We’ve been getting to know Paris. And what can I say, we like it. We really really like it. If you push through the tourist streets as fast as you can (we ding ding ding that Velib bell Amsterdam-style), its a surprisingly liveable city. We’ve settled into a routine: By day, I work at the Sorbonne and Friso goes to French class. Evenings and weekends, we wander the streets to see what we can find. Here are some of the gems we’ve come upon:
Parc de la Villette
Friso knew this park from architecture school, where he had to render one of the red pavillons as his very first assignment. Formerly home to the meat slaughtering houses, it’s ironic that our first visit there was to celebrate the international day of yoga with three thousand other people. The park is a kind of a playground for grown-ups, centered around a grand pavillon with a myriad of nature trails, zip lines, fountains, canals, streams, and even an elevated running track. There is a charming little bookshop in the center and a great view of Jean Nouvel’s metal-weaving masterpiece, the Philharmonie de Paris. We were lucky enough to be there on the Fête de la Musique, a French national holiday to celebrate all kinds of music. The park hosted ballroom dancing in the pavillon, a military band by the fountain, a drum core in the grass, and a free performance of Beethovan’s 9th in the concert hall.
La Fondation Louis Vuitton
This little-known museum, which just opened this year, is a Frank Gehry masterpiece. Located on the northern side of the Bois de Boulogne, it hosts an impressive collection of expressionist and contemplative art. Made of glass and steel, it appears to be floating in a black water basin giving the feeling of being between the sails of a ship. A walk through the museum collections passes up and down the many levels and terraces, blurring the distinction between inside and outside space.
The Google reviews in English call Chez Marianne “dirty”, “cramped”, “bad service”, but in French, everyone seems to insist that it’s absolutely “magnifique!”. We agree with the French….just goes to show a lack of understanding of the table parisienne. We stumbled on this place while walking through Le Marais district around lunch time, just before I had to catch my train to Lausanne for my thesis defense. It felt right to have a sort of “last meal.” Chez Marianne serves up Greek-style cuisine with a French twist. For 15 euros per person, you get an enormous (like too big to eat) plate of 10 items of your choice off the menu: rice-filled grape leaves, spanakopita, filled mushrooms, spicy meatballs, fish eggs, pickled beets and my all-time favorite comfort food, roasted eggplant spread.
Palais de Tokyo
A contemporary art museum featuring large scale installations, the Palais de Tokyo is not to be missed! When I say large-scale, I’m talking a whole floor of the museum filled with water that you have to paddle through in a boat, conceived by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. We also really really liked the fresh voice of Thailand artist, Korakrit Arunanonchai who walks you through several rooms drenched in gallons paint to a super video installation at the end. The other cool thing about this museum is that its open until midnight with its terrace hopping until well after.
Jardin de Luxembourg
Somehow we ended many days in the Jardin de Luxembourg over a glass of wine. This photo was taken on F’s birthday, so we made it a bottle. In addition to premium people watching–lovers, pipe smokers, dog walkers, drunkards, selfie sticks, anarchists, you name it — the garden’s history also conjures up a certain romanticism. The palace was built by Marie de Medici, widow of French king Henri IV, in 1611 as an imitation of her home in Florence, the Pitti Palace. She also built the Medici fountain, the coziest corner of the park. Much later it was the headquarters for the Nazis during the Occupation.
Musée des arts et métiers
Last March we took a few kids to the Science Center NEMO in Amsterdam. In a word, it was HORRIBLE! Jam-packed with people and a brouhaha of water falls, whistles, bangs, lasers and dirty diapers, we were disgusted with what the idea of a “Science” museum has become. But the Musée des arts et métiers is the complete opposite! A dusty emporium of wooden models, flying machines, gears and pendulums, miniature cities, and wooden glass cases full of nostalgic oddities, this museum represents the childhood that children want to have. We were pleasantly surprised to find the museum almost empty, it’s a wonderful place that deserves many more visitors, particularly children.
At the last minute, we changed our birthday dinner plans and opted for this little bistro in the 13th, La Cachette. It was the perfect place for our fête! They offered us a long wooden dining table (we were a group of 14!) in the center of the tiny restaurant and let us roam and mingle as we pleased. The menu was just the right price–5-10€ starters and 15-20€ plats. The salmon mousse and braised duck were delicious!
Théâtre National de Chaillot
This theater of contemporary dance is located at Trocadéro, right across from the Eiffel Tower, and hosts dance companies from all over the world. We had the enormous pleasure of seeing José Montalvo’s spectacle, an elegant mix of tango, hip-hop and Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps. After the show, you can have a drink overlooking the Eiffel Tower just as the sparkling lights come on in what was the site of United Nation’s signing of the Declaration of International Human Rights in 1948.
Vietnamese Restaurants at Tolbiac
It was our landlord who told us that we HAD to take the metro to Tolbiac for Vietnamese. And oh my was he right! For a few euros you can enjoy a whopping bowl of pork and noodles with fresh mint on the sidewalk, served up by any of the many Vietnamese joints. When you exit the metro at Tolbiac, head left for a few blocks, you will start seeing them…
We found this little corner resto while strolling through the 16th one evening and made a note to come back. It was our one splurge on fine dining all summer, but we made it count. This place has all of the brassy charm of a chic old-world Parisian bistro with the added plus of good service in a (relatively) quiet setting. I had the Dorade and almost cried when I ate it. Slow-baked rice caramel pudding for dessert– oh mon dieu!
La Comédie Française
We saw a lot of theatre in Paris (and even the Opera Alceste at the Opera Garnier – picture above), but the most memorable evening was at the Théâtre Vieux-Colombier with La Comédie Française. While working at the Sorbonne, I had been translating an article about Georges Feydeau, a French absurdist playwright from the Belle Epoque that I had never heard of. Then I saw that one of his comedies, Le Système Ribaudier, was playing so I booked two student tickets (only 12 €!) It was theater at its absolute finest! The cast, including a little white dog, was snap snap snap with every word, gesture, pause. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Who knew how hilarious (and scandalous!) turn-of-the-Century France was.
Along the Seine
And it goes without saying that there are always summer nights along the Seine. When the bars are too pricey and the streets are too busy, you can always hang your feet over the edge and pass a bottle of bubbly down the line. In June there was an art installation (by a Dutch group, go figure) called City Camping Les Berges. You could reserve your own “campsite” along the water for free and enjoy a day picnic in an orange submarine shelter or a decked out shipping container, complete with BBQ equipment and reading corners.