Hear about travel to Paris, France as the Amateur Traveler talks to Annie Sargant and Elyse Riven from JoinUsInFrance.com. Annie and Elyse do a wonderful podcast about France and guide us through a city they love.
This episode gives you an overview of Paris. We talk about staying in an apartment in one of the Paris Arrondissements and when you should come as well as how to get around and what to see first.
We start in a bakery and head to the center of Paris, the Seine and the Ile de la Cité with the magnificent Notre Dame as well as the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle. Take some time to just enjoy the views of the river and the banks of this oldest part of the city.
We discuss our 3 favorite art museums in Paris: Musée D’orsay, l’Orangerie, and of course the massive Louvre. Go to the Orsay for the impressionists and for a museum of a manageable size. Go to the Orangerie to see the Water Lilies in a building designed by the artist Monet. Go to the Louvre to see a vast collection of art from all over the world including one of the finest collections of Egyptian art, an excellent statue collection, and the mostly disappointing Mona Lisa. Honorable mentions are made of the Rodin Museum, the Cluny, and the Centre Pompidou.
Paris is more than just churches and art museums. Take the time to explore the city on foot. We talk about expensive shopping streets and Annie would recommend some of the open-air markets and Elyse the square in front of the Centre Pompidou. We head up to the neighborhood of Montmartre with its tourist neighborhoods, French film stars, quiet back streets, and views of the city.
Annie and Elyse give you the magic words that will give you better service in any shop in Paris.
Join Us in France podcast
Paris, France – The City of Lights – Episode 42
Paris Arrondissements map
Chris’s Paris pictures
Paul bakery chain
Paris L’Open Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour
Paris Metro Map
Paris bus route map
Join Us in France #5 – Notre Dame
Join Us in France #6 – Sainte Chapelle
Skip the Line: Paris Louvre Museum Guided Tour
Join Us in France #21 – The Louvre
Water Lilies by Monet
Musée de l’Orangerie
Place de la Concorde
Les Invalides (with Napoleon’s tomb)
Join Us in France #8 – The Cluny Museum
4 Days in Paris Itinerary
Unusual things to do in Paris
We may have a meetup in a week at the DMAI conference, see the Amateur Traveler Facebook page for details
Chris: It’s Amateur Traveler, episode 428. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about art museums and cathedrals and pastries as we go to Paris, France.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler, I’m your host, Chris Christensen. Before we get into this week’s interview, if you listen to this show as it comes out, you might want to pay attention to the Amateur Traveler Facebook page as we may be doing a meetup in Las Vegas. More details on that at the end of the show.
Chris: I’d like to welcome to the show Annie Sargant and Elyse Riven who are joining us from JoinUsInFrance.com. They do, what I will have to say, is a wonderful podcast about France. If you are going to France, you need to listen to Annie and Elyse. So welcome to the show.
Elyse: Thank you.
Chris: And I had been wanting to do a show on Paris, now we’ve done a show on Paris but it was eight years ago and so I invited on Annie and Elyse so we can talk about the city of lights. And normally I ask the question, “Why should someone go to Paris?” Yeah, it feels like a laughable question but let’s ask it anyway. Why should someone go to Paris?
Elyse: Well do you want us to answer? Do you want hers and mine? Or do you want . . .
Chris: Yeah, absolutely, let’s get two answers here.
Elyse: Well I would say people should go to Paris because it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, even though I haven’t been to probably hundreds and hundreds of cities in the world. And I think it’s a place that is absolutely beautiful but also filled with surprises of different kinds and there’s a lot to do and see for everybody.
Chris: And, Annie, what is your answer to the question, “Why should you go to Paris?”
Annie: Same, it’s beautiful, it’s romantic, it’s full of life, it has incredibly culture and art, and of course the food and the wine. Just that alone means you should visit Paris.
Chris: And let’s talk about an itinerary. I think a lot of people have on their list of things to do in Paris the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, and probably just that ten minute dash into see the Mona Lisa, which we can talk about. What would you recommend for a week to two weeks in Paris and the surrounding area?
Elyse: Two weeks is a long time, I would say that two weeks is enough time do a really good job of visiting all kinds of places that are known and lesser known in Paris but also time to go outside. I’m actually going to do something for two weeks like rent an apartment and live, try to pretend to be a Parisian for two weeks. That’s most of the people that I work with, of the two of us I’m the one that actually does guiding in Paris. It’s rare that people stay longer than a week or eight days. What isn’t rare is that they go home and then they come back year or two years later.
Chris: And you mentioned renting an apartment. If I wanted to be a temporary Parisian, which district, which arrondissements would you recommend would be a great place to discover Paris?
Elyse: There are a whole group of them, it’s almost easier to say probably which ones not to. There are so many areas but right now there are two or three that are becoming trendy but are very nice because they’re not the most well-known for tourists. And that would be, for instance, the 10th, 11th, and 12th, which are really nice and neither the most ancient nor the fanciest but are lovely and filled with all kinds of things.
And as Annie said, there’s life everywhere. One of the things that’s really nice about Paris is it’s a very decentralized city, so every neighborhood has a lot of things in it.
Chris: And I don’t know Paris well enough that I know offhand where the 10th, 11th, and 12th are or what they’re known for.
Elyse: They are on the north side of the Seine, on the east side of the city.
Elyse: As opposed to the 8th and 9th which are on the north side, west of The Louvre, and which are a bit posher, maybe even a lot. The 8th and 9th are filled with hotels but if you want to have the experience of renting a place, whether it’s a studio or some kind of small apartment, and really enjoying what it’s like to live in Paris, I would say at this point that the 10th, 11th, and 12th are wonderful places to try. And probably, although Paris is expensive in any event, probably a lot easier to find places than in some of the other neighborhoods.
Chris: Okay. So I’ve got my place in Paris, my hotel, my apartment, or wherever I’m staying , I want to eat dessert first because life is short, where am I going on the first day in Paris?
