Allons á la patrie des enfants!
I am just back from four extremely hot, but very nice days in Paris. I have only ever visited Paname (as the French inexplicably call it) once before; in the winter of 1996. Although Paris is rather nice in December, I really prefer the summer version.
Parks and gardens
Even though (or maybe because) I have lived the latest 7 years of my life in cities, I normally prefer to stay out of big cities when on vacation. To much tarmac and concrete, and to little vegetation and horizon make me slightly claustrophobic. Even though Paris with its more than 2 million inhabitants is more than 50% bigger than the biggest city I have ever lived in, this urban claustrophobia didn’t hit me very hard in the French capital. One reason for this may be the many parks, gardens and other green lungs spread throughout the city.
The French – or at least the Parisians – seem to love their parks, and they are almost always well-kept and tidy. Unfortunately, they seem to have a much higher esteem for grass than for fun, games or rest, as most lawns in parks and gardens are marked as pelouse interdite, keep off the grass. Keep off the grass? What the heck is the point in keeping all these nice lawns just to keep people off them? Anyway, if you want to enjoy a quiet picnick in the park, check out Place de Vosges in the Marais quarter. This is one of the oldest parks in Paris, very beautiful in its perfect symmetry, and you are actually allowed on the grass. An alternative is the huge Jardin de Tuilleries close to the Louvre. The grass here is off limit, but chairs and tables spread throughout the park make it perfect for picnick purposes.
The most grandiloquent of all parks is to be found at Versailles, where the megalomaniac French kings Louis XIII-XVI spent their lives in absurd luxury in the constantly growing castle and ever increasing gardens. Versailles is not just huge, it is so enormous that mere words don’t even start to describe the size and luxury of the place. It has to be experienced, so please do yourself a favor and visit this quite insane display of royal power if you ever go to Paris. Actually, Versailles is well worth the trip to France alone! Buy your tickets at the tourist information half way between the RER station and the castle, as the lines for tickets at the castle proper can reach almost as absurd dimensions as Versailles itself. Like the Parisian parks, Versailles is best enjoyed in the summer, as the park surrounding it is at least as impressive as the castle. Some advice for the photographers: be sure to pack your wide angle lens! And no, at Versailles, 35mm is NOT wide angle!
Paris is not only the capital of France, but also the undisputed Mecca of the gastronomic world. This is not to say that all French food is delicious or that all Paris restaurants are of superior quality, but at its best, Parisian food is nothing short of wonderful. If you are only going to eat one meal during your stay in Paris, make it supper at La Billebaude in Rue de l’Exposition, close to the Eiffel Tower and the metro station Ecole Militaire. This nice little restaurant serves a set menu, and you can choose between three alternatives for starter, main course and dessert. While 29 Euros for this might not be exactly dirt cheap, it is far from expensive. This can not be tasted! The food is absolutely first class, and I seriously doubt that you could eat better anywhere in Paris even if you quadrupled the price. If there is tuna steak to be found on the menu; take it!
Paris has a fairly good metro system, as well as a network of local trains called RER (This is the kind of train you need to take to get to Versailles, for instance). The metro and the different RER lines correspond at several combined metro/RER stations, and if you have a metro map, it is rather easy to find your way around. A five day metro pass is a good investment, as it is valid for just as long as Paris is interesting. Enjoy your stay!