Like so many places, Paris is a well meaning mix of opposites - a city that at once can feel claustrophobic and ethereal, a city lusted over by the greats of history and the current who’s who in fashion, a revered center of arts, culture, and cuisine. Having traveled through much of Europe throughout the past decade, my first impression of Paris was simply underwhelming. Perhaps it was the hype doused in heaps upon the city, or the combination of jet lag, mass of tourists, blazing heat, and heavy French food that soured my mood, but compared to the cleanliness and efficiency of Tokyo, where I had been just a couple months prior, the city seemed hopelessly stuck in the past with modern accommodations as tacky as the neon signs and garish fonts plastered across storefronts on the Champs Elysees.
I often romanticized Europe through the lens of history, and still stop, awed at the grandeur of these cities so steeped in culture. Maybe it’s an expectation of former glory that made Paris seemingly sub par, but once I started playing French melodies from my phone as I stood in the middle of the street facing the Arch de Triumph, or as I watched the Eiffel Tower lit up at sunset from the Jardin de Tuileries, I felt for the first time on this particular Europe trip, the magic that keeps me coming back to this continent year after year.
Walking around the city at night is when I truly experienced it come alive. As I strolled through abandoned alleys connected by bustling streets full of eateries and laughter, I saw Parisians putting flowers, wine, and baguettes into the baskets of their bicycles and then riding away in such a true representation of the mythology of the city that seemed like re-enactments of cities long gone.
The Seine at night is a stunning ethereal blue with a whiz of cars and bikes interwoven with the soft, warm lights that cover so much of Paris as boats slowly form small waves on the river, playing classic French tunes for passengers.
On one particular aimless jaunt I stumbled across the Louvre, and without throngs of human beings, the building and its pyramid stood in their full glory, inviting true appreciation.
At night, the smoke even seemed to cease, absorbed by the fresh, cool air. An epidemic of cigarettes has swept through Paris leaving one coughing at almost every intersection, adding to the city’s hackneyed languor. But as the sky’s blue grew deeper and deeper these irritants seemed to fade. Quiet, empty streets often prevailed, with lit up cafes exuding warm yellows and reds promising a haven from the slight winds with their hearty aromas and the vociferous jingle of laughs coming from those who had slightly more to drink than advisable.
Bistro Les Papilles
Opened by a former Michelin three star chef, Bistro Les Papilles is nothing like its starred French counterparts. With a hip-indie aesthetic, complete with brazen artwork and a wall of fine wine served at store price, the eatery serves rustic-looking dishes, which are just as comforting to taste. The owner, his wife, and their minimal staff running the place in casual clothing, contributes to the establishment's sense of community. With a daily changing menu featuring the likes of 7 hour roasted lamb and a delicious celery soup, this is one of the few French eateries I would actually return to.
Le Potager Urbane
Housed in the Westin, this outdoor bar and eatery provides a photo-worthy ambiance to accompany a meal. Worth a visit for the aesthetic, but beware, this establishment is particularly doused in cigarette smoke.
Akin to New York's High Line, the Promenade Plantee is a gorgeous escape from the city center's hustle and bustle. Whether for a morning run or leisurely afternoon stroll, this is a must visit.
Archeological Crypt of Notre Dame
In the square facing the famed Cathedral, behind throngs of tourists, lie the ruins of the ancient Roman town of Lutetia. For an escape from the crowds and sensory dive into history, simply follow the stairway into the underground below Notre Dame.