Meeting the Natives
Meeting Parisians is one of the adventures of traveling to Paris -- and it's free. Visitors often find Parisians brusque to the point of rudeness, but this hardened crust often protects a soft center. Compliment a surly bistro owner on her cuisine, and -- 9 times out of 10 -- she'll melt before your eyes. Admire a Parisian's dog or praise a window display and you'll find a loquaciously knowledgeable companion. Try to meet a Parisian halfway with some kind of personalized contact. Only then do you learn their best qualities: their famed charm, their savoir-faire -- and, yes, believe it or not, the delightful courtesy that marks their social life.
Attending a Free Concert
Summer brings a Paris joy: free concerts in parks and churches all over the city. Pick up an entertainment weekly for details. Some of the best concerts are held at the American Church in Paris, 65 quai d'Orsay, 7e (tel. 01-40-62-05-00), which sponsors free concerts from September to June on Sunday at 5pm. You can also attend free concerts at Eglise St-Merry, 78 rue St-Martin, 4e (tel. 01-42-71-93-93). These performances are staged based on the availability of the performers, from September to July on Saturday at 9pm and again on Sunday at 4pm.
Hanging Out at Place des Vosges
Deep in the Marais, place des Vosges is more an enchanted island than a city square. Laid out in 1605 by order of Henri IV, this lovely oasis is the oldest square in Paris. In the middle is a tiny park where you can sit and sun, listen to the splashing waters of the fountains, or watch the kids at play. On three sides is an encircling arcaded walk, supported by arches and paved with ancient, worn flagstones. Sit sipping an espresso and people-watch as the day passes you by.
Viewing Contemporary Art
Space is too tight to document the dozens of art galleries that abound in Paris, but the true devotee will find that not all great art in Paris is displayed in a museum. There is a tendency, however, for owners to open galleries around major museums, hoping to lure the art lovers in. This is especially true around the Centre Pompidou, in the Marais. Our favorite galleries in the Marais include big guns Emmanuel Perrotin, 76 rue du Turenne, 3e (tel. 01-42-16-79-79; www.galerieperrotin.com), and Yvon Lambert, 108 rue Vieille du Temple, 3e (tel. 01-42-71-09-330; www.yvon-lambert.com). They display changing exhibits from both Parisian and international avant-garde artists. More traditional galleries are found in St-Germain-des-Prés, many along the Rue de Seine.
Strolling the World's Grandest Promenade
Pointing from place de la Concorde like a broad, straight arrow to the Arc de Triomphe at the far end, the Champs-Élysées (the main street of Paris) presents its grandest spectacle at night. Paris guidebook writers grow tired of repeating "the most in the world," but, of course, the Champs-Élysées is the world's most famous promenade. For the first third of the stroll from place de la Concorde, the avenue is lined by chestnut trees. Then it changes into a double row of palatial hotels and shops, office buildings, and endless sidewalk cafes.
Cooling Off in the Jardin des Tuileries
Parisians head to the Tuileries Gardens to cool off on a hot summer day. The park stretches on the Right Bank of the Seine from the place de la Concorde to the doorstep of the Louvre. This exquisitely formal garden was laid out as a royal pleasure ground in 1564, but was thrown open to the public by the French Revolution. Filled with statues (some by Rodin), fountains, and mathematically trimmed hedges, its nicest feature is a series of round ponds on which kids sail armadas of model boats. Stand on the elevated terrace by the Seine, enjoying panoramic views over Paris.
Seeing Paris from a Bus
Most tours of Paris are expensive, but for only 1.60€ you can ride one of the city's public buses traversing some of the most scenic streets. Our favorite is no. 29, which begins at historic Gare St-Lazare, subject of Monet's painting La Gare St-Lazare at Musée d'Orsay and featured in Zola's novel La Bête Humainee. Aboard no. 29, you pass the famous Opéra Garnier and proceed into the Marais district, passing by Paris's most beautiful square, place des Vosges. You end up at the Bastille district, home of the new opera. It's a close encounter with backstreet Paris and a cheap way to see the city without a tour guide's commentary.
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