Big Small Paris

by Gigi Griffis

“When we came back to Paris it was clear and cold and lovely. The city had accommodated itself to winter…” – Earnest Hemingway

Ah, Paris.

Someone asked me to describe it recently, which is a terribly hard thing to do.

Why? Because Paris isn’t just one city. It’s made up of a thousand little communities and neighborhoods, each with their own distinct flavor, but all cobbled together and all benefiting from the amenities and diversity that come with being part of a big city.

You can make your home in charming Montmartre, where the artists all lived. It’s the hilly part of the city, the part with the views of the rest of Paris. But you need only cross a few blocks to go from Montmartre into Pigalle, home of the Moulin Rouge, the crazy, wild sex shops, the street-corner prostitutes, and these little glue-sniffer things called poppers which are, apparently, legal.

From there, it’s just a short metro ride to Le Marais, home of distinct Jewish, Chinese, and gay communities, as well as spectacular art galleries, hilarious pastry shops, and the house of Nicholas Flamel. (That’s right. Like from Harry Potter.) And walk just across the river and you’ll find yourself surrounded by tourists at Notre Dame.

It’s like New York that way…with each neighborhood having its own style, drawing a certain type of person (from the posh families of the Upper West Side to the hipsters in Williamsburg). It’s also like New York in that it’s walkable and massive and charming. And that the locals really really wish the tourists would stop zig-zagging across the sidewalks in awe and just walk in a straight damn line.

The truth is that I’m really not qualified to answer the question. Describing Paris, even after a few weeks here, is a heavy task. One that’s been tackled by writers much more familiar and famous than I.

So I just told her that Paris is a thousand little neighborhoods, each with their own charm, personality, and verve. But to understand Paris, she’ll need to go see it for herself.

For the delight is in the details: The perfect pastry shop caddy-corner to your tiny studio apartment, the view up the hill from that side street restaurant you discovered your second day in Montmartre, the sassy, crowded small plates restaurant whose foie gras made you want to cry for joy.

Just like every new relationship, it’s the little details, the secrets, the personal connection that makes Paris all yours.

Bonsoir, darlings. Bienvenue en France.

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Rob February 21, 2013 - 8:40 am

My first experience in Paris was in my early 20s when my GF and I popped up from the metro on Blvd St. Michel and searched out a cheap but not entirely disgusting hotel before inflicting ourselves on the city. To this day (more than a few years since my early 20s, and GF long gone) I still remember vividly the smell (neither pleasant or unpleasant, but unique) and the great joy that was discovering that even though the rest of the city was asleep and quiet at dawn the little stand-up cafe on the corner had warm, fresh croissants and tiny cups of my favorite battery-acid espresso. I was in heaven. I’ve since discovered that most tourists (or Parisians for that matter) are not out and exploring at dawn,and so my experience is a little more unique than I realized then.

So, for me Paris is cool summer dawn with hot, black espresso and fresh bread. Even since that first trip, when I visit friends in Paris I sneak out early in the morning and the feeling is the same. Paris is an awesome place at 05:30 in July.

gigigriffis February 21, 2013 - 4:08 pm

I love that. You are so right about early mornings. Even the coffee shops aren’t open half the time. No one is out and about.

Neens February 21, 2013 - 3:33 pm

Ooooh, Nicholas Flamel! I wonder if he’s still alive? Dumbledore said he had stocked up on enough elixir to set his affairs in order, but who knows how long that takes when you’re 665 years old? (Sorry, recently reread all the HP books, lol!).

And ooooh (la la) Paris! One day…! ;o)

gigigriffis February 21, 2013 - 4:07 pm

Ha, yes! I love those books. So much.

Maria February 23, 2013 - 11:03 am

“It’s the little details, the secrets, the personal connection that makes Paris all yours.” I think this is true for everywhere. It’s what you make of it and the more you discover while there, the more precious a place can become

gigigriffis February 25, 2013 - 5:00 am

Very true.

Montecristo Travels (Sonja) February 25, 2013 - 8:18 am

We always have stayed in Le Marais … we just love it there. One restaurant in particular – Les Phylosophes … Ahhhhh…. what we love about that area is that it is 3 in one in itself. We stay at an adorable hotel that is real authentic Paris. Each room different! one all blue toile, the next red velour … we love La Bretonnerie.

But what I love about Les Marais is that i can avoid the metro (claustrophobic) and cars and all that and travel using the hop on hop off boats on the Seine. Soooooo relaxing and giving me access to everything I want to see in Paris. All of it. Walkable. No crowds, no push and shove… peaceful.

gigigriffis February 25, 2013 - 9:12 am

I really enjoy Le Marais as well (though I’ve only spent a little time there). And I’m with you – I much prefer walking to buses or metros when I can. I find that Montmartre is actually a decent walking distance from things as well, though most people here just take the metro. Walked to the Louvre the other day and it was lovely – only about a 30 minute brisk walk.

Montecristo Travels (Sonja) February 27, 2013 - 6:18 pm

Love walking …

A Small Dog’s Guide to Montmartre, Paris | The Ramble February 10, 2014 - 1:37 pm

[…] As usual, transportation was simple and the Paris metro is dog-friendly (though we honestly mostly walked, as I prefer it). However, this time I found that many of the bakeries and little shops we passed were not dog-friendly, so perhaps it’s true what I’ve heard (that Paris is getting less dog-friendly as time goes on) or perhaps dog-friendliness varies by street—Paris is, after all, an incredibly large and varied city. […]


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