Diane Sustendal’s Love Letter to the City of Light
Autumn’s official arrival is fast approaching. The leaves will change, lightweight cashmeres will come out and this year’s Beaujolais will arrive. Wait. This is New Orleans – it’s too hot for sweaters, leaves turn in December and we drink Beaujolais, Bordeaux or champagne whenever. …
This is when my thoughts drift to Paris, where autumn’s first crisp breeze meets the marble, granite and iron that creates some of the most impossibly beautiful buildings, monuments and gardens in the world. Oh, and did I mention the food? It’s the season of game, truffles and, newly arrived, well-aged sausages and cheese, the latter often smeared on freshly baked baguettes from the corner boulangerie.
The song may be of “April in Paris” but I will take it at beret weather. Having been in Paris in January, July, April and October on a regular basis when covering the fashion collections, I can clearly state that Paris is one the most romantic cities in the world anytime but never so much as in the fall when cheeks are pink and lovers huddle together as they walk along the Seine, window-shop St.-Germain, and have tea at The Ritz (yes, the original on the Place Vendome).
Paris is for lovers but not just those in love. It’s for lovers of life, laughter, art, fashion, all things beautiful. It’s a place to visit with someone else, pals, family and, even alone, nursing a broken heart. It is said, “If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” The same can be said of women and Paris, though the city has besotted some of the most testosterone-driven of men.
“Cher” in French means “dear” and translates that to a term of affection or something costly. Many people think Paris wildly expensive. If you stay in five-star hotels, travel by car and driver, dine in Michelin three-star restaurants and shop the “golden triangle” between Rue Faubourg St.-Honore, Avenue Montaigne and Avenue Georges V (where shops like Hermes, Dior, YSL, Vuitton and Cartier display their glittering wares) it will, indeed, be “cher.”
The flip side is, if you are out seeing the town more than sleeping in or working, there are many small, charming or business-oriented hotels that will fill the bill. The Metro and buses are easy to navigate, with downloadable apps to guide you in the right direction. I still prefer taxis after 8 p.m. for shopping.
One of the easiest ways to see Paris is to buy passes for a day or several days from L’Open Tour, which allows one unlimited travel plus discounts for museums and activities. These can be purchased for one to five consecutive days starting at e 8.50. Armed with ear buds, press the English flag and you are taken around the “top pop” sites in the city. Hop off to see perhaps Notre Dame or the Sorbonne, grab a bite of lunch or ice cream at famed Berthillon, then hop back on the bus and you are taken to your next destination, or just continue sightseeing. Taxis are usually found at hotels, or look for a “Tete du Taxi” sign where cabs line up, unless it’s rush hour or raining.
At most bistros, anything from an omelet to sandwich to steak au pomme frites can be had for a song. Many welcome guests to simply sit, have a coffee and watch the passing parade of Parisians – street theater at its best, before lunch or after 2 p.m., or late evening. Don’t hurry along: Coffee is best consumed seated in an out-facing chair rather than on the run. Starbucks exists but the French don’t really get the concept of “to go,” unless it’s a sandwich intended to be consumed in a park or on a bench. For that, there are places like Fouchon across from the Madeleine, Monoprix and markets like Marche Bastille or Maubert. Many are closed on Sunday.
Perhaps the hardest decisions to make in Paris are where to go and what to see. You can not do it all in one trip; you cannot do it all in 20 trips.
Here’s the thing I’ve discovered about Paris. It’s important to leave something or some place left undone. It’s a reason to return if you really ever need one. Seen at a distance and emblematic of the city, I have yet to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower for no reason except I so like wandering around the streets of Paris enjoying her beauty, bounty and chic citizenry. I will one day, perhaps on a glorious autumn day. It, like so many other things, is unchecked on the list of all the things I want to do in Paris.
Things to Know
The Alliance Francaise of New Orleans, though not a travel agency, is helpful with travel ideas. Teaches “French for Travelers. (504) 568-0770 www.af-neworleans.org
Visit the French Government Tourist Office for all information: www.us.franceguide.com
You need your passport but not a visa.
Visa and MasterCard are the credit cards of choice. American Express is accepted at high end stores. Air and hotel bargains abound if booking now for September, October and November.
Day trips to Versailles, Reims, Bordeaux, Avignon and Normandy are easy via fast, luxurious trains.
A French phase book helps, as does a little preparation. Not everyone speaks English in Paris; they will try if you will try.
Manners count: Say “Bonjour” (good morning or hello) when entering a shop, store, taxi. “Merci” (thank you) and “S’il vous plait” (please) will get you far and serve you well
Paris is a walking city – wear comfortable shoes but not sneakers, which mark you as a tourist and possibly fair game. Today, companies like Rockport and Cole-Haan have great shoes with sneaker comfort and city style.
Diane Sustendal has been a travel writer for more than a decade. She has been to Paris more than 20 times for both work and play. A board member of Alliance Francaise New Orleans, she regularly attempts and regularly fails to put her small French vocabulary to work. But she tries.