Incident at Vichy, a one-act play by Arthur Miller, condenses and multiplies his usual sense of foreboding. It’s 1942 in Vichy France and an assorted group of suspected Jews and ‘asocials’ have been detained by Nazis in a makeshift prison. One hysterical young man has had his nose measured. The drip-drip-drip of rumours and panic start to build as the waiting game continues.
Miller’s play is a window into French deportations of Jews, which took place between 27th March 1942 and 17th August 1944. 77,000 deportees from France lost their lives at Nazi death camps or concentration camps, and 1/3 of these were official French citizens.
A Louis Vuitton trunk at the airport speaks volumes about its owner. For one thing, they’re probably not bothered about excess baggage charges (no fear of Ryanair restrictions here). For another, they probably won’t buy three copies of The Daily Telegraph in WHSmith just to get the free giant bottles of Buxton water for the flight and the onward journey. And they won’t have a dilemma about whether it’s ok to nick the blankets from the plane on long haul flights or not, because they don’t fly economy.
Whether you’re travelling en famille or you’re flying solo, you know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all city break. As there are far too many existing Paris guides aimed at couples, I’ve aimed to redress the balance for the rest of us with these tips, following on from my guide for first-time visitors.
Paris with Kids
I recently compiled a city break itinerary for a family of five, so I can promise you this city is child-friendly. It’s just a case of finding what will keep everyone entertained…
The city of light can be dazzling, which may explain why it’s on so many travel bucket lists. Paris seems maze-like and full-on at first, with its different arrondissements (neighbourhoods) and its constant trendsetting, but once you start wandering you’ll see it’s not so daunting after all. Are you ready to explore?
Your First Trip to Paris: The Basics
Start as you mean to go on…
- If you’re travelling from the UK, choose the Eurostar over planes. Charles De Gaulle airport is nowhere near where you want to be, and it’ll cost €10 for a train ticket to the city centre, whereas the Eurostar takes you straight to the Gare du Nord.
- The Mayor of Paris’ website has a ‘First time in Paris’ guide full of tips – I like the sound of the helium balloon tour in the André Citroën Park (weather-permitting).
- Using the Metro is pretty straightforward, and the ticket machines have an English language option. Buy a carnet which gives you 10 tickets – much easier than buying a single or return each time. Try to avoid travelling at rush hour (09:00-10:00 and 18:00-19:30).
- Read the free Metropolitan magazine on the Eurostar for up-to-date events listings and more ideas of what to see. Text is in English (phew!).
- The big Tourist Office is at 25 Rue des Pyramides, near the Opera metro station.
- Find out which local markets are on during your stay – useful for buying fresh food or souvenirs.
- Safety tips are as standard for any European city; keep an eye on your valuables, be wary of walking alone at night in quiet areas, and don’t react to tourist scams (e.g. someone asks if you’ve dropped a gold ring, in the hope of distracting you).
- We all know the French are a stylish bunch, but save your Louboutins if you’re seeing Paris on foot. Swap them for a pair of unisex Stan Smith trainers by Adidas – loved by the ever-chic Phoebe Philo of Celine, seen in a 2013 issue of Vogue Paris and sold at hot designer boutique Colette, where Pharrell Williams even issued a limited edition customised Stan Smiths range.
- Browse one of my previous posts for things to see and do on a budget when you get here, including the Pompidou Centre.
You don’t have to do these, but you’ve heard about the hype…
- I won’t big up the Eiffel Tower – you’re either desperate to visit or you’re not bothered, let’s be honest – but get alternative city views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. The Arc de Triomphe is open from 10am-11pm, with free entry for under 18s. Adult tickets cost €9.50. Notre Dame is open 10:30-18:30 Mon-Fri and 10:00-23:00 Sat-Sun. Tickets are €8.50, and queues move quickly.
- Montmartre’s famous Sacré Coeur church is open daily from 6am-10:30pm. The nearby Musée de Montmartre (2/14, Rue Cortot) is on a side street, and it’s open every day from 10am-6pm. There’s also Paris’ last working vineyard, Clos de Montmartre, opposite.
- If you won’t rest until you’ve seen the tiny Mona Lisa, pre-book your Louvre tickets to cut down some queuing time. The Paris City Pass gives you free entry here, and to many other museums and galleries.
