Free Things to do in Paris

Paris is the fifth most visited city in the world, and it’s not too difficult to see why when you think of the history, architecture, culture, cuisine and fashion that abounds there. Unfortunately, all those visitors and all those wonderful things that make it so worth visiting mean the prices can get pretty steep. But if you’re poor in Paris, like me, don’t worry! There’s still plenty to see and do, especially if you’re there in warmer months.

If you’re an EU resident under the age of 26 – and please note that if you hold a long-term visa, such as a student or working visa, you count as a resident – you’re especially in luck, thanks to the Parisian tourist board’s generous decision to grant free access to many of its monuments and museums, and there’s a whole new gamut of options available to you.

Monuments – to look at

To get an idea of why people rave about the monuments and architecture in Paris, it suffices to go glance at a few of the most impressive examples. Most of these can be entered upon paying a fee but you can admire them from the outside quite freely.

Opèra Garnier (Academie Nationale de la Musique) – Metro lines 3, 7 Opèra
Built between 1861 and 1875 by Charles Garnier, this magnificent Italian-style building is still used for performances as well as hosting a museum. Walk down the Avenue de l’Opèra to gaze at beautiful things you can’t afford and to get yourself an excellent view of the dome, which can’t be seen if you’re standing right in front of it.

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The Panthèon – Metro line 10, Maubert-Mutualité or Cardinal Lemoine
Intended to be a church, this temple-like building in the Greek style is now an enormous state mausoleum, housing the remains of numerous important French citizens such as Balzac and Voltaire. 

Arc de Triomphe – Metro line 2, Kleber or line 1, George V
Arguably one of the most well-known sights of the city, the Arc de Triomphe features an observation deck at its summit, a small collection focused on the Revolution, and many, many stairs. It’s visible the length of the Champs-Elysées, a street filled with big brand names, from Mango to Louis Vuitton. Hop off line 1 earlier, at George-Clemenceau, to peek at the Petit Palais and Grand Palais and approach the Arc from there. 

The Eiffel Tower – Metro line 8, Ecole Militaire, line 6 or 9, Trocadéro, or line 6, Bir-Hakeim
It’s almost impossible to spend any time in Paris without catching a glimpse of its most iconic tower, but it’s worth seeing up close nonetheless. Originally a temporary installation for the World Fair of 188, held in Paris, this striking work of Gustav Eiffel is now the top most visited monument in the world. 

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Monuments – to go inside

Thankfully, there’s quite a number of famous things to visit which are free to enter – generally because they’re churches or cemeteries. Just because you might not be a fan of Christianity, though, don’t skip these fabulous examples of decoration and architecture, and let yourself be lost in imagining the history behind them.

Notre-Dame de Paris – Metro line 4, Cité
Generally considered the first major example of Gothic architecture, this astoundingly ornate cathedral was finished in 1250 after more than 100 years work and 3 different architects. It’s free to enter, but be prepared to queue – fortunately, the lines usually move quickly. To get away from the bustle of other tourists, walk round to the back to admire its buttresses and gargoyles in relative peace in the small park there.

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Sacre-Coeur – Metro line 2, Anvers or line 12, Abbesses 
Visible upon its hill from many vantage-points within the city, the pale white walls of the Sacre-Coeur look down upon the Square Louise-Michel, a grassy slope filled to bursting with tourists and locals soaking up sunshine when they get the chance. Consecrated in 1919, this surprisingly modern church is set apart from others in Paris both by its imposing location and Romano-Byzantine inspiration.

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La Madeleine – Metro lines 12 or 14, Madeleine
Another demonstration of the mania for Greek-inspired architecture around in the 19th century, this huge church from 1842 is rarely crowded despite its gorgeous interior. Used today for religious services as well as musical performances, thanks to its excellent acoustics, the Madeleine has played host to the funeral of celebrated pianist Chopin.

Père Lachaise Cemetery – Metro line 2, Père Lachaise or line 3, Gambetta
Possibly the most famous of all the Parisian cemeteries, this burial-ground has been accepting bodies since 1804 but is now most known for its abundance of famous graves. Check out the final resting places of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, among others, or just appreciate the excessive ornamentation of some of the tombs. 

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Parks

If the sun’s out, so are the Parisians! Even if it’s a pale kind of light, and the air is yet chilly, they’ll be availing themselves of the multitude of public parks within in the city, and so should you be. There’s plenty of them to be discovered, but a few stand out from the rest.

Parc Monceau – Metro line 2, Monceau
This large park features a number of old-fashioned ‘follies’ – bizarre structures built purely for the sake of making the place more interesting – dating from the late 18th century. Unlike many of the kept parks in Paris, you can throw yourself down on the grass to picnic, read or sunbathe. 

