Like most of us do, I read a lot of books in preparation for our trip to Paris and each one left me feeling more despondent than the other. No, it wasn't the food and it certainly wasn't the fashion that had me troubled...what left me quaking in my boots was dealing with the Parisian!!! You see, in almost all the books I read, the Parisian was made to sound like an evil character from a Grimm's fairytale. Over and over I'd read about their rudeness, their impatience with foreigners, their agile ability to jump queues and then pretend to be deaf when you protest. Also, I wasn't looking forward to shopping in Paris because I had been warned that once you touch something in their exquisitely-laid out stores you may as well have bought it. I wasn't even looking forward to eating in one of their drool-worthy restaurants because the rudeness of their waiters is legendary. However, the appeal of the land of Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Claude Monet was strong enough to overcome any trepidation I might have had an off I went, the brave little soul that I was!
As we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport I noticed a plane-load of chic, scarf-wearing French students who were apparently just returning from a weekend trip to London. They seemed no different from teenagers anywhere else in the world...or so I thought, but as I continued to observe I realized they seemed friendlier and more touchy-feely than most other groups of teenagers that I have watched, and when they were ready to part ways, all the French boys gently kissed the girls three times on their cheeks and said goodbye. Ofcourse, this is the City of Love, and so I shouldn't be surprised, but hadn't I read that Parisians were impatient and rude, I was certainly seeing no sign of that here.
I booked our family into an apartment in the heart of the Marais district. This was the first time we were opting for an apartment over a hotel and I was both nervous and excited. Most apartment buildings in the heart of the city are built around a courtyard the entrance to which is usually a big brightly-coloured door on the main road like in the picture below.
I cannot recommend apartment living in Paris nearly enough...it's the closest thing you'll ever feel to being a real Parisian!
I'm glad I chose the Marais arrondisement to live in....we found it to be a chic, fashionable district with lots of upmarket clothing stores, parks, boulangeries and restaurants. It is known to the center of Parisian gay life and is also home to one of the oldest Jewish Quarters in Paris.
Rue de Rosiers, in the Jewish Quarter of Le Marais is well worth a visit for its marvellous falafel shops. As you walk along the famous cobblestone paths of Rue du Rosiers, you will be called out to by the falafel shop owners asking you to taste their wares. Oh, and speaking of cobblestones, the French seem to love them, they're EVERYWHERE, even their new roads seem to be built like the roads of medieval Paris. How do the women of Paris walk these roads in their high heels? I tried and failed miserably!
At a Cafe/Brasserie in La Marais. Sitting at a cafe with a cafe creme and a brioche watching people as they go by is probably one of the nicest things to do in Paris and believe me, with the amount of walking we did, I made sure to make a cafe stop once every 3-4 hours. Wish the coffee was worth the stop though. We've travelled almost everywhere in Europe and take it from me, Paris has the worst coffee!!!
The Fred Perry store in the Marais. I took a picture of the store simply because it had at the window the clothing line that Amy Winehouse had finished designing for them just before her unfortunate demise. Seeing her designs in the window was a poignant reminder of the great talent she was.
Shopping in Paris is a great experience and NO you do not have to buy anything you touch! This is one city where window shopping is a real treat because people go to great lengths to make their display windows fun, quirky and a work of art! By law shops are required to display the prices of everything displayed at their windows, so it's easy to get a sense of whether you want to step inside or not. The picture (above) is of the flagship Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elysses. I did step inside only to be shocked at the number of Chinese customers!!! They seem to be on a buying spree in Paris. I also saw a whole lot of them lining up to buy Longchamps bags at Galeries Lafayette.
But don't let your fondness for window shopping stop you from going into the department stores. Here we are the Galeries Lafayette...it has got to be one of the most beautiful department stores I have ever been in, so eat your heart out Dubai, your malls don't hold a candle to this classy store! And, surprise, surprise, the shopping was pretty good too (price wise). Galeries has an excellent epicerie on the topmost floor and after you have bought French mustard, pate and bon bons, you can walk up to the roof top terrace for a breathtaking view of Paris!
Oooh, that lovely Belle Epoque style! Apparently the store was modeled after a Middle-Eastern bazaar. Wish I had more details.
The beautiful dome at Galeries Lafayette...it's truly worth a visit.
And the lovely view from the roof top. Spot the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
This is the first page from my Paris Diary 2011....I hope to have a few more pages before we head for Barcelona, I hope you will stay with me.