Every time I have visited Paris, I have found myself uncovering different quartiers and previously by-passed avenues; I have visited Paris two times before— and I mean actual Paris, not Disneyland Paris. Unlike my return to Florence, I feel that there are still surprises lurking around the classical city and even on my third take I am reaping the cultural gratification of being in a city, undeniably oozing with history.
As I mentioned, this is not my first time in Paris and so I have done the bulk of traditional tourist ‘musts’ (eiffel tower, la grande rue, the louvre, royal gardens, champs elysées). I did however overlook some of the less well known museums for the more imposing ones; one of which we decided to visit: the Arab World Institute. It is so interesting to see such priceless ornaments and cultural relics in the centre, are not as popular an attraction. Understandably, (but by no means rightly so) at the present times, it is much more difficult to see past the mainstream portrayal of Arabs in the media, and I fear that it was exactly for this reasoning that their culture and the fruits of their rich history, is greatly overlooked in Paris.
The museum has so much to offer with seven levels to explore, each one a layer of Arab culture to be dissected, ranging from religion and jewellery to literature and clothing. One aspect which I found myself enthralled with was the intersection between the different sects of mainstream religions- Christianity, judaism and Islam. There has always been a complicated history of religion in the region and the unraveling of just a few intricate webs is done in such a delicate and respectful fashion.
The museum can take a couple of hours, depending on how you pace yourself. In our case we spent about two hours exploring before we drifted a couple of blocks down to the Saint Michel quartier where we eat lunch at, what has gained the reputation of being one of the best crepe houses in Paris: Crêperie de Cluny. We all got a menu deal which included a sort of savoury crepe (galette), a drink of your choice and a sweet crepe for €13,50 per person– pretty reasonable prices for central Paris.
After our little idleness, taking a stroll around the Saint Michel area, my friend showed me to the most famous part of her university campus: the esteemed Sorbonne. The trial of venerated achievements led us to the Panthéon, where individuals who have been deemed worthy (by the president) of a service done for the benefit of France, may lay in this eternal city.
In the evening we dined at an Italian restaurant called ‘Il Covo‘ where a typical aperitivo style dinner ensued. The colourful and vibrant flavours of Italy were absorbed into the atmosphere with the mingling music and floating aromas. One thing which I have to say seems very organic in European countries in particular, is the ease with which one can chat with a neighbouring group at the bar or start a genuine conversation with the barman no matter how short lived.
Our second day started off with an unexpected change of plans— instead of heading to the enchanting gardens of Versailles, we ended up taking a detour to the Chateau de Vincennes. Something which I have discovered in the last few days is that pretty much all the museums and castles in Paris are free if you are under 26 so make the most of it whilst your still young!
Lurking around the corner of the Castle, you will find the floral park. We took a brief stroll through the park which was adorned in coruscating, multi-coloured plants and species. It seems like a perfect spot to set up for a picnic on a hot summer’s day, with plenty of shade which allows you to enjoy the scenic environment.
Another small-scale and less reputable museum which we ended up visiting later that day was the national museum of the history of immigrants. Even from the first glance at the museum building, one can already see the coats of history and customs incorporated within everything from the decor, exhibitions and atmosphere. Many of the expositions will take you through the often difficult and not so glamorous lives of those Parisian immigrants, whose stories of both hope and the destruction are recounted.
I found it strange to see such a great awareness of the hardship that is endured by the majority of immigrants and yet the non-acceptance juxtaposed within such close proximities. For me, it is almost as if the ghosts of these stories have been hung up dormant. You can be guaranteed that this underrated gem will not have louvre-worth queues out the door.
The third day started in probably the most least touristic way: running errands. After a morning of running up and down, packing our luggage for our next adventure (soon to be revealed!) we settled down to Bois de Vincennes, a charming wooded area. At first my boyfriend had planned a surprise picnic on one of the little paddle boats but unfortunately by the time we got there the rental shop hadn’t opened yet (despite being stated on the internet that it was open ‘all day’), nevertheless it is still a beautiful area to explore by foot.
Our day dwindled down for a sweet treat, hitting the brakes for the Boulanger (Patissière). You can’t possibly spend a trip in Paris (no matter how short) without a finger licking treat with shops littered on every corner.
Food always seems like a good place to stop, so i’ll stop here.