It's no question that Paris is one of the most-visited cities in the world. And just as there are millions of travelers who visit the "City of Light" each year, there are a million ways to "do" Paris. If you have your checklist, make sure you visit The Louvre and Versailles. We added Musee d'Orsay and a trip to the Ile de la Cite. This island is home to both Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle. The adjoining island, Ile Saint-Louis, is home to the famous ice cream shop, Berthillon.
This time we took a different approach. First, we opted for an apartment instead of a hotel. We tried this strategy first in Rome and it worked well. The apartment was less than a hotel (650 euros per week) -- and it included fast wireless internet and a full kitchen. Pascal Zytomirski owns several apartments in nice neighborhoods, and he represents several others on his website: www.rentalfrance.com. Our one-bedroom apartment on the Boulevard des Malesherbes (in Paris's 8th arrondissement) was quiet, very close to the Metro and some great breakfast bars.
Although the unit had a full kitchen, we didn't cook anything, but we did use the refrigerator for snacks and drinks.
Pascal met us on arrival and gave us a reference sheet to the neighborhood with directions to the Metro and some of his favorite restaurants.
One of the best ways to warm up to Paris is simply to get out and walk. Whether it's a stroll along the Seine or exploring one of the many open-air markets, you cannot help but smile when you turn the corner and see the Eiffel Tower or the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe.
For some keen insight on some of Paris's interesting neighborhoods, hook up with Terrance Gelenter.
Raised on the East Coast, Gelenter offers several walking tours "Through Expatriate Eyes."
We met Gelenter at one of his favorite coffee shops, Les Deux Magots, on the "Rive Gauche" along the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Trendy... sophisticated. Like Paris itself. "The cafe really is the centerpiece of your social life in Paris," said Gelenter.
So began a three-hour running commentary on all things Parisian -- the layout of the city, the architecture, the neighborhoods and the personalities that defined them over the years. Novelists, jazz musicians, social outcasts, they all came to Paris.
On the walking tour, Gelenter guides you through some of his favorite shops -- often visiting with the owners. There's a minuscule jewelry gallery (just 10 square meters) run by a Texan expat, John Agee (11 rue Jacob).
Then there is a stop at Laduree (21 Rue Bonaparte), with arguably the world's best Macaroons. "They don't ship well," claimed Gelenter. "It's better just to eat them here," he said. We did. Yum!
Gelenter's route includes a walk across the Seine on the Pont des Arts, Paris's pedestrian-only bridge. From this vantage, you can see many of Paris's landmarks, including Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, as well as the scenic houseboat and barge traffic along the river.
An insider's knowledge comes in handy in a city like Paris. While we relaxed in the shadow of I.M. Pei's Pyramid at the Louvre, Gelenter claimed to know the "back door" to the Louvre to avoid the long lines.
He also knew great places to eat, depending on your taste. For lunch, we opted for Le Mesturet (77 rue de Richelieu).
It's a popular restaurant for locals, and we had the chance to sample fresh, local dishes including lamb, duck and crab. Accompanied, of course, by Proprietaire Allen Fontaine's favorite Rhone varietal wine from the Luberon area.
There is no shortage of shopping opportunities in the City of Light. Choose from the super-expensive to the slightly-less-expensive. But the selection and variety of goodies is staggering.
It was all I could do to buy a few chocolates for friends. Inside "Printemps," the giant French department store, there were no less than three in-store chocolate boutiques from top-rated Parisian chocolate makers.
Because our apartment was in the residential 8th arrondissement, there were several boutique grocers nearby, as well as a couple of supermarkets. We had no problem loading up on wine, cheese, bread and some fancy cold-cuts for dinner.
On our last night, we met Gelenter at a Basque restaurant, La Tute (75 rue Sainte-Anne) for a special event, "The Running of the Lambs." Meant as a knock-off of Pamplona's running of the bulls, this menu featured several lamb dishes native to the Pyrenees region between France and Spain.
It's only held once each year when the restaurant can get a particularly tasty selection of locally raised sheep.
I'm not sure where Parisians (or any of the French, for that matter) got the reputation for being rude.
We found the Parisians to be quite helpful -- from the Metro operators to restaurant staff. I've retained precious little of my high school French lessons, but even a few words went a long way, aside from providing many folks with a good chuckle as I tried to hammer out a phrase.
• PARIS SHUTTLE: We had an early flight from Charles de Gaulle airport. This service was much less than a taxi. www.paris-shuttle.com
• PARIS THROUGH EXPAT EYES: Tour the markets. Cruise the Seine. Get the whole story from Terrance Gelenter. www.paris-expat.com
• RENTAL FRANCE: Pascal's agency has a good selection of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. Rates are quoted per week. www.rentalfrance.com