Jardins de Luxembourg – Metro line 4, Odèon or Saint-Sulplice 
Probably the most well known of Paris’ public parks, the gardens surrounding the Palais de Luxembourg are ‘à la francaise’, which means your seating choice is limited to the ubiquitous green metal chairs laid out for that specific use, despite the strips of fresh green grass. Feel free, though, to move the chairs anywhere you want, whether that’s arranging a circle of your friends or dragging it close up to the large basin where children sail toy boats on the water in summertime. 

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The Jardins de Luxembourg are particularly worth visiting in the warmer months, when all kinds of flowers and potted trees are distributed round the grounds.

Parc de Buttes-Chaumont – Metro line 7 bis, Buttes-Chaumont
A huge park incorporating several slopes and hills within its boundaries, Buttes-Chaumont is entirely artificial – used as a rubbish dump until halfway through the 19th century, major landscaping was required to form the ‘buttes’ (slopes), grottoes, lake and small mountain that today form such a delightful getaway from the busyness of city life. Even on nice days, the park doesn’t feel nearly as crowded as those closer to the city centre, due both to its location and superior size. 

 

 

 

 

London: Land of Cadbury’s, stage shows and really great hummous

I went to London on the weekend and had a great time right up until I got mugged on my way to the bus home. Thankfully, I’d already gotten my photos backed up…

For me, there were three wonderful things about this city. One is hard to explain unless you know what I mean, in which case you’ll understand right away. As an Australian, and an Australian who happens to have a taste for 18th-20th century British literature in particular, not to mention a vivid interest in history, London is bursting with names and places that I recognise from my reading, be it novels or textbooks. England is already an odd enough place to visit as an Australian because of the intense combination of familiar things – look, it’s Cadbury’s! And jam doughnuts, and fish and chips, and they’ve got towns called Richmond and Newcastle just like we do back in New South Wales. Except that towns that are neighbours in Australia are nowhere near each in England, and amongst the familiar biscuits and chocolate bars there’s strange things called Angel Slice and Double Deckers. And what the hell is a Coronation Chicken sandwich?

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It’s not a bus.

But when you add the misplaced nostalgia of seeing places you’ve read about, known about, but never seen before, it’s particularly poignant. Even just recognising all the properties from Monopoly makes you feel like you know the place even though you know you’re as lost as any other tourist, not to mention walking through Hyde Park, or seeing buses heading off to Piccadilly Circus. Hell, even the bridges you walk across are steeped in your culture, because I, like many schoolchildren, used to sing cheerfully along to ‘London Bridge is falling down’.

The second great thing about London is something many already know it for – the West End, and its abundance of shows in general. In my two days I managed to take in two shows, one being The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre and the other a very modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet staged at the Globe Theatre (yes, Shakespeare’s own theatre…well, the rebuilt version, at least!).

Both of them were spectacular, though wildly unlike each other: The Woman in Black was performed by just two wonderfully convincing actors on a practically empty stage, using their minimal props and cast to transmit an amazingly rich narrative full of suspense and drama. I certainly practically jumped out of my seat enough times. The Shakespeare production, on the other hand, was a rousing, boisterous performance full of poppy beats, expertly chosen costumes (Including a lot of Doc Martens. They really seemed to like Doc Martens and patterned socks.), and perfect choreography. Not what one might normally expect from Shakespeare, but the cast conveyed the story and the emotion of the original story with grace and talent through the anachronistic, unlikely medium of nightclub music and plastic baseball bats.

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SORRY BUT I JUST FIND IT SO COOL THAT I DID THIS ON A SPUR-OF-THE-MOMENT DECISION. Look at that roof. That’s genuine thatching.

What made the shows really great, of course, was the entirely reasonable cost of them. Most West-End shows seem to hover around 20-30 pounds a ticket, and the Globe offers tickets ranging from 5 to 45 pounds – which, in my opinion, isn’t a lot in exchange for being able to boast insufferably about that time you saw Shakespeare being performed in the actual Globe Theatre.

Finally, as with any foreign city I visit – or let’s be real, anywhere I go – there was the food to consider. Specifically, the food at the plentiful street markets. I only went to two, the lucky winners of my patronage being the Portobello Street Market and the Borough Markets, and both delivered exactly what I was looking for in terms of delectable street food from a wide range of cultures. I think what appeals to me most about street food is, the reduced price notwithstanding, the fact of being able to see the ingredients and the finished product there before your eyes. In restaurants you’re limited to the tantalising description of a menu, and can be disappointed by small serving sizes or unimpressive ingredients. But when you’re walking among the stalls, trying to decide whether you want to eat Polish, American, Portuguese or Turkish today, you can choose whatever looks best to you: whether it be the bowls of fresh hummous and tabouleh at the gozleme stall that tempted me, or the rolls heaped with spit-roasted pork that I saw being carried off triumphantly from the stall beside it.

