The Exquisite Luxury of Taking Paris for Granted

“Why can’t we go to Paris?” is a question I would ask whenever my husband, Adam, brought up traveling somewhere. I hadn’t been to the city in 17 years, and while I don’t generally like revisiting places, Paris is a worthy exception. And then Adam went all in, suggesting we stay for a month. (Sometimes I think he forgets that I have a hyperlocal blog.) I was prepared to make it work, until we realized that we’d probably end up getting bored; we were unlikely to meet anyone, and there’s a limit to how much togetherness any couple can handle; and the more we looked at apartments, the more concerned we were about making a bad choice—and having to live in it for a month. So instead, we went for two weeks, which is still pretty juicy.

Our initial goal was to live like locals, but we don’t speak French, and we weren’t there long enough to get in deep. What we did achieve was much more leisurely travel—no rush, no pressure. The extra time allowed us to relax and enjoy it, kind of like spending a long weekend with an old friend versus trying to catch up over dinner. In a sense, we could take the city for granted.

As you are probably aware, the Olympics will be held in Paris later this month. It was fascinating to see how the city is erecting temporary stadiums everywhere—the Place de la Concorde, for example, and in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower—rather than build them out in les boonies. The preparations didn’t prove to be a hassle, except for occasionally forcing us to walk in the street in order to circumvent something.

As for the apartment, we booked through Onefinestay, and I’m not sure we’d do it again, for one major reason: while you do get the assurance and oversight of a brand, the company doesn’t post user reviews, so you’re entirely reliant on the information provided. Our rental, Boulevard Saint-Germain II, was as pretty as it looks in the photos below. But the elevator had been broken for weeks (which the company was unaware of till the day we arrived); the air conditioning consistently malfunctioned; the WC was barely larger than a phone booth, with a vanity running across it, so executing anything required contortions; the weekly housekeeping was sloppy at best; and the shower drain stunk of sewer gas. I appreciated the extra space, particularly important for a long stay, and the local Onefinestay reps did what they could to smooth over the rough patches, but at the end of the day, I simply may be more of a hotel person. Accommodation without hospitality is too chilly for my taste. Everywhere we looked—including, say, on the clothes hamper in the bathroom—there was red tape warning us to stay out. Also, the sheets, which I assume are provided by the company and not the homeowner, were half polyester, and this bod doesn’t do synthetics.

The apartment is in the 7th arrondissement, which suited us—it’s close to the livelier 6th, but much quieter, and with the Tuileries just across the Seine. I did wish that good coffee was nearby: the 20-minute walk to Ten Belles or Coutume grew less appealing the longer we were there. Then again, since neither opened till 9 a.m., the walk gave me something to do each morning—and an excuse to eat more pastry.

We went in late May, which was ideal: it was just before the mad summer rush, and everything was lush and gorgeous. A meander through the Tuileries, the Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Jardin des Plantes is a perfect way to start a day.

The best part: the sun didn’t set till around 10 p.m. When people ask what I miss about living in New York City, I always say the restaurants and the walking, and this trip made me realize that I also miss an overlap of the two—a mellow stroll home from dinner. That it was often along the river made it even better.

I may have been too young to really appreciate the elegance of Paris when I was last there, but this time, I felt drunk on the beauty of the city—the buildings, in particular.

Can you imagine if your pharmacy was here instead of in some strip mall?

Two pieces of advice for anyone planning on walking in Paris: pay attention to where you’re stepping, because the sidewalks are in shoddy condition, and look both ways before crossing any street—bike lanes generally, but not always, go the opposite direction of car traffic, and buses occasionally do.

I was so obsessed with the decorative hardware on doors that I emailed the Fontaine showroom to see if I could come by, even though it’s only open to the trade. They said no, in part because it was closed for renovations. Next time, I’m getting an interior designer to vouch for me. We’re actually in the market for a door knocker, and I don’t care if our house isn’t grand enough to justify something rococo.

If I had been able to visit the showroom, I might have found out what these things on the ground are for. Our best guess: to stop cars from damaging the sides. (The doors tend to lead to large courtyards. Every now and then they would be open, and I couldn’t resist looking in. Do Parisians pride themselves on not doing so, the way New Yorkers claim they don’t look up, lest they be mistaken for tourists?)

I’m always entertained by how, even in the age of globalization, people in other parts of the world solve problems differently than we do. The first device below is to move stuff to an upper floor; the second is tree protection in a construction zone; and the third is for garbage collection in the Seine.

I was captivated by the mirrored cladding that hides scaffolding and charmed by the birdhouse atop a bus stop.

But thank goodness our pharmacies haven’t given over their windows to giant electronic ads.

I was surprised to see condom machines here, there, and everywhere—at a Metro station in the lively Marais is one thing, but on a street in the staid 7th? Or in the men’s room at Charles de Gaulle Airport?

