Ah Paris. One of the Crown Jewels of Europe. My family has a special relationship with this city. In 1944 my Grandfather, Charles Colbert, helped liberate Paris and then marched down the famous Champs-Élysées and under the famous Arc de Triomphe. Eventually he made it home, my dad was born. Fast forward 74 years and in 2018 I made my second trip to this beautiful city. A lot had changed in the 12 years since my last visit, but the spirit, the beauty, the elan is still as strong as ever. It's one of my favorite cities on the planet.
During my stay I saw some amazing things, met some fantastic, interesting, people, and ate some of the best food I've ever had in my life.
Where I Stayed
I like to use the internet and folks who are knowledgeable to guide me in planning my trips. This time around I used two folks nearly exclusively.
Rick Steves is someone I've known about for years. His guidebooks and television shows are great sources of material. He actually stays in the places he puts in his books, has been traveling for years and has built relationships with folks all over the world, and is a conscientious traveler. I use his books to educate myself about a place and his audio guides and walking tours are fantastic. You can find all of his information and order books at www.ricksteves.com.
The second person I relied on for all things Paris is Wendy Lyn. She is a native of New Orleans who has lived in Paris for 30 years. We have a mutual friend who turned me on to Wendy's website "Paris is My Kitchen". Again, she has made amazing connections throughout the city and provides information on places to eat, drink, stay, and shop. Her focus is mainly on the 11th arrondissement (district) but she's a great resource regardless of where you go in the city. Her website is www.wendy-lyn.com.
When I was in Paris in 2006 I stayed in an area called "The Marais". It's a real neighborhood. It's fun and funky. Close enough to all the major sites, but it's not going to break the bank to stay there. I saw no reason to stay anywhere else this time but I did have an option unavailable to me in 2006. VRBO. This time, I looked for a private residence rather than opt for a small hotel room. It was the right decision. I found a small studio apartment, one block from the metro, for less than 80 euros a night! I would have a place to base myself out of with a kitchen, wifi, secure entrance, and huge bed and tv. Of course I read reviews and emailed with the owner before I booked, but it was the perfect place for me.
What I Did
I had seven days in Paris. I had things I wanted to do, meals I wanted to eat, and places I wanted to see. I also made sure to set aside a lot of time with nothing planned. Paris is a walking city, and sometimes the best thing to do is to find an area you want to explore and do just that. Look at the architecture, check out the prices of flats (spoiler alert: they're expensive!), sit in a cafe and leisurely enjoy a cup of coffee while you people watch. The great thing about cities like Paris, London, New York, is that they're set up to give you as much as you want. Sure I was going to do several of the "musts", but I also wanted to see Paris like a local does. It was the right decision. This trip was life-changing.
Where I Ate
Paris is a destination city for food lovers. The cool thing is that, while you can still find the old-school places that do things the way they've been doing them for decades, there is a new wave of young, extremely talented chefs opening places that focus on whatever is fresh daily. Catering their menus -- many of which are printed at lunch AND dinner to reflect the freshest ingredients -- to a younger, hipper, and more diverse clientele.
I am an unabashed foodie. Life is too short to eat crappy, processed, industrial food. I am also a huge fan of shows like "Chef's Table", "Parts Unknown", and "No Reservations". I had researched several places I wanted to go. Most of them were small, local, and reasonably priced for a major city. I was going to eat where the locals eat when they go out for an evening.
I did have one meal planned that I knew was going to cost me and I knew I didn't care. I made reservations at the Michelin three-starred L'Arpege. I have admired Chef Alain Passard for years. His menu is mostly vegetable based -- the vegetables grown at his three farms outside Paris. He has held his three stars for 20 years and is a legend in the culinary world. To say I was excited is a gross understatement.
So with my itinerary flexible but set, my bags packed, and my phone loaded with apps to help me get around town and communicate with Parisians, I boarded the plane that would take me across an ocean and deposit me in the City of Lights.