Ah, to Live Parisian!

Do you have a Bucket List? I do, and one of the items on that list was to spend two months in Paris, France, “living like a Parisian.” I was able to cross this off my list as reflected in an article previously published by JetSet Extra. And while the article wasn’t about me and my time in Paris, it showed common Parisian life as I saw it.

A view of the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower, while commonplace for Parisians, is an unforgettable draw for visitors to the City of Light.
A view of the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower, while commonplace for Parisians, is an unforgettable draw for visitors to the City of Light.

The allure of Parisian life has had a strong pull on writers, artists, musicians and many others since the 19th Century. You can’t understand that attraction when you’re on a whirlwind tour through Europe or even on your first week-long visit to Paris. No; to feel what it’s like to “be Parisian,” you have to have been here before (so you don’t feel obliged to visit the main tourist spots), and you have to stay for at least two months. That’s exactly what I did – I rented an apartment mid-May to mid-July in the 10th Arrondisement near Canal St. Martin, a tributary the feeds into the Seine River.

Just like Hemingway and others who frequented Parisian cafés, so did this author with his daughter who looks like the movie star from a bygone era.
Just like Hemingway and others who frequented Parisian cafés, so did this author with his daughter who looks like the movie star from a bygone era.

One stereotypical view of Parisians is that they sip coffee in sidewalk cafés all day long and then they party and drink wine all night. I have seen some bits of both, but that statement’s as unfair as thinking everyone in Southern California surfs all day, has blond hair, and wears tie-dyed shirts. I used to live in San Diego, and I know that’s not the case! And it’s not the case here in Paris, either. For some introductory information on Paris, I recommend an initial visit to the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau – here is their website (http://en.parisinfo.com/).

A beautiful day beckoned these people to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a peaceful outing along the Seine River.
A beautiful day beckoned these people to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a peaceful outing along the Seine River.

One thing that’s consistent, and not just in Paris, is the attraction to water on a beautiful day. Whether it’s along the mighty Seine River or the neighborhood-friendly Canal St. Martin, friends make the best of a nice day. For some, it’s just to sit around and talk; for others, it could be a drink possibly accompanied by an impromptu meal.

Three friends gather along Canal St. Martin to chat and discuss their weekend plans.
Three friends gather along Canal St. Martin to chat and discuss their weekend plans.

The baguette is as much a part of everyday life here in Paris as a cup of coffee from Starbucks is to New Yorkers. It seems that there is a boulangerie (bakery) on every Paris corner, but maybe it’s actually on one out of two street corners. I read some interesting history of the baguette; don’t worry, it’s a quick read. I spoke with the staff at the corner boulangerie closest to my apartment. After the customary exchange of bonsoir greetings (good evening), I asked the young lady behind the counter if she spoke English. She did. I continued with, “How many baguettes do you make and sell every day?” The young lady said she didn’t know, but she asked Emmanuelle, the owner, whose French reply was “five hundred to six hundred.” About one hundred of those go to restaurants, but that means that four to five hundred baguettes are sold (for €1.10 each) to walk-in customers every day! And that’s just from the bakery right next to my apartment. That’s a lot of bread!

Freshly made throughout the day, the baguettes stand like obedient soldiers as they wait to see who’s going to come in and take them home.
Freshly made throughout the day, the baguettes stand like obedient soldiers as they wait to see who’s going to come in and take them home.

The local bars, bistros, cafés, and restaurants definitely get their fair share of business. Whether it’s a drop-in on the way home from work, or even ordering take-out food, the typically small establishments seem to cater to a particular clientele. And even though there’s not much sense of privacy, everyone minds their own conversations as they sit, eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company.

Outdoor cafés aren’t just for having a meal; they’re also for conversation and camaraderie.
Outdoor cafés aren’t just for having a meal; they’re also for conversation and camaraderie.

Most Americans are spoiled when it comes to grocery shopping. We go perhaps once a week and fill the refrigerator with food items from around the world. The freezer gets stocked with specials and broken down packages of large quantities of meats, fish, and other frozen items. The Parisian refrigerator is about half the size of an American one, and the freezer space is almost non-existent.

The small IKEA refrigerator holds enough groceries for a couple days along with other essentials.
The small IKEA refrigerator holds enough groceries for a couple days along with other essentials.

So what do they do? They shop almost daily for the fresh items, and there are neighborhood grocery stores all over. Most of them carry some meats and seafood, but there are specialty butcher shops (boucherie) close to most areas, and most Parisians have their favorite. We tried three different ones before we decided on our favorite. As you notice in the picture of the refrigerator above, not only is it small, but see if you can read the brand embossed on the egg cover – it’s IKEA!


Happy Travels!
Stuart



Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, sends out an infrequent newsletter (almost every month!), is an avid TripAdvisor reviewer, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com. You can also connect with him and other travelers on his International Travel Expert page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/International-Travel-Expert-147321228683651/


All information and images copyright © 2017 by Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC. America’s International Travel Expert is a U.S. Registered Trademark of Stuart Gustafson Productions, LLC.




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Versailles—A Worthy Day Trip from Paris

P1100104The golden main gate at Versailles is closed to the aristocratic ways of the 18th century, but the side entrances welcome you inside this marvelous estate.

What used to be a several-hour carriage ride from Paris is now just a short train trip, and it’s one that everyone should take. Many people think of Versailles as the lavish palace and the reason for the French Revolution in 1789; but it’s more than that, which is why you should schedule it in your next Parisian adventure. For more information about Versailles, visit its website (http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage).