 

 

Really, the only downside about street markets for me is that I’m always overwhelmed by choice and want to eat pretty much everything I walk past. This time, I was nonetheless inordinately pleased by my spinach and feta gozleme served with hummous and salads, from Portobello Street Market – just look at how fresh and vibrant that plate looks! I’m practically obsessed with this photo, thanks to the popping colour and the fact that it was truly delectable.

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As a bonus, this beautiful, delicious plateful is entirely vegetarian and very nearly vegan. And pretty healthy. Basically joy on a paper plate.

My other street food adventures included a beautiful custard doughnut and a juicy pulled pork burger, but whilst tasty, they didn’t inspire the same awe at the wonder that is food as my gozleme did. Plus, the photos I took aren’t as pretty.

 

 

 

Of course, I know that if I were to live in London I wouldn’t be eating street food every day, nor going to see shows – after all, Sydney’s got its own thriving multicultural markets and plenty of shows and I rarely go to them, thanks to my lack of ready cash and other engagements. But it was terribly fun to spend a weekend here when I had nothing better to do than gaze at pretty food and talented actors, and I wholly recommend anyone visiting London does a little bit of the same.

What’s the minimum distance required to call it travelling, anyway?

The more I travel, the more at risk I am of becoming one of those terrible stereotypes who declares of every new city that this is the one they just LOVE above all the others. When I went to Venice in February, I adored it. When I went to Belgium in March, I thought it was great. Drinking with my friend in Barcelona in April was amazing. And now, London in June seemed utterly splendid – apparently I was too busy to go anywhere  foreign in May. What a shame. I’m sure I’d have loved wherever I’d gone.

 

It’s a pretty common phenomenon to feel like each new place you visit is, impossibly, the best place to be, and I suppose the apparent excellence of each new city is based on a few things – largely on the novelty, but also on the fact that each offers something different. Even in the cities where I did roughly the same thing, that is, tramp around sightseeing alone or with a friend, the sights and culture are always different enough that it’s a new experience. And really, in hindsight, I can’t necessarily say that drinking super-strong beer at 5pm in Belgium was better nor worse than the cheap sangria I was drinking at midnight in Barcelona, and similarly, I can’t compare either evening to eating fritelle by myself on the vaporetto taking me back to my hostel in Italy. They’re too different, and I can’t say which was better – it’s like being asked to choose whether you prefer hot chips or brownies. Both are delicious, but even when you have a sweet tooth like me, sometimes you’d much rather hot, chicken-salted chips to the rich, sugary chocolate.

 

This leads me on to an important point, being that no one place is inherently better than another. Of course, there may be particular things you want to visit – historical sites, certain climates, places you can ski or swim or hike through jungles – but everywhere you go will have its own charm, so that you can equally enjoy trekking through a rainforest in the tropics or spending all day round a crackling fire in the Alps. Because I’m headed back to  Australia in a matter of hours and know that I’ll be unlikely to be travelling abroad again in the too-near future, and will be sighing over everyone’s holidays photos of Greece, Croatia, India, wherever they may be, this is something I’m trying very hard to remember right now.

Thankfully, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the time spent here in France, it’s that you can still enjoy yourself without travelling too far. It’s a cliché, but it’s true – sometimes hopping on a train for 2 hours will get you somewhere quite new and fascinating, and while you don’t get the social-media points for having gotten to a new country, that doesn’t mean you should enjoy yourself any less.

I can’t count the amount of people I’ve met who know Australia better than me because when they visit it, they go looking for the best parts to see, the best things to do  – whereas those of us who live there tend to stay in our neighbourhood, only venturing forth to select holiday destinations. But because I know my time in France is limited, in 6 months I’ve been to visit five nearby countries and half a dozen towns or palaces within 2 hours train ride of Paris, trying to fit as much in as possible. In Australia, in 6 months, the furthest afield I went was going to Canberra to visit my grandmother. No wonder I feel like Europe is more interesting, when it’s in Europe that I actually bother to get out and do things.

So, to make up for all the foreign cities I won’t be visiting for the next six months, year, or however long it takes for me to get myself on a plane again, I’ll be doing my darnedest to appreciate what I can find a bit closer to home. It might be daytripping somewhere an hour away, or trying to go to Melbourne for a weekend. Regardless of where I go, I’ll be doing my best to enjoy it – and that’ll make half the difference.

