A Final Word on Paris, Focused and Informed
I recently tried to take in the entire city of Paris in ten days, imagining that I could shuttle back and forth between the suburbs and the city center, weave in and out of every historic landmark and contemporary fashion house, and move perpetually from one chocolate shop, patisserie, or bistro to the next. I may have used terms like "in-depth research" and "journalistic integrity" to justify my grueling, joyless itinerary. But the truth is that I was just like any other tourist in Paris: overwhelmed by the richness of the city and misguided in my belief that I could take it all in at once.
My salvation came from my friend Leila (the journalist behind the inspired nightgrapefruit blog), who makes frequent stops in Paris when she travels from her home in New York to women's health conferences in francophone Africa. She sent me the following to-do list: brief, food-savvy, and focused entirely on the neighborhood of Le Marais. Reading this reminded me how life is actually lived: locally.
I recommend that visitors to Paris follow Leila's suggestions and narrow in on this one neighborhood for a while. Spread out these four locations over one day--or even four days--taking the rest of your time to wander around and simply enjoy yourself.
Metro: Hotel de Ville or St. Paul
I'm sure you've researched your chocolate options, so here are some other foody/artsy suggestions.
1. Le Gay Choc patisserie on rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie. The BEST flavor combos of a bakery ever. If you have never tried their peche-pistache, you've never had a tarte done right.
2. Cafe des Philosophes (on the corner of rue Vieille du Temple and the tiny, charming dead-end rue Tresor) is a great place to people-watch and enjoy the richest salad on the planet(salade des philosophes).
3. Chez Marianne for falafel to go (you have to go inside to get a ticket before joining the line outside)...I think it's rue des Rosiers, that's where all the falafel is...
4. Picasso Museum, especially if the Picasso and Dora Maar show I saw last month is still up...they have an amazing collection of her portraits of him and his of her and a couple Man Ray portraits of each of them, the intensity of their love affair really comes across. I love this museum, their mandate is so rigid (Picasso as he relates to other artists) yet they always manage to make his work seem new and interesting.
My experience with the Cafe des Philosophes and its namesake salad was less transcendent, and I spent most of my short time there trying to hide from the wrath of my stereotypically snooty waiter. If you don't get a good vibe from this place either, try Au Petit Fer a Cheval two doors down. For those of you who haven't already researched your chocolate options in Paris start with Jonathan Hayes New York Times article "Choice Tables: In Paris, Boutiques and Cafes Where Chocolatiers Raise the Bar." Hayes has great respect for both artisanal chocolate and the English language (he describes Paris's famed Salon du Chocolat festival as "an orgy of chocolate consumption--and profligate use of the prefix 'choco-.'")