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Paris Travel Guide

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More has been written about Paris than probably any other city in the modern world. It is a place that fascinates people. It can bring out the artist in even the most ardent philistine. It is the world capital of romance. The city by which all other great cities are judged. Its history is known universally as it is also a place of legends. There are more famous landmarks here than any other city on earth; its museums contain some of the most priceless works of art. It has a reputation for arrogance and aloofness yet remains one of the world’s most visited cities. Paris is a metropolis that thrives on contradiction and ambiguity that nevertheless remains strong headed and guards its identity ferociously. Paris is the one city everyone really should see before they die.

Easily the City’s most famous landmark and arguably one of the most famous in the world is, of course, the Eiffel Tower. It is hard to believe today that when it was first constructed (as a temporary structure for the World Fair of 1889) it was considered by many to be an eyesore. Fortunately, over the following few years, public and critical perception of industrial style architecture changed dramatically and the Tower’s artistic and aesthetic values were recognised thus ensuring it’s permanence. Should you wish to ascend the Tower it is advisable to arrive either very early morning or early evening as moving between the three levels can take several hours during busy periods.

Before Gustav Eiffel created his ultimate folly, Paris’ most famous landmark was Notre Dame Cathedral. Built between 1163 and 1345 its reputation is sealed forever in both history and legend. This awe inspiring gothic edifice is amongst the most famous holy monuments in the world and can hold an incredible 6000 worshippers at a time. Inside it is equally spectacular with the 7,800-pipe organ and 700 year-old rose windows 30ft in diameter. You can climb the to the level of the gargoyles for spectacular views or the 226ft bell tower, home to Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo, where the original 13 ton bell, Emmanuel still tolls a perfect F-sharp.

You’ll need more than a day or two to do the Louvre justice. Home to many of the most valuable a revered works of art in the world, the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Winged Victory the place is colossal. To avoid the queues it is advisable to buy a Carte Musees et Monuments or gain entry from an entrance other than the main Pyramid entrance (via Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre or Louvre exit at Palais Royal metro station). The Louvre’s nearest rival is the ultra-modern Pompidou Centre with its bizarre exterior a work of art in its own right. Amongst the exhibitions housed there you’ll find the National Museum of Modern Art featuring works by Matisse, Duchamp and others.

A great thing about Paris is its size. It is relatively small (only 105sqkm) which means that it is an ideal city to explore on foot. And explore you should. There is far more to Paris than the picture postcards would have us believe. Beyond the bustle of the Champs-Elysee with its over priced trendy restaurants and myriad US and Japanese tourists sporting baseball caps, sunglasses and point-&-press cameras there is a whole world of intrigue and adventure amongst the narrow side streets and alleys. This is where the real Paris is to be discovered. Check out the back streets around Sacre Couer where unique shops sell one-off treasures made by local artisans or the often overlooked Jewish Quarter in the Marais district filled with delis, bakeries, shops and fascinating shops. It is here that you’ll find Lenny Kravitz’s favourite falafel restaurant.

Something that can only be enjoyed on foot is a visit to one of Paris’s many markets. It is an excellent way to get a genuine feel for the City and its inhabitants. Marche de Montreuil is the monster of all flea markets and the least touristy. Most of what’s on sale is junk (everything from used car parts to vintage hats) but it is an awesome sight. Marche de la Porte de Clignacourt is a huge market consisting of numerous smaller markets that together form an unfathomable maze of stalls. For atmosphere you simply cannot beat the food markets. You can stroll around tasting cheese and wine and buying those that you enjoy and end up pleasantly light headed in the process. The passion of the folk in these markets is inspiring – squabbling and shouting as they try to purchase that precious hunk of cheese or saucisson.

As you would imagine the nightlife is nothing short of sensational. New pubs and bars are opening up all over the place which means competition is hot. A distinctly pleasant side effect of this is the ‘happy hour’. With a bit of research you can literally trawl the City bars and get legless for half the price. The hottest spots are on the Champs Elysee, but you’ll run up a pretty hefty bill. If you want to sweat to the beat of the latest tunes check out Café Oz, Trois, Mallets, Queen or Stollys, quality venues frequented by the chic and the beautiful who like to really tie one on.

For the more mature visitor why not enter the world of bread, cheese and copious amounts of wine from some of the finest wine producing regions of France. Wine bars, bistros a vin, can be found all over the city and can range from upper class, refined digs to the local wine shop with a few tables at the back where you can choose from any number of cheeses, breads, spreads and of course wine. Get it by the glass, carafe, bottle or barrel. Recommended bars include the authentic and lively Jacques Melac just west of the Place de la Bastille or Bisrot des Augustins, a tiny, grubby local wine bar across from the bookstalls on the quai (a little oasis of real Parisian flare in the heart of tourist central). Another bonus is most wine bars open around breakfast time and stay open until 1 or 2 a.m. - they`ve got it right!

It goes without saying that the French love their food. It is a passion reflected in the myriad restaurants scattered throughout Paris. You can dine of delicacies from the four corners of the world but it has to be said that nothing compares to the traditional French cooking and Nouvelle cuisine on offer. Prepare yourself for a long haul. More than most the French enjoy taking time, turning every mealtime into an event of its own. The food may well be pricey but the experience really is well worth the expense.

Spring may be the traditional/romantic time to visit Paris but it is a wonderful place to visit all year round (although most businesses do close during August for annual vacations). A truly captivating City, it is guaranteed to find a place in your heart forever. The splendour is unquestionable, the romance undeniable and the entertainment never-ending. Paris is definitely one of the few cities in the world that actually lives up to its legendary status.

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