Finding the heart of Paris: an expat view
August is the month of tourists in Paris. The French flock to their summer homes and lay themselves on the beaches of the Côte d’Azur, leaving the tourists to take over the city.
I am shocked by the piles of worn-out tourists in front of the most popular attractions. Families sit under the Arc de Triomphe trying to catch a breath from their packed schedules. Tour groups are herded through the long lines at the Eiffel Tower with faces of pure exhaustion. Boatloads of visitors pass along the Seine with blank stares and snapping cameras.
I have had countless conversations with my fellow expats about how we wish people could see the true Paris. Not the Paris where people are trying to illegally sell you cheap trinkets or shoving roses in your face to buy. Not the Paris that has rude servers, because after being written up in some well-known magazine, they are not dependent on your service. And definitely not the Paris that rushes you from one major attraction to another.
I am talking about the Paris with the well-manicured parks where you can enjoy an afternoon picnic. The city that has more little cafés and wine shops with extraordinary food than you could ever imagine. The Paris where you know your local boulanger and butcher. A place where a meal can last five hours because it isn’t just a meal, it is the celebration of good food and close friends.
This is the Paris I have fallen in love with. Yes, I will admit there was a certain lust for it during my first visit. But it is now that I have found what makes this city truly tick that I have entered into a complete love affair with the City of Light.
There are a few things that I find to be essential when visiting Paris:
1. Grab a few baguettes from a boulangerie, a selection of cheese from a fromagerie, some saucisson and chorizo from the butcher, a bottle of wine, and some good friends. Head to one of Paris’s parks. Avoid the crowds and get a magnificent view at Parc de Belleville or head to the incredibly designed Buttes Chaumount for a wild getaway.
2. Find a tiny wine bar to spend your evening in before dinner. The more crowded with locals the better! Meet some new friends as you rub elbows while eating your mixed cheese and meat plate. Let the experts show you their world of wine. Natural and organic wines are becoming increasingly popular in Paris and are great to taste.
3. Ask a local for a restaurant suggestion. The French love their food and they know how to eat right. Just because a restaurant does not have a Michelin star does not mean you won’t experience the best meal of your life.
4. Indulge in the speciality shops. Mustard, pastries, olives, tea, chocolate. You name it, there is probably a speciality store for it. Go on a hunt for the best pain au chocolat. Stop counting calories because you will miss that flaky perfection when you return home.
5. Have a taste test between the macarons at Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. Enter the ongoing battle and form your own opinion on which one is better.
6. Go to a street market and buy fresh ingredients for your dinner that night.
Paris is a city full of unknown treasures, ready to be explored. So whether it is your first time or just another visit, take time to experience the authentic Paris, and fall in love with this city over and over again.
1. Stefan 1981, on Flickr
2. dewet, on Flickr
3. Coco Rosenthal
4. Sifu Renka, on Flickr
5. Coco Rosenthal