Love Paris but been there more times than you can count? Need something to do in between meals besides shop? Two weekends ago, that’s the enviable position I found myself in.
First stop: the Petit Palais to see if we could catch the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit. Alas, it was the last weekend of the exhibition and the queue was too long. No worries. From there it was a quick velib ride over to the Jacquemart-Andre Museum, which was wonderfully empty and peaceful (metro: Miromesnil). Included in our 10-euro admission fee was an audioguide that was actually pretty good, explaining not just the “what” of everything in the house, but also the “how” and “why.” It’s a lot like visiting the Frick Collection in New York, giving you a glimpse into the life of a wealthy 19th-century family. In this case, that of a couple (Edouard Andre and Nelie Jacquemart) who had no kids but instead directed their passion towards art collecting. The house was beautiful, and the museum’s Rembrandts and Canalettos were just icing on the cake.
Much as Jon and I love the Marais and the Place des Vosges (take a quick peek at Maison de Victor Hugo in the square’s southeast corner – it’s free), the area can be super crowded on Sunday, mostly because it’s one of the rare neighborhoods with shops and restos that stay open that day. (By the way, I know the Marais has long been a Jewish nbhd, but has anyone noticed how much Rue des Rosiers is thriving as a Jewish-themed amusement park? See e.g., the guys eagerly displaying tefillin on card tables and the multiple roving klezmer bands performing the entire Fiddler soundtrack.)
So for a little peace and quiet after, say, a visit to tried-and-true L’As du Falafel, Jon and I like to pop into the quiet courtyard garden of the Musee Carnavalet. It’s a museum dedicated to the history of Paris, but I think its real attraction lies in the two gorgeous old hotels particuliers that house the museum’s collection.
Speaking of hotels partculiers, the Marais is packed with them. The trick, though, is that by design, they’re not easy to spot from the outside. If you’re looking for a shortcut from noisy, busy Rue St. Antoine (aka Rue de Rivoli at its eastern end) into the Place des Vosges, look for the Hotel de Sully. If you’re like me, you’ll be astounded that it’s one of those gems that’s been right under your nose forever.
When in Paris, Jon and I like to stay at the stylish, welcoming and affordable Grand Hotel Francais in the 11th, which is not only close to food-lover hotspots like Bistro Paul Bert and Le Chateaubriand, but also it’s just a few metro stops away from the Parc Floral (metro: Chateau de Vincennes). On weekends, the Parc Floral charges 5 euros admission, which enables you to stroll around a gorgeous botanical garden with an outdoor performance space feauturing some great classical and jazz musicians. Catch a performance on a sunny afternoon and be sure to make time for the impressive collection of lovely bansai trees (I swear I’m not as old as this last sentence is making me sound).
Those with kiddies will appreciate the mini golf course, which sadly doesn’t feature windmills or scary clowns with moving mouths. Rather, there are serious-looking miniatures of French landmarks. So French!
These days, I skip the “big” sights when I’m in Paris, mostly because I’ve seen them lots already, and they’re expensive and crowded. But our last trip to Paris fell on the first Sunday of the month. Which means? Museums are free! It seems I’m happy to drop by the Louvre when I don’t have to shell out 9.50 euros. After all, even the aggressive camera-wielding crowds don’t seem as awful when you’re there for free.
The Tuileries, of course, are always free. And with a Pierre Herme boutique just off the Rue de Rivoli (4, Rue Cambon), I’m a happy lady if I can snag a coveted metal chair by one of the fountains and savor the latest and greatest macarons by le maitre.
It seems that as much as I enjoy the less-heralded bits of Paris, some things are popular and timeless for good reason.
Dear readers, what are your favorite things to do in Paris?
For more on Paris, click on this post, “Paris Odds and Ends (May 2009)“