So I am in Paris. I use that line from The Diary of a Madman with apologies to Gogol, but I am mad about one thing. I am brimming with a desire to see those places I love, places you would love too if you came to this ancient capital of the French. What I want to see are not the famous places, those usual places, the Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triumph, Louvre Museum or Napoleon’s Tomb. None of those places. I want to see places you read about only in the guide books, the ones touted by the natives. So I check into my hostel, stash my backpack and head out on a bright morning, seeking the sights that will trill once more as they are refreshed in my vacation memory bank. Even though I can’t wait to revisit them, I tell myself to slow down, to morph into what every visitor to Paris should be – a flaneur, one who strolls through the riches.
One of the places I want to visit is within easy strolling distance from one of the most visited of Paris tourist attraction, which is perhaps even more popular in the wake of The Da Vinci Code. That is, of course, the Louvre. You stroll by the east entrance of the great museum and then head east; keep walking and soon you will reach it – Sainte-Chapelle, an aged jewel. I’ve been to Paris many times, and it is still a must-see.
A cathedral steeped in history, Sainte-Chapelle dates to 1226 when the pious King Louis IX built it to house religious relics the French king bought from the emperor of Constantinople. A few of the relics remain, but those aren’t the main attraction. To reach it, climb up a dark spiral staircase near the entrance and go in the king’s chapel. There, spread before you, is a treasure of brilliantly stained glass illuminating Biblical scenes.
From the cathedral, I head to another favorite part of town even though I know I shouldn’t. I know when I get to this place I will want to spend all day but on this visit to Paris, I really don’t have the time. Arriving ahead of schedule, though, I decide to linger a few hours in the Place des Vosges, which is perhaps the most beautiful square in the world. Finding a seat, I take my espresso among the stately buildings and elegant street lamps.
In Montparnasse, you can stroll by the front of the ancient building where Ernest and Hadley Hemingway lived in 1921, and Gertrude Stein’s studio is at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso visited her there. Picasso was a fixture in this sector of southern Paris, which flourished as an arts community in the first half of the last century.
Visit these and other lesser-known places of Paris. They are very much worth the time.