 

I wish I was vegan (but instead, I do my best)

Shouldn’t we all be vegans? If we really think about it? After all, the huge industry of livestock farming is wildly damaging to the environment, and of course, involves terrible cruelty to animals. We all know and lament this, but the majority of us continue to eat meat and animal products regardless. Even if you don’t think keeping livestock to eat or for its products is inherently cruel, and opt for only free-range, ‘cruelty-free’ options, we can’t deny that eating red meat in abundance can be harmful to our health. So why the hell do we all cling to our steaks and hamburgers? (Or, in my case, to my schnitzels and gulasch?)

Of course, the answer to that is complex. A lot can be attributed to nothing but a lack of willpower, with many of us wishing we could go vegetarian or vegan in the same way we know we should really cycle to work every day instead of driving, and be content with bananas for dessert instead of banana splits. But banana splits are delicious, and cars are damn convenient, so the effort versus payoff doesn’t seem worth it to us.

Eating ethically is especially difficult because the results are so hard to see. Sure, you know logically that by not eating beef you’re saving the life of one cow, ten cows, a thousand – but you’re not actually seeing those cows escape the butcher’s knife. You just have to trust that your decisions changed what happened. To make things worse, in many cases, your choice might not make any difference – if you refuse the sausage offered to you at a BBQ, you’re not making any impact on the meat industry, because the cow’s already dead and the sausage already made.

One of the hardest parts of vegetarianism or veganism, though, is its absolutism. As Nell Frizzell explains, it’s ‘seen as a black-and-white deal. You either are or you aren’t.’ If you declare yourself a vegan, woe betide you if you eat a single Iced Vovo. Those contain milk, you know. A tiny, tiny amount of it, but milk from a cow nonetheless, and even if you didn’t realise, you’ve just broken the only rule of veganism and have lost your right to the title.

Obviously, most vegans wouldn’t actually judge you too harshly for such a tiny slip-up, but the idea that you are forever banned from so many different foods still remains. Being told we can’t have something usually only has the effect of making us want it more, and most diet plans are aware of this. Instead of forbidding all sugar and sweets, they suggest the less harmful options, or advise tiny portions, knowing that we are more likely to obey a plan that limits us to one square of chocolate a day than to ‘No chocolate again, ever.’

This is precisely why the Reducetarian movement, or specifically, the concept fuelling it, is so appealing. It suggests that instead of making the dramatic decision to become a vegan or vegetarian, you decide to simply reduce the amount of meat and animal products you’re eating – whether to the extent that you eat non-vegan fare only if it’s served to you at someone else’s place, or that you have one meat-free day a week. Perhaps you’ll go vegan, but still eat baked goods made with butter and eggs. There’s no rules about when it is or is not appropriate to ‘cheat’, because there’s no rules about what you’re forbidden from eating, which is what makes it so much more practical and easier to achieve than strict veganism or vegetarianism.

To me, food is important not just as a form of nourishment, but as part of culture and a form of enjoyment. When I travel, tasting the food of different cultures is one of my favourite parts of the holiday, and much of that would be impossible if I were vegan or vegetarian. How are you supposed to eat eclairs when you visit France, or traditional gelato in Italy, if you avoid all animal products? While it’s true that vegan or vegetarian versions exist of almost everything now, these alternatives lack one of the main things I seek in foreign food – authenticity. They may be delicious, but they’re not the traditional fare I’ve read about.

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Strict veganism would forbid me from pretty much all French pastries like this and that would be make me extremely sad

 

Similarly, certain foods can hold nostalgic, cultural or even religious significance. I’m less likely to make a decision that in one fell swoop forbids me from my grandmother’s cake recipe, the schnitzel restaurant I’ve been going to since my childhood and the vast majority of the food cooked up for a Christmas feast with my extended family. Depriving myself of all these foods feels like depriving myself of part of my culture and personal history, and I am utterly loathe to commit myself to that.

But just as I moderate my consumption of my grandmother’s cake or Christmas gingerbread houses because I know that eating too much sugar isn’t good for my health, I can choose to moderate my consumption of these dishes and delicacies without giving them up entirely. Therein lies all of the appeal of a ‘reducetarian’ diet, as it allows you the flexibility to make your diet work to fit in what’s important in your life. You can make the changes that you find easiest, like having almond milk for your cereal but still taking coffee with cow’s milk because you don’t like plant-milk coffee. It’s less intimidating to make minor amendments like this than to suddenly radically change your diet, and thus a reducetarian movement is easier to promote and sustain than trying to go cold turkey on your Christmas turkey (and everything else). And as such, it’s more likely you’ll be able to convince other people to join you, rather than copping eye rolls or defensive explanations from your friends about why veganism totally isn’t that great. In the end, isn’t it better to spread the good word – albeit in diluted form – to as many people as possible rather than scaring off potential candidates with your absolutism?

