It’s been almost two and half years since we were last in Paris over Easter weekend. The sun was shining and spring was doing what it normally does to cities, make them beautiful and lively. Paris in the spring is a wonderful, and we spent a lot of time outdoors. This time, it’s pre-Christmas winter so we spent a lot of time seeing another side of Paris, indoors and at night.
Contrary to what you’d think, Paris in the winter does not disappoint. In fact it’s a great time to experience the City of Light. Springtime has the crowds, winter none. It’s a totally different experience this time of year, sure it’s colder and not as green and flowery, but that doesn’t mean a trip now is not without its benefits. You get to do a lot of inside stuff like going to empty (by comparison to spring) museums with no lines, easily get tables at cafes and restaurants at the regular eating times, and take in some jazz at one of the many jazz clubs.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t still walk everywhere. I read recently Paris is a city which still retains it’s cool vibe even if it’s raining. Having been there with some rain I can appreciate that. Sure it was cold and a little damp, yet walking around gave us a different picture of the city altogether. No huge crowds meant it felt more…well more real, like we were seeing the real Paris.
This time, instead of Montmarte we stayed in an excellent Airbnb flat on Ile St. Louis and we really liked being on the island next to Notre Dame. It’s very easy access from the airport on the RER, drops you off right at St Michel Notre Dame, 5 minute walk away. Also, since you’re in the middle of the Seine, you’re very close to either metro line which run along the right or left side of the river. It’s close enough to touristy things, yet not quite touristy. Perfect location for exploring. From here we could easily access the museums, Latin Quarter, and an area we were eager to explore, Marais.
One day we ended up walking around Le Marais, a neighborhood between Bastille and Hotel de Ville on the right bank. While wandering around we discovered two things: a jazz club we later went to and some interesting mosaics on the sides of buildings.
Cave du 38 Riv was holding a jam session or as it is known in Paris, a ‘boeuf.’ Free admission but you had to buy one drink. Drinks were really inexpensive though and from what I could gather this was a good deal. While I’m sure there are more famous jazz clubs in Paris, Cheryl and I are jazz club newbies so we thought it was pretty neat. It’s on Rue Rivoli near Hotel de Ville, is two floors below the street in a catacomb like vault and is tiny. I seriously don’t know how they got the piano down there. Probably holds about 25 people. Tightly. There’s a room with a bar in it tucked away off one of the corners but that’s it. Anyway, it was a jam session so musicians were jumping in and out all evening, got to see 4 or 5 different ‘bands’ play together. Sometimes there’d be a really good piano player, sometimes a good drummer, guitarist, etc. Like I said, it was pretty fun. Jazz in Paris. Do it.
The other new thing we discovered were these mosaics on buildings. I first saw the Q-bert one and thought it was interesting. Then we started to notice some more. Realizing this was probably not an accident I looked them up when we got back to our flat. Sure enough, mosaics like these exist all over Paris (and other cities). They are the creation of street artist called Invader who, Banksy-style (you know who he is, right?), puts tile mosaics of 8-bit video game characters on buildings. He takes his nom de guerre from Space Invaders, and the 8 bit characters he builds are very suitable for mosaic representation. Supposedly there are at least 1000 in Paris alone. We spotted 9. It became a fun game during the rest of the trip trying to find them as we were walking around neighborhoods
Another great thing about Paris in the winter there are no lines at museums. As part of our ‘let’s do some indoor things we decided to go to Musee l’Orangerie and Musee d’Orsay mostly because we like the Impressionists and you can buy one ticket for both, but don’t have to see them the same day. Purchase the ticket and gain admission for one, then have 4 days to go see the other one. If you go to Musee d’Orsay second, like we did, you also get the added benefit of a separate entrance for ‘passporte’ tickets. Didn’t matter though as there was no line for the regular entrance. Ah winter Paris, how I like you a lot.
Finally, the food. We were lucky enough to have a place right at the doorstep of our Airbnb rental, Fous de L’Ile, which came in very handy one evening when we were exhausted. Very good food. And a couple doors the other way, a boulangerie. Hello baguette for post city roaming wine and cheese and pastries for breakfast. But our favorite dinner was eaten at Vins de Pyrenees, a place in Marais near St Paul just off rue rivoli. Highly recommend it if you’re staying in the area.
Before finishing, here’s one last thing you’ll experience in winter Paris you won’t int he spring and summer: vin chaud. A perfect drink to order at a café during an afternoon walk in the neighborhoods. It’s chilly, not Edinburgh chilly where there’s a dampness which gets in your bones, but chilly cold so you need something to warm up. Vin chaud is that drink. It’s similar to gluhwein but is not as spiced nor as sweet. In fact when you order one the drink usually comes with a sugar packet so you can sweeten it up a little.
If it looks like we had a really fun time on this trip it’s because we did. We did some great walking around in our favorite neighborhoods, discovered some new ones, and did some really cool indoors stuff. So, if you’ve been to Paris in the spring do consider going when the crowds aren’t there and find a different side of the City of Light. Oh and did I mention this was all done in three days. Why is there never enough time?!?!?!?