Elyse: That’s a hard one. There are too many . . .
Annie: Oh, I disagree, that’s an easy question.
Elyse: I would say you could go almost anywhere, is what I was going to say. There’s no specific place so . . .
Annie: Walk past a bakery, try something.
Chris: Do you have a favorite bakery in a favorite neighborhood, Annie?
Annie: Not in Paris because I don’t live there but in Toulouse I have my favorites. As a matter of fact there’s a chain of bakeries called Paul, so that’s easy to remember. They have decent breads and pastries all over the country, even in airports. I would try them.
Elyse: They’re okay.
Elyse: We’re not necessarily in agreement on that. They’re a chain, they’re not bad but they are really a chain. The reality is that it’s almost impossible, unless you go to a supermarket in Paris to try the bad bakery or bad pastry shop, it’s terrible, it’s terrible. You have to be able to run about 20 miles a day afterwards.
But the bread is wonderful, they say there’s a secret to the water. Who knows if that’s true? The pastries are wonderful, they’re gorgeous to look at, and quit honestly I don’t know how many there are but every neighborhood has nice ones and I would say go to the one that’s closest to where you are and you’ll probably have a wonderful experience.
Chris: Okay. I have my pastry now, I go outside and what am I going to see first, what site should I go to?
Elyse: It depends on how much time you have in Paris. So if we’re talking about someone who has really enough time to take it easy, I would say the first thing to do is go down to the Seine, to the river.
Chris: The heart of the city.
Chris: And watch the boats go by and go to Ile de la Cite or where are you taking me on?
Elyse: Watch the boats go by, look at the buildings on both sides of the river, walk along the banks of the river, both sides are relatively easy to do, on the south side a little bit easier. Take in the skyline which is a low skyline but has beautiful architecture. And one of the things I think that makes Paris really beautiful is that it’s a relatively homogeneous architecture, I think that that’s one of the things about it, it’s not a little bit of this and that, hit and miss. So there’s an atmosphere and Annie I think is right when she says it’s a very romantic city.
Annie: It also depends on the weather and you happen to visit. If it’s gorgeous weather, spend as much time outside as you can because the parks are going to be beautiful, the banks of the river are going to be lovely. But if it’s not good weather than I would head indoors and Paris can get pretty nasty as far as weather is concerned. I would go to Notre Dame first because it’s so stunning and I love to take pictures. So I could spend a whole day in Notre Dame climbing the tower, taking pictures from all different angles. I also enjoy taking pictures of disturbing church art.
Annie: And by “disturbing” I mean babies getting cut in half, crucifixion, gory stuff. And there’s plenty of it in churches, devils, that sort of thing.
Chris: And so, for instance, if I’m looking at Notre Dame on the left side, I’m going to tend to see scenes of Hell.
Annie: That’s true in every church, on the left you will have the bad people and on the right the good people.
Chris: And Notre Dame is down in the historic heart of the city?
Elyse: Yes, it’s literally where the city began. Paris is a city that, what we can call old Paris which is the part that doesn’t have the modern new buildings, is basically in the round and it’s cut almost in half but not quite but the river, which runs basically roughly east-west, which is the Seine. There’s a little bit more on the north side than on the south side but the city is really in a round and it’s divided up into 20 districts, which are what we call the arrondissements. And they start in the dead center where Ile de la Cite is, which is number one. And it spirals out like a snail form there. You know, if you are in the one, two, three, four, and five, you are in the oldest part of the city and it really works its way that way around. The Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame, that part is in fact the very oldest part of the city.
Chris: Okay. And I should mention that we’re doing this at a much fast pace than you would find on Join Us in France, where I think you will find three episodes just on Notre Dame. I think we’ll expand that to Ile de la Cite, you’ve got four or five episodes just on that one island, which is an island in the Seine, which we didn’t say.
Elyse: Which is an island . . .
Annie: Yeah, we get carried away.
Elyse: A tiny little island in the Seine actually. You can go to any part of the island, which is really, really tiny, you look out and you see other neighborhoods that are also very beautiful and historical. It’s a pivotal place, that’s why I think it’s a nice place if you want to begin from there.
If it’s a bad weathered day and you’re not the kind of person that likes walking in the rain, like in a boat in Paris or something like that, they have these hop-on hop-off buses that are really quite good. You can get a ticket, it’s good for 48 hours and you can use it again and again and they are open air on top, copied I think from the buses actually in London. And they are called that, they’re called hop-on hop-off.
They make stops, you can get off, you can visit neighborhoods, they give you a little paper that shows you where their stops are. And then you can get back on later on and you can come back and use it again the next day. For people who are really only in Paris for a very short time and just want to get an overview of the city and see physically what it’s like. And then for people who have more time but want to have a nice bus ride, it’s a really great thing to do too.
Chris: Now I think we’ve always gotten around on the metro. I don’t think I’ve ever done the hop-on hop-off. I wonder if that’s newer than, at least our first few trips there.
Elyse: I think it is. I couldn’t tell you when it started but it’s definitely something that is relatively recent, let’s put it that way. The metro is the most efficient and fastest way, most of the time, of getting around Paris. If you have some time and you’re not too impatient, it’s actually nicer, of course, to take a bus because you get to see some of the things that you’re going by.
Chris: The third option, of course, would be renting a car, which I would highly recommend against.
Annie: Yeah, do not, not in Paris
Chris: Not in Paris.
Annie: We did a whole episode on renting a car in France and there are time when it’s really worth it but if you’re going to be in Paris, don’t. It’s Episode 16.
Chris: Right. No, I would drive anywhere else in France actually fine, it’s not at all that difficult to drive. But yes, I would not drive in Paris. For one thing, the lines went away on the road and then I recall one time we took an hour to get from basically down the length of the Champs-Elysees from The Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and it was at 11:00 at night. So the traffic can be fairly . . .