So if you feel bad about supporting the livestock industry but can’t figure out how to practically introduce veganism into your life, don’t give up hope – just make the changes that you can, by reducing your animal product intake rather than eradicating it altogether, and trying to source only cruelty-free food when you do eat animal products, or swap beef for the lower-polluting alternatives of pork and poultry. It’s exactly the same as trying to be healthier by eating more fruit and less cake – you don’t have to hate yourself for having the cake occasionally, but having fruit instead is better in the long run. And as a bonus, fruit is always vegan-friendly!

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Being informed will help you make more environmentally-friendly decisions without giving up on food you love. Cows and lambs are not as effective converters of grain to meat, and require much more energy and water to create the same volume of food, so just swapping beef mince for pork can make a difference to your carbon footprint.

The Gourmet Student’s Guide to Paris: A Weekend

 If you’re anything like me, visiting a foreign city is an excuse to gorge yourself on all the local favourites, in the name of ‘experiencing culture’. Sadly, when you’re travelling alone or on a budget, and in a limited time frame, it can be hard to find an obliging grandmother to cook you all the traditional meals you read about, and with the added barriers of language and not knowing the area, it’s hard to figure out how to sample local delicacies without paying too much or ending up in total tourist traps. Fortunately, I’ve spent enough time living in Paris whilst being simultaneously very poor and very interested in eating well to give you the low-down on what those Parisians are really eating, and how much you should be paying for it. Even if you’ve only got one weekend, you should be able to try most of these French favourites, without wincing too much at the state of your wallet afterwards.

Viennoiseries

Being perhaps what France is best known for, it only makes sense to start off a trip in Paris with viennoiseries – what you’d probably call pastries. The traditional croissant is a firm favourite, frequently eaten with nothing by way of accompaniment except perhaps some steaming espresso coffee. But if you’re seeking something a little sweeter, branch out and try a pain au chocolat (aka a chocolate croissant for us Anglospeakers), croissant aux amandes (a croissant filled with a sweet pastry cream made with almond meal and covered by finely sliced almonds), chausson aux pommes (rather like an apple turnover), or, if you’re game, a pain Suisse, which combines the sweet pastry cream of croissant aux amandes with small chunks of chocolate to give you plenty of sugary energy for your day.

Find these sweet treats and more at a boulangerie – most also sell coffee and hot drinks, and may offer mini-formules that let you buy one viennoiserie and one coffee at a reduced price. Try to avoid chains like Paul’s, La Croissanterie or Pomme de Pain, and if you’re staying outside of the actual city don’t hesitate to stop by the local boulangerie before heading to Paris for the day.

Prices: 90c (for a croissant or pain au chocolat) to 2 euros, 2-3 euros with espresso coffee

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Croissant aux amandeé

Crêpes

Perfect for breakfast, lunch or just a snack, crêpes are a go-to food for many travellers and native Parisians alike. Generally available in a wide range of both sweet and savoury varieties, they’re a cheap and warming way to fill your stomach whilst on the move. For a savoury snack, opt for jambon-fromage (ham and cheese, usually either cheddar or Emmental) or swap out the ham for oeuf (egg), poulet (chicken) or thon (tuna). If you’ve got a sweet tooth, sucre (sugar) and Nutella crepes are probably the most commonly appreciated, but it’s worth trying crème de marron (chestnut cream) or caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramel) for a really French taste. Personally, I can never resist a Speculoos crêpe if I see it on the menu!

Crêpe stands abound throughout the city, wherever you might be. They’re also sold in restaurants, but I find it more fun – and cheaper – to watch them make it in front of me at a stand or small specialised shop. Specialised restaurants called crêperies are also plentiful, and offer more choice plus warm interiors. They  often have formules which include one savoury crepe, called a galette, one sweet crepe, and a drink – be sure to try cider, if it’s on the menu, as it’s the most traditional accompaniment.

Prices: from 2 euros (crepe au sucre) to 8 euros (if you’re getting something with lots of fillings), 8 to 15 euros for a formule at a crêperie

Baguette Sandwich

Sometimes the thought of a crepe, dripping with melted cheese or oozing sugary spread, while delicious, sounds altogether a little too rich. Fortunately, if it’s still lunch on the go you’re looking for, Paris has a perfect alternative: the baguette sandwich. Made either on custom-baked rolls nearly a foot long, or simply on a baguette sawn neatly in half, they provide a convenient way to consume some good French bread and can be stowed in a bag to be eaten while queuing for a museum, or in one of the many public parks that throng the city. Fillings range from the simple, with just one star ingredient complimented by beurre (butter), to more complex concoctions. If you’re after something traditional, choose combinations including your favourites from below:

Jambon (ham)

fromage (cheese)

saucisse (salami)

camembert

chèvre (goat’s cheese)

mozzarella

tomates (tomatoes

crudites (fresh salad ingredients, usually lettuce and tomato)

poulet (chicken)

thon (tuna)

saumon (smoked salmon)

These satisfying sandwiches are sold in the same places as viennoiseries, the ubiquitous boulangerie, but in smaller shops are not always displayed, rather made fresh upon request. Look for the word ‘sandwich’ if you can’t see rows of them lined up in the glass window. Formules are frequently available, usually consisting of a sandwich, a drink and a sweet – listed as ‘dessert’, or sometimes ‘patisserie’.