The beauty extends beyond the buildings and the door hardware. Notice how the fence around the Eiffel Tower mimics the shape of the tower. And that bench! Even the way the LED construction lighting has a certain flair—I kept thinking I was looking at an art installation.

A main reason I travel is to feel more alive, or alive in a different way, than at home. And walking and taking notice of what’s around me is enough to accomplish that.

We stumbled upon a 10K race where the runners were panting and pouring water over their heads (in 62-degree weather) as if they were nearing the end of a marathon.

The most sportif we got was attending the French Open—with only a grounds pass, alas, on a day when it rained nonstop—and taking a train to hike in the old-growth Fontainebleau forest, only to have it start pouring right as we reached the trailhead. I’m not sure I’d make a second try at Fontainebleau, but Roland Garros is lovely, with appropriate concessions.

I went to more museums than I had planned on, including the Orangerie, the Musée Bourdelle, the Maison Latin America, and the Centre Pompidou. (I was lured to the latter by a big Brâncuși show. I always hope a gift shop will sell miniatures of his sculptures as paperweights.) Adam also visited the Musée d’Orsay, only to find it overwhelmed with people. My favorite museum was the Bourse de Commerce, François Pinault’s temple to his art collection and his ego, perhaps not in that order. Architect Tadao Ando inserted a concrete cylinder in the old round building, to supremely cool effect; as a temporary installation, South Korean artist Kimsooja put mirrors on the floor—a selfie trap to which we happily succumbed.

The most striking thing in the museum is the old double-helix staircase. At one point in its history, the building was a corn exchange, and “the two ramps, which intertwine in two distinct helixes […] allowed the porters who went up and down [with] the voluminous sacks of corn to avoid crossing each other.”

Pinault won the battle of the fashion titans: we found Bernard Arnault’s Fondation Louis Vuitton less inspired, despite a large Ellsworth Kelly show (including some of his plant drawings and postcard collages, which I love). The Frank Gehry building has its moments, but it sort of feels like the Sydney Opera House got tossed in a blender. The roof terrace was a highlight; seeing the business area of La Défense made me wish we had visited it, to spend some time in a more modern Paris.

We also enjoyed the Hôtel de la Marine, a restored monument on the Place de la Concorde. The self-guided audio tour is a bit hokey, but helpful; the “olfactory installation” was a nightmare for this allergy sufferer.

Adam insisted on a visit to the Paris Catacombs. The experience is fascinating—you’re way below street level, for longer than you might like—and so is the history. “In the late 18th century, when major public health problems tied to the city’s cemeteries led to a decision to transfer their contents to an underground site, Paris authorities chose an easily accessible site that was, at the time, located outside the capital: the former Tombe-Issoire quarries under the plain of Montrouge.” The quarries were collapsing and needed reinforcement, so voilà—two birds, one stone. There are estimated to be bones from six million corpses.

Regrettably, we didn’t do much advance planning in regard to other cultural activities. But Adam did find a piano recital at the small church, Église Saint-Éphrem-le-Syriaque, near the Sorbonne. The pianist played movements from various works by Chopin, Debussy, and Satie in candlelight, which set a marvelous mood, aided by a percussive burst of rain.

More my style: a drink at the Hotel Lutetia‘s glamorous bar while a tight trio performed covers, including a mash-up of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.”

We thought we would cook now and then, what with the apartment and all, but it seemed like too much of a hassle. We did buy flowers, though, at the Sunday farmers’ market on Boulevard Raspail. Strolling through Paris while carrying a bouquet of peonies was like something out of a movie or a dream.

We did more browsing than shopping—unlike New York City, Paris still has a wealth of small businesses of every stripe. Two favorites were the E. Dehillerin cooking-supply store and the very old-world Caves Legrand, a wine shop and epicerie.

Before our trip, I had discovered the brand Lafaurie on Instagram and ordered a jacket that I wore nearly every day—including on our way to a restaurant in the 6th. We came upon what I assumed was a gallery opening spilling out of a storefront, but as we passed by, I saw that it was Lafaurie’s office—and right at that moment, someone from the company noticed me, wearing one of their jackets. We had a little moment (and I later bought the same jacket in another color).

And we loved La Grande Épicerie at Le Bon Marché. The entire department store is a treat—civilized and nice, the way department stores here used to be. But the food hall is next-level, with an emphasis on products more than prepared food (although there’s that, too). As I mentioned, we didn’t cook in the apartment, but we did have breakfast there, and buying little pots of yogurt is a lot more fun when the flavors are citron, myrtille, cerise, and fraises…. And Edmond Fallot mustards came in so many tantalizing flavors…. And why didn’t I buy a tube of salted caramel when I had the chance?

And the butter! I knew of Bordier butter from The Eddy and Oat Bakery, but La Grande Épicerie sells a version that’s 4% salt. It was heaven on good bread, which is everywhere in Paris.

