing out where the clos­est Metro stop is.

3. Wear com­fort­able shoes. I can­not stress this enough. You will be walk­ing a lot be­cause you will want to walk a lot. No mat­ter where you want to go to, the jour­ney is as en­joy­able as the des­ti­na­tion. Paris is like a gi­gan­tic mu­seum; you turn a cor­ner and BAM! there’s some beau­ti­ful statue/building/bridge that takes your breath away. And you can still look chic while rock­ing some clean, cool sneak­ers and nice jeans.

4. Navigate the Metro. Paris’ tran­sit sys­tem is great, once you get the hang of it. A word of warn­ing: as my friend Andrew put it, you can’t get there from here. There will be times when you have to make a con­nec­tion that seems to take you in the di­rec­tion you just came from. There will also be times when it’ll be faster to walk. Play it by ear. It may save you time and sore feet.

5. Buy a mu­seum pass. Paris has many great mu­se­ums. Most of them are in­cluded in the price of a pass. You can buy a one-, three– or six-day pass. Do it. Not only does it cost less than pay­ing ad­mis­sion to each mu­seum, it some­times lets you skip any long line-ups. You can buy a pass at any mu­seum. (Tip: If you are pressed for time, skip the Louvre and go to the Musée d’Orsay. It’s not as large and eas­ier to navigate.)

6. Skip the McDonald’s and Starbucks and fre­quent the gazil­lion cafes and brasseries that seem to be on every cor­ner. Some patis­series of­fer cof­fee to go, if you don’t want to stop your sight­see­ing. You’re in France, stu­pid – en­joy the in­cred­i­ble cui­sine. Don’t eat any­thing you could get at home.

7. Eat a crois­sant. Eat a lot of crois­sants. I de­fer to Andrew again in de­scrib­ing how god­damn good they are: “It’s like they found a mag­i­cal way to cram as much but­ter into a crois­sant and have it still feel light and airy.” Seriously – go nuts.

8. Drink lots of wine. Even the house wines at restau­rants taste in­fi­nitely bet­ter than any­thing you get at your lo­cal liquor store. Have it for lunch and din­ner, or grab a small bot­tle and head to a lo­cal park.

9. LIVE. Don’t count calo­ries, don’t won­der how much fat is in a crois­sant (a LOT, if you re­ally want to know). Don’t think – just eat. And en­joy your­self. I maybe had one salad in all the time I was there. I lived off carbs and meat, wine and caf­feine. And I didn’t gain a pound be­cause I walked a lot. If you pack your ex­er­cise gear or deny your­self a mac­aron, you have no busi­ness be­ing in Paris. Or on a va­ca­tion, for that mat­ter. (Tip: Avoid the long line-ups for the el­e­va­tor at the Eiffel Tower and take the stairs. It’s a work­out with great views.)

10. Avoid the cheap, tacky sou­venirs. If you re­ally love your friends, bring them back choco­late or lit­tle jars of jam or mus­tard from Vauchon or Hediard. Or print and frame your pho­tos as gifts. You will take a lot of pho­tos and they will all be lovely (see mine be­low). (Tip: The sec­ond level of the Eiffel Tower, the top of the Arc de Triomphe and the ninth floor of Printemps pro­vide breath­tak­ing views of Paris. It’s also worth the wait to go up the tow­ers of Notre-Dame if you want some gargoyles-looking-down-at-Paris shots.)

You won’t get to see every­thing. But don’t worry – you’ll be back. Paris is a city that you will re­turn to. Because you will want to go back. You’ll be plan­ning your next trip to Paris on the plane ride home. Paris lives with you, in your heart and in your head. Hemingway was ab­solutely right — it is a move­able feast.


2 Comments on A Moveable Feast

  1. Leon
    October 25, 2011 at 3:43 pm (6 years ago)

    Aside from one restau­rant, I was unim­pressed with the food. it may have been bad luck that we got mediocre ser­vice and unim­pres­sive food. I did plan out the sights to see but not so much with the food so that was just ran­dom se­lec­tion. Definitely go see the cat­a­combs if you’re ok with be­ing in a claus­tro­pho­bic space with a ba­jil­lion bones.

    • Bonnie Dean
      October 25, 2011 at 4:20 pm (6 years ago)

      I think plan­ning is key. It’s eas­ier now with the Interwebs.


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