The holiday is just around the corner, before even stressing about the clothes that you need to pack, especially to look more Parisien, you go crazy obsessing over the internet to find the activities that you want to do when you’re finally there! But this guide says this, this other guide says this! Louvre or Pompidou, where’s there Eiffel Tower ??
That eternal search to find the most rewarding cultural places to visit, whether it be for filling the Instagram with the latest trendy photos, raising your own levels of accomplishment or simply to appreciate the history itself; I often simply say just forget it. That does not mean to diminish these places, I love to go to them, for all of the reasons above; however, they are not usually the focus of why I travel anywhere, at all.
A location is defined by its history, its genesis into the present world and all of the magnitude of it aristocratic wealth from ages passed. Yet people of the present also define the cities, they are what give life to the stone cold statues they build their restaurants around, they help to give you a better insight as to how the culture functions at present. So, I say when organising your photos and walks, take into consideration some of these simple activities to do in the heart of the French capital in order to really gain a better appreciation for normal, everyday lives.
When you know it, you know it. This narrow, mostly pedestrian road stretches from Gobelins and almost to Boulevard Saint-Germain (my spirit guide street, if any such thing existed). It is a vein in the heart of the South of Paris where you can find a an inexorable supply of beautiful bars, restaurants and cafés; each one with a charming, charismatic identity of it own, trying to lure you into the pleasant ambiance it has carefully created.
There are smaller shops to browse for the select cheeses, wines and various meats (two out of three I care to look for). Tucked-away little roads and alleyways to explore, all bustling with life after a hard days work. I love taking a walk down here as the Sun is beginning to set. Small groups are taking aperativos in Pubs, while others are laughing and talking loudly on the terrasses outside every establishment.
It is a road worth taking a drink or a spot of food down. Many Parisiens who are accustomed to the Northern side of the Seine are not even acquainted with the quaint hustle and bustle of this hidden gem. But once you know, you know; then you’ll keep returning for it is simple charm. Especially, if like me you love to people watch, then you will be entertained for a lifetime.
Bourré à la Seine
Once at the end of the Rue de Mouffetard you’ll find yourself near to the Seine, the river that dissects the French capital in two. Along its banks on either side, as well as indeed on the two îles in the centre of the river (L’île de la cité is where you’ll see the magnificent structure of Notre Dame- still under renovations at present), there are countless individuals from various backgrounds enjoying a drink together.
Coming from England I know that this can at oft times be abused, however, here it seems to fit so perfectly. A group all sharing a small drink, chatting about all manner of interests. At times they bring music, sporting activities and some joyful, free spirited dancing. Bourré is the french slang for tipsy or drunk btw!
This is an area to truly come and see the Parisien mind at play. Bring chess or cards, play some music, relax by the river with the city lights glistening around you, or get involved with the variety of all too friendly individuals around you!
One thing that everyone does is eat; to get the food you need to go to a shop. An odd favourite of mine to do in any new location is check out the local food psychology and mindset; in France, it’s the same but so different in so any ways.
Not only are the products (naturally) in different packaging and brands to my usual, but the way in which the shop is set out reflects the mindset of the local shopping habits. France is big on Bio, having organic equivalents on most products that you would usually buy- it’s super in this sense.
There are also delicious sweets that you have never tried, amazing combinations of ready made foods, a plethora of cheeses and cured meats that you seem to find nowhere else. The selection of green and fruit teas take up a large part of an aisle, so do the range of fresh fruit and vegetables coming from all over Europe and the Mediterranean.
So I would suggest, if you really want to get involved with a large portion of regular daily life, take a browse through the various supermarkets and try something new! There is always a whole host of things that you have never tried and are waiting to be discovered.
I know what you’re thinking, ´go to France to get tacos? He is crazy!’ These are not the spicy Mexican sort to which the world has become accustomed. These are something altogether more divine and deserve an equal, if not higher, status next to the kebab or burger which usually follows in pursuit after alcohol.
So what exactly are they? A tortilla wrap that is, as standard, filled with some salad leaves, french fries (yes, you read that right, start imagining and let your mouth water), a filling and a sauce. The fillings can be your kebab meat, escalope, chicken, falafel, vegetables, anything really; while the sauce is anything that you choose, spicy, mayonnaise, ketchup, garlic, etc!
To top it all off, they’re wrapped up tight and then grilled so that the tortilla is a little crispy. And then sometimes served with fries. Now who doesn’t want to try this genius idea for fast food that compliments a night of socialising so incredibly well?
Now these to me are a mystery. They seem to pop up and go as they please, and they are just that, pleasing in every sense. As you walk through the city there are some places that one day are just filled with market stalls selling second-hand goods from all the ages.
Clothes, electronics, games for children and adults alike, ornaments and anything else you can imagine. Last time we bought a large candle for 10€ less than the price in a shop, we burn it still and it smells fantastic!
These markets are another way of gaining a beautiful insight into what individuals have collected in their households over the years, or what there seems to be apparent demand for. Soak up the atmosphere and the foreign objects that reflect a different place in time, a differing mindset and the items that are still popular to purchase in French society today.
So there we have it. A rough list and explanation of the five things that I have discovered thus far in the beautiful capital. The things which have captivated me by giving a snapshot insight into the mindset, the history and culture of the French people. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor even does it scratch the surface. However, they are five things that you can easy fit into any holiday regime when coming to Paris! I hope you enjoy and give them a consideration – especially that beautiful thing, a Taco!