Travel to France

As the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris depicted, the City of Lights has a long history of attracting fascinating characters. All those people eventually have to end up somewhere, often at Pere Lachaise and Montparnasse Cemetery. Paris has become one of the few cities where visiting the dead is a popular attraction.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Opened by Napoleon in 1804, the Pere Lachaise cemetery with its 300,000 graves is the largest in Paris. It’s a beautiful, even romantic, spot for a stroll. The visitor can get lost for hours among the serpentine tree-covered paths. While it’s the final resting place for many famous people, a quiet area can usually be found away from the celebrity crowd.

Pere Lachaise path

Go and explore on the miles of cobblestoned paths.

Pere Lachaise cemetery man reclining

We just love the look on this gentleman’s face, “Okay, I’m done. Can I just take a nap now?”

Pere Lachaise cemetery woman weeping on tomb

There are many graves with women weeping in agony but we didn’t see one of a man doing the same thing.

Pere Lachaise Rossini grave

The original grave of Rossini, the Italian composer of the stirring William Tell overture, is typical of the style of the mid-19th century. These mini-mausoleums provide a private chapel inside to pray. (Later his remains were moved to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. He’s in some illustrious company there with Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.)

Pere Lachaise cemetery Jim Morrison grave crowd

Despite all the Napoleonic-era generals, famous composers and other luminaries, the most visited tomb at Pere Lachaise is still that of former Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. Forty-plus years after his death he’s still drawing standing-room-only crowds.

Pere Lachaise cemetery Jim Morrison tomb graffiti

You probably wouldn’t want to be buried next to the former rock star. The headstone next to him attracts quite a bit of graffiti, including the expression above. It’s now surrounded by a fence and a guard is on constant vigil.

Pere Lachaise Oscar Wilde grave

Much like the person, Oscar Wilde’s grave has had a long and sordid history. The lifelike genitalia on the angel were stolen while the slab itself attracted graffiti and lipstick kisses. The governments of France and Ireland recently restored the tomb and put up a glass barrier around it. Now those wishing to leave a kiss behind must plant one on the wall instead.

Pere Lachaise root pushing headstone

In a macabre tableau, some of the headstones are being toppled by tree roots which look eerily like skeletal arms pushing up from below.

If you visit, climb up the hill and walk around the older sections that are in a somewhat tumbledown condition. Some areas look they haven’t been touched in a century.

Pere lachaise Auschwitz memorial

There are about a dozen Holocaust memorials that are truly heart-wrenching.

Here are some interesting books about Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Montparnasse Cemetery

After a black-and-white day at Pere Lachaise, we were in the mood for a bit of color at the Montparnasse Cemetery. It’s also more accessible than Pere Lachaise due its flat, compact size.

Montparnasse cemetery Pigeon grave bed

One of the more well-known graves is of Charles and Sophie Pigeon who are still in bed looking like they just happen to be discussing the day’s events. Monsieur Pigeon made his fortune by inventing the non-exploding Pigeon lamp, which sounds like it could be something totally different, that he exhibited at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.

Montparnasse Cemetery Man Ray

Influential photographer and painter Man Ray was born in South Philly. His headstone on the left says “unconcerned but not indifferent” and is signed by wife Juliet. Hers says simply “Together Again.”

Montparnasse Cemetery Man peering behind ivy

This man peering out from behind the creeping ivy is trying his best not to be forgotten.

Montparnasse Cemetery Alexander Alekhine chess

Former world chess champion Alexandre Alekhine of Russia has a chess board imbedded in front of his tomb. I wonder if any of his fans ever play a match on it.

Montparnasse Cemetery Sartre Grave

There is a tradition of leaving Metro tickets on the grave of French philosophy couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Montparnasse Cemetery Sartre Simone de Beauvoir grave metro tickets

I can’t find out why that is. Does anyone know the answer?

Montparnasse cemetery cherubs with cross

Have you ever visited a cemetery on vacation?

Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is a hauntingly beautiful place where you can visit the the grave of rock star Jim Morrison, along with many other famous artists, writers and musicians.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

We found an easier way to get around Paris. Download this Paris Metro map pdf and you’ll always know where you are in the City of Light. This official city map is difficult to find (we’re not sure why), so we’ve made it available for you below.

The entrance to most Paris Metro stations display the map "avec rues" (with streets). Get your own free copy to navigate like a local!

Paris’ public transportation takes visitors just about anywhere. The traditional Paris Metro map shows the train routes as a series of colored lines. That gives a you general idea where the lines are located in the city, and how they relate to each other. But it doesn’t show you, the visitor, exactly where you are compared to the actual streets above ground.

Paris Metro map avec rues (with streets)

Screen shot of Paris Metro map ave rues
A screenshot of the Paris Metro map avec rues

But we’ve found a better Paris Metro map: the grand plan lignes avec rues (lines with streets). It has three unique features that make it especially useful for visitors:

  1. The map displays the metro lines with all their twists and turns
  2. It overlays the lines on the actual city streets
  3. The map includes icons of major tourist sights

Download the Paris Metro Map PDF avec rues (It’s free!)

YES! Finally you can look at a map, figure out exactly where you are and where you want to go, then make an informed decision about how to get there. Additionally, when you arrive at your destination stop, you’ll be able to determine exactly where you are in the city. For me, one of the most frustrating things about taking a subway/metro is walking through the various underground passageways that twist this way and that. The typical metro map only displays how the train lines relate to one another, not to the city itself. By the time you pop up above ground, you are completely disoriented as to where you are.

Classic stylized map of Paris Metro
The traditional stylized Metro map is most useful for determining how the lines relate to each other, but it doesn’t tell you what’s going on at street level.

Heading to Paris? Compare Paris hotel prices using this handy tool!

With the map avec rues, you can figure out your location pretty quickly. Once you get above ground, a quick look at a few street signs will tell you where you are in no time. You can also make more informed decisions about where you’re going, and the best route to get there.

For example, take a look at the screen shot excerpts from the two different types of maps below. The traditional “cartoon,” or stylized map is on the left, the map avec rues is on the right. They both show the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides. Assuming you want to visit both Left Bank attractions, you use a map to plan your day. Using the “cartoon” map at left, it appears that the first stop might be “Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel” to visit the Eiffel Tower. Then, after doing a quick Google search for the best metro stop for Les Invalides, you’d get three possible options: “La Tour Maubourg,” “Ecole Militaire,” or “Varenne.” Back onto the Metro you go, change trains, and pop up near Les Invalides.

Now, plan out the same excursion using the map avec rues (above right).With the metro lines overlaying the actual city streets, it’s easy to see that Les Invalides is fairly close to the Eiffel Tower. You probably won’t need to jump back on the Metro at all! Additionally, you can see that you have several options for which line to take to the Eiffel Tower at the outset. And take a look at the “Ecole Militaire” stop. It’s right between both sights, AND it drops you off in front of the large park where most people take those sweeping views of the Eiffel Tower—Score!

Download the Paris Metro Map PDF avec rues

In this larger view of the Paris metro map “avec rues” you see exactly where the metro stops are, along with major streets in the neighborhood.

Paris Metro map PDF (and hard copies)

The Paris Metro grand plan lignes avec rues is published by RATP, Paris’ public transit system. The Paris Metro map pdf is available on the RATP website, but it’s a little difficult to find. That’s why we’ve made it handy for you to download here:

Download the Paris Metro Map PDF avec rues (OUR FAVORITE!)

The map is easy to use on a phone or tablet.

Hard copies of the Paris Metro grand plan lignes avec rues are technically available at city ticket offices. According to Paris info.com (the official Paris tourism) website,

“There are detailed street maps, plans of the “arrondissement” or maps showing the public transport network. You can obtain free maps from the ticket offices in metro stations, in the department stores and at all the information centres of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau (the latter is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Russian!).”