Elyse: I was there two weeks ago and it took us one hour to get from somewhere in the middle of the 9th just out to one of the exits. So it really is not worth trying to drive inside Paris.
Annie: Yeah. Also the other thing to mention is if you’re a visitor with mobility issues, the buses are much easier than the metro because the buses, even with a wheelchair, the buses are really made for that. Whereas the metro, some stations there are escalators but sometimes they’re broken, sometimes the elevator doesn’t work, sometimes there isn’t an elevator. I think buses, if you have mobility issues, are better.
Elyse: The bus service on the number of buses, actually it’s excellent in Paris. It’s really efficient and a very complete service.
Chris: And I would say you mentioned Notre Dame and I would have to say of my three favorite churches in Paris, that’s going to be my second favorite. And I bet you could guess what my first favorite is.
Chris: Exactly. Not far away.
Elyse: I guess I don’t think of Sainte-Chapelle as a church anymore.
Chris: Sure, it isn’t anymore. That’s true.
Elyse: It isn’t anymore, I think of it as a museum, ironically enough. A church that’s actually beautiful and that has part of it that’s actually really ancient is Saint-Germain-des-Pres in the sixth in the area of Saint-Germain. It’s got a part of it that’s actually from, I think, the 11th century, it’s a mix-match of different styles but it’s very beautiful and it doesn’t have that over the top Gothic quality that so many of the other churches have in Paris. They can be overwhelming at times.
Chris: As you covered so well in you show on Notre Dame, even the Parisians at one point tired of Notre Dame.
Elyse: Oh yes.
Chris: Which is always stunning to me as popular as it is now to think about the fact that they wanted to tear it down, but fortunately they did not. And you guessed Sainte-Chapelle so we should mention just a little bit. You’re right, it’s no longer a church and it was always a chapel rather than a church anyway, but because of the stained glass.
Chris: Beautiful, high, blue is the color that just comes to mind with Sainte-Chapelle. On a sunny day, that’s certainly something that I would think about if I were in Notre Dame, which is so close by.
Elyse: Oh yeah.
Annie: On a sunny day you can’t beat Sainte-Chapelle for the colors, it’s just stunning. And it’s mostly blue, like you said.
Elyse: It’s the same blue that you get in the cathedral in Chartres.
Chris: Okay, which I have not seen.
Elyse: Which you have not seen, which is actually more blue. In Sainte- Chapelle it’s blue but you have also just very rich saturated colors in general. But in fact it’s the same workers, the same craftspeople who worked on Chartres and worked on Sainte- Chapelle. So that’s why you have very, very similar colors. But if you’ve never been there, it’s incredible to see not only the number of windows in Chartres and the size of them but just how it’s a very purply kind of blue, it’s quite special actually.
Chris: So we’ve gone to Notre Dame, we may be, on a sunny day, have done a side trip to Sainte-Chapelle. Where to next, how about the museums?
Annie: Museums, personally I love the Orsay Museum because it’s not too big.
Chris: You can see the whole thing, really.
Annie: And I love impressionist and post-impressionist art. They also have a beautiful selection of statues and it’s very approachable as a museum, it’s a good museum for people who are not into art like me. I love art, I enjoy going to museums but it’s not like Elyse who can recognize all these masters.
Chris: Well, Elyse, you’re an art historian?
Elyse: Yeah, I’m an art historian. This is my background, I studied to be an artist, I studied to be an art historian. And so I’m a fish in water. You put me in a museum and I just start waving my arms around, literally. We mention it in our podcast but it is true that the Orsay Museum is the most visited museum by Americans. It’s very interesting because I think other nationalities go there too but that is not their number one priority. Most Americans will tell you that if they have only time for one museum they will go there, not to the Louvre, because they want to see the impressionists. And that is of course where they all are, that’s the special museum for them.
Chris: That’s a museum that’s on the left bank, so the south bank of the Seine, fairly close to The Louvre, as I recall.
Elyse: It’s fairly close, it’s actually, it’s the south bank. It’s technically no longer the left bank because the left bank, even though it doesn’t make any sense, is a designation that really is about the fifth and sixth arrondissements. Or same with the seventh, which is a little further west.
Chris: So it’s a little further downstream from the left bank so it’s no longer left, is what you’re saying.
Elyse: It’s very complicated. What it is is . . .
Annie: It’s French logic, don’t worry about it.
Elyse: Yeah. The left bank is a designation I think from the early 20th century in the time of people like Hemingway and all of those people. And it really refers to the bohemian part of what was, at that time, Paris.
Elyse: Which is not quite the seventh, the seventh is definitely not bohemian, it’s one of the ritziest parts of Paris. And Orsay is really just sort of over the line but it is in fact practically right across the river from The Louvre, you can see one from the other. And you can go literally by foot or by bicycle from one to the other without any problem.
Chris: Now, so, Annie, I think your pick was the Orsay, and the old train building too, we should say.
Chris: Elyse, would you have a different pick, if you could do only one museum?
Elyse: If I had to do only one museum I would do The Louvre.
Elyse: I know it’s overwhelming, in fact we just did a podcast and it was really, we talked a lot about that, it’s an extremely overwhelming museum. There’s no possibility to do everything in one day, you can but it’s kind of silly because you don’t really register anything in your mind. But I think that it is so amazing in terms of the various different collections that it has, that to me it’s incomparable as a museum.
It’s got the whole history of European art up though the middle of the 19th century, which of course is where Orsay takes over. But it also has one of the finest collections in the world of Egyptian art, of ancient Greek art, of Roman statuary, to die for in beauty.
It has many, many, many different sections so in my opinion it really has something for everyone. It’s just a matter of deciding whether you want to be selective, choose one part or two parts of it and not try to cram in too much.
And also, I appreciated from an art historical point of view but also from the point of view of being a guide who takes people to museums. The Louvre, which is more ancient in terms of its building, has gone through an enormous . . .
Chris: The old palace.
