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Paris: The City of Light Gets Everything Right

The list of things that are better in Paris is almost infinite. The food is fantastic, the wines are world-class, the clothes are cutting-edge, and the macarons are magnifique. But what you might not know is that all sorts of other things are better in Paris, too. Such as . . .

1. Cars

Americans like everything bigger, especially their cars. Who doesn't like to take their enormous gas-guzzling SUV to the McDonald's drive-through for a triple-bacon-cheeseburger and a diet Coke? But in Paris, economy is a virtue, and the cars are rightly sized for the tiny alleyways and limited parking spots inherent to a 2,000-year-old city.

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They also happen to be really cute.

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Best of all, when your car doesn't take up much room, you can park it wherever you want.

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2. Public Art

Paris is chock-full of great museums, but you don't have to spend the day indoors to get some cul-chah.

That's because the City of Light is also a city of artists, and their pieces are on public view virtually everywhere. They work in various media, including stone, marble, wood, paper, and glass.

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But only the true masters work in bubble.

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Hey, don't knock it. It beats a mime any day.

3. Wine Bars and Cafes

This visit to Paris was a work trip, and I was thrilled to be returning, particularly on someone else's Euro. I arrived a day ahead of a colleague who was coming from Italy, where he'd been meeting with another of our clients. Due to what I presume was his hectic schedule of eating mounds of pasta and guzzling bottles of Brunello, he didn't have time to make any dinner reservations in Paris, and instead left them all to me (and all the bills to our corporate AmEx). Which was exactly like winning the lottery, minus all those annoying relatives coming out of the woodwork.

Luckily my colleague is a smart man who enjoys a glass or two of wine before dinner, and so on most evenings we popped into a wine bar for a pre-dinner aperitif.

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When I wasn't at work, I was busy running the Paris Marathon, which is that mad dash around the city to sample everything you can possibly sip, slurp, scarf, and snarf in the time you have before your flight departs.

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Still, no matter how many logs of goat cheese I gobbled, or how many bottles of Sancerre I guzzled, I somehow managed to still feel at home.

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4. Public Restrooms

If you're out and about for the day in most U.S. cities and need to use the restroom, your choices are pretty limited. You can go into a store and ask, at which point you will be informed (by an employee with an apparently watermelon-sized bladder) that they don't have a restroom, or you can stop at a fast-food place and access their restroom by purchasing a water or soda, thereby creating a never-ending cycle of drinking so you can pee and then having to pee because you had that drink.

Or, you know, you can just pee on the street like we do here in New York City.

Paris, however, has decided to go ahead and acknowledge that people have bodily functions. And so, on the main thoroughfare in many neighborhoods, you will find one of these:

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For a few Euros, and in some cases even for free, you can pop into this little self-cleaning pee pod, close the door, and relieve yourself in peace.

Or so I thought.

I'd taken the Metro from the Right Bank and, after several transfers, arrived at the Maubert-Mutualité stop in the Fifth. My plan was to visit the Marché Maubert (the oldest market in Paris, having started in 1547), then wander around Saint-Germain-des-Pres until my feet fell off. But first, I had to take care of business, so I stopped at the first sanisette I found. Operation is simple: You press a button (or, in some cases, insert a coin) to open the door; when you step inside, a sensor in the floor causes the door to close and lock. You do your business, wash up, then open the door and exit. The door then closes again while the toilet is automatically cleaned and disinfected by a motorized mechanism, then a green light signals that the lavatory is ready for the next user. Simple, right?

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And it was, the first time around. But perhaps I was more desperate later in the afternoon, or just exhausted. I stepped into the pee pod and, after an unusually long pause, the door closed. But then . . . a robotic woman's voice was permeating the pod, offering a greeting? well wishes? bon voyage? in French. Now, my French is decent, but I am by no means fluent. So I waited, and the message was repeated, but still, all I could make out was that it had something to do with the restroom I was currently occupying. But the door was still closed, so I decided to ignore the disembodied voice and approach the toilet, but then the robot-woman spoke again, this time with more urgency.

I was feeling some urgency of my own, so I again decided to ignore her. But before I could tend to my business, the message was repeated yet again, and this time I detected a soupçon of panic in the robot-woman's voice. I listened as intently as I could -- the messages were coming faster now, and by this time the robot-woman's tone now in full-on Def Con 5 mode -- but for the life of me, I could not understand what on earth she was saying.

That's because my French vocabulary apparently does not include phrases like, "Danger! Abort! Get the hell out of here before you are sprayed to death with non-FDA-approved toilet chemicals, imbecile!" Ohhh.

Later, after having vacated the pod for fear that the door would suddenly fling open, catching me sans culottes, I checked the Internet and found this tidbit: "There have been reports of sanisettes beginning the cleaning cycle with small, lightweight children trapped inside."

Apparently the pee pods think I am a small, lightweight child. Who also happens to be illiterate.

Hmph.

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5. Pastries.

The chocolates, pastries, and other sweets in Paris are almost too beautiful eat, and almost too difficult to describe.

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Luckily, a picture is worth a thousand words, which is helpful when your mouth is always full of lemon tarts.

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6. Churches

The French are a religious people, and you would be too if you spent your days consuming things like foie gras, sole meunière, duck confit, and tartiflette. And so their churches are big, beautiful, and bountiful enough that no matter where you decide to eat and drink in Paris, there will be a church nearby where you can pop in and pray for a few more good years before your heart gives out and your liver gives up.