And that brings us to restaurants. Thank you to everyone who gave us recommendations—we tried many of them, and I’m not going to go into each and every one, but trust that we ate abundantly and well nearly everywhere we went. I was on a bit of a pastry quest: Blé Sucré, Mamiche, Cyril Lignac, and so on…. I came to the conclusion that unless you do something stupid, the first croissant you have in Paris will be the best, but then ours was at Liberté, where it was truly excellent. And the bakery’s fig-and-honey bread may have been even better.

For many years now, the big trend in Paris dining has been the neo bistro, a cooler, more creative take on the classic bistro. We went to a few, but the only one we loved was Vivant 2. It’s loud and cramped, and we felt old, but we got over it. The food was excellent, particularly the decadent celery root with sabayon (below). Our seats were right by the chefs, so we asked whether there really wasn’t any pork fat in the dish. “I wish I could use pork fat,” he said, then added sadly, “but it’s the only vegetarian option.” And the music—a little disco, a little Euro, a little New Wave, a little camp, a little rock and roll—hit my sweet spot with a wallop. (I’ve listened to nothing else ever since.) Perhaps I earned extra points by identifying “One Night in Bangkok” from its instrumental intro, because the chef gifted us a plate of lamb kidneys.

We discovered that we want three things in a restaurant: top-notch food, a friendly atmosphere, and sharp service. The establishments that nailed it were Parcelles

…and La Bourse et la Vie, home to a perfect steak au poivre with frites…

…and our very favorite, Le Bon Saint Pourçain. Sit outside, if the weather cooperates, and order the mille-feuille if it’s on the menu. “You must be vicious,” instructed the waiter. “Cut into it like the guillotine.”

There was more: orange blossom lemonade at Liza, Lebanese ice cream at Bachir, marinated sardines at Clamato, a softball-size scoop of chocolate mousse at Tekès, beautiful sorbets (served inside the hollowed-out fruit) at Fruttini, and so on.

And we did have one high-end, set-menu dinner, at Maison. The food was truly fantastic, but perhaps we had eaten too much during our two weeks in Paris, because we hit a wall as the final course arrived. It was pigeon, deconstructed in various parts scattered around the plate. As much as we aspire to be good guests, we couldn’t do it. The server tried to encourage us: “Just eat the little heart,” she said.

Maybe next time. Au revoir, Paris!


Previous travel coverage:
••• Santa Rosa Island in One Day
↓↓↓ Soaking Up History at Castle Hot Springs
••• Driving Through the Heart of Hokkaido
••• Tokyo Is a World Unto Itself
••• Paso Robles, Pinnacles National Park, and Beyond
••• A Review of the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern
••• Another Quickie in L.A.
••• Sitting Pretty at the One & Only Mandarina
••• The Mysteries of Istanbul
••• Palm Springs: Midweek at the Oasis
••• Exploring the Sea Caves of Santa Cruz Island
••• A Summer Swing Through the Northeast
••• Why Is Everyone Going to Portugal?
••• Patagonia Made Easy
••• A Quickie in L.A.
••• From Penthouse to Pavement in Mexico City
••• Do Greek Islands Live Up to the Fantasy?
••• Splendid Isolation at Utah’s Lodge at Blue Sky
••• Three Reasons to Visit Paso Robles Now
••• The Rebirth of the Cuyama Buckhorn



Sina Omidi

Amazing photos Erik! Like you said Paris is the only city, or at least one if the only cities, that is worth keep going back to. Always charming, rich in history and art yet fun and relaxing away from home. Simply home away from home no matter where you live. Reading your article definitely .makes me want to revisit Paris.


A feast for the eyes! Maybe The Eddy can source the Caramel au Beurre Sale.


“A main reason I travel is to feel more alive, or alive in a different way, than at home.” – also me


Erik, Paris is a pearl, but how dare you not visit any fashion museums! ; ) A New Yorker in Paris skipping fashion during couture week? You must return and finish the trip.


We enjoyed Parcelles on our last visit. We used to rent apartments in haut Marais and it’s full of good food extending over into the 11th.

Maryanne Brillhart

Your encouragement of vision in viewing our SB real estate including homes and local establishments is now inspiring us to reconnect to our past travels with what could easily be a Travel Book filled with delight through your photos and delicious descriptions!!! Thank you for encouraging us to travel more…as we tend to love living/staying in our SB beauty…

Jo T

Loved loved loved this article and pictures of Paris! My husband and I fell in love with Paris and returned often, renting apartments on Ils. St Louis and living the Parisian life while there. Our travel days are behind us now, so your virtual trip was especially appreciated and brought back so many fabulous memories! Well done…and thank you!

Michael Seabaugh

Thanks for taking me on your tour of my favorite city. Your eye for detail is stellar and much appreciated!


Erik, what a spectacular jaunt around Paris! I’m inspired to go back…and buy a bunch of peonies from the flower market. Truly a dreamy two weeks you had. Thanks a million for sharing so thoughtfully.