The Q lea
Notre Dame sits on an island in the Seine that’s pleasantly full of Parisians
Try to crack PARIS in one short trip and you’ll be disappointed. Doug Johnstone finds that sticking to one area gives a much better insight into the cosmopolitan metropolis.
ities are too big to see in one go. You should always be suspicious of anyone who says they‘ve ‘done‘ London. New York. hell. even smaller cities like Amsterdam or Dublin. And of course
there‘s way too much in Paris to see in even a handful of
short visits. So you‘re left with two choices. liither you
run around daft. ticking all the world famous sights off
the list along with a zillion other tourists (Sacre (‘oeur check. liiffel Tower -- check. Arc de 'l‘riomphe —- check) or you plant yourself in one area and just soak it all in.
If you‘re sensibly doing the latter. there‘s no better
area than the Left Bank. within spitting distance of Notre Dame and with the Latin Quarter at your back. (‘ompared with the overwhelming orchestrated Napoleonic grandeur of the (‘hamps-lilysees and the Place de la (‘oncorde further west. the area surrounding Notre Dame is intimate and charming. romantic and beautiful without even really trying to be.
Notre Dame sits on the He de la (‘ite in the middle of
the Seine. The lle de la (‘ite was the birthplace of Paris. early (iallic settlements being taken over by Roman troops. and has been the focus of the city throughout the last 2000 years. These days the He is dominated by Notre Dame Cathedral. the colossal (iothic construction which never fails to impress. despite being overly familiar as an icon of the French capital.
Impressive though the cathedral is. it‘s nothing compared with the view you get from the top of its towers: it‘s worth enduring the inevitably lengthy queues to get up there. Willi the cathedral‘s famous gargoyles as company you can gaze for miles and miles. picking out all the other landmarks and really giving yourself a sense
of the layout of the city. There are fantastic views to the east of the He de la (‘ite‘s often overlooked sister island. lle St-Louis. a great place for a romantic evening wander. and the top of Notre Dame is also the best place to get an overview for tootling around the Latin Quarter later: its tightly packed cobbled streets looking like a maze from this vantage point.
And that feeling doesn‘t really disappear once you‘re wandering around the area. During the day there is a somewhat subdued atmosphere. just the fascinating bouquinistes along the bank of the Seine selling maps. books. postcards and all sorts ofjunk from their stalls to keep you occupied. But at night the hundreds of restaurants and bars light up the place. and a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere emerges. The great thing about this part of town is that it doesn‘t seem to be a tourist fleecing exercise. and plenty of French folk (couples. families and groups of mates) seem to eat and drink here alongside the multinational parade of tourists. And it‘s cheap. Paris has a reputation as a money—burning nightmare. but when you can get three courses of decent l’rench fare (not to mention the vast range of ethnic restaurants) for 15 euros. you can‘t complain.
Paris is rightly world famous for its museums and art galleries. and while you can walk to the Louvre from the Left Bank. it is mind-bogglineg huge. and usually rammed to the gunnels. A more laid back bet is to take in the impressionists‘ collection at the Musée d‘()rsay further up the Left Bank. or nip across the water to the modern art on show at the Pompidou Centre. its bubble design an attraction in its own right.
liat. drink. soak in the culture and enjoy.
gar, sleep and be merry
I How to get there British Airways and Air France fly direct to Paris Charles de Gaulle from Edinburgh and Glasgow for just over £100. British Midland does the same for slightly more, around £120 upwards.
I Where to stay Hotel Esmeralda, 4 Rue St-Julien-le- Pauvre. is full of 17th century character and has a location to die for. Make sure when reserving to book a room with a view of Notre Dame. It's relatively cheap (around 80 euros for a double room. cash payment only) and rickety but clean. comfy and right in the thick of the action. A more stylish option is Libertal Quartier Latin. 9 Rue des Ecoles, a small boutique hotel at around 120 euros a double room.
I Must-see Notre Dame Cathedral is free to wander round, but it costs a few euros to go up the towers. The Musee d‘Orsay is a more relaxed option than the Louvre. while the bouquinistes’ stalls along the Left Bank are great for rummage shopping.
I Must-eat There is a host of decent and cheap eateries in the streets around St Severin's Church (from the Rue de la Huchette to the Rue de la Parcheminerie). On the whole. lovers of steak will rejoice while vegetarians tear their hair out. For a proper French experience check out Aux Trois Mailletz on Rue Galande. a jazz bar which does great food through the night. As a bonus old local characters (and music students from the university round the corner) will get up and do a turn at the piano while you eat.
5M? Aug] 2001 THE LIST 55