The Paris you visit at 20 years old is an entirely different city than when you visit her again at 45. She changes like the light: constantly shifting depending on where you stand. So this is not a must-see list, but a string of marvelous things; hopefully, one or two will appeal to you.
1. I loathe crowds, so here are two museums that are often overlooked. Begin at the Musée Carnavalet, the museum of the city of Paris. It’s a jumble of separate rooms complete with furniture that was bought outright and stuck into a big building. Don’t exhaust yourself: just take a look at the rooms devoted to the reigns of Kings Louis XV and XVI.
2. Now make your way to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, next to the Musée du Louvre. The museum is not about great paintings and sculpture, but about the way people have “decorated” their nests. My favorite galleries are the 17th- and 18th-century rooms (rooms 10 through 18 on the third level, where the tour begins, and rooms 19 through 30 on the fourth level).
3. The tourist shops on rue de Rivoli, outside the Louvre, sell Eiffel Towers made in China. For something truly French, find Deminique Denaive’s store at No. 7, rue du 29 Juillet, directly off rue de Rivoli. Denaive makes amazing, unique jewelry pieces from resin; they are (in the parlance of Top Model) “statement pieces.” If you can, buy something for yourself and a friend. They’re worth the splurge, and they come in darling velvet drawstring bags.
4. But there’s no need to break the bank in Paris. The Monoprix chain of stores is rather like Target. The clothes can be really terrific and are sold at rock bottom prices. Don’t overlook the cosmetics: I’ve found cucumber-scented lotion that smells better than the La Mer collections.
5. Another suggestion: go to the department store BHV (52, rue de Rivoli): it’s the Macy’s of Paris, and well worth exploring. Plus, they have a utilitarian but very reasonably priced cafeteria where retired people happily eat their lunches.
6. If you’d like a French handbag, but don’t want to pay Yves Saint Laurent prices, head to rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, home to the most fabulous fashion houses of Paris. While most stores are outrageously expensive (though great for window shopping), at No. 334 you’ll find Maroquinerie Saint-Honoré/B. Biberon & Fils, which offers bags in every shape and color, very reasonably priced.
7. But if you have money to burn…walk past Saint Laurent. Americans think that French style is epitomized by the trademark YSL, but the true Parisian lady finds Yves Saint Laurent’s bags too common. Go to Goyard, 233 rue Saint Honore. Goyard bags and luggage are the ultimate in chic, each one hand-painted with their symbol.
8. If you prefer to adorn your house rather than your closet, there’s a lovely ceramics store, Astier de Villatte, tucked in at No. 173. Everything they make is dusky white. I bought a plate that’s just slightly lopsided, with lacy edges.
9. When the hour approachesto l’heure bleue, the sliver of time between afternoon and evening, when the sky is periwinkle, make your way to the longest series of covered passages in Paris, the one that includes Passage des Panoramas. You’ll see that there are actually two passages in a row—one on either side of boulevard Montmartre—crammed full of fascinating shops. You could eat a reasonably priced meal or buy a tiny demi tasse with coffee for someone with a dollhouse.
10. And finally, this is hokey, but worth it: take a night cruise of the Seine. The boats leave Pont de l’Alma every thirty minutes, from 7 to 11 p.m., April to September.
By Mary Bly, Ph.D. (Eloisa James)