However, paper copies of just about everything are getting more difficult to find these days. We suspect (but we don’t know for certain) that this map may no longer be in print. Once existing stock is depleted, it may not be replenished. Therefore, if you are an “old school,” hard copy kind of person, it’s probably not a good idea to count on picking up a copy once you’ve arrived in Paris. We recommend downloading the PDF file and printing it out before you leave home. (If you’re able to find a hard copy once you’re there, consider it a bonus! 😊)

Certainly there are Paris Metro route finder apps that can be downloaded to smart phones or tablets. But based on our experience, this is one case where “a map is better than an app.” The map shows the big picture, giving you options to determine which routes are best for you. Apps, in our experience, don’t always give the best recommendations. (Plus the map is free, and doesn’t take up much memory in your phone or tablet, so what have you got to lose?!)

Armed with this user-friendly map, anyone can soon be navigating around Paris like a native. This map helped us find these less crowded sights in Paris, as well as Pere Lachaise Cemetery. And while we were riding the Metro, we enjoyed some of these entertaining Street Musicians of Paris.

Heading to Paris? Compare Paris hotel prices using this handy tool!


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Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here. SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave

Attracting millions of tourists a year, Paris is one of the most popular destinations in the world. But there are still plenty of off the beaten path sights in Paris where a visitor can roam freely.

Explore the hidden gardens of the Eiffel Tower

eiffelt ower gardens and ponds

The lines to ride the elevators to the top of the Eiffel Tower often serpentine around the base as visitors wait for hours. Less known are the lovely gardens and hidden ponds tucked away at the base of the structure. Take some time to explore these undiscovered areas. They offer a unique view of the symbol of Paris, offering a sense of solitude mere steps away from the tourist throngs visiting the Eiffel Tower.

Excite your tastebuds on “Falafel Alley

PAris Las du falafal (800x626)

Falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made up of a mixture of chick peas, fava beans and spices. It’s served in a pita with tahini sauce and shredded vegetables. Rue des Rosiers in the 4th arrondissement is home to two of the best falafel places in Paris: Mi Va Mi at #23 and L’As du Fallafel at #34. The latter often has long lines winding down the block while you can often stroll right into Mi Va Mi. That’s what we suggested doing. Both places are so good there’s no need waiting to fill your falafel craving if you don’t have to. (But to be fair, the line does move quickly.) If you’re more in a meat mood, try the shawarma too.

It’s always tea time at the Museum of Tea at Mariage Frères

tea museum mariage freres paris (800x558)

Mariage Frères at 30 rue du Bourg-Tibourg is a must-see destination for tea lovers. Part shop and part tea room, real aficionados will head down the stone stairway to the basement to see the underappreciated Museum of Tea. Two rooms are chock full of exhibits about the history of tea and the Mariage Frères brand. After you peruse the examples of tea and antique tea canisters displayed, head upstairs for a hot cup of tea or buy some leaves to brew your own later.

Roam a quiet village in the city

butte aux cailles paris

If the hustle and bustle of Paris have you longing for a quiet country feel, head over to Butte Aux Cailles at the southern end of town.  This pocket neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement seems like it was carved out of a provincial town. The quiet, hilly streets are dotted with charming cafes and shops—but nothing particularly hip or trendy. An afternoon stroll through Butte Aux Cailles provides a breath of fresh air and a chance to recharge your batteries before heading back into the center of the City of Light.

Turn the page on the Left Bank

Paris san francisco bookstore (800x638)

Head over to the 6th arrondissement where two Americans from California operate used bookstores within a coin’s toss of each other. The San Francisco Book Company opened in 1997 while Berkeley Books was formed in 2006 by three employees of the former store. They each offer a stellar selection of quality used books with a few new popular titles thrown into the mix. There is a story behind this perhaps not so friendly competition but neither bookshop owner has revealed it. Either way, readers benefit from the thousands of reasonably priced titles on display.