- Desperate for a Seine cruise? High-end evening trips can cost up to €180pp, which isn’t good value in anyone’s books. Instead, the Paris Tourist Board has a range of daytime cruises from €6pp. Bateaux Parisiens has lunchtime trips from €33pp, including a one hour tour; if you get a Paris City Pass you’re entitled to a one hour Bateaux Parisiens Seine cruise (without food) for free.
- Loads of major museums and galleries are closed on a Monday or a Tuesday; many restaurants can also be closed on a Sunday or Monday. Always check listings before you travel!
- The Musée des Arts et Métiers (60 Rue Réaumur) is a bit like London’s Science Museum, with exhibits covering science, technology, energy and communication, including Foucault’s pendulum. Visit from Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm, and late night on Thurs until 9:30pm. Tickets are €8 for adults and €5.50 for children.
Food and Drink
Not every meal is baguette-based or best consumed with wine…
If there’s one exhibition the makers of the dreaded Protein World advert – ‘Are you beach body ready?’ – should see, it’s Riviera Style: Resort & Swimwear Since 1900 at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London, where it’s proven that idealised beach bodies – and holiday trends – are forever changing.
There’s no failsafe seaside look that could carry you from the 1900s to the noughties, just as no destination has consistently ruled over all the others (for one thing, Dubai and Benidorm were barely on the map in 1900, unless you fancied a quiet fishing trip).
A London City Airport survey has found that the average Brit has only visited seven countries, and only 31% have made it to 10 or more of them, despite there being an incredible 193 countries in the entire world that could be explored. This data, which I was reading about in Wanderlust Magazine, really got me thinking about my own travelling past, as it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really started accumulating a respectable country count.
Rather than tally up where I’ve been, I’m going to admit why I haven’t been to as many places as you. It’s time to come to terms with my travel inadequacy and look back on those few countries with fond memories.
I’m pleased to announce the very first competition here on the blog, and it’s a really cool concept to get involved with. Nightswapping is a modern and über-convenient way to see the world, allowing you to stay in other people’s houses and be placed right in the heart of the city you want to explore. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Cosmopolit Home to offer one lucky winner the chance to bag seven nights’ free accommodation in the destination of their choice from the company’s website.
So, you want to see culture in Paris without spending a fortune? So did I. Being short on both time and money when I visited (I was working at a trade show as part of Paris Fashion Week), I created my own adventure and ticked off some of the well known and the more obscure sights of the city, knowing that every second counts when you’re trying to absorb a new destination.
Along the way, I stumbled upon some great places that I think you should know about, too – just put down the guidebook for a second and you’ll see what I mean. Get ready to try out your finest Franglais phrases and enjoy a whistle-stop tour.
On my first night in Paris during a work trip, still getting my bearings and exploring the city with my boss, we stumbled across an in-store gig by a rockabilly band, Ghost Highway, which was a really unexpected introduction to the music scene here. I had no idea that there were many French rockabilly bands, or that they’d have such a hardcore following, but I’m really glad that we got to see them play.
Afterwards I did a bit of research about the rockabilly scene in France and it turns out that it’s definitely alive and well, with most bands adopting American names, such as Howlin’ Jaws, Curfew or Kathy and the Firebrands. One bizarre translation I learned along the way was that batterie is the French word for drums, which kind of makes sense but seems pretty violent as it reminds me of ‘assault and battery’ (“I’m afraid we’ve charged your son with assault and drumming, madam”, etc).
Rather than starting this blog with an introductory post that nobody wants to read, I’m diving in at the deep end with an unexpectedly cool place that I came across in central Paris. In the midst of high street advertising and desperate recession-bitten traders sat this artists’ squat, which occupied a beautiful old terraced block just minutes from some of the city’s big attractions.
I couldn’t decide whether it was heartening to see people fighting back against hard times, or whether it was pretty sad that they had (presumably) taken over someone else’s property. Either way, I was curious to see more. Each floor was divided into little sections holding several different artists’ work, from the more commercial pieces with business cards carefully placed in your line of vision, to the sprawling murals filled with rants against pretty much anyone and everyone and accompanied by stern signs banning photography.
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.