Elyse: It’s a metamorphosis and it has become relatively user-friendly so that there are elevators, escalators, there’s air conditioning in a good part of it, there are facilities, toilets and things like that. Even though it’s packed with people all the time, it really makes it something that’s enjoyable, literally enjoyable. It even has beautiful little cafes in various places, whereas I have a bone to pick with the Orsay, I don’t consider it to be a very user-friendly museum.
Annie: Well I’d have to agree with you on that, the Orsay Museum is not as pleasant as far as the way they handle visitors. For instance, in the Orsay Museum you cannot take photographs and they will get on your case about that.
Chris: Oh really? Oh, that’s changed. When I was there years ago I have photographs from there and I’m sure I wasn’t breaking the rules, interesting.
Annie: Yeah, nowadays they don’t let you take pictures. They’re unpleasant about it, at least last time I was there that’s how it was, I really didn’t like that at all, whereas The Louvre, you can take your time. If you have your flash on they will say something.
Chris: Sure, as well they should.
Annie: If you don’t have your flash on, you’ll be fine and everybody leaves you alone. You can have your kids do funny poses in front of the statues and all that, which I get a kick out of that so I do that.
Elyse: It’s very interesting. I really don’t know the political reasons why one has developed an attitude that’s user-friendly for the public and other one basically not. But there is a huge difference in the attitude of the museums; you feel it when you go in. And maybe it’s because The Louvre is just so important in terms of everything it has in it. But it deals with 8 million, 9 million people a year and instead of fighting against the fact that all these people are coming, they’ve just decided, “Let’s do this in a good way,” and that’s the way it feels when you go in.
Chris: And we’re getting our tickets ahead of time online so that we’re not waiting in one more line before we go there.
Elyse: Absolutely, absolutely.
Chris: And then I would refer people to your podcast also in terms of the number of entrances because that I did not know in terms of there being different things, but we won’t go into that detail here. And I would underline what you said about the statuary. I think we actually enjoyed that most of all, the different things we saw in The Louvre was some of the statuary galleries. I think we went in like so many naive Americans wanting to see the Mona Lisa, La Joconde, and being disappointed by how small it is, how thick the glass was in front of it, and how big the crowds were. Although I like the picture I took of the crowds of The Louvre reflected in the glass of the Mona Lisa but that’s about it.
Annie: Well that’s a good one.
Elyse: It’s probably the best thing to do actually. Instead, take the picture of the people looking at the Mona Lisa.
Chris: It is an experience.
Elyse: It is an experience, Annie and I have joked about it. But I think that it’s one of those things where you do do it because, after all, you are in Paris. And even though I’d say probably 90 percent of the people who do it, who get as far as the painting, actually are disappointed because it’s so small, because you can’t get close to it because, after all, it looks just like the reproductions after all. It doesn’t look different in person, how can you go to Paris and not do it? It’s just one of those things.
Chris: Because of that, I recommend, I think the third museum that I would throw in, which is the opposite experience would be the Orangerie.
Elyse; The Orangerie is of course wonderful, it’s a museum we actually haven’t talked about yet on one of our podcasts. But the Orangerie is incredible because a whole wing of it was actually designed by Monet for Monet, for his lily pads, and it’s really quite magnificent to go into. But I don’t know when you were in Paris last.
Chris: It was a while ago.
Elyse: They’ve redone the underground level, which is basically I guess we could say is like a basement level, and they turned it into an incredible gallery of the art that overflows from Orsay.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Elyse: So you have beautiful galleries down below with beautiful painting and they have a temporary exhibit space. I was there in the fall and it was an exhibit of the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, it was absolutely fabulous as an exhibit. And it’s beautiful and it’s not too big. So if people are claustrophobic in terms of dealing with big, big, big museums, that is actually a small museum that offers some real jewels in it. And I don’t know how many people know that the museum was actually physically designed for Monet . . .
Chris: I did not know that.
Elyse: . . . to have his lily pads as he was going blind, he was practically blind by the last few years of his life. And he worked in natural light and he worked with a brush on a stick that was about six feet long and that is why he developed this technique of things simply sort of dissolving with beautiful pieces of color. And of course what he was doing was reproducing the same work he always did, his flowers, his beautiful gardens and everything. But it developed into this magnificent kind of semi-abstract kind of painting. And when the city offered him a space, he said, “I would be happy to have a space but it has to have natural light,” and that’s what they did. So the rotunda in the Orangerie was actually designed for that purpose.
Chris: And just to give the listener a little more context, so we’re talking about a relatively small museum compared to the other two we’ve talked about, right off the Tuileries, so right off the main drag between The Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees. And this particular museum, we talked about walking in and seeing Mona Lisa, and it’s one painting in a room that’s a small painting. And this one you walk in and there are three painting maybe in a room but they take up the entire walls. There’s one on this wall and there’s one on the wall to the right of you and one on the wall to the left of you, and they are the water lilies.
Elyse: And they’re curved.
Chris: And they’re curved, oh yeah, I’d forgotten that.
Elyse: They’re curved.
Chris: And the other thing then is that unlike the Mona Lisa, which that picture you saw in the book was almost full size because it is a small painting. These, that picture you saw in the book was tiny compared to the original and so as you walk up to it you can see the brush strokes in a very different way, so it’s just a very beautiful space.
Elyse: The Orangerie is actually right across from the Place de la Concorde.
Chris: Where the guillotine used to be set up.
Elyse: Yes, indeed.
Chris: It’s more welcoming now.
Elyse: Not so much, so if you try and cross 12 lanes of cars you are actually committing suicide. So it’s only a little bit different than the way you get killed but that’s about all.
Chris: There we go.
Annie: You’re still dead.
Chris: And in the center of the Place de la Concorde, of course the big Egyptian obelisk with the hieroglyphics on it from Cleopatra.
Chris: Cleopatra VII, let’s be a little more specific since we have an art historian here.