A people’s tribute to Princess Diana

Paris diana memorial graffiti (800x574)

When Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris in 1997 near the Place de l’Alma, the site of her death became an instant area for makeshift memorials devoted to her memory. It’s right by the Flame of Liberty, a sculpture that is a replica of the flame atop the Statue of Liberty in New York City, which was placed here in 1987 to commemorate American-French relations. Plans to dedicate a permanent memorial to Diana in Paris have never materialized, so her fans and followers still gather by the Flame of Liberty and inscribe notes to her on the stone walkway nearby.

 

On a first trip to Paris most visitors go through the checklist of “must-see” attractions: The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame are usually the most popular. But there are many less crowded sights in Paris.

Imagine strolling through a museum and you are the only one there. Or finding a quiet corner in a park to get attached to the rhythms of the city without the crowds. Here are a few such places to visit in Paris.

5 less crowded sights in Paris

1) Picpus Cemetery

This bucolic setting (pictured above) is Paris’ only private cemetery. It holds the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette. A US flag always flies over this hero of the American Revolution, courtesy of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  The cemetery also contains the remains of victims of the Reign of Terror who were guillotined in 1794. Rows of manicured rose gardens leading to a simple stone commemorating those who died create a poignant tableau. (Thanks to one of our readers, Barbara, for suggesting this site.)

picpus cemetery paris

2) Musee des Plans Reliefs (The Relief Map Museum at Les Invalides)

A visitor can spend days at Les Invalides, the French military museum that also houses Napoleon’s tomb. But tucked into a quiet attic space is the Relief Map Museum, a collection of 30 antique scale-models of fortified sites from the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of the room-sized models are over 300 years old. They were used by kings and generals to plan military fortifications and engage in war games. Due to its almost clandestine location, this museum is usually empty and you’ll have it to yourself.

less crowded sights in paris (640x501)

3) Les Egouts (The sewers)

How many cities can claim a sewer system with a literary heritage? Les Egouts are featured prominently in Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables. Believe it or not, they can make for a fascinating half-hour. Visitors stroll along open culverts carrying effluent, and who knows what else, from the city streets above. Wear a hat because sometimes those rusty overhead pipes leak. It’s a short walk from the Eiffel Tower so you can combine the two to see Paris from both its crystal-clear heights and murky depths. Sure the Eiffel Tower is romantic, but was it featured in The Phantom of the Opera? Here’s information on how to tour the sewers of Paris.

Paris sewers

Book a unique Paris tour with Viator.

4) The Catacombs

Miles of underground pathways containing the bones of over 6 million people, many of them arranged in quite decorative poses. It’s also where the French Resistance hid from the Gestapo during World War II. This site is best visited in the winter, spring or fall to avoid the peak summer season when there are long waits to get in. However those long waits are due to entry being limited, so once you descend into the Catacombs it won’t be too crowded. If you do go in summer go later in the day. It’s popular with teenage boys and other ghoulish types.

Catacombs mortal sign

5) Chateau D’ Vincennes

If you can’t make it to the château region try this local spot. Located on the outskirts of Paris, but easily reachable by Metro, this 14th-century structure is one of the best preserved castles in Europe.  Don’t forget to visit the dungeon where you can see the cell of the infamous Marquis de Sade.

Chateau de vincennes

Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!Five sights in Paris where you can avoid the crowds and still get a good dose of the city's history

Here’s a list of Larissa’s favorite offbeat sights in Paris.

What favorite bits of Paris do you recommend?

Book your own unique Paris tour with Viator.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.


Last week Michael wrote about some of his less crowded sights in Paris. We both love the nooks and crannies of the City of Light, and fortunately there are plenty of them. My suggestions are a little less grim than his—I prefer to spend my time above ground.

Five less crowded sights in Paris

 1) Malmaison  

The former home of Josephine Bonaparte, this “petite château” sits among beautiful gardens on the outskirts of Paris. It is easily accessible by metro and bus. Meticulously restored with many original furnishings, Malmaison offers insight to the country life where Napoleon spent his weekends away from Paris. History, culture, gardens and a cool chateau in one tidy little package. Far more digestible, and less crowded, than Versailles.

