How can one possibly encompass Paris within a brief article? Arthur Frommer considers “the city of light” his #1 travel destination in the world. Ernest Hemingway called it “a moveable feast.” The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Montmartre, the cafés, the history, the culture, the food, the romance. All this and I had three days to work with!
On my first trip to Paris 25 years ago I spent a full day in the Louvre and tried to cover everything — an impossibility. This time I bypassed the crowds circling the Mona Lisa and focused on Egyptian, Greek and Near Eastern Antiquities. That was plenty in itself.
I also hit the Musee d‘ Orsay to catch the works of my favorite artists, the Impressionists. A Parisian friend introduced me to the Jeu du Paume, an often-overlooked museum within walking distance of the Louvre on the other side of the Tuileries Garden. This is the place, along with the Pompidou, to catch what’s going on in contemporary French art.
The French love the cinema, and the Cinémathèque Française is their tribute to the history of the art form. Designed by Frank Gehry, the world-renowned architect from Santa Monica who designed the Disney Hall in L.A., the Cinemateque was a treat for someone like myself with an interest in the history of movies. If you dig Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles or Francois Truffaut in particular, don’t miss it.
Even if you have just a few days in Paris, don’t simply rush breathlessly to all the sights listed in your guidebook. Find a spot to plant yourself for at least an hour and take in the sights around you, perhaps at a café or bistro. Relaxing near the top of the steps of the Sacre Coeur to enjoy live music and a magnificent view of Paris in the late afternoon is something every visitor here should experience.
Then head into the legendary artistic center of Paris in the 19th century, Montmartre. There are crowds of tourists here but if you walk a few blocks away, you can find yourself alone on a narrow pathway full of discoveries. I caught the Dali museum, one of the more unique museums I had ever visited, and tracked down the old residences of Picasso and Van Gogh. Walking through this section of Paris reminded me of scenes from The Red Balloon, the film (recently re-released) that had introduced me to the city as a child.
I then made it back down the hill and caught the metro to the Picasso museum. As with the Dali, this is one of several museums in Europe devoted to the artist. There is a substantial collection of his works and photographs here.
My final morning in Paris, I relaxed at Les Deux Magots on Boulevard Saint Germain. It is at this café and its neighboring rival the Café de Flore where some of the greatest writers, artists and philosophers used to hang out and search for inspiration — the likes of Sartre, Hemingway, Joyce, Rimbaud, Camus, Picasso, etc., etc. The prices are about the same as the standard French café. Order a café créme and find your own spark of inspiration.
Once you learn to navigate the Metro, the entire city is within your grasp — so much easier than trying to maneuver the traffic jams of L.A. It’s amazing how much you can pack into a few days in this magnificent city — and I didn’t even mention the food!