Elyse: Well it’s one of the things Napoleon decided that he would bring back as a little souvenir.
Chris: That’s right.
Elyse: When we go traveling we bring back things we can put in our bags and our pockets, he just didn’t feel that it had to be that small.
Chris: I wouldn’t recommend that because bringing back your Egyptian hieroglyphic obelisk is not allowed anymore.
Elyse: No, it’s not, it’s really not.
Chris: Although that does bring up the issue of shopping. So the first time I was in Paris we were there with a friend who had never been there also but he went to shop, and in fact brought a suitcase full of old clothes he was planning on throwing out just to go shopping. And so I know that that is a popular activity there. If you wanted to bring back something smaller than the obelisk in your suitcase, where would you go to shop in Paris?
Elyse: There are two philosophies of shopping in Paris. One is to go to the big department stores, which are fabulous, specifically mostly . . .
Chris: Galeries Lafayette?
Elyse: Galeries Lafayette, or even, if you have a lot of money, Bon Marche, which is on the other side of the river.
Elyse: Ironically, yes. But personally I grew up in New York and I have developed an allergy to department stores.
Chris: Although you admit you have to go see Galeries Lafayette.
Elyse: You have to go see it, yes.
Chris: It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous building.
Elyse: The best part of the Galeries Lafayette, they fixed up the dome . . .
Chris: The dome.
Elyse: Yeah, they fixed it up. And the building, which I guess we should explain because we haven’t really talked about this yet, but the building is actually from the 1880’s and it’s Art Nouveau. It’s filled with this magnificent multi-colored glass and gold-gilded dome. It’s absolutely fabulous.
Chris: It’s a cathedral to capitalism, is how I would put it.
Elyse: I’d say that that’s a very good description actually. And now that half the customers or three-quarters of the customers are from Asia I would say that it is absolutely exactly that. When you go inside, and of course they are perfectly happy having you go up the six or seven layers of escalators to get as close as you can to the dome so you can take pictures. What you will notice is the number of people who are actually buying things, not just walking in and walking out.
And it is a preponderance of Asian clients because it’s not an inexpensive store, it’s really not. but the other thing is, and I don’t know if it was that way when you were there, there is a rooftop that now in the nice weather even has chairs to sit and a little coffee place and you get a view of the opera house right across the street, the Opera Garnier, and you have a view over the rooftops of Paris, it’s absolutely fabulous to go up there and see.
Chris: Excellent, but you were taking us someplace else before I diverted us.
Elyse: Somewhere else, yes, before we got into the cathedral of capitalism. There are two areas that I think are wonderful for shopping if you’re interested in really fine things that don’t look like what you will get at home. They’re not in inexpensive neighborhoods; one is a lot more expensive than the other.
My first choice would be going to the Mahe, which is in the third and fourth arrondissements, which means that it’s actually walking distance from Notre Dame, Ile de la Cite, and all of that. And it is filled with wonderful small boutiques, designer shops, some of them are chain stores that are similar to other places maybe in Paris or in France. But it is really, really, a wonderful place to look for interesting, unusual clothing, men’s clothing, women’s clothing, really interesting designer things that are a little bit upscale but affordable, I’d say, for people. There’s zillions of stores, I just wouldn’t even be able to name some of them there are that many.
But the other area where it’s wonderful to go shopping but it’s a lot more expensive is over, in fact, in the sixth arrondissements, in the Saint-Germain area, around Rue Bonaparte.
Chris: Beautiful neighborhood.
Elyse: Beautiful neighborhood, and Rue du Rhone, in that area you will have also, and around the area around the Saint-Germain market and everything, there are stores quite honesty if I had the money that is where I would shop and they are fabulous. But I will never, ever have that kind of money, even on the sales’ weeks, so that’s the end of that.
But it’s fabulous and I think that if you go to the department stores, it’s a little bit like going into a department store in the states, you have all the major brands that have their section, there’s not that much that’s different except that it’s fancy and you’re in the store and everything. But these two areas are really incredible in terms of the interesting designer and unusual elements, and that’s nice because you get a feel for what it’s like to really shop in that kind of way, the French way.
Annie: Okay, and now I have to say that I’m the cheap shopper.
Chris: Thank you, I was going to ask for this.
Annie: I really don’t care about clothes very much, so long as it fits I’m happy to wear it. And so I like to go to the open air markets. Some of the bigger open air markets in France will have really unusual jewelry, but I mean cheaper jewelry, shirts jackets. I was at a market today where they were selling all the beach wraps, the stuff that you can use . . .
Elyse: [inaudible 00:31:54]
Annie: Yeah, [French 00:31:54], yeah. And it’s colorful, it’s beautiful, and I really enjoy those, and you can get them for ten euros, it’s inexpensive. So I would try the open air markets both to buy some fruit, there’s caterers who set up in those places where you can buy a lunch and just enjoy it like that in the streets, again, if it’s good weather it’s fun to do. And you can also inexpensive clothing that you’ll only find there, it’s probably made in China is the reality but it’s not something you will find everywhere else.
Chris: Excellent. Now I just have to comment on this, when you say you don’t care as much about fashion. This is one of the things that makes your show a little confusing because you have the French accent and are at heart really more of an American.
Chris: And Elyse of course has the American accent and really is at heart more of a Parisian, I’ll even say.
Annie: So I have a sister who’s the total opposite of me, so she got all the girly jeans and I got none of them, so it’s just the way it worked out.
Chris: And I would have to say, even as a tourist in Paris, this is the place that I would go and wear my “Eat at Joe’s” t-shirt. You can, you certainly can, but there’s something about Paris that people do dress a little nicer. Would you say that’s accurate?
Annie: Yeah, they make an effort. French women in general, especially the women but also the men, will really pay attention to what they’re wearing, they put some thought into it, and I’m extremely unusual that way. Even my husband, who has lived in France now for nine years, he’s turned more French. So he used to just throw on whatever shirt was ironed but now he pays attention.
