What's Afoot in Paris? Tourists Seeking to Savor a Cultural Feast
PARIS is expensive. Good walking shoes are relatively inexpensive. So unless it's pouring, why not walk and let the wonders of the great architectural and cultural heart of France scroll by in slow motion? Money saved can go toward adding an ambrosial extra course to that fixed-price meal or upgrading to a nicer hotel room.
Your interests - art, history, shopping, architecture, fashion, food - will determine your plans. A few hours spent jotting notes from a guidebook (Michelin is sober, precise, and historically detailed; Fodor is more popularized) well in advance of your trip will save many missteps.
Here are a few favorite walking tours, to which you can append your own specialized additions. If it's your first trip to Paris, I'd suggest a pleasant orientation cruise on the Seine before you set out on foot. At a leisurely pace with no traffic worries, you can see and understand the locations of the Hotel de Ville (city hall), Notre Dame, the Louvre, Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts, Musee d'Orsay, the Tuileries gardens, the National Assembly, Les Invalides, Museum of Modern Art, Eiffel Tower, and, as the touts say, ``muchmuchmore.''
Now you're oriented. If there's no long line snaking around I.M. Pei's glass pyramid entry at the Louvre, you may want to start with a stroll through its endless corridors, which Art Buchwald once lampooned in a column about the record-breaking four-minute Louvre (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace, and Venus de Milo in 3:59). Then stroll through the Tuileries and look at the Orangerie.
A somewhat less-touristy (and definitely longer) walk starts in the Marais (old city) district, wends all the way uphill to Sacre Coeur for a view of the city, and returns downhill to the opera, La Madeleine, Place Vendome, and back to your hotel via lots of fancy shops in the most fashionable area of the city.
This long walk (wear sneakers or walking shoes) also gives you the option to stop at the Picasso Museum or the Centre Pompidou as you leave the Marais. If you're an ambitious walker you could swing over to the Place de la Bastille and the modern opera house on this tour. Or you could incorporate them into a Seine islands circuit.
Another option is to reverse direction to and from Sacre Coeur and plan to have dinner at one of the many small restaurants in and around the Marais. There are lively ghettos of Moroccan, Jewish, Algerian, and Tunisian fare, as well as classic and cuisine minceur French restaurants.
IF the weather is poor or your feet tire, try a short island tour. Walk along the Seine and cross the bridge to the Ile St.-Louis. Stroll down the middle of the island looking in antique shops. Or have lunch at one of the informal bistros. Or lick an ice cream cone from one of several ice cream (and pungent-flavored fruit ice) shops. One has sidewalk tables looking out toward Notre Dame. From there cross a short bridge to the Ile de la Cite.
You can make the island stroll relatively short and return to your hotel, or extend it into a longer walk through the Left Bank. That might include some aimless wandering through galleries, shops, sidewalk cafes, literary sites, the Pantheon, foreign ministry, and more. You ought to include a visit to the Musee d'Orsay, a brilliant conversion of a defunct railway station into a very accessible and lively museum. The Luxembourg Gardens offer pleasant relief from motor-scooter exhaust and mobs of lens-bedecked tourists.
Although it's also touristy, you ought to wander down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, perhaps sit at a sidewalk cafe and have a Perrier or (I prefer) Badois eau minerale, and watch the world go by. Next you might go to the Musee d'Art Moderne (which, unlike its New York namesake, tends to be refreshingly underpopulated), and thence down river to the Palais de Chaillot and across the bridge to the Eiffel Tower. (It's up to you and the weather whether you want to ascend and view the city.)
One last word for first-timers: Don't worry! All of the above can be accomplished while having an exuberant good time with no more missteps than you might make in a strange city in your own country.
If you happen to turn right instead of left, enjoy the adventure, find an offbeat bistro, try a French phrase or two on a passerby (in August, you may find she's an equally lost Spaniard or Swede), and re-check your map.