Our first trip to Paris. We arrived at the end of July, shortly after a massive heat wave hit the city. While still hot, the weather was very comfortable during our stay.
If you have never been to Paris, the easiest and most efficient way to get around is by the public transit system. We opted for the Navigo Discover pass. Only €22.00. It’s good for a week and allows full access to the trains, metro and trams in and around the city. Our first trip was by train from Charles De Gaulle Airport to the Gard du Nord station. From there, we took the metro to the Ménilmontant station, which was a very short walk from the flat we booked for our stay.
First impressions, graffiti decorated every available wall surrounding the train stations we passed on the way into the city. Not unusual for a big city. To our surprise, when we exited the Ménilmontant station, graffiti continued to cover the walls of many buildings. Many tags even appear at the very top of buildings, where undoubtedly, the artist had to hang from the roof to paint.
We soon learned that Paris graffiti, or “street art” is widely accepted here. The city appears to embrace and encourage the proliferation of this art form. People are more interested in it than ever before. Some bars and restaurants have adopted it in their decor, and several galleries of Paris have made it their specialty. Guided tours of the best works by French and international artists are easily found. That said, some works are better than others. Poor work, to me, still seems like an assault to the building or environment.
The flat we rented at 40 Rue Etienne Dolet was an easy two minute walk from the metro station. A typical Parisian flat decorated art deco. We had the use of the whole apartment for the time that we were there. There was a large living room area, fair-sized bedroom, small (cozy) kitchen and bathroom. The unit was two flights up a spiral, rickety staircase. Felt like a true Paris experience. The place is full of character, a cute, arty pad in a local (not touristy) neighbourhood.
Downstairs was La Petanque Bar/Café where we enjoyed La Chouffe blonde beer one afternoon. This light, refreshing beer has a slight hoppy/citrus taste and has won over beer lovers from all over the world. I am now one of them. In the mornings, wake up with a great cup of espresso while sitting at the bistro tables outside. Around the corner is Boulangerie Pátisserie Rosa. Here we enjoyed morning baguettes and artisan pastries. Feeling like a local.
Walking With The Dead
Having finished a short rest after our arrival, we were looking for something to do. Caroline, our host, had left a detailed map of local sites and restaurants. Of all things, we decided to check out Le Père Lachaise Cemetery. This is no ordinary cemetery. It is the largest cemetery in Paris with more than 3.5 million visitors a year.
Père Lachaise opened in 1804, and takes its name from the confessor to Louis XIV, Père François de la Chaise. Established as a cemetery by Napoleon that year, Père Lachaise contained only 13 graves. Being far from the city, the cemetery attracted few funerals.
Consequently, the administrators devised a marketing strategy to improve the cemetery’s stature. Over the next few years, they moved the remains of some famous people to the cemetery. The plan worked and by 1830 there were more than 33,000 graves. Today, more than 1 million bodies are buried there.
Many visitors flock to Père Lachaise to find the graves of the famous. You will definitely need a map of the cemetery to find the graves you want to see. Likely, there will be someone by the entrance gates selling maps for €2.50. You may be able to find one online. Some of the famous people buried here include Jim Morrison, Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and Sarah Bernhardt.
Time To Eat
Time to eat. In Paris, you can eat out at any time of the day or night… depending on where you want to eat. Every restaurant keeps its own hours. In the evening, many of the better restaurants do not serve food before 7:00 PM. For popular places, it is best to book and/or get there before 8pm if you want to be sure of getting a seat.
Our first night in Paris we opted for one of our host’s restaurant recommendations. We had Calabrese pizza and beer at Popine’s on boul. de Ménilmontant. Popine is well known for its pizza and will not disappoint. Service was quick and friendly. Our server did not speak English, but my wife is French Canadian so we managed pretty well. As the evening was mild, we ate outside on the terrace, which filled up very quickly.
Another great restaurant for late night eating is Monplaisir, right next to Popine. We ate here our second night in Paris. I had the Escalope Saumon (salmon) and Carole had the Piece de Boucher (steak). Both were excellent. This is a gem of a restaurant, excellent service, very professional staff, and the food is absolutely wonderful.
After dinner, we strolled back to our flat, stopping at Boulangerie Pátisserie Rosa for desert. Lovely French pastries.