Becoming Parisian for a Week

STAFF, EUROPE, COMFORT & STYLE — By on April 10, 2014 at 23:11

By staff writer Lisa A. White. Photos Copyright © Lisa A. White.

DURING A WEEK’S VACATION in Paris, it is impossible to “see all and do all” and still leave with your sanity intact.

To avoid vacation overload, we strove to become Parisian by enjoying the local culture. We stayed in an apartment rather than a hotel room and ate locally made products and produce either “at home” or in tiny cafes.

Neighborhood street market, Paris

Neighborhood street market, Paris

When we travel, I generally scour a number of accommodation websites, with my ol’ standbys being AirBnB.com, HomeAway.com, and VRBO.com. Depending on the dates, the norms in the vacation location, our own preferences, and pure luck, we can generally find safe and comfortable accommodations through these sites. If you choose this route, always do your homework and pay very close attention to the reviews. We’ve had very good experiences—but I ask every question I have before booking an apartment.

Street art in Paris

Street art in Paris

Our goal was to find an apartment in an interesting area typically populated by residents. My usual accommodation sources were not working until I found this listing on Travel Library for a romantic apartment for two. The apartment is located at 103 Rue Mouffetard in the fifth arrondissement, also called the Latin Quarter. One of the oldest streets in Paris, it has an open air market, as well as shops, cafes and occasional sidewalk musicians.

Each day, you can buy necessities such as freshly baked bread, cheeses, fruits and veggies, coffee, wine, and chocolate just below the apartment. (Yes, chocolate and wine are necessities when in France!) By night, Rue Mouffetard is pretty quiet, especially on the market end where there are very few bars. A thriving nightlife can be found nearby but it was not close enough to keep us awake at night.

Street markets.

Various street markets on Rue Mouffetard

The Rue Mouffetard market seems to be frequented more by Parisians than tourists. When we first arrived on Rue Mouffetard, the rain was relentless yet many people were in line at Le Fournil de Mouffetard. This boulangerie has a bright red awning and is distinguished by its fast-moving queue for bread, which lasts each day from open to close. Was their bread worth it? Absolument!

Several evenings, we stopped for hot bread, went to the nearby fromagerie for cheese, grabbed a few veggies and a bottle of wine, then “ate at home.” Don’t forget the chocolate purchased.

One note to the wise: buy bread only for your next meal. This isn’t Wonder Bread and, therefore, lacks preservatives. Since I have been back home in the States, I have finally managed to make some of that crusty-on-the-outside-holey-and-soft-on-the-inside deliciousness. It really isn’t that difficult after all. [recipe below]

Our apartment at 103 Rue Mouffetard

Our apartment at 103 Rue Mouffetard

Our apartment for the week was located in a 15th century building, but was newly renovated. It was rustic-contemporary with beamed ceilings, tall windows, and a Murphy bed that could be stowed vertically against the wall. We had the tiniest kitchen with an incredible 2-foot-wide stove/oven/dishwasher combo. The dishwasher was literally a drawer under the oven—a true multi-tasking marvel. The full tile shower was tiny but had jets all around, a handheld shower head, and a rainfall shower head. Follow that with towels straight off the towel warmer and you begin to recognize that compact can be luxurious, especially in Paris. The apartment was perfect for the week-long stay and much less expensive than a decent hotel.

Napping, reading, relaxing in Jardin du Luxembourg

Napping, reading, relaxing in Jardin du Luxembourg

Just below the apartment was a small florist shop called Zinc de Fleurs. From the start, the shopkeeper shared a wealth of information about local culture.

Jardin du Luxembourg in the autumn

Jardin du Luxembourg in the autumn

One day, he suggested we take a walk to Jardin du Luxembourg. I expected to find a prim and proper garden, but instead we found a huge and diverse greenspace where families were sitting in the sunshine reading, talking, watching children play, and generally enjoying life. It includes lakes, fountains, pony rides, wooded areas, a children’s playground, and even a small scale version of our Statue of Liberty.

Amazingly, the city life slows down in this calming park.

The Statue of Liberty in Jardin du Luxembourg

The Statue of Liberty in Jardin du Luxembourg

Although the Eiffel Tower is a must-see in Paris, keep in mind that the park at its base is heavily populated by folks with ill intentions. Several times someone would casually walk toward us, suddenly stoop down near our feet, and appear to pick up a ring. “Oh! Is this your ring? It is your lucky day!” Apparently, they want you to pay them a finder’s fee or possibly pay them for being so honest.

After several different people “found” rings at our feet, we perfected our answer: “Nein!” stated seriously using a Hogan’s Heroes rerun-sounding accent. Hearing Nein!, the ring-finders disappear. Exploiting old French and German animosities to scam the scammers is amazingly effective (either that or they believed we were crazier than they are). I began to recognize the ring-finders and seriously considered pretending to find a ring just in front of one of them.