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The most famous of these is Notre Dame, on Île de la Cité. Or, as a couple I met from Texas called it, "The Ill."

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No, I didn't wait in line to get inside. That would have taken up valuable time that could have been spent on #7 on this list.

7. Cheese

Of course, the cheese itself is better in Paris. Cheese is to France what bloomin' onions are to 'Murica. But what's truly notable is that instead of hoarding the stuff like the prized possession it is, Parisians dole out their precious fromage in portions so generously over-the-top that you might not need a pee poop pod ever again.

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Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

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8. Doors

Okay, so doors might not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking of things that are better in Paris. But the doors in Paris, like almost everything else in this stunning city, are works of art.

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Plus, 10 Euros says your city doesn't have any solid-gold doors made for giants.

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9. Hippos

If you can find any place with better leather hippos, I'm all ears.

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Tiny, adorable hippo ears.

10. Architecture

Paris is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, largely thanks to the efforts of one man: Georges-Eugène Haussmann.

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Neither architect nor engineer, Haussmann was nevertheless hired by Emperor Napoléon III in 1853 to gentrify the city by opening a Starbucks on every corner undertaking a vast public works project to address the overcrowding, disease, traffic, and crime endemic to nineteenth-century Paris. Haussmann's plan included the demolition of crowded and unhealthy medieval neighborhoods, construction of wide avenues to improve traffic circulation, parks and squares to improve the city's light and air quality, and the construction of new sewers, fountains, and aqueducts to improve the water supply.

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All of that sounds fantastic, of course, which is why Haussmann's plan was met with fierce opposition by members of the French parliament, and he was finally dismissed by Napoleon III in 1870. At least it's nice to know that the U.S. isn't the only country with a government run by idiots.

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A key feature of Haussmann's plan were wide boulevards lined by buildings that were all required to be the same height and same basic facade design, and all faced with cream-colored stone, giving the city center its distinctive harmony.

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Away from the city's leafy boulevards, the architecture is less uniform, but even more grand and imposing.

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At the other end of the spectrum, many of Paris's medieval alleyways and cobblestone streets still remain.

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Elsewhere, small but bright side streets invite flowers and greenery.

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Even the office building where I spent a few days working managed to feel airy and open instead of like the prison cell it actually was, standing between me and freedom...to eat more cheese.

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But beautiful as Paris's buildings may be, I suppose none of them can compete with that big metal tower of theirs.

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11. Farmer's Markets

Ever wonder why the produce tastes so much better in Europe?

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Sure, it could be your surroundings -- what wouldn't taste better on Boulevard St. Germain? -- or it could be because in America, we prefer our fruits and vegetables to be uniformly sized, perfectly shaped, and coated in a fine mist of poison designed to kill anything with more legs than we have.

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Then again, who needs good produce when there's pies and pâté?

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And gigantic wedges of cheese. Vegetables, schmgetables.

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12. Selfies

In general, I'm not a big fan of the selfie, which is surprising since I'm really good at pouting.

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But I was alone in Paris, and even though I could have asked a stranger to take my photo, it just didn't seem worth the linguistic effort. And so I snapped a few myself, and in reviewing them I was thrilled to discover that the less makeup I wore, and the frizzier my hair got, the more Parisian I looked.

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Which might just be the very best thing that's better in Paris.

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What's up next? Fritas Cubanas in Key West, a fancy-pants weekend in East Hampton, fall foliage in the Hudson Valley, and fun in the sun in Anguilla. Check back soon or click here to subscribe and you'll receive an email when a new post goes up!

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Posted by TraceyG 08:50 Archived in France Tagged churches paris notre_dame pastries st_germain marche_maubert

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Comments

Thanks for this.
My favorite place in the world!

by Priscilla Burke

Loved reading this!! Being a Londoner I am so lucky to be a regular visitor to Paris using Le Eurostar for effortless calorie-laden trips.
Your experience in the automatic loo made me laugh - many years ago when these were new and unsophisticated I lost a 7 year old daughter in one of these for eternity (or maybe longer). The whole city could hear her sister screaming thinking we would never see her again!
Merci pour un excellent rapport!

by Jan Clydesdale

Fabulous photos - I will be there for the first time in 4 weeks, your photos have made me so excited!

by Elaine Finn

Thank you for your amazing trip report. Always refreshing to read from someone who has really put their boots on the ground, and report.

by Tim

Amazing post and what fabulous photos - the colors! The scenes! The FOOD!!! This definitely perked up my desk-bound afternoon.

by Jen

Dear Tracey.....
The quality of your writing and the stunning beauty of your photography never ceases to amaze. You really ought to consider turning "pro" and leaving you legal career behind.
Your friend from the Anguilla Forum (Zabar)

by Zabar

Tracey--I always love your posts and you have outdone yourself on this one. It made me remember so many delightful points of light in Paris. Thank you and we will look forward to future travels.

by Jane

Tracey-
I have never been to Paris, but I sure did enjoy seeing it through your eyes. As always, a day brightener for sure!
I especially enjoyed the pee pod talk, as potty talk goes over big in our family here in Minnesota. We would have a field day with those things. Looking forward to the next installment!

by Toni

Funny thing is a good portion of the cars are actually English Mini's, the English-built predecessor to the current crop of BMW Mini's. The food and markets look wonderful. I have got to get over there. Only a couple hours on a train I'm told from here. Take care and keep writing!

by Bill Koraska

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