Queuing for the Eiffel Tower, craning to see through the crowds around the Mona Lisa and climbing up to the top of Sacre Coeur are all the things you should do on your first visit to Paris. The second time around, you will be a lot more branché and walk around the town with savoir faire. But admit it, you’re still a tourist even though you pretend not to be. Try these exciting past times where you will still catch your breath and enjoy la vie en rose.
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Forum des Halles
People actually live in Paris. They need to go to the supermarket, buy clothes and go to the doctor. Many Parisians are lucky enough to live right in the centre of the city around Les Halles, and Forum des Halles is where they do their shopping. A glance at the Metro map will tell you that Les Halles is right at the centre of Paris’s transport network and the station is embedded in the shopping centre. Les Halles was Paris’s equivalent of Covent Garden, the fruit and veg market for the city. It was demolished in 1971. Instead of building a shopping centre, the planners created a garden and sank the shopping centre into the ground beneath. The centre cascades down light-well courtyards to 4 sub levels. It’s a great place to while away the hours on a rainy day.
The market halls that were demolished to make way for Forum des Halles themselves occupied a space created by a mass demolition. The narrow streets of the parish of Saint Eustache were cleared away, thankfully leaving the grand old church to stand. This slum clearance revealed a peculiarity in the church that no one had ever noticed before. Now it has a grand open space before it, you can see what the architects never expected anyone to find out. The facades are all completely different. Although not as famous as Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame or Sacre Coeur, Sainte Eustache has played host to the baptisms, marriages and funerals of famous people. Richelieu, Moliere and Madame de Pompadour were baptised here and Mozart held his mother’s funeral here. The church also has an excellent art collection, including works by Rubens.
Saint Eustache sits at the beginning of a very normal high street called Rue Montorgueil. This is where the locals live and the streets that branch off here are not particularly famous or expensive. This typical French street has market stalls, cheese shops and wine shops, as well as one of the most famous restaurants in the world and the Queen of France’s cake shop. L’Escargot, at number 33 is famous for its snails. Marie Antoinette was famous for saying “Let them eat cake,” but it was actually her husband’s grandmother who started the trend. When Maria Leszczynska came to France to marry Louis XV, she brought her father’s pastry chef with her. After working at Versailles for five years, Nicolas Stohrer moved to 51, Rue Montorgueil and opened up what is now one of France’s oldest patisseries.
Wherever you go in the world, check out the supermarkets where the locals shop. Look at the brands they have and see if there any you are used to back home. A good example, close to the centre of Paris is the Monoprix next to the Strasbourg Saint-Denis Metro station (three stops up from Les Halles on line 4). The cheese counter and bakery section are worth queuing for, but this is just a typical Tesco-style supermarket in the city centre.
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