Let me tell you a few secrets about my native city. From now on of course, they'll definitely be a little less secret, but I believe in sharing.
Nothing wrong with visiting the usual landmarks tourists' attractions, but I love Paris so much, I just want to brag about it and give you a different experience of a classic city, an everlasting city, elegant, chic, sophisticated, alluring, ok, you get the picture.
But it is also possible to spend less, eat better, and discover different adventures and unusual experiences, sometimes only known to a few locals, definitely not overrun by foreign tourists. So, here are a few tips on my list.
-La Maison des Frigos: roughly translate to The House of Fridges. Formerly an ice factory, the surreal place in the cityscape has long been rehabbed as an artists' colony, where over 200 of them work and live; still sporting the aging water tower, and covered in graffiti, the industrial building hides a little food place inside serving a seasonal market menu, but only open during the week, and you must pay with cash http://les-frigos.com/
-Another amazing food emporium with a truly bizarre location: underneath l'Eglise de la Madeleine (Madeleine Church) is a real restaurant named le Foyer de la Madeleine (the Hearth of la Madeleine), accessible via a small side door of the church. Everyday from noon to 2 p.m. only, volunteers will serve you a simple three-course meal for about 15 euros, and your money will directly address the church's needs; a regular favorite among the local workers. And you can double the pleasure by visiting the sacred temple while you are in the house http://foyerdelamadeleine.fr/
-Finally, my last clandestine eating place for today (as I must keep some secrets to myself), has a true Parisian atmosphere, and is nestled inside the most famous flea markets in the world, le Marché aux Puces in Saint-Ouen, a very close suburb of Paris, accessible by subway. Opened since 1930, Chez Louisette restaurant is the kind of place you could miss, even after visiting the market a hundred times. The maze that is the gigantic market, with thousands of booths, requires several days to cover, and you can only walk it. With its black and white tiled floor and kitsch chandeliers, Louisette is a traditional French bistro where staff and cooks alike seem to be singing all the time, for the fun of it, adding to the great atmosphere of old style movies. Open only Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the same days the flea market is in action. Sorry, no website.
-Most bakeries and sidewalk stands sell perfect sandwiches (to die for) and succulent pastries to go; grab some, plus drinks, and go sit in a lovely park on a lovely bench, like many Parisians do at lunch time. Of course, assuming you will be visiting the city between May and September. And do feed the pigeons, they have to eat too. Note that in Paris, the rubbish bins are only clear plastic bags hanging from a frame, since the late 1980s when terrorists used to deposit bombs inside the traditional garbage bins, the city has eliminated the solid containers.
But enough with the food, a few more examples of an insider's esoteric travels.
-Instead of taking a group tour bus to go visit classic Versailles (the Chateau), take the subway! Much faster, cheaper, and fun, mingle with the natives! Yeah! Use the yellow Ligne C5 of the RER commuter train network, leaving from the center of Paris, at a cost of only about $5. Any tour bus will set you back $25 to $50, and more. The C line of the RER network has even decorated their train cars with ceilings and walls adorned in the highly glorious fashion of the castle: http://golem13.fr/rer-c-chateau-versailles-decoration/
-As you will probably want to go anyways, walk up the Eiffel tower! Yes you can! Doubles as exercise du jour. The access to the stairs to the second level is one third cheaper than to go by lift! It won't be all the way to the top, but the view is nonetheless amazing; and you can really gloat about it afterwards, take photographs to prove it. All the floors offer great views. When I first took my younger daughter to the tower, she was 5 years old, and being from Miami, she asked, in French: Maman, are there any alligators in that river down there? People around us went: Where are you guys from?
-Museums galore: the famed Musée du Louvre is free of charge every Friday after 6 p.m., if you are under the age of 26, and free always if you are 18 or younger; the Musée d'Art Moderne is free for all any day; the Musée d'Orsay (my fav) and the Grand Palais have no admission fee on the first Sunday of each month. And every museum in Paris is always admitting handicapped patrons and their handlers for free at any time, on any day. Be warned that the Musée Picasso is closed for the remaining of 2013.
-And finally, take a tour in a classic chauffeur-driven 2CV, the legendary old-fashioned Citroën car, the very same one my grandfather kept for about 45 years! And it was still working fine! Of course, you had to manually turn the windshield wipers' handle to get them to wipe, and the stick shift only had three speeds, and the seats were full of iron springs, and there was neither air nor heat, but we adored this basic car with its rolling canvas roof, the ancestor of all convertibles! http://www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com.
As Humphrey sadly stated at the end of the film Casablanca: "We'll always have Paris." Depending on your generation, it also refers to a line in Star Trek: the Next Generation, but that was clearly a copycat.
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