Paris view from Centre Pompidou

Paris view from Centre Pompidou

Don’t skip the opportunity to wander under, around, and past the Eiffel Tower, taking all of the mandatory photos—but also enjoy it from afar. For example, don’t miss views of the Eiffel Tower from the top of the Arc de Triomphe,* the towers of Notre Dame, or the upper level of the Centre Pompidou.*

[*Entrance fees for these included on the Paris Museum Pass]

Beneath the Eiffel Tower

Beneath the Eiffel Tower

We never encountered scams in the less touristy markets, parks and green spaces of Paris. Stop to watch a group of men play petanque, a game which is similar to bocce. Grab some brie and straight-from-the-oven bread, and enjoy Jardin du Luxembourg. Sip French wine in a bistro and listen to a local musician. Each step of the way, buy local, eat local, and “become Parisian,” if only for a week. Oui oui!

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RELATED TOPICS

Lisa’s recipe: Crusty Bread made in a Dutch Oven

Studio Luxembourg Notre-Dame, another wonderful apartment used by Lisa’s daughter when she visited Paris

The game of Pétanque

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Beer in Brussels

Lisa drinking beer in Brussels

Lisa White has wandered through world like she has wandered through professions. In both pursuits, she always has more to explore, more to learn, and more to do. Currently she practices law in the area of dependency and neglect as well as other cases that address the well-being of children. Often this is an area of law that feels exceptionally “heavy.” When it becomes too emotionally burdensome, she catches a flight somewhere—anywhere—to remember the good, positive, beautiful, tasty, and fun of the world.


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    11 Comments

  • Ann Mc
    Twitter: AnnHolly
    says:

    What a lovely stay! Your idea to stay (and eat) locally is brilliant! I always try to eat locally, but JUST started staying in apartments or condos (also from vrbo) I remember the few days I spent in Paris….it was a dream come true! Thanks for sharing it with us!

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks Ann! We almost always stay in houses and apartments. Be sure to check out AirBnB! I really like their system of reviews both for the person staying in the house/room and the person renting the house/room. Some are as casual as “I can rent you my couch” and others are very very fine dwellings for huge groups. We have used AirBnB (which is also an iPad/iphone app) all over the world.
      Lisa

  • bloggoneit
    Twitter: bloggoneit
    says:

    Thank you for the heads up about HomeAway.com. We are currently planning our trip and our travel agent has insisted that we can only stay in hotels in Paris and London because of the number in our family. I’m heading off to HomeAway.com right now to see if there’s any place else we can stay.

    Thanks for the Nein! tip as well. I will use it and train all in my party. I learned so much from you reading this piece that I’m taking notes! Any other tips are greatly appreciated!

    • Lisa says:

      Be sure to check AirBnB as well. I like it better in many ways because it includes reviews for both the visitors and the host, which gives both sides more of a sense of security. When you create your own profile, if you have never used AirBnB, be sure to have friends or family “recommend you” so the hosts can see a little more about who you are. AirBnB has options which include “entire home or apartment” and allows you to set the number of people you are trying to house.

      If you need suggestions once you start looking at Paris, I can and will gladly help/make suggestions as much as I can.

  • bloggoneit
    Twitter: bloggoneit
    says:

    Oooohhh. Great tip! I will do the AirBnB. I did find an apartment that is 100 square meters which is huge compared to some of the others I’ve found. It would be nice to know more about who’s renting me to first, too, so I will head over to there now.

    My husband and I just decided that since Paris is at the end of our trip, if we only see the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay and then spend the rest of the time drinking coffee, drinking wine, eating bread and chocolate while watching people, we’ll both be very happy.

  • bloggoneit
    Twitter: bloggoneit
    says:

    Lisa,
    Thank you so much for the AirBnB tip. With this info alone, we just saved *at least* $2000 in hotel costs for our large family. And we get to stay in the most amazing apartment for a little more than the cost of what I was just about to spend on a hotel *for myself* in Tucson, AZ, but we’re in PARIS. What a spectacular tip!!!

    I am so excited to go. I’m reading all your other Milliver’s posts and taking notes. We’re going to be doing Paris “the Lisa Way!”

    • Lisa says:

      What a wonderful compliment Bloggoneit! I appreciate the feedback. I cannot even imagine trying to house more than 4 people in hotel rooms. I have used various sites for lodging our family for years and we have ended up in some fabulous places. For example, google “Tennessus Castle” sometime. It is a medieval castle where my family and I stayed in 2000, also in France. Enjoy your travels!

  • Leigh Lauck says:

    This is a wonderful article. The writing and photos are so evocative, capturing the sights, tastes and smells of a singular city.

    Thank you! I really enjoyed this. Paris, je t’aime!

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks Leigh! It is always helpful to have feedback, especially when I am writing about the less touristy versions of traveling. I often think I travel primarily to try new foods and wander–less to see the “famous places.”

      Lisa

  • Teresa Davis
    Twitter: iluvmnts4x4
    says:

    Thank you for this wonderful story. I have stayed in several homes from VRBO and HomeAway.com and have had great success. Thanks for alerting us to some of the scams. I think becoming a local is the best way to go. I have never been to Paris nor outside the US, but I’m at the age where I plan on doing more travelling. I love the idea of just getting on a plane and going somewhere, anywhere..LOL.

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