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Back in the mists of time (September 2009), I moved to Paris for a year to pursue my studies in medieval French literature at the world-famous Sorbonne – lucky me! However, during my time there I think I learnt just as much about modern-day Paris as I did about its twelfth-century counterpart. Without wishing to sound corny, it was one of the most unforgettable years of my life.
Now living in Melbourne I have discovered that many young Australians dream of seeing Europe, but some of them may have aspirations beyond the standard, booze-fuelled Contiki tour. If you want to see the real Paris and blend in with its suave inhabitants, the following may be of interest to you. Spread over two weeks I will give you my top five recommendations for things to see and do while you’re there, and my top five tips on how to be a Parisien(ne).
1. Do not – and I cannot stress this enough – bother going up the Eiffel Tower. I get that it is one of Paris’s main attractions but, given that it is a key landmark on the city skyline, why would you want a sweeping view of Paris that does not include it? It is also hideously touristy. My advice is to view the Eiffel Tower from Trocadéro and get a beautiful photograph of it, then go up the tower at Montparnasse in the south to capture a view of Paris at its best.
2. In the same vein, the Louvre is OK if you simply must visit it, but there are countless other more exciting (and probably cheaper) museum options available. I favour the Musée d’Orsay over its more famous cousin, and as a budding medievalist I was a big fan of the Musée au Moyen Age when I was there. Of course, if you’re really into art and literature, arguably the cemeteries are some of the most fascinating places to go. At Père Lachaise you can visit Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, while Baudelaire and Samuel Beckett can be found at Montparnasse.
3. On Sundays the place to be in Paris is the Marais in the fourth arrondissement. Wander round the vintage shops and stop for a galette/crepe and cider, or grab a falafel wrap in the Jewish quarter. The Place des Vosges is also a very nice place to chill out in the sunshine with a coffee and read a book.
4. Some of the best places to go out in Paris are around Bastille and Oberkampf. Probably my favourite bar is Truc Mush near Bastille, popular largely due to its unusual décor. You can sip a cocktail in a bath or relax on La Plage (a kitschy little area rigged up to suggest a beach … rather unconvincingly). Drinks are pretty huge and only 6 euros during Happy Hour. If the above sounds a little too trendy for you, then Chez Georges in the fifth arrondissement is one of Paris’s best-kept secrets. Get there early and venture down to the cellar, find a table, buy a bottle of wine, and you’ll find yourself transported back to wartime France!
5. One word – Montmartre. Yes, it’s pretty tacky and you will get a lot of people trying to sell you crappy key-chains of the Eiffel Tower that you don’t want, but it has a very distinctive charm. The view from Sacré Cœur is pretty spectacular, artists still paint in the main square, and for a truly authentic experience you can knock back a glass of Absinthe at one of the local cafés and pretend you’re Toulouse-Lautrec or Rimbaud. Also, parts of the hit-film Amélie (2001) were very famously shot there.