An Unusual Traveler's Guide to Paris, France.
One of the best things about Paris is that this exciting city is not only home to some of the world’s most famous sights like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but it is also host to a plethora of exotic and straight-up weird and unusual things to do and eat.
Notre Dame is high on the tourists’ hit parade and for good reason. In peak season, a menacing three hour line snakes around the front courtyard and that just wasn’t going to work for Danny and I. Luckily, or so we thought, we discovered kiosks granting appointments for entry. We accepted a voucher which instructed us to return in 40 minutes and sure enough, we were ushered in at that time. Little English was exchanged, we were charged €10 and pointed in the direction of a spiral staircase. We were confused, as this didn’t look like the Notre Dame we had seen on past journeys, but nonetheless we proceeded without question. It was too late when we realized we would not be visiting the cathedral, but hiking 387 spiral stairs in a circa-1163 constructed structure in 90º heat to the belfry. It was a one-way trek upwards with dozens of people at our heels. Neither turning back nor slowing down were options. The 360º views at the top were breathtaking. Worth it? No! It was like a surprise Quasimodo edition of a fitness bootcamp. We did eventually get into the church — Show up early, not even that early. At 9:30 on a Wednesday morning, the queue was nonexistent.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Don’t get me started on why Père Lachaise Cemetery is my favorite spot in Paris, you’ll never hear the end of it. (And if I start discussing the best bistros in the city, run.) It may sound morbid, but when you consider the history as well as the beauty, it’s a no-brainer. Victor Noir, neighboring with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Division 92, was killed in a dual in 1890. His tomb, which is a life-sized likeness, has since become a symbol of love and fertility. There’s a whole ritual involving placing your hand on a certain part of his anatomy, putting a flower in his hat, and kissing him on the lips. I should have Googled this ahead of time because I only knew to do one of the three (you can see which one). We also said hello to Jim Morrison, whose unassuming tombstone has its own personal security guard and Chopin, whose body may be buried in Paris, but his actual heart is in his home country of Poland. There are many other notables such as Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Molière, Édith Piaf, and Marcel Proust. But even if you didn’t know that, it’s fun walking the grounds and taking in the statuesque monuments, elaborate headstones, and dedicated mini chapels roomier than most New York City apartments. If you plan to visit, make sure to buy a map from a street vendor for a couple of Euros. Or, take advantage of one of the freelance guides you will likely encounter who will lead you straight to the cemetery's main attractions.
Le Grand Véfour
One of the most exciting things about the City of Light is the food. I had read about the Michelin star gastronomical restaurant Le Grand Véfour before leaving Seattle. I knew it was serious when I was asked to put down a credit card to hold the reservation, but I had no idea just how serious. Servers and waitstaff, with a ratio of one per patron, are dressed to the nines in this grand 18th century establishment. I was a little thrown to discover that women's menus are devoid of price, almost making it appear that everything was free. Well, it sure as hell wasn’t.
Danny was not blessed with such ignorance. All this for the privilege of eating where Napoleon and Victor Hugo dined (respectively). The lunch crowd consisted of fancy Europeans, ladies who lunch, and fellow surprised Americans trying to play it cool. Our decadent meal was composed of foie gras, oxtail with shaved truffles, Mediterranean red tuna two ways, and sweetbreads.
The Clown Bar
Quite a bit more casual but no less intimidating, the Clown Bar is an internet celebrity and getting a table here can be a challenge. We showed up 15 minutes early and were not alone. Once those with the forethought to have made reservations were seated and after watching a British woman plead her case (“I’m here alone, I’ll sit at the bar, I eat fast!”), Danny and I managed to score a cramped table in the corner. The food was amazing and far from boring (calf brain in a savory dashi and a duck pie similar to a Beef Wellington). The restaurant is also cute af.
Parisian Adventure Highlights
Other highlights of this adventure include spending a relaxing afternoon racing super low-tech toy boats (you push them with a stick) at Jardin du Luxembourg, visiting Versailles and wandering through some of its 230 acres of gardens, and enjoying the dramatic views from the Sacré-Cœur basilica up in Montmartre’s bohemian neighborhood. It was a magical week of art, history, world-class cuisine, and a romantic destination with my sweet husband.