Prices: 3 euros (for single-ingredient) to 6 euros (unless you’ve gone somewhere very fancy), 5 to 11 euros for a formule

 

 

Pastries (Patisseries)

Now, what would Paris be without its famous patisseries? From the Paris-Brest to the macaron, from the sumptuous Royale to the humble éclair…it would almost be a sin to stop in Paris without sampling at least one of these delicate, rich treats. There’s an almost limitless variety to be found, whether glinting with gold-leaf in patisseries on Avenue de l’Opèra, or simply neatly arranged in a back-street local store, but a few crowd-pleasers are almost sure to be among the ranks in every display. The big sister of the éclair is the religieuse (this translates as ‘nun’, being what the little desserts are supposed to resemble), offering the same sweet custard encased by crisp choux pastry. Mille-feuille is a good option for the wary, but not the weak-hearted: layers of thick custard, pastry and sugar make it delicious but nothing that can be described as light. The Paris-Brest was named in honour of the race of the same name, and consists of delicate praline cream with a crunchy pastry exterior. To round off the Paris-centric cakes there’s the Royale (sometimes known as Trianon, being named after the miniature palace at Versailles), perfect for chocolate lovers with its layers of chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache and crisp dacquoise (a meringue-like substance made with almonds) while those preferring the rich flavour of coffee can opt for an opèra, named for the famous Opèra Garnier and involving multiple levels of coffee-soaked sponge cake and chocolate.

Patisseries, confusingly or conveniently enough, are found at patisseries, made by patissiers. Most boulangeries are combined boulangerie-patisseries and as such it’s child’s play to find one, but look out for a salon de thé if you seek the creature comforts of warmth, a table to eat your pastry at and perhaps a pot of tea. It may cost a little more to eat in, but the extra fraction is well worth it on wintry days!

Prices: usually 2.20 euros to 5 euros, though at the big names like Lenôtre or Angelina’s expect something in between 6 and 10 euros. Yes, for one pastry.

 

 

 

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Déjeuner Formule

If you’ve got the time, money and appetite for a full French meal, be sure to take advantage of the numerous formule déjeuner (lunch menus) available. Some, unfortunately, run only on weekdays, but many restaurants still offer them on weekends. Their form can vary slightly: the basic premise is that you pay a lower price for a fixed menu, choosing from combinations of entrée-plat (starter and main), plat-dessert (main and dessert) or all three (for a higher price, of course). Sometimes there are multiple options for each dish, and sometimes you get the plat du jour (meal of the day) with no choice about it. They’re a great way to sample some of the French classics, but if you’ve splashed out on three courses, take your time – the rich food, even when offset by the basket of complimentary bread, calls for tranquil, languid dining habits.

Look out for:

soupe à l’oignon (onion soup served with a crust of bread and melted Gruyere cheese)

escargots à la bourguignon (Burgundy style snails served with garlicky sauce)

salade au chèvre (salad served with goats cheese, generally drizzled with honey)

oeufs à la mayonnaise (devilled eggs)

cuisse de canard or confit de canard (duck thigh cooked in traditional style)

boeuf bourguignon  (traditional beef stew originating from Burgundy, like the snails)

crème brulée (super thick vanilla custard covered by a layer of caramelised sugar)

fromage blanc or fromage à la campagne (soft white cheese the consistency of thick yoghurt, often eaten with sugar or jam on top)

assiette de fromage (cheese plate)

mousse au chocolat (rather easy to guess, but very traditionally French)

Restaurants with formule-déjeuners are found all over Paris, but prices and quality will vary hugely according to your location. For budget travellers, go ahead and try Montmartre or the Latin Quarter for 10 euro menus aimed at tourists, but be aware that your servings will be small and the quality questoinable. Otherwise, venture out to less popular suburbs such as Belleville (19th/20th arrondissement) or anywhere outside the arrondissements of Paris.

Prices: starting at 10 euros for entrée-plat-dessert, but average prices hovering around 15 for two courses.

