Why Paris Should be your First European Adventure
By Zara Wehrung
Living in America’s Finest city, we San Diegans often crave the new, exciting and stimulating. We love our breweries, bars and beach front homes. Going to the farmers markets in your local community for organic peanut butter is a must, and attending opening day at the Del Mar Race Track is a ritual. Yet as residents of all great cities do, many of us grow restless of our daily routines and seek new opportunity to explore.
As I was finishing up my second year at San Diego State University, I noticed this happening to me. Despite my love for sunny strolls to class, vibrant campus culture and all else SDSU has to offer, I decided it was time to expand my horizons. I chose Paris and that decision is one I will never regret.
But of all the European cities to choose from, why should Paris be your first destination of choice? Well, if my reasons and stories don’t compel you, at least take Audrey Hepburn’s wise words to heart, “Paris is always a good idea.”
Paris will provide your heart with whatever it desires (except quality Mexican food). But an absolute Paris must, and probably my favorite, the crepes. No donut, cookie, or other American favorite can possibly trump the light, yet satisfying sweetness that you get from a crepe. While the savory “completes” of ham, cheese and egg from Josselin’s in Montparnasse had me savoring every bite, nothing is as addicting as the Nutella crepe. My favorites came from the crepe stands, specifically one tiny stand you can find by getting off at line 13, Montparnasse Bienvenue and walking down Boulevard Montparnasse. If crepes aren’t really your thing (yet I’m sure once you try them they will be), you’re bound to love the bread. Living in Southern California we have seemed to pick up on the habit of replacing carby delights like bread with healthier alternatives, like lettuce wrapping our burgers or letting our pizza crusts be made from cauliflower. You will NOT want to do that in Paris. The baguettes are typically a euro ($1.25) and nothing like the Vons “french bread” that are made to look like uniform little logs. This bread is so delightfully airy, with a crunch and buttery softness that has all of Paris walking around eating their long baguettes as they casually walk down the street.
When handheld food loses its appeal, and walking around all day makes your stomach a bottomless pit, a brasserie is your best bet. Having dinner in Paris is an event, so settle in, it’s not uncommon to be at a restaurant for two, maybe three hours. There’s bread, wine, the “entrees” (appetizer), the “plats” (main dish), “fromages” (cheese) and of course, desserts. You don’t leave one of these restaurants hungry. Unlike American restaurants, there is rarely a feeling of rush. Waiters only come to your table to serve your food and if you wave them down (which sometimes feels like a task). The bill only brought when you ask. A favorite Parisian activity is probably loitering at these cafes and brassieres.
While Balboa park provides us with multicultural representation, modern photography and so much more, it lacks in the classics. Paris’s world class museums offer works from some of the greats- Monet, Picasso, Kandinsky, Manet, Van Gogh, the list goes on.
There are so many museums to choose from. While most tourists are aware of the Louvre and make it a goal to visit, there are museums far less crowded and more enjoyable. Across the Seine and essentially across a street or two from the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay boasts a large and beautiful collection. Besides the painting and sculptures, you see as you first walk in, the museum itself is stunning. This museum use to be a train station and the grandness of its architecture is quite impressive.
But if you get tired of the sometimes, overwhelming walks around the larger museums like Musee d’ Orsay, the Louvre, or the Pompidou I would suggest the Picasso Museum. Although this museum is around four floors, its smaller rooms and packed walls give it a sense of intimacy. It tends to be quieter due to the floor layout which I found appealing. Its specialization on Picasso’s works let you spend the afternoon in your imagination deciphering the abstraction Picasso loved to use so much.
Eventually if you tire of walking across marble floors looking at priceless pieces you cannot touch nor ever own, walking along the Seine or trekking to Montmartre to watch the street artists work can be just as satisfying. Colorful paintings of all sizes depicting Parisian life are up for sale in Montmartre, while slightly touristy and maybe a little cliché, there’s still some excitement in taking home a piece of French art.
Despite being a city of 2.14 million people, Paris has this sense of small town charm that San Diego can’t quite seem to create. With 20 different arrondissements (municipalities) each section of the city feels like its own with something slightly different from its neighbor. If you’re looking for the perfect falafel: sandwiched in a warm pita, slathered with tahini, and sitting on a bed on cabbage and cucumbers, a walk down Rue de Rosiers in Le Marais to L’as Du Fallafel will bring you to the best (and authentic) Mediterranean food you’ll find in Paris. Down this narrow cobblestoned street, it feels like another time; opposite of the sandy smooth sidewalks of PB, walking requires a little more precision but you probably will be standing and staring at the old apartment buildings and staring in the windows of the bakeries anyway.
As a student living in the city, I immediately was taken aback by the prices of the cute Parisian storefronts. Sandals and boots for 200 euro? Not exactly in a student’s budget. However, in time it becomes easy and even enjoyable to find the bargain retailers. Down Rue Rivoli a couple blocks from the Louvre, one will find the more moderately priced clothing for those a little less inclined to drop their whole vacation budget on stockings from Wolford and bags from the Kooples. On the streets behind the Pompidou in the second arrondissement, and the alleyways of Pigalle in the eight major bargain bin prices await the savvy shoppers. However, if you’ve come to Paris with cash to burn, do not be discouraged – there is more than enough to clean out your wallet. Bon Marche, the Champs Elysee, Saint Germain or Galeries LaFayette? Equally expensive, and equally decadent for our more fiscally free shopper.
For all these reasons and more than I have enough word count to fully express, this city is THE European city to visit this summer season.