Getting out to Versailles is really pretty easy. Take a look at your Metro map and find the most direct route to any RER “C” train connection. For more information about the trains, visit the train system website (http://parisbytrain.com/rer-c-train-map/). Go the Metro station and buy a round-trip ticket to Versailles-Château that covers both the Metro rides and the train rides. Remember that you want the train that takes you to Versailles-Château, and NOT the one that goes to Versailles-Chantiers! When you get to the train station (the end of the line), just follow the crowd — you can’t get lost!

P1100112The model of Versailles shows the grand scale of the estate that was the envy of all European rulers.

    There are some important logistical details to remember when heading out to Versailles.

  1. The palace and the grounds are closed on Monday, so make sure that you properly plan your visit
  2. Because it’s all closed on Monday, the crowd on Tuesday is almost twice the normal crowd (many of them are those who forgot it was closed on Monday and they’re leaving Paris on Wednesday!)
  3. Main admission is covered by the Paris Museum Pass, but certain exhibits might require a supplemental charge — for more information about the Museum Pass, visit the official website (http://en.parismuseumpass.com/)
  4. Make sure that your camera batteries are fully charged because there are so many photo opportunities that you won’t be able to pass up
  5. Even if you have your admission ticket, museum pass, press card, etc., you still have to stand in the line outside the main entrance — everyone (except tour groups) goes through security from that one line

Unlike other palaces and castles around the world, your visit to Versailles should be built around an entire day. There are fewer crowds in the morning (along with its reduced admission for entrance before 9:45), and that allows you ample time to wander throughout the main Château at your leisure. You’ll want to roam from floor to floor, room to room to room before the tour groups and larger crowds arrive.

P1100120The magnificent pipe in organ in the two-story chapel is framed by massive columns that are more evidence of the palatial scale of the main Château.

The best entrance is on the east side of the courtyard where you’ll see the Hercules Drawing Rooms and the Chapel. If you’re fortunate, you might be able to hear the organist playing the pipe organ in the Chapel where the King’s visitors came to worship, and it was usually to worship him. As you weave your way in and out of each room and hallway, you’re bound to be in awe of the magnificence of each area and the way that the rooms are able to take advantage of sunlight and views to the outside.

P1100148The Hall of Battles is filled with light from above that accentuates the busts of heroes and the enormous paintings of decisive battles.

The one constant as you make your way through the Château is the ceiling height. Higher ceilings naturally evoke a grander feeling, even if the rooms weren’t already large. But it’s the high ceilings that allow for the large paintings, multiple levels of windows, and the grand visual experience of looking through a long series of arched doorways.

One surprising feature of the main Château is the size of the King’s Bedchamber. It appears to be one of the smallest rooms although it was centered right on the palace axis, and it had a marvelous view right out onto the Marble Courtyard. I don’t believe that the King spent a lot of time in his “bedroom” looking out to see who was coming to visit (he usually knew anyway), but the design was done to represent that the King was “at the center” of everything.

P1100142The view out of the King’s Bedchamber was right out onto the central Marble Courtyard.

Although you could spend an entire day absorbing the beauty, the grandeur, and the history inside the main Château, it would be a loss if you didn’t go out to the gardens and groves. Remember when I said that Tuesday crowds were typically quite large compared to the other days? I didn’t give you the entire reason up front.

Each Spring, from April to mid-May, and then from July through October, the groves of the Versailles Château come alive with energetic classical music. Called “The Musical Gardens,” the piped music plays from morning till early evening as do the water displays in the Mirror Fountain. The music’s not in every grove, but when you walk from one fountain or grove to another, and there are twenty-eight of them, you’ll enjoy being surprised when the music comes alive.

P1100166Geometrical patterns adorn The Orangerie where plants are stored and trees are stored during the winter.

The Mirror Fountain is especially delightful as the water fountains are timed to frolic and dance along with the music. There is plenty of grass for seating, and the rhythmic beats bring smiles to all those around the 300-year old fountain. Not to miss out on marketing opportunities, the Château de Versailles sells a CD of the music that’s played, and there’s a new CD each year — how’s that for marketing genius!

The expanse of the groves and fountains covers so much more area than the main château, and you’ll definitely get in your walking steps as you go from one area to another. It’s a little deceptive as you walk through the groves as you move away from the château; there is a slight downhill incline that you don’t notice until you’re ready to head back — back uphill.

P1100191Gardeners use wooden cutouts to precisely trim the bushes into geometrical shapes.

Shapes are abundant, whether they’re whimsical or plain ornamental. Framed cut-outs are used to ensure consistency in the decorative bushes, and the “faces” in the fountains aren’t readily apparent at first glance. But once you see one of them, they all come into focus.

P1100200The shell faces embedded into the water fountains look like South Pacific islanders.

After you make your back up the hill to the château, visit the WC and the gift shop, it’s time to stroll to the train station. There’s no need to be in a rush because the frequency of trains makes it very convenient for returning to Paris. And since all the trains go into Paris, there’s no need to worry about getting on the right train or the wrong train. The short 35-minute ride gives you time to think about the majestic sights you just saw, to organize your digital photos, or maybe it’s just enough time for you to relax so you can head back out into town once you’re back home in Paris, the City of Light.


Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, writes a monthly newsletter, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at www.stuartgustafson.com.