We used to live in Paris, between the 07.10.11-09.10.11. Here is some of the fun we had.
Having spent an all-too brief weekend in Paris, we don’t know how qualified we are to make serious recommendations on places to go, but here are our top suggestions (and not an Eiffel Tower in sight)…
1. If you consider yourself a bibliophile and harbour a serious liking for book shops with soul, then I’m very confident you will like Shakespeare and Company. *
I only knew about the shop because of another book-loving friend who recommended it to me (thanks Ele) and spent less than 30 minutes there but I think I could’ve whiled away the entire day if I didn’t have a train to catch. It’s a long, narrow haberdashery of gradual expansion into adjoining buildings; books precariously Jenga-ing up to the rafters. Upstairs hides the aspiring authors, philosophers and people who want to look cool by sitting and reading in a bookshop. There are books everywhere, which you’d expect in a bookshop, but room for customers to manoeuvre through seems barely an afterthought. The crammed shelving goes all the way to the ceiling, where you will see the exposed wooden beams of the classic Parisian architecture. This place has character running out of its pores.
As soon as I stepped over the threshold, I liked it and felt as if this shop could easily call Amsterdam home. Heck, I want that shop to be my home. It is a hobbit hole of literary wonderment and a place which reminds me that books are the number one obsession for me and so many other people.
2. Once again, the next recommendation comes from us via a friend (thanks Yannis).
Equivalent to the Parisian version of ‘tea-at-the-Ritz’, Angelina is certainly no secret; something the constant queues streaming down the street attest to. (I have since read that Coco Chanel was once a regular patron. Ooh la la.) Mercifully, queuing is for the determined diners, as Angelina benefits from a take-out service stocked with exquisite goodies: tartlets, macaroons, éclairs, millefeuille and – oh sweet Jesus – their trademark hot chocolate.
The consistency is nothing like you’ve ever had in a hot chocolate before; rich, thick and creamy – even without a large heap of whipped cream. If hot chocolate is one of the beverages you are partial to, then you definitely need to try Angelina’s offering. You need to try it even if you don’t like hot chocolate. Actually, if you have a mouth and functioning taste buds; go. Drink. Enjoy.
3. From divine chocolate to the bones of six million Parisians. Underneath Paris lies 186 miles of tunnels, parts of which were filled with the human remains in the eighteenth century to solve the infection problems caused by the city’s cemeteries. As you can see from the pictures, we’re not talking about coffins or unorganised piles of bones.
Only a small section of the tunnels is officially open to the public (there are other entrances hidden around the city, known by many locals. The people who frequent the tunnels are known as cataphiles). Not being cool enough to have a source to an unofficial entrance, we chose the official route, and, at €4 for those under 26, the admission is very reasonable.
It’s almost too much of a cliché to say it, but as you descend the steps, the air becomes chillier and the atmosphere gets thinner as you start to wonder what you’re going to encounter.
Initially, you walk through damp, dark passages and then well-lit sections with arched ceilings, all the time walking past forbidden, fenced-off passages to who-knows-where. Just as you begin to wonder when you’ll see the first of the six million people; there they are. It is possible to feel underwhelmed because of how they have arranged them; neat stacks of bones lining the sides of the passages, arranged according to size. But when you pause and consider the sheer amount of people who surround you, it all seems much more impressive.
4. Another €4 recommendation is the Arc de Triomphe. Well, not so much the building itself, which is just a bit archy, but the view from the top. Even on the rainy and overcast day we visited, the views are spectacular; helped greatly by the monument being the centrepiece of the 12 avenues, affording excellent views in all directions. And, unlike the view from Paris’ more famous viewing platforms, you get to see the Eiffel Tower from this vantage point.
After all this, we went to the Eiffel Tower. This is Paris, after all.
*(I feel I should mention that having just looked on the company website, I’ve learnt that the founder, George Whitman, passed away in December 2011, aged 98. Having read this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/mar/07/shakespeare-and-company-bookshop-paris and learnt a little more about him, he sounds like an extraordinary man.)