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Paris: The not-so-hot list, with happy alternatives

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Bir-Hakeim Métro stop Paris
Hold onto your handbags at the Bir-Hakeim Métro stop. Photos by Theadora Brack

By Theadora Brack in Paris—

Typically I share what’s hot in Paris, but this week, I’ve decided to drop what’s not so hot. My list is short and personal. There isn’t much I dislike about the city. Heck, I even dig the kitschy Latin Quarter. Like designer Jean Paul Gaultier says, “Everything is beautiful if you think it is beautiful.” I couldn’t agree more.

But for the moment, let’s dig deep and keep it real, Cheapos. If something hasn’t lived up to its hype, I will tell like it is. Plus, I’ll throw down a few alternative suggestions, for the love of Pollyanna. So pull up a chair.

1. Stock Shops along rue d’Alésia

“Get out,” you shout. “Why are stock shops (outlets) on your list?” I hear you. People often sing their praises. Hip French favorites Naf-Naf and Cacharel, along with Sonia Rykiel’s SR shop are all represented in the ’hood.

But so far, after years of hunting, I’m sad to report that I’ve found not one keeper. Truth be told, the discounted designer “seconds” are still out of my Cheapo price range, while garb in the chains like Naf-Naf cost just slightly less than they do at the grand magasins.

Plan B: Instead, I’d recommend either scoring the trends at one of the chain’s regular shops, or buying your get-ups at the bargain bins of Sympa in Montmartre for €1 to €10 a pop. Here, Sympa slashes prices like no other. Looking for designer duds? I’d suggest a full day of fine vintage shop-hopping throughout the city. Let’s not forget the flea markets, brocantes and vide-greniers (yard sales), where I recently scooped up a 1960s black wiggle dress by Tricosa Paris. Cost? €1. Mad Men experience? Zipless.

The Eiffel Tower and Le Mur pour la Paix

2. The Bir-Hakeim Métro stop

Visiting the Eiffel Tower? Avoid the Bir-Hakeim Métro stop. Sure, the elevated station is a stunner with its picture-perfect cobalt blue stained glass. And yes, it’s the closest stop to the Eiffel Tower, and by far the most popular jumping-off place to see the Tower, but for the love of your bag or wallet, don’t go there. This is a happy hunting ground for pickpockets. Along the narrow path to the Tower, you’ll also collide with throngs of tourists and vendors galore, loudly selling bazillions of miniature Eiffel Tower replicas.

Plan B: Sidestep the stressful hubbub by heading to the École Militaire Métro stop, and then strolling up the Champs de Mars. At the southeast end of the old cadet marching grounds, you’ll find an art installation called “Le Mur pour la Paix,” created in 2000. The word “peace” is inscribed in 49 languages on large glass panes and on tall, slender metal columns. Along the way to the Tower, you’ll also pass a carousel, pony rides and a go-cart track for the kiddies.

The Métro Pont-de l’Alma is also another safe bet. Just outside the Métro station, you’ll find another spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower, along with the Flamme de la Liberté memorial, serving double duty as the unofficial Princess Di shrine. Royal pilgrims still leave poems, flowers, and love letters there. Pack a hanky!

Ladurée's macarons, photographed from outside the shop.

3. Ladurée macarons

No ifs, ands or buns about it, Ladurée macarons are beauties. Powered by pink pyramids, their window displays have even made me cry. I’ve often photographed these pretties throughout the years. And we all know their story by now: how Belle Époch poster artist Jules Chéret designed their Saint-Germain tea salon and shop at 21 Rue Bonaparte. Plus, Ladurée’s pastel colors inspired the color schemes in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette biopic.

But golly gee sham—are they really worth an hour’s wait in line? But here’s where the cookie really crumbled for me. Photography (while waiting in line to purchase said macarons) is strictly forbidden. If caught, the shrill, finger-wagging sales associates will loudly scold you like there’s no tomorrow. Really? Scared much of copycats? In this social media world, perhaps it’s time to wake up and smell the café. Just saying.

Undercover snapping at Ladurée.

Plan B: On the flip side, the amiable Gérard Mulot with its equally photogenic (and far less expensive and even, many claim, better-tasting) macarons in day-glo hues welcomes photo-ops at all three locations. Plus, time spent in line averages way under 15 minutes.

Gérard Mulot’s shops are located in Saint-Germain des Prés and the Marais, but the main bakery and flagship shop are located at 93 Rue Glacière in the 13th arrondissement. Tours of the workshop are offered. Just contact the Glacière shop prior to your visit. Now, that’s service!

Your not-so-hot list

Do you have anything to add to our list of places to avoid (hopefully with a happy alternative)? Add it to the list in our comments section.

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

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3 thoughts on “Paris: The not-so-hot list, with happy alternatives”

  1. Pingback: Paris trip journal: Photo challenge – new angles on the Eiffel Tower « Bite-sized Travel

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  3. Thank you for this great article! Much fun to read. And oh boy, allow me to agree with you on the Ladurée thing, just look at their window display and pass on. Same thing for the “Le Bon Marché” pastries department. Ok, I agree, it looks fantastic. But never try to purchase anything there. It is almost as if they are doing you a favour by letting you buy something, and you have to kiss their feet when they have finally wrapped up your tiny pastry and you’ve moved, waiting forever, trough 4 different area’s (ordering, packing, paying, picking up your package, all the time wavering your little ticket like in the previous Soviet Union stores) and are allowed to pay a small fortune and not even get a glimpse of a smile in return.
    (This doesn’t count for the rest of the Bon Marché btw, which I love)

    So much better to go talk a stroll in the Tuileries, sit a bit on a chair around the lake watch the ducks, hop into WH Smith and wander for an hour, and than…go right next door to Le Sansevéria, where they have the best “tarte tatin” (upside down apple pie) and “fondant au chocolat” (hot fudge chocolate cake still running) in a very funky pop interior….but again, it’s personal…..Thanks again Theadora, for making us love Paris every time a bit more (or less this time, wink)

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