Audrey Hepburn said, “Paris is always a good idea.” From the hordes of tourists taking selfies and family portraits in front of famous works of art, it seems most of the world agrees with Hepburn. Surely, the city’s most famous attractions are worth some elbow-knocking and selfie-stick bruises, but sometimes one wants to enjoy Paris with a little space to breathe and ponder its wonders.
The Eiffel Tower
Timed tickets are key to climbing the Tower without standing in line all day. But if you just want to admire the incredible edifice in all its glory, go at night when it sparkles with 20,000 lights. After dark, the lights twinkle for five minutes on the hour in a stunning display. To get away from the pick pockets and carnival atmosphere in front of the Tower, go to the back of the Tower, past the tour busses, to a little park. Few people go there, and there is usually a vacant park bench. Here you can see the spectacular light show as if it were performed just for you. A few trees may stand between you and the view, but the lights twinkle far above the trees.
This two-block long pedestrian street has just the right mix of locals and tourists who have time to stroll and enjoy its variety of markets. The street has farm fresh produce, a huge selection of cheese, bakeries and butchers, fishmongers and flowers, chocolates, wine, and shoes. Delis offer home cooked dishes to go. Even better, don’t just visit, you can stay there. Doorways has a vacation rental apartment right in the heart of Rue Cler. When a restaurant dinner was too much effort after a day of sightseeing, we picked up a baguette, a melon, cheese, and a roasted chicken from Rue Cler shops and ate in our robes. After dinner, we strolled to the Eiffel Tower for the light show and returned to Reu Cler, stopping at Ulysse for Grand Marnier crepes at an outdoor table a few steps from our apartment.
Musee National du Moyen Age (formerly the Cluny Museum) in the Latin Quarter is seldom visited by group tours, but its treasures from the Middle Ages are astounding. The museum is built on Roman ruins that have been excavated down to the mosaics of a Roman bath. The recently restored Lady and the Unicorn tapestries woven in Flanders in the 1500s consist of six panels. Five celebrate the senses. In the sixth panel, the Lady, known as the Mona Lisa of woven art, makes an enigmatic statement: to my sole desire. The tapestries can be studied from benches in an uncrowded room, and many have speculated what that sole desire might be.
The museum houses the original carved heads of the kings of France from Notre Dame and an impressive collection of stained glass from the Middle Ages. The panes are back lit in dark rooms, many at eye level, for the best possible viewing.
Built before shopping malls were conceived of, Paris’s 19th Century covered passageways are evocative of a time when people had time to linger. Topped with a glass dome, these arcades have hand-carved wood features. Shops and cafes open to mosaic walkways. Galerie Vivienne, built in the early 1800s, has small shops of elegant, boutique items you will not find anywhere else, a rare book store, and a tea shop, A Priori The that serves excellent scones and jam. Gone are the top hats and long sweeping skirts, but the spirit of a time gone by lingers in a hushed atmosphere of surprises. As for the crowds, they are at the Louvre just a few blocks away.