Updated: Oct 15
When you first go to Paris – or any city for that matter – the first thing you’ll want to do is to see all the sights. You know, visit the places a local has either never seen or only sees with foreign friends. That is, of course, what I end up doing every time I visit, since I’m with a new visiteur de Paris every time. That also means I am very well-versed in the things everyone does. That is to say, feel free to hire me and I’ll happily come down from Brussels on your dime! I kid, but also I don’t.
The caveats of our latest trip, and the one I’ll outline to you now, were that we wanted to see the main sites, it had to be child-friendly/engaging, toilet accessible routes, and not too much walking because after being on nightmarish 20 mile a day tours planned by me everyone was just tired of that, just relax!
THE SCOOP ON TOILETS
By the way, did I not mention the toilets of France yet? With every visit, I’m all the more impressed with them. They are scattered throughout nearly every city. More often than not, they are free to use and are full-sized, indoor restrooms, sometimes with a pissoir around the corner.
But wait, did you ask something? Free, open bathrooms everywhere… how to keep out the bums?
When you leave the bathroom, the door closes and goes into chemical shower mode. It dumps down whatever toxic bath to “disinfect” the bathroom. This leaves most bathrooms with about a centimeter of moisture on the floor, and also if you’ve entered and take longer than thirty or so minutes, it goes into countdown for another chemical bath. This makes it impossible for someone to use this as a sleeping shelter.
We decided to actually stay in Montparnasse this time around, which I think is my now place-to-stay. It’s super well-connected with the metro, has got the RER line, a major train station, and is a pretty neighborhood without being a touristically pretty neighborhood. The hood near the train station actually has got a more “authentic” vibe with its lineup of Vietnamese restaurants and dingy brasseries than some of the other more popular quartiers, and dare I say it’s more attractive to my proletarian paycheck.
Since we were staying there, we decided to drop our bags at our hotel and move on to the Tour Montparnasse (that is, the tower, not a tour). First stop, playground next to some church, then on to the tower.
THE MONTPARNASSE SHOPPING CENTER
If ever anywhere seemed like a Resident Evil set, the shopping center at Montparnasse does. Everything shiny and new-looking in there, but all the posters saying, “Coming Soon 2020!” Everything empty, lights flickering, some people milling about or passing through for God knows what reasons. A sign says there was some sort of “American clothes bazaar” (no, not the continent, but they were referring to the USA) on the third floor, but that might have also required a matter of time travel to attend.
Not let down by the bit of urban spelunking that turned out to be, we continued on to the Tour, which also looked oddly abandoned.
Check out my t-shirts on TeePublic.
CATCH A VIEW
When you’re in Paris, there is a natural inclination to see the skyline. You have some options. But first I must ask, would you rather live in a disgusting looking building that’s perfectly comfortable inside with a view of an absolutely beautiful building, or would you rather be living inside the absolutely beautiful building with dank insides and a view upon a very disgusting-looking building?
Often taking up residence in Tbilisi, I ask myself this question a lot. It is a variegated community.
This is the same question upon sightseeing in Paris. Would you rather see the Eiffel Tower, or view everything from the Eiffel Tower. Of course, if you want the most iconically Paris view of the city, you should have it with the view of the Eiffel Tower. That leaves you:
1. The Pantheon
Sacre-Couer is a bit low-hanging and you don’t really get that great of a view, to be honest. The Pantheon is also low, but it does offer a very fantastic angle. The Tour de Montparnasse is hands-down the best panorama of the city. The obvious benefit is that you don’t see the city tarnished by the imposition of the Montparnasse Tower itself, and you also get to see the Eiffel Tower.
LE TOUR MONTPARNASSE (THINGS TO DO IN PARIS)
“Where are the tourists?” I asked the air, used to the fact nobody listens to me.
The ropes were set up optimistically, zigzagging the lobby, but with no one in sight the attendants just told us to use the much more direct exit lane and go straight to the lifts. The lifts are nothing fancy. I was thinking it’d be akin to the Rockefeller Center with some sort of movie display on the ceiling, but no, it had every bit the feel of the 1960s-era lift that it was.
The top floor was neat. There were of course, epic views of Paris in every direction, but also these little VR displays that let you get to see the history of various famous areas. My son is old enough to really get a kick out of VR without being completely freaked out by it, so that entertained him for 10 seconds, and then he started begging the fam for toys at the toyshop while I was still back on the first VR video.