Less crowded sights in Paris Malmaison (550x440)

Malmaison was Napoleon and Josephine’s love nest.

2) English Language Bookstores of the Left Bank  

For a glimpse into Paris’ literary past, start with a visit to Shakespeare & Co., perched opposite Notre Dame cathedral. It’s a 1950’s-era reboot of the original shop that closed during WWII, that somehow manages to channel ghosts of both the lost the beat generations. It’s a tiny, creaky old place with tons of great titles. Don’t miss the mini-museum on the 2nd floor. Once you’re in a literary mood, amble over to the Odeon neighborhood where two competing used bookshops, San Francisco Books and Berkeley Books (there’s a story behind this budding rivalry), offer previously read tomes at reasonable prices. They each have good Paris-related sections, including guidebooks.

Less crowded sights in Paris-One of the left bank's English bookstores

Channel your inner Hemingway at Shakespeare and Company

3) Musée Marmottan Monet

This small museum boasts one of the largest collections of Monet’s works in the world. It is the “city sister” of the well-known Monet Gardens at Giverny. Housed in a former mansion in the 16th arrondisement, the Marmottan’s manageable size and bucolic setting enable a slow perusal of some legendary artwork, including paintings by Monet’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist colleagues. An excellent collection of medieval illuminations is also on display.

4) Saxe-Breteuil Market

A street food market in spectacular setting behind the Ecole Militaire with a view of the Eiffel Tower. It is crowded, but not with tourists carrying guidebooks. Open every Thursday and Saturday morning, Saxe-Breteuil is where residents of the 7th and 14th arrondisements shop for groceries. If you don’t have a flat with a kitchen you’ll only be able to ogle the cabbage-sized artichokes, Breton lobsters and fresh duck eggs. But even a visitor with a small hotel room can pick up fresh Normandy cider, ham cut to order off the bone and a hunk of aged Auvergne cheese.

Less crowded sights Paris-the tasty Saxe Breteuil Market

Sniff out a few bargains at the fish counter.

5) Canal St. Martin

This multi-locked canal forms the spine of a neighborhood north of the Bastille. Trees and tiny parks line the 4 km long waterway, arced with delicate iron footbridges every few blocks. The streets alongside house some funky shops and small cafes. There are plenty of spots to enjoy a simple picnic while watching the barges and tour boats float by as they are raised and lowered through the locks.

Less crowded sights in Paris- Canal Saint-Martin

The canal provides a relaxing setting for a picnic.

I hope you found these “less gritty” and “more pretty” than Michael’s suggestions.

Like it? Share it . . .Pin it!Here are 5 lesser-known sights in Paris that are truly peaceful & pretty--including Napoleon & Josephine's love nest & an Impressionist museum that's NOT the Musee d'Orsay ;)

Can you recommend some other sights in Paris?

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

This week we tackle travel myths and misconceptions related to destinations. In our many years of travel to 70 countries, we’ve learned to take what we read in guidebooks with a grain of salt and form our own opinions. Some places were pleasant surprises, others not so nice. Read on to see if you’ve encountered the same, or have others to add to the list:

Travel Myth #8: The French are rude. (They are NOT!)

rocky statue paris

Oh bullmerde! Do these people look rude? The French are nice people, and very proud of their country and its traditions. We have been to France many times and have never had to deal with rude Frenchmen.  The French are not very tolerant of rude travelers—they will simply be standoffish in return. And who can blame them? I’ve seen plenty of tourists march up to a random Frenchman and ask in English, “Where is the Eiffel Tower?” Learning a few simple words like sil vous plait and merci  will go miles in engendering good will. A good practice wherever you travel. (Thanks to the very nice Barbara and Didier for posing with Little Rocky in Paris.)

Travel blogger Barbara Weibel of The Hole in the Donut writes more about smashing the myth of French rudeness.

