Four Days in Paris

Eiffel Tower pillar

Paris is the most-visited city in the world.  I recently joined the crowd of more than 15 million people who visit the City of Lights every year.  There is lot to see and do in Paris; more than any traveler has time for.  Here are my recommendations on how to structure a short trip of four days in Paris.

The metro sign at Abbesses in Montmartre, the oldest Metro stop in Paris.
The Metro sign at Abbesses in Montmartre, the oldest Metro stop in Paris.

Day 1

Stay in Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement. This area has all of the charm you came to Paris to see.

Walk the streets of Montmartre day and night, taking frequent coffee breaks in one of the cafes.  Browse the local artwork in the Place du Tertre.  Shield your eyes near the red light district of Pigalle.

Moulin Rouge building
Don’t bother seeing the show at the Moulin Rouge…

Climb the steps to the 19th century Basilica du Sacré-Coeur on a clear day for a view across the city.

Place des Vosges square
The oldest square in Paris.

Ride the Metro to Le Marais, in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. Browse the trendy shops, walk the Jewish Quarter, and see some of the oldest buildings in the area.

When you get tired, take a nap in the Place des Vosges.  This is the oldest planned square in Paris. It was established in 1612 for the wedding of Louis XIII and some of the buildings around the square date from that time.

Day 2

Go to the Musee de L’Orangerie to see Monet’s famous painting called the “Water Lilies.”  The painting consists of eight large panels, four panels each presented in a large elipptical shaped room. Go early to avoid the crowds.

Walk over the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf, to Notre Dame. Take a peak in the church and then go outside to the front left of the building for the entrance to climb the towers.  Huff and puff your way to the top of one of the towers for an amazing photo opportunity of the city center. Try to find Quasimodo.

Pont des Arts locks.
Locks shining in the sun.

Head over to the Latin Quarter and wander the tourist-infested old streets. Don’t bother eating or drinking here unless you like vastly overpriced gruel and drool.

Next, hop back on the Metro for a ride over to the Champs du Mars for a view of the Eiffel Tower.  Then get in the extremely long line to ride the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  Bring a book to read while you wait. If you don’t care about getting to the top, don’t want to waste time in the line, and are willing to climb more stairs, go to the other leg of the tower and climb up to the first level.

Cross the Seine River to the Palais du Chaillot. Watch the fountains and take the obligatory photos of yourself pinching the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower pillar
The iconic Eiffel Tower.

Day 3

Go to the Musee du Louvre and notice that the Mona Lisa is actually quite small.  The Louvre is overwhelming in size and scope.  It’s tough to see it all in one day or before your brain turns to artistic apathy (unless you happen to be an art history major).  Determine what you want to see most of all, check on those highlights, and then get out of there.

Rest in the Tuileries Gardens and get a gelato.

Walk the length of the Champs d’Élyssées from the Place de la Concorde to Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe.  Peer into every window and imagine you have an unlimited platinum credit card in your pocket.  Don’t miss the Avenue Montaigne for the big designer stores.

Go to the top of the Arc d’Triomphe to look down the length of the Champs d’Élyssées to see why your feet hurt. Go back to your hotel in Montmartre and soak them in the bath.

Pont des Arts
Thousands of love locks on the Pont des Arts.
Paris graffiti
Ssshhhhh!

Day 4

Shop the giant Galleries Lafayette department store and the other stores in the area surrounding L’Opera.

Choose between visiting the Musée d’Orsay (if you like Impressionism), or the Pompidou Museum (if modern art is more your thing).

Take a “bateau mouche” boat ride on the river Seine.  It starts near the Eiffel Tower and goes around the islands called the Íle de la Cité and the Íle Saint-Louis and back to the Eiffel Tower.  On one ride on the river I was mooned by some rowdy youths!

 

 

 

When it comes to eating, I recommend seeking out the tiny ethnic restaurants in the backstreets and avoiding the brasseries.  The menus in the brasseries seem to be the same everywhere, and the food is mediocre.  However, you can find some wonderful and relatively inexpensive meals in the ethnic restaurants.

Not to be missed are Ladureé macarons!  The flagship store is on the Avenue des Champs d’Élyssées.

Paris is expensive, so bring plenty of euros and watch out for pickpockets.  Despite the high cost and the crowds, there is no other city in the world like Paris.

Musee d'Orsay clock
The clock at the Musee D’Orsay.