Chris: And that sounded like me except when you got to the part of ironed.
Elyse: It’s true though, I think that the French are, they care a lot about their appearance and it’s obviously now everybody wears jeans for everything, there are all kinds of things made out of jean fabric and everything too. But they’re not sloppy. I think that’s a really, I was trying to think of what word to use. And they don’t walk around in Bermuda shorts and t-shirts, that’s for the beach, that’s for the mountains. When you go to the city French people don’t wear shorts.
Chris: Even though the weather sometimes really, really would dictate shorts to us if we’re Americans.
Elyse: Right, but women will wear sundresses and French women tend to be more femininely dressed than American women, to a large extent.
Chris: I think that’s true.
Elyse: Even now that it’s starting to get fashionable to have comfortable walking sandals and not just big clunky sneakers and things like that. That’s where I would say is the big difference, is that there’s this sense of style that you have, doesn’t have to necessarily have to be expensive clothing. But they won’t wear a big baggy t-shirt and something like that, and of course one of the things that we try to remind people, but it’s true, is that it’s disapproved of to go into churches and things like that in shorts and tank tops.
Chris: With your shoulders bare, right.
Elyse: Right, some people still do that.
Chris: Less so than Spain or Italy, for instance.
Annie: Nobody is going to stop you.
Annie: Let’s put it that way. Nobody is going to stop you in France, except for maybe a few places. But it’s best to plan to have something to cover your shoulders.
Chris: Right, you’ll have a better reception if you do.
Elyse: Right, right.
Annie: Yeah, short shorts also are unusual in France; I wouldn’t go around in super short shorts.
Chris: We talk about how sometimes the weather may be conducive to that even if the culture is not, that brings me to what’s the best time of year when you would recommend people go to Paris and then what’s the best day of the year?
Elyse: Well without hesitation I would say the best time of the year is September, October.
Annie: Yeah, I agree.
Elyse: September, October is absolutely the best. And after that, I would say May and June. The weather tends to be, even if it’s erratic, even if you switch back and forth a little bit from a little bit cool to a little bit warm, you won’t have the extremes that you would get, the wet cold which is what Paris is really in the winter. You won’t have heat, which it can get very hot, not necessarily always but it can get very hot in the summer. The other advantage of going in those four months, and maybe even the end of April or something like that, is that Paris, which is a city that of course has tourists all the yearlong will not have the huge, huge, huge amounts of tourists that it will have in July and August, it makes a big difference.
Chris: And August seems to me the time to avoid Paris.
Elyse: Well strangely enough. Now this is the thing about August, I have a couple of friends who are Parisian who will say that they never leave Paris in August, at least the first half, because that is when the streets are empty, they can bicycle around, even though a lot of small stores clothes, which of course is a phenomenon that Americans would never be able to understand. Department stores of course never do clothes, little stores take vacations and they close and usually they close either the last week in July to the first half of August, or just the first half of August.
But what happens is that the city is calmer and it’s less crowded in general so it’s a very interesting point of view from the point of view of a Parisian. Whereas what you get is if you go to the museums you will have nothing but foreigners and tourists everywhere and so it’s hard. If that’s the only time you can go, that’s when you go. It’s just that you have to know that you’re going to be dealing with huge lines and huge crowds and you have to negotiate the times of the day and things like that.
Annie: The hotels are going to be full in July and August so you need to reserve ahead of time. Whereas even in May or in October, well pretty much, you can show up. You’ll find a hotel, it might not be the one you had in mind but you will find something. Elyse: I have an addendum to that because I’ve discovered that, because of my working in Paris a lot in the summers in the last few years, it turns that strangely enough the second half of August is time when there are hotels that will offer some discounts because a lot of Europeans come to Paris and they tend to finish their vacations, like the French do, by the middle of the month of August. And Americans tend to take time to go on a vacation any time of the year so there’s this strange phenomenon that happens with some hotels actually having rooms available the second half of August and sometimes you can get a good deal.
Annie: That’s good to know.
Chris: Now we’re getting to be one of the longer episodes of Amateur Traveler, which I suspected might be the case anyway.
Annie: She’s a talker, it’s all her fault. Have you noticed?
Elyse: [Inaudible 00:39:04]
Chris: So for both of you, there’s a lot of things we haven’t covered yet but one other thing that you should do or see while you’re in Paris?
Annie: For me I loved the Rodin Museum. Loved it, but of course I love statues in general. That was just, it took my breath away because you see very large statues but you also see very small ones.
Chris: And these are mostly the bronze statues.
Annie: Yes, they’re bronze, yes. You see also very small ones, like things that would fit on your bookshelf, that are just so intricate and beautiful. So for me that’s the one that I like to go to again and again and again.
Chris: They might fit in your bookshelf; we don’t recommend that you take Napoleon’s view that you take them home.
Annie: I never said that.
Chris: Where is the Rodin Museum?
Elyse: You would probably be persona non grata for the rest of your life if you managed to get away with it anyway.
Chris: And where is the Rodin Museum? I don’t know where that one is
Elyse: It’s in the seventh arrondissement, it’s actually not too far away from the Orsay and it’s a block away from Napoleon’s tomb.
Chris: Oh okay, mm-hmm. At Les Invalides?
Annie: Les Invalides, yes.
Chris: The old veteran’s hospital.
Elyse: That’s right.
Annie: That’s right.
Chris: And, Elyse?
Elyse: Well, of the things we haven’t mentioned, if we’re talking about getting a feel for Paris, I would say you have to mention and go to Montmartre. It’s an experience, it’s both a good experience, it’s a fun experience, it’s crazy if you go at certain times of the year because it packed, jam packed with tourists the way The Louvre is.
But it’s wonderful and it’s got a part of it that’s Kitschy and very touristy, which is around the big square called the Place du Tertre where the artists still do caricatures and drawings. But it’s got a part that is genuinely what has been forever which is a small village inside the city and it’s the highest part of the city of Paris. It’s up on a hill.
