Check, please

When I am traveling, I am not a checklist person. I always cringe when, for example, someone would discuss their recent getaway to The Big Apple with a litany of, “We did The Empire State Building, and we did The Statue of Liberty and we did the Guggenheim…”

Did? Besides sounding kinda vulgar, describing your vacation with a series of “dids” suggests that you’ve got a list (physical and/or mental) and your vacation success is being judged by how many checkmarks you end up with once you return home. I never ever want to be that sort of traveler.

Yet, when contemplating visiting a city like Paris for a week, it’s been hard not to succumb to a checklist mentality, because there are so many places and things to see and do there. For that reason, I’ve been consciously avoiding guidebooks and “must see” lists. I want there to be some surprise and anticipation when we get there. I don’t want to have seven days all charted out beforehand. Does that mean we won’t see as many things as humanly possible? Yes, it does. We’ve discussed it and the Beloved feels the same way, and I anticipate a lot of walking, which I think is the best way to get a feel for the place that you’re visiting.

Ritz Paris Cocktails

That being said, there is one particular place, which probably isn’t in many guidebooks that I most definitely want to visit – you could almost call it a pilgrimage. For Christmas this year, the Beloved got me a book by Colin Field, the famous bartender of Bar Hemingway at the Ritz-Paris. It’s a book that in addition to recipes tells the history of the bar, which was known as The Petite Bar back when Hemingway and friends spent evenings there.  Field also goes into his own philosophy of mixing drinks and serving guests. His goal is to find the best drink for a person given the time of day, their mood, their occasion and their group. I sort of aspire to that myself.

Bar Hemingway

Bar Hemingway is one of the most famous bars in the world, having been visited for decades by heads of state, leaders of industry, famous composers, writers and actors. In a world where cocktail bars spring up and fade away so quickly, this bar has been serving up cocktails ever since there were cocktails. Gotta go.

That’s my Paris checklist. What’s yours?

31 thoughts on “Check, please

  1. La Duree, for desserts. Its on the Champs-elysee, or at least close to it. They make their own butter and I’ve heard their desserts are fantastic.

    Even if you lounged around, you could argue that this is what you “did” on your vacation (but I do know what you mean).

  2. I haven’t been to Paris since they were actually on the franc… but I really loved eating in the Latin Quarter. Not a lot of French food, but it was a lot cheaper, and there was a lot of (what I thought was) really good, authentic North African food. I ate at a fabulous Ethiopian place, and the streets were full of street performers. In its way it felt *super* French.

    • Hapa — the last time I was in Paris is was still on the Franc, and I agree the Latin Quarter had a great feel to it. I wonder if it still does? I guess we’ll find out!

  3. The Hemingway Bar is unfortunately a bit too touristy for my taste. Definitely stop by, but if you want some real fun, then try tracing the bullet holes left from World War II along the Prefecture de Police, Ile de la Cite or at the top of the Pantheon. Or, even better, go to the Musée Rodin and spend an afternoon wandering among his most famous bronzes (including a complete “Gates of Hell“). And then there is always the tour of the sewers or of the catacombs if you want a truly different experience. Or you could always cruise the Seine.

    Having done all of those (along with searching for the home of the Count of Monte Cristo, tracing the “Rose line”, and eating chestnuts outside of Saint Chapelle), I can promise that they are interesting and fun.

    • john — when I was in Paris almost 20y ago, I took in almost all of the sights (and sites) that you listed. So with it being my 2nd trip, I don’t feel compelled to go back to many of them — though I would like to go back to the Rodin Museum, that was one of my favorites.

  4. If you go to Montemartre I am sure you will avoid the tacky stuff. But you should find this great graffiti park with a picture of Edit Piaf and then statements about love in dozens of languages. Good place to drink wine out of a bottle (at least that is what we did…). Fun to go to some flea markets- try Puces de Vanves (near Montparnasse, at the beltway). My favorite museum was the Cluny (medieval art). And I am a sucker for the oldest churches I can find. N’oubliez pas mes amis, when you want the check from the bar-tabac, c’est l’addition!

    • MB — great suggestions. I went to Montemartre when I was in Paris almost 20y ago, but I’d like to go back with a more discerning — and less touristy –eye. It’s The Beloved’s first trip to Paris, so I’m happy to explore for things as she sees things for the first time.

  5. I’m over the Hemingway stuff: I’d still like to see his house in Cuba, but as said earlier, Hemingway’s hangouts in Paris have turned into tourist traps. I’d rather go to Spain and visit Marceliano’s for the tapas and sherry.

    You’re not going to see the Louvre? Or the Musee d’Orsay? And the Notre Dame is a must, if only to get a peek of the gargoyles. But I love love love the food in Paris. Leon de Bruxelles is a chain restaurant, but its mussels steamed in white wine are the best. And if you like duck or foie gras (and as a vegetarian I blush to recommend this at all), you must go to the Au Petit Sud Ouest. Both restaurants are in the 7th arrondissement, where many of the haute cuisine restaurants are, so you can’t go wrong eating there.

    • HG — there HAS been a lot of Hemingway stuff recently hasn’t there? I was never all that into it, so it’s never made that much of an impression on me. I’m sure we’ll go to the Lourve and other great museums — but I have visited them before on an earlier trip and so the “gotta sees” are pretty low on my list. This is The Beloved’s first trip to France though so I know she’ll want to visit a lot of them.

  6. I was lucky enough to visit Paris when I was 13 with my mom. We only had 72 hours there, but managed to see quite a few sights. The one thing that will always stick with me, though, was hearing someone play Memories (from Cats) on a violin down in the Metro. The sound echoed off the walls and turned a normal trip on the subway into a dream-like experience.
    I’d love to go back and see Paris as an adult.

  7. I look forward to the pictures of your cocktails tweeted. You won’t let us down, will you?
    Spontaneity is key. Travel with an idea in mind, while letting curiosity lead your way.

  8. describing your vacation with a series of “dids” suggests that you’ve got a list (physical and/or mental) and your vacation success is being judged by how many checkmarks you end up with once you return home

    I would also think it likely that this sort of tourist probably checks out the known spots (which are likely overpriced) and misses out on the lesser known spots (which tend to be cheaper, but usually no less charming). That’s why I’ve always admired Rick Steves’s approach to travel.

    That’s my Paris checklist. What’s yours?

    With what money do I have to visit Paris, Steve? If I was able to go, I’d more likely visit somewhere else notable… and with a friend that spoke excellent French. That said, I would more likely explore the Americas, or visit Spain, first, because I’d have a better chance of being understood (as I speak Latin American Spanish).

    • I did pretty well in Germany a couple of years ago, but I’d had several years of German, so that while it rusty, it was serviceable. I’ve only been taking French in my car for the last couple of months. How lost/in-trouble can we get?? :)

  9. Be sure to bring back to the Louvre that head you knocked off of the Winged Victory of Samothrace! I’m sure the statute of limitations on Defacing A Priceless Antiquity has run by now.

  10. Behind Notre Dame is the Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation (did you see “Sarah’s Key”?). It was a surprise find for us. I was quite overcome. Not the most cheerful thing in Paris to see, but you’ll have lots of that ;)

    Bon Voyage!

  11. Pingback: Last Call | Stevil

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