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Oeufs à la mayonnaise

Planche fromage/charcuterie/mixte

Paris is host to an innumerable quantity of bars, brasseries and other drinking establishments, many of which provide food as well as endless aperol spritzers. When out for a drink, the best choice for something to nibble on alongside your wine is indubitably a planche (board). Generally found in three types – fromage (cheese), charcuterie (cold deli meats) or mixte (both cheese and meat), the servings are usually generous and the bread plentiful.

Consult almost any menu in a bar or brasserie serving meals – they’re often listed under its own heading, A Partager (to share).

Prices: 10 – 20 euros

Chocolat à l’ancienne et glace à l’italienne

Depending on the season, you may well have need to warm yourself up with a good hot drink or find something to refresh you after long treks down cobbled streets. Accordingly, grab yourself a chocolat chaud à l’ancienne (old-fashioned hot chocolate) to discover the real difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate: one’s chocolatey flavoured milk, the other feels like you’re drinking melted chocolate. Sometimes sold by chocolatiers (especially chains like Chocolat de Neuville), but also found in cafes and salons de thé, these can be a dessert all by themselves. Chocolat chaud onctueux is another name for the same thing – but just glance behind the counter: if you can see the whirling vat of warm chocolate, you know you’re in the right place.

Alternatively, if the weather’s warmer, cool down with glace à l’italienne (Italian-style ice cream). Soft serve ice cream is hugely popular in the warmer months, and available in far more flavours than boring old vanilla, such as salted caramel, strawberry and pistachio. Often, the machines will allow you to combine two flavours for a beautiful – and delicious – colour contrast. Seen only once the sun shows its face, the machines pop up in boulangeries and chocolatiers (chocolate makers) or can be found on the street, especially in busy areas.

Prices: for ice creams, 2.50 euros to 6 euros (for larger sizes). For chocolat chaud, 3 euros (takeaway) to 9 euros (check out Angelina’s for their famous African hot chocolate, coming in at a neat 8.20 euros)

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Glace à l’italienne choco-vanille

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Chocolat chaud à l’ancienne chez Angelina’s

A word of advice: if you want to profit from all that Paris has to offer in terms of gastronomic delights, you won’t be leaving the City of Lights feeling the least bit light – but I promise it’s worth it!

St-Germain-des-Prés (6th arrondissement)

This area is known for its connections to art and literature, as well as hosting some impressive architecture like the Palais de Luxembourg. It’s on the more expensive side, and appeals to those interested in culture.

Start at Metro stop St-Germain-des-Prés (line 4), and admire the church immediately beside you, Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It dates from the 6th century, when it was erected by Childebert, the son of the first King of France, Clovis. The tomb of René Descartes, famous mathematician and logician, can be found in its side chapels.

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If you’re in the mood for something sweet, pick up a traditional waffle or crêpe at the stand right outside the Metro entrance – it has a long established reputation for delivering cheap, sugary pleasure. If you’re looking for something more lux, head straight down rue Bonaparte towards Ladurée’s, a famous patisserie and tea salon that’s been around since 1861. It’s especially known for its macarons, though the cakes are delicious as well, but prices start at 2.50 for a mini-macaron and around 6 euros for the cheapest cake. That’s at take-away prices, too!

 

 

If money doesn’t concern you too much, and you want to relive the lives of famous authors, look across the street from the church to find the first of the three cafes patronised by long-gone intellectuals. Les Deux Magots is particularly known for playing host to Rimbaud, Picasso and Hemingway, while Café des Flores right next door was the favourite of luminaries such as Apollinaire, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Trotsky. Each café lays claim to particular known names, but in fact the writers and thinkers generally frequented both businesses. They serve traditional French café fare, such as chocolat chaud a l’ancienne, but beware: a simple espresso starts at around 4 to 5 euros. Just across the road, the Lipp brasserie was also part of the handful of establishments beloved by the artists. Founded by an Alsatian couple, it was known for its food from that region – think sauerkraut, remoulade and beer – and now is famous for its excellent mille-feuille.

Moving eastwards along the Boulevard St Germain, you can take a left turn at Rue de l’Echaude to seek out the National Museum of Eugeune Delacroix, the famous painter. While it doesn’t have many of his famous works, it’s interesting to see his studio and house (and free for EU residents under 26), chosen specifically for its proximity to Eglise de Saint-Sulplice, where he painted one of the chapels. That’s worth a visit too, and is a short walk down the same rue Boneparte that leads to Laduree’s, but in the southerly direction.

Keep heading down the Boulevard if your stomach’s rumbling now, and just a few steps down Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie on your left, you can peek at the marvellous creations at Éclair de Genie, which features éclairs with fillings and toppings a little beyond the regular chocolate pastry cream. Le Procope, which holds the title of the oldest restaurant in Paris, is just before it.