So you have a view and you have streets with little houses with, some of them, little gardens. And I know some people who live up there and once you get away from the two blocks that are basically where all the tourists go, it’s really fabulously charming.
And I guess it’s a giveaway in terms of age but I have a daughter-in- law who lives up there, she even uses the square at night, the big square where the artists are, there are these little restaurants that are not gourmet restaurants at all but have inexpensive menus. And she says once 6:00 or 7:00 is past, most of the tourists have gone and it’s the locals a lot who come out and hang out and have a beer and stuff like that. So it’s really fun, it’s a nice place to visit.
Chris: And we’re talking about up where the Basilica Sacre Coeur is, so you can see it up on the hill and with great views of Paris. It was going to be my list, my thing that we had missed there. So I definitely agree, one of the prettier neighborhoods, just even the shops and such I think are so pretty in that area.
And of course then throw in the view and I think evening is a wonderful time to go up there. I’ve been on the steps of Sacre Coeur where somebody is singing old songs or things like that or step inside when the choir is practicing and that was my third favorite church in Paris. And that neighborhood I think is just a wonderful little neighborhood. Excellent.
Elyse: We just did a podcast about it. I was looking on one of the websites, “Why?” I don’t know. But there was a list of all the actors and actresses who live in that area and it’s kind of like taking the bus tour in Hollywood I think.
Annie: Who doesn’t?
Elyse: Of course living here I know most of these, these are mostly of course French actors. But I thought, “Oh wow, they all live up there, how cool.”
Chris: It’s seems odd because we’re kind of wrapping up an episode on Paris. We haven’t talked about the Eiffel Tower. I do recommend it. We haven’t talked about going out to Versailles. I certainly recommend that, there are many, many places you go outside of Paris that we won’t get to today. I’m going to throw in for my pick an unusual one which is the Canal Saint-Martin. Just loved that little untouristy spot, just walking along the little canal as it feeds into the Seine and the locks there.
And it’s definitely not something I would try and fit into a two- or three-day trip to Paris, it’s not that important. But if you have a little more time and you’re spending time there. I just found it to be a lovely little walk. I think it was the Eyewitness guides actually recommended that as just a little walking tour of Paris.
Annie: yes, and it’s on many lists, I haven’t been but I’ll visit next time.
Elyse: Well, Chris, now if you like the Canal Saint-Martin, that is actually between the 10th and 11th arrondissements so that is the area where I said it’s now become very fashionable along the canal. There’s lots of things that have opened up there. But that is, generally speaking when you go into the 10th, 11th, and 12th, that’s what I mean when I say it’s an area that’s really nice that is not that well known where I think it would be a really good place if you were going to rent a studio or something rather than have just a hotel room because it’s a really genuine heart of Paris but it’s not as well-known or as crowded as some other areas.
Annie: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: A couple other questions before we wrap this up. Here’s a tough one, you’re standing in the prettiest spot in Paris, where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Elyse: Oh boy.
Annie: I think the Eiffel Tower when she sparkles at night is truly beautiful. That’s cheesy, I know, but I like lights.
Chris: It’s okay. No wrong answer to the question.
Elyse: Yeah, it could be that. That’s a hard one to answer actually. I guess I really have a fondness for standing on the edge of Ile de la Cite where you look out where you’re facing south into the Latin quarter to see the very, very oldest part in terms of the medieval houses. And then if you just look to the left you see the church itself, you see the front of Notre Dame and you have the river. There are so many places to go but if I had to stand in one spot and just take in things, even though I agree with Annie, the Eiffel Tower is gorgeous, maybe that’s where I would stand. I’m not sure.
Chris: Well, Annie, you were saying you hadn’t been to the Canal Saint- Martin, so let’s see if I can get that pronunciation a little closer this time. The place that I haven’t been that you’ve talked about on your show and you mentioned the Latin Quarter. The museum in the Latin Quarter that’s the medieval museum and its name is escaping me.
Elyse: The Cluny.
Annie: The Cluny.
Chris: The Cluny.
Chris: Not named after George, as you said. That is probably the place that I haven’t been to that is on my list.
Chris: One thing that all the guide books said you should do in Paris that you think is a waste of time?
Annie: The Arc de Triomphe, to me, is not . . .
Chris: Going up in the Arc de Triomphe?
Annie: I haven’t been up in the Arc actually.
Annie: But the Champs-Elysees, to me, have very little appeal.
Chris: Okay. The main shopping drag there between The Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe, okay.
Annie: Yeah, it’s shopping. Yeah, I don’t know, it doesn’t do anything for me. It’s loud and . . .
Chris: And long, it’s about three miles long, I want to say.
Elyse: It’s exactly one mile long.
Chris: One mile long? Okay. Well where are you measuring it from?
Elyse: From the Etoile down to the [inaudible 00:46:48]
Chris: Okay, so just the shopping area. Okay.
Elyse: But I actually agree with Annie. We were talking about it earlier and I was trying to figure out what I would say and I wasn’t really sure. But I think that it’s the most overrated thing in Paris.
Annie: Now if you happen to be there on the 14th of July and there’s . . .
Chris: Bastille Day.
Annie: Right, and there’s Defile Militaire, the military parade and all that, then yeah, I would go but other days probably not.
Annie: And the guide books, I don’t know, I don’t read the guide books. I listen to travel podcasts.
Chris: As a fine recommendation there.
Annie: And travel blogs, there are wonderful travel blogs.
Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Paris?”
Annie: Well there are a lot of interesting bums in Paris; they’re usually harmless.
Chris: Now you have to explain that, interesting in what way, what makes a Parisian bum different from a San Francisco bum, for instance?
Annie: Well they’re not quite as stoned.
Chris: Okay, a little more stylish.