Travel Myth #9: You have to take a group tour or safari to visit Africa

Soussevlei sand dunes Namibia

Nope—try Namibia. The 22-year-old nation on the southwest coast of Africa is a safe spot for self-drive road trips. It offers an abundance of wild animals, a sterling national park system, and spectacular scenery. Many of the countries popular for safaris—Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa—warn against moving about the country on your own due to safety concerns, so a group tour is your only option.  In Namibia we drove around the country alone for 3 weeks, and there were days we were the sole humans viewing a waterhole filled with 30 elephants taking a bath. Just be sure not to wake a sleeping lion.

Travel Myth #10:  Bali is a paradise

Bali Kuta Beach trash

Sadly, we found this not to be true.  Rampant overbuilding and way too many tourists have made the southern part of the island overcrowded. Traffic is a nightmare, the streets full of litter and the beaches are some of the filthiest we have ever seen. They even have a time of year known as the “trash season”—yuck. The Balinese people are wonderful, and beauty still exists on the island, but you have to head pretty far inland to find it. Here’s more on our experience with Bali’s trashy beaches.

Travel Myth #11:  Middle Easterners don’t like Americans

Rocky Mohammad Lebanon Abu Dhabi

Total hummus. We spent 2 months traveling independently throughout the Middle East. Wherever we went, people asked where we were from. When we replied “the US” their first response was universally “welcome”.  This was true of Emirati in Dubai, Bedouin workers in Qatar and Jordan and even a few Lebanese and Saudi guys we met in Abu Dhabi. Their Arab and Muslim customs may be different to that of the west (and as a woman I’m not really crazy about the whole burka thing), but that does not mean the people are hostile. The reports we see on TV are of the sensational zealots, and like zealots everywhere they are a small (but noisy) minority.

Travel Myth #12: You’ll have trouble with the language

travel myths debunked language

We’ve been to almost 70 countries, and we certainly don’t speak 70 languages fluently, or even 2 for that matter. English has become the universal language of business while English language movies and TV programs are available all over the world. (Heck, you can buy knockoffs of the latest western releases in China and Vietnam for 75¢.) As a result, in most major cities and tourist areas you’ll be able to at least muddle through with English. And the world over, when someone doesn’t speak the local language, English is what they use to communicate. In Vietnam we saw an Italian man conversing with a Vietnamese woman in English, similarly a Turkish woman speaking English to a German. This does not mean you shouldn’t learn at least a few words of the native tongue (see number 8 above). And in rural locations all bets are off. But do NOT let unfamiliarity with the language be a hindrance to your travels!

Travel Myth #13:  North Korea is off-limits to visitors

choson ot what women wear in north korea

Not true. Although visitors must take a group tour via one of the few approved tour operators (we used Koryo Tours), and all tours originate out of Beijing. Visas are not granted to anyone with a public profile, so this is not the time to brag about how popular your blog is, or even mention that uncle who works at the Pentagon.  The tours are pretty structured, with visits to the “great and glorious” sights that the North Korean government has deemed worthy. Despite this, there are still glimpses beneath the veneer, and opportunities to interact with the North Korean people, who are sheltered, but still friendly  and curious. We wrestled with the question “Is it morally right to visit North Korea?” and in the end were glad we decided to go.

Travel Myth #14: Get up early to avoid the crowds

Angkor Wat crowded entrance

Ah, the “travel secret” of every guidebook! Know what happens when you do this?  You end up stuck with the crowds of people who got up early to avoid the crowds, missing breakfast in the process. We aren’t early risers, so our philosophy is to go late to miss the crowds. We do other activities in the morning (which usually includes sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast) while the crowds are at the nearby sights. Then we head over after lunch, just as the busloads are returning. From the temples of Angkor Wat to safaris in Africa to the ruins at Pompeii this strategy has worked well for us. We often have the place almost to ourselves, along with great late afternoon light for photos.

What travel myths about destinations have you debunked?