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The éclair au caramel, one of the specialities of Eclair du Genie

Alternatively, turn right at rue de l’Odeon and walk towards the imposing Odeon Theatre. Behind it, you’ll find the Palais de Luxembourg and its famous adjoining gardens, which feature large basins used for toy sailing boats in summer and plenty of people, both locals and tourists, whenever the sun is out. The palace was built by the Italian wife of King Henry IV, Marie de Medici, after her husband died and is modelled on a palace from Marie’s native Florence. Now, the building is the seat of the French Senate, and the former orangery has become the Musée de Luxembourg which holds regular art exhibitions. The Boulevard Saint-Michel, so named for the huge decorative fountain found at its northern end, marks the end of 6th arrondissement, and the beginning of the Latin Quarter.

George Sand (née Armandine Aurore Lucille Dupin)

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George Sand aged 60, photo by Nadar

George Sand (1804-1876) was the pseudonym of perhaps the most famous French female writer of the 19th century, a lady of strangely contrary ancestry known as Aurore. With royalty on one side of her family and street vendors on the other, Aurore knew controversy from the very beginning of her life and never stopped embracing it, as she flouted social conventions to take the lovers she chose, dress as she pleased, and do what she wanted.

Aurore’s father was the grandson of the Maréchal de Saxe, who was himself the illegitimate son of the King of Poland. Despite this glowing heritage, he married Antoinette Sophie-Victorie Delaborde, believed to be a former prostitute and certainly descended from a humble background, as her grandfather was a street hawker. Her father died while Aurore was young, and her paternal grandmother, who was the Châtelaine of Nohant, raised her on her large estate in Berry, which would become the scene of many of Aurore’s novels.

After a disillusioning marriage to Casimir Dudevant in 1822, Aurore unofficially separated from her husband in 1831 to embark on an affair with young writer Jules Sandeau, with whom she collaborated on articles for Le Figaro as well as her first novel, Blanche et rose (1831). These joint works were published under the pseudonym J. Sand, but when she began to write independently with the publication of Indiana (1832), Aurore adopted the alias by which she is remembered today.

Once she had left her husband, who she officially divorced in 1835, Aurore began a string of affairs of varying duration and importance, and the list of her lovers features many a famous name, from Alfred de Musset to her most well-known and longest-lasting companion, famous composer Frederic Chopin. Unfortunately, a growing dispute between the two former lovers, thought to have been exacerbated by Aurore’s supposed characterisation of Chopin in her novel Lucrezia Floriani (1846), led to Aurore refusing to attend Chopin’s funeral in 1848. Aurore has often been depicted as bisexual, thanks to a highly publicised relationship, presumed to be lesbian in nature, with the beautiful stage actress Marie Dorval, but it is only certain that she was a passionate lover who had many different partners, often much younger than herself, and who valued highly the concept of love.

There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.

-George Sand

Aurore reinforced her reputation as someone heedless of society’s opinion through her choice to wear men’s clothing, which she claimed she did for pragmatic reasons – it was more comfortable and cheaper than conventional lady’s attire. However, it’s likely she did it partly so as to be able to gain access to the parts of the city – and life – that were usually barred to her sex. This desire to escape her social milieu and find out the truth of life, in all its forms, was a defining trait of Aurore and is reflected in her work, which often features cross-rank relationships and explores taboo topics such as sex, sexuality and even incest.

What a brave man she was, and what a good woman.

— Ivan Turgenev

Though she had a prodigious output, numbering nearly 50 novels and around a dozen plays, Aurore is most known for the books written in a later period of her life, referred to as ‘rustic novels’, that draw heavily on her experience of the countryside at her estate in Nohant, which she inherited after the death of her grandmother and which became her permanent home. These often focus on encouraging a sense of compassion for the poor or working classes, a theme on which Aurore was vocal not only with her fiction, but with various political essays, even going so far as to create her own newspaper so as to publish her opinions more easily. With her strong views on the need to end class divides and her support for women’s rights, combined with her severely unconventional behaviour, Aurore was frequently criticised for being too manly or too opinionated for a woman. However, despite her many detractors, Aurore enjoyed the praise and respect of many of her contemporary intellectuals, who were able to recognise her valuable attributes of determination, fearlessness and innate kindness as more important than following the superficial demands of the era.

Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.

-George Sand

Aurore died peacefully on her estate at Nohant in June of 1876, aged 71. She remains buried in a private graveyard there, though in 2003 it was proposed that her body be moved to the Panthéon, which houses the remains of important French figures such as Balzac and Louis Braille.

Famous works:

La petite fadette (1849)
Lélia (1833)

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Portrait of George Sand (1838 – Eugène Delacroix)