Annie: I don’t know about that, but they usually try to get your attention in strange ways because they’re after a buck. So they usually try to do something to get them to look at you, to get you. So I like to look at the bums. I like to look at the way the moms deal with their young children.
Annie: Sometimes they are so demanding. I raised my daughter, when she was young in the U.S. and so I caught the American way of, “Eh, that’s fine, don’t worry about it, that’s fine.” Well French mothers are not like that, they’re all over the kids.
Annie: That’s something that I like to watch but I guess it’s better if you understand the language.
Chris: Sure. Elyse, one thing that makes you laugh, only Paris?
Elyse: Actually there’s a place that I always go to when I want to feel good. It’s an interesting question and I’ve been listing to the two of you trying to think about it and I realize I go to the [inaudible 00:48:52]. I actually love it. I happen to like modern and contemporary art also a lot.
But what I love there is not so much what’s inside the museum, is that you have this huge esplanade and it’s like going back to the Middle Ages. You have jugglers, you have people who are begging, you have people who are fire eaters, you have people sitting doing caricatures, and it’s surrounded of course by cafes and restaurants and everything.
And off to the side, just to the side of it, you have this incredible fountain by Niki de Saint Phalle with these moving sculptures that turn in and people jump in and out of the fountain and people let their dogs go in to the fountain. I don’t know if it makes me laugh, but it actually is a place that makes me happy.
Chris: Excellent. We’ve seen Paris in movies, we’ve heard about it, we’ve listened to it in podcasts. One thing that is still going to surprise us the first time we go?
Elyse: How beautiful it is.
Elyse: Really. I go to Paris a lot and I’m never tired of looking at it. I’m never tired. And I’m also never tired of discovering new places because you can go into new neighborhoods and I would never even claim to know all of Paris, and you can go into neighborhoods you’ve never been in before and you walk around and you discover wonderful little things turning a corner and a little courtyard or something like that. To me, Paris is always surprising in that it never stops being beautiful.
Annie: Yeah, you have to be a little bit adventurous. You have to be willing to stick your head into doorways and if a gate is open, go in there. Take a look around. It’s probably gorgeous.
Chris: Excellent. One warning you would give?
Elyse: If you’re walking around, we’re talking about still basically being a tourist so I’m assuming that we’re not going to go into the far distant outlying areas, it’s not a city where you look people in the eye. It’s not part of the customs of people and you do just have to be careful about pickpockets. It is something you have to watch out for.
Chris: The first 15 minutes I was in Paris our friend was pickpocketed on the subway, so I would definitely underline that. He had his wallet in his pocket and they didn’t take that, but they took money. The whole situation I read as wrong. I immediately told him to check his wallet but by the time he realized they that they had taken the money in his other pocket, they were 50 feet away and gone. But yeah, definitely, I would recommend that.
Also the thing you mentioned in one of your shows about when you go into the shops greeting people I thought was very important tip. To make a point that when you go in you say, hello to everyone. Well, do you say bonjour?
Chris: To everyone and you’ll get better service. You’ll get a better experience if you remember that little small nicety. I thought was a good thing to remember.
Annie: Yeah, it’s a really small thing, but it makes a big difference. I don’t know why we got to that point but French people have this mentality that if you work in a service job, it’s like a servile kind of position. And so they get really prickly and they demand niceties.
Chris: Especially around lunch time after they had that small breakfast as you were pointing out.
Annie: Yes, yes. Yes, French people get hungry and they don’t have reserves so be nice to them.
Elyse: So they don’t have much reserves.
Annie: Yeah. They eat just enough to hold them over to the next meal and then they get really ravenous and they’re not pleasant around lunch time. But what you need to do is just say bonjour before you say anything else. It’s really stupid but it will get you a long way.
Elyse: [inaudible 00:52:35]. It really is.
Annie: [inaudible 00:52:38]
Chris: I don’t find it stupid. I just something you need to know about the culture.
Chris: And I don’t find it rude or it all a bad experience. It’s just something you need to know.
Annie: Right. And the other thing is if you want to get to know people, if you’re in Paris for a little bit longer, then ask for help. Just tell them that you need with this or that and you’ll be surprised how far people are willing to go if you ask for help.
Chris: Excellent. Last two questions. Finish the sentence: “You really know you’re in Paris when . . .” what?
Annie: Well, when you’re surrounded with, anywhere you look you want to take a picture because it looks nice.
Chris: Okay. Elyse?
Elyse: I was going to say when you walk into a bakery in the morning there’s a line in front of you and it smells absolutely wonderful.
Chris: And if you had to summarize Paris in three words, we’ll give each of you three words rather than a word and a half each, how would you summarize Paris?
Elyse: I know it’s not very original but I have to again use the word
“beautiful”. I would say classy, historical, artistic, maybe.
Chris: Classy, historical, artistic. Annie?
Annie: Maybe I would say exciting and delicious, and also beautiful.
Chris: Excellent. Our guests again, have been Annie Sargant and Elyse Riven from the Join Us in France podcast. If you’re going to France, that’s the one you should be listening to. I’m not saying you should stop listening to Amateur Traveler, but Annie and Elyse, thanks so much for joining us in on the Amateur Traveler and telling us about your love for Paris.
Annie: Well, thank you so much. It’s been lovely to talk to you.
Elyse: It has really been a pleasure.
Chris: As I mentioned at the beginning of the show, there may be a meetup for the Amateur Traveler. Pay attention to the Amateur Traveler Facebook page for details during the DMAI Conference in Las Vegas. That would also be a meetup for this week in travel. We’re trying to see if we can find a place to do it. Gary and Janet and I are all going to be in the same city at the same time, so we’re hoping we can get something together. Sorry for the short notice.
Last I checked there are still spots for both a 10-day and a 15-day trip to Morocco next April, April of 2015, so sign up for that. Amatuertraveler.com, look at the Book Travel tab.
With that, we’re going to end this rather long episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, feel free to send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com, or leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @chris2x and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.