For more see our list of Travel Myths #1-#7

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28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

I’ve always had a soft spot for street musicians of Paris. It seems like after room and board our highest travel cost is the coins I toss into their instrument cases as I pass by. Maybe it’s because many years ago my fantasy was to move to Paris with my guitar, sit on a park bench in the Luxembourg Gardens and strum vintage American blues tunes. I’d live off what I earned so I likely would have starved but that doesn’t happen in dreams, does it?

While strolling around the streets of Paris we’ve seen a wide array of musicians performing, a few even go to the trouble of setting up an upright piano on the sidewalk. In the Metro they proliferate like champignons. It seems like every station has a musician assigned to it. The acoustics of the cavernous tiled tunnels apply an eerie bass sound to whatever they are playing.

One of the toughest aspects of being a street musician is being totally ignored by the audience, many of whom just wish they’d go away. In London it was the opposite, there the crowd would burst into polite applause when the musical set was finished. I guess that’s just another difference between the French and the British. Here are some of the musicians we’ve come across around Paris.

Street musicians of Paris guitar player park bench

This cool dude was hanging out in the Bois de Vincennes on a Sunday afternoon.

Street musicians of Paris piano player

I wonder if piano players ever wish they had taken up an easier instrument to lug around.

Street musicians of Paris piano player street

Same goes for this guy.

Street musicians of Paris metro sax player man in suit

This saxophone player provided a bit of Dixieland jazz for the afternoon commute. 

Street musicians of Paris guitar player metro Dylan

Close your eyes and he could be Bob Dylan.

Street musicians of Paris guitar player metro open case

Street musicians are used to being ignored by most of the people passing by.

Street musicians of Paris metro Asian instrument case open

 This Asian instrument provided some treble notes on the normally bass sounding Metro.

The video showcases several of the above musicians including a guitar player who stepped into a Metro car and announced in his French accent, “And now something from Robert Zimmerman.” This led one knowledgeable commuter to yell out “Dylan!”

The Paris Metro is very convenient but can be confusing. Here’s where to find an easy-to-use free Paris Metro map.

If there is a heaven, surely the bakeries are French. There are so many patisseries in Paris that it’s difficult to walk a block without the smell of butter wafting out of an open doorway. The locals are rather picky about their Paris pastry, which keeps the standards high. During our stay there we made it our mission to try the best of what the city has to offer.

Paris pastry Maison Larnicol Kouignettes

Kouignettes

These little beauties were all the rage on our most recent visit, a sort of French take on the sticky bun. A mini-version of the classic Breton kouign amman: take an already buttery layered pastry, slather it with more butter and sugar, then roll, slice and bake in a muffin tin. The filling oozes out the bottom during baking creating a caramelized gooey/crunchy crust. Available in about 10 different flavors (such as raspberry, pictured above), but of the six (yes six!) we tried we liked the classic butter and sugar the best.

Paris pastry crumb pistachio cherry

Pistachio cherry thingy (Michael’s official name for it)

We never did get the official name of this drool-worthy coffee cake from Pain d’Epis on the Avenue Bosquet. But it had a layer of ground pistachios, fresh sour cherries and a buttery crumb topping that somehow managed to be crunchy and cakey at the same time. It was so good we went back for more, 3 times.

Paris pastry macaron

Pistachio Macaron with Honey Buttercream

To some, Paris pastry reaches its true heights with the macaron. Possibly our favorite pastry of Paris. (Note: do not confuse these with those chewy coconut macaroons your great-aunt Tilly used to serve at holidays.) Take two large macaron bases (egg whites, icing sugar and ground pistachios), sandwich them around honey-nougat buttercream (which is as good as it sounds), sprinkle candied pistachios on top and eat. Classic French pastry meets the Whoopie Pie. Yum!

Paris pastry Mcdonalds macaron

McDonalds cafe

Hard to believe it but that’s the pastry section at a McDonald’s pictured above. In a city like Paris, even the fast-food places have to take it up a notch.