I later found out why it was so abandoned, and it wasn’t because of Covid (my assumption). I was sitting at a park with the father of one of my son’s former best friends (they had moved to Paris from Brussels because why not). I told him about the weird abandoned feeling the tower had.
“You know, there was a thing with the fire brigade,” he said while munching on a pale, vitamin-infused child’s cookie. His English was solid, though he spoke with the meandering, sing-song Creole accent of the African islander that he is. “They had a disagreement with the owners. If the owners wouldn’t bring the building up to code, then they won’t come if there’s a fire. The owners think that was too expensive to do, so they rather sit on it and not do a thing.”
While accepting the bag of cookies, I imagined the board meeting. The owners weighing the price of the upgrades to the price of just letting the whole thing go ablaze, and their actuaries must have presented the board with the results in a fascinating Power Point of people diving 200 meters to their heat-inspired concrete party as being the better alternative to upgrading the buildings.
“Because insurers decided they wouldn’t cover a blaze, the vendors all stopped coming in,” he finished the explanation.
Walking across the street from the tower after our exploration, we found a toy shop and went in. I told my little one he could have a suitably small toy that I could purchase without going over a 10 spot. A guy all in black came in immediately behind me. “Monsieur!” the huffing man shouted, catching his breath while instantly going on a tirade about how some gypsy kid was trying to pick pocket me as I walked along the street. “There was a kid pulling at your backpack, trying to get your stuff!” I assessed whether he was scamming me or something while also mentally taking note of the bulge I felt in my pocket that my wallet. It seemed though he had the intention of being a good Samaritan or something.
“You mean that gypsy kid?” I asked pointing to mine, who was, as he described, pulling on my backpack for the entire journey across the street.
“Eh, erm, no no, of course, a different kid,” he said, leaving.
The shop clerk chimed in, “He’s a waiter around here.”
“Ah, so not a scammer himself?”
The clerk shrugged. We bought a monster truck.
FOOD – AN AUTHENTICALLY FRENCH EXPERIENCE
The hood (English for “quartier”) – squeezed in between the train station/tower and the cemetery – is overflowing with restaurants and also includes a vaguely disappointing playground (the playground at the train station itself seems spectacular, and the one in the yard at Our Lady of the Champs is smaller but more to it). It’s slam-packed with restaurants without a single McDonald’s in sight, which makes it about the least French place in France. There are kebabs, Vietnamese places, Irish pubs, and cheap brasseries. We decided to stop at the latter, right around the corner and over a wall from Charles Baudelaire’s grave.
While I was pondering a life alone with cats, I ordered the Andouillette Sausage, thinking it would be that yummy stuff my grandmas always diced up and dropped in their gumbo (that is, andouille sausage). It is not. It is, apparently, an entirely different thing.
I present you, the Wikipedia entry:
“It is a French coarse-grained sausage made from the intestine of pork, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings.”
Sounds good so far. It continues:
“As with all lower intestine sausages, andouillettes are to some extent an acquired taste. Their smell may offend people unaccustomed to the dish. The texture is somewhat rougher than most sausages, as the content is coarsely cut. Primarily pan-fried (sometimes breaded), it can also be boiled, barbecued or grilled. The sausage is often served with vegetables (primarily onions) in a mustard or red wine sauce.”
May offend is a very diplomatic thing to say. No, it definitely offends most people. And the taste? Must I describe to you the taste of shoving one’s tongue up a pig’s ass or will you go along with me that it was not a delicate dish. My god I’ve never eaten something that “offended my senses” so much. But ate it I did! Feeling unfortunate for that poor little sow’s most foul of ends, I put her remains to good purpose and slowly, cringingly, devoured her innards. This is when I realized that perhaps French cuisine doesn’t rank that much higher than Belgian cuisine. Though it does, indeed, rank.
There is apparently some sort of club de masochisme called AAAAA, an anagram which roughly translates to the “Friendly Club of Lovers of Authentic Andouillette”. And if you’re so inspired by this blog to try your own, look for their sign of approval on a brasserie door, as it ensures the pig intestine is of high enough quality and low enough rank to not leave your own entrails plastered across the pavement on the walk home.
AROUND THE CORNER, UNDER THE WAY
If I were alone, I would have tacked on the Paris Catacombs, as I’m assured it’s one of the greatest places to view dead people in the world. Thousands and thousands of plague, drought, and war victims all neatly stacked up due to a lack of space in the cemetery nearby.
My kid said he wanted to see the “dead people place”, but alas, it was not “Parisienne romantique” enough for my other travel companions. I had to miss it again.