The Pickpockets of Paris

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Palais du Chaillot

In any big city of the world there are many perils to try to avoid. One of them is the street crime of pickpocketing. Before returning to France for the first time in nine years, I read up on the latest news in Paris tourism. I was checking out the new attractions in the city and came cross an article warning tourists of the most recent scams. Little did I know that I would experience firsthand two of the main scams described in the article on my first day in Paris.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Palais du Chaillot
La Tour Eiffel.

I left my hotel in the First Arrondissement after breakfast to go for a long walk around the Île de la Cité and the Latin Quarter. I had my typically large and expensive camera around my neck, clearly marking me as a tourist of the most garish sort. As I crossed the Rue de Rivoli in front of the Louvre Museum I noticed several scruffy looking young men loitering in the big empty plaza. From a distance I could see that the guys all had dark hair and swarthy skin. They were gypsies (more formally known as Roma).

In some situations I might cross the street again to avoid this gathering. I would definitely do that late at night or if I was accompanying my wife and/or daughter. But it was only 9am in a busy part of the city. There were many tourists walking towards the Louvre. So I kept walking.

By the time I got to the first guy, some of the other guys had spread out and were approaching other passersby. At least half of the guys had clipboards in one hand and a pen in the other. The other half of the guys were empty handed. Thanks to my pre-trip research, I knew I was about to be subjected to the Survey Con.

Metro sign
Beware of the pickpockets…

The Survey Con is a pickpocketing technique that is much more blatant and obvious than the usual bump on the crowded Metro. It works best when the thieves have blended into a crowd of people walking down a sidewalk. A first thief is the survey taker. He (or she) approaches the mark (me in this case) and politely greets the mark and asks if you wouldn’t mind taking the time to answer a few questions for a survey of great importance. The survey taker may adapt the pitch according to the age, socioeconomic status, and perceived interests of the mark. The approach works better when the survey taker is well dressed, articulate, and formal. This puts the mark at ease. It works particularly well when the survey taker is an attractive young woman and the mark is a man (of any age).

The mark answers the questions of the survey, and the survey taker notes the answers and engages the mark in a dialogue. While the mark is temporarily distracted by thinking about his or her answers, the second thief (the accomplice) comes up behind the mark and pickpockets him or her. In some sophisticated rings, there may be multiple accomplices who crowd and jostle the mark, and any one of them will lift the goods from the mark.

These guys were crude amateurs. For one thing, there were at least a dozen of them in the same spot, all trying to run the same con at the same time on multiple passersby. They were dressed like they had slept on the street and they were doing this in a wide open plaza instead of a crowded sidewalk.

The survey taker approached me and I stared him in the eyes and firmly shouted “Non!” I briskly walked away without looking back to hopefully lessen the chances of him being persistent and following me. The tactic worked. He gave up on me and looked for an easier mark.

It concerned me that the Paris police do nothing to stop this behavior in front of the biggest tourist attraction in the country.

I.M. Pei's pyramid in front of the Louvre Museum
A fine summer morning in front of the Louvre Museum.

As I walked around the city over the course of two days I was approached three different times with the Ring Con.

The Ring Con is another wide open pickpocketing technique. The thief spots a potential mark in a crowd or walking on a sidewalk, unobtrusively approaches the mark, and bends down and picks up a gold ring off the ground.

“Excuse moi, monsieur!” the thief will say. “I think you dropped this ring.”

The mark stops to respond to this statement, looks at the ring, and checks his or her fingers, purse or pockets.

“No, you’re mistaken. It’s not my ring. It must be someone else’s ring.” says the mark.

While the mark is distracted by this ruse, an accomplice comes up from behind and pickpockets the mark.

I don’t know why, but each time I was approached in this manner the thief was a respectable looking old woman (a different woman each time). Maybe the old woman thinks that younger people will automatically think she is trustworthy and honest in trying to return something of great value to a stranger. Certainly I would never think my mother or grandmother would be part of a pickpocketing tandem.

I think also that the thief palms the ring with some sleight of hand instead of actually picking it up off the ground.

The first two times this happened to me I instinctively turned away from the old woman and kept walking briskly past. The third time I had had enough.

I looked threateningly at her and rattled off an angry stream of expletives. I yelled that it was the third time I’d seen the Ring Con since yesterday and that I was going to call the gendarmes.

She turned and ran away.

P.S. Paris has the reputation of being the world’s capital of rude waiters. In past visits, I have noted that Parisian waiters are snooty, snotty, and surly. The tourist commission must have sent all of the waiters to a reeducation camp. On this brief mid-summer trip every waiter I had was friendly, smiling, and helpful. I was beginning to wonder which city I was really in! What a change for the better. Go to Paris before the old waiters come back from holiday.

Royal Palace Garden
The Jardin du Palais Royal.