The following dispatch is by Stacey Wolf
There is more travel lit about Paris than virtually any other city on Earth. But there's so much more to the City of Light than the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Let this true Francophile give you the insider's scoop: From hip to quirky here are the places to see, shop, and eat, that you won't read anywhere else.
La Grande Mosquee de Paris : Step into the courtyard of Paris's mosque -- built in the 1920s in homage to France's colonial fighters from World War I -- and you'll been transported to a tropical paradise so beautiful, you'll wonder why it's not on every Paris must-see list. The day I was there, an artist was working on her art in the courtyard as a half dozen birds played in the birdbaths.... I can see why they'd never want to leave.
Surprise! The One Thing Most Tourists Don't Know That You Should: Once darkness sets in, the lights of the Eiffel Tower sparkle for five breath-taking minutes every hour on the hour. No kidding! And once you've seen it, you may fall so in love that you are compelled to go back every night after dark until you leave for the airport. Can you imagine traveling all the way to Paris and NOT knowing about this life-altering experience?
The George, ou Le Georges: The Pompidou Center's rooftop restaurant and bar has floor-to-ceiling windows and beautiful intimate views of the city. It's open until 2am every night except Tuesdays. Go for cocktails after dark and watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle; you'll feel so in-the-know.
Best Tour Guide: Yes, there are hop-on-hop-off buses, bike tours, cruise boats, and walking tours galore but there is only one Julian Desire, quite arguably the hippest tour guide in Paris. With the help of black and white photos, old maps, and passages from French literary legends, he has created a host of interesting tours that bring Paris to life. Take one for 15 euro or book him to create one just for you or your group.
Best Outdoor Market: Shopping at the local outdoor market for vegetables, bread, and cheese, on a Wednesday and Sunday morning is a Parisian way of life. Markets in the touristy parts of town are ridiculously expensive, others are too small to really be of interest. Enter the Bastille Market. Located in the 11th Arrondissement, here you'll find an eclectic mix of Parisians and tourists milling about shopping the huge assortment of food, clothing, and more. Instead of bringing a mug back for your mother, how about some handmade olive oil soap or herbed sea salt?
Best Out-of-the-Way Park: Paris has many beautifully manicured parks, with statues, fountains, and lush plantings, but the gardens that most people visit (Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Tuileries) aren't quite representative of the breadth of green spaces Paris has to offer. If you like exploring beautiful parklands, then head to Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th arrodissement. Cliffs, bridges, a temple on a hilltop, and a splendid waterfall make this park--commissioned by Napoleon III in 1860 as a tourist showcase--an unusual living work of art. Oh, and while you're there, hit the very Parisian café Rosa Bonheur for café or a snack, just inside the park walls.
Most Unique Undiscovered Neighborhood: Butting up against the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is the charming area of La Mouzaia (19th Arrondissement). What makes it so unexpected? Get lost wandering through the narrow alleyways (go ahead, don't be shy) and you'll peek through gates to find gardened patios, houses with interesting architecture, and cozy courtyards that are truly unique to this part of Paris.
The Bathrooms, Explained: it won't take long to discover that Parisians like their pay toilettes (to be fair, so do many other European cities!). If your stroll takes you to the right bank, hit Galleries Lafayette for a toilet not-to-miss. You'll find an entire wall displayed with brightly colored toilette papier, and display cases of toiletries in each individual loo. If you've got to go, at least you know it'll be an entertaining experience. And for the friend back home who has everything, pick up some neon pink toilet paper while you're there. ...And yes, expect to pay a fee.
The Taste of Real Parisian Life That Most Tourists Overlook: Everyone knows the French make incredibly delicious raw-milk cheeses that are simply To. Die. For. Since most of these fromages can't be imported into the US, why don't more tourists partake of this epicurean delight? Here's what you need to know: There are three types of cheeses in France, goat, sheep, and cow. A few stand-outs? Rocamadour (goat); Perail des Cabasses (sheep); Petit Gaugry (cow). With Fromagers and Bolangeries on every corner, grab one of each and a baguette, then sit on a park bench for the feast of a lifetime. (Believe me, you will thank me for it later...).
Stacey Wolf, a writer with a perpetual case of wanderlust, regularly contributes to Cosmopolitan magazine and offManhattan.com. She is the author of five books, including the wedding planning guide Never Throw Rice at a Pisces. Visit her on Red Room, where you can order her book and read her blog.
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