Paris pastry pot au creme with beignets

Pot au creme with beignets

What’s a chocolate pot-au-creme without a few freshly made mini-doughnuts to nibble on? This combo was so rich even dedicated chocolate lover Larissa couldn’t finish it.

Paris pastry almond croissant

Almond croissant

The above picture answers the eternal question: what does an almond croissant look like after spending a day in the bottom of a backpack. It still tasted good.

What are some of your favorite French desserts?

Pin it!Explore Paris by visiting tasty patisseries--here a photo essay of some of our favorites

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We’ve all fallen for them; food places the guidebooks say you absolutely must try when visiting a certain city.  So we join all the other tourists who’ve read the same guides and wait on long lines for what turns out to be overrated, mediocre, and often overpriced food. Here are the top ten food tourist traps we’ve come across in our travels:

1)  Peter Luger Steak House, Brooklyn 

We love traveling to off-the-beaten-path locations for great food. Too bad that was not the case at this Brooklyn institution where we were served a rather pedestrian steak.  Afterwards we asked the waiter which was his favorite and he replied that he was a vegetarian. Maybe we should have followed his example and stuck with the salad.

2)  Berthillon Ice Cream, Paris

Located on the chic Ile Saint- Louis in the heart of Paris, this establishment isn’t terrible, but it does nothing to justify its consistently long lines. Paris is not a big ice cream town so in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. In any other city Berthillon would not stand out.

3)  The “Original” Starbucks, Seattle 

Located in the Pike Place Market, it’s actually the second Starbucks, but the oldest remaining. Passengers disgorge from the nearby cruise ship terminal and create lines that stretch up the street for the same beverage that can be had around the block with no wait. (Shown above.)

4)  Pat’s/Geno’s Cheesesteaks, Philadelphia

These two cheesesteak vendors in our home city are able to survive by selling less than mediocre cheesesteaks to out-of-town visitors and post-game Flyers fans. This is a case where a tourist is better off asking a local where to get the best cheesesteak. Be prepared though, ask ten Philadelphians which is their favorite and you might get ten different answers. We’re partial to John’s Roast Pork and the Fire Steak at Jake’s Sandwich Board.

5)  Singapore Sling, Singapore

This drink was invented at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. They charge $20 for the concoction, which isn’t even made by hand anymore. Tourists pack the place by the busload to fork over their money, down the drink in about five minutes and leave. To show how marked up the price is, the Raffles in Siem Reap, Cambodia charges $9 for the same beverage.

Singapore Sling

We admit we fell for the $20 Singapore Sling, but afterwards Michael said he felt dirty

6)  Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs, Los Angeles

Catering to hungry Los Angelenos since 1939, it’s street cred has kicked up a notch with its appearance in the opening credits of Entourage. We waited in line for 45 minutes before even getting to order. The hot dog was good but not worth the time spent.

7)  Ted Drewes Custard, Missouri 

Famous among food writers who recommend the “concrete,” basically a really thick shake that is handed to you upside down to show it is so thick that it won’t fall out of the cup. The only thing they forgot to pack into it was flavor.

8)  Any Chicago-style pizza, Chicago

It’s not pizza. Change the name to Chicago-style casserole and we’ll give it a another try.

9)  Skyline Chili, Cincinnati

This one pains us because we have family we love very much in Cincinnati who eat this stuff all the time and we hope they’ll still talk to us. For a better example of this regional favorite head on over to the original Camp Washington Chili.

10)  Pizza and steak, Buenos Aires

We were so excited to go to Buenos Aires based on the reputation of its Italian food, particularly pizza, and steak. Sorry to report that neither was any good. The pizza has a puffy, doughy crust, way too much cheese and a bland sauce. It looked just liek frozen pizza. The steak is served well-done. We tried to order it rare at several places and it still came well done. I don’t care how good the beef is if it’s cooked into submission.

Pizza Buenos Aires

Disappointing pizza in Buenos Aires.

If you’re looking for recommendations for a city try going to Chowhound. It’s a place where foodies are not shy about cheering, or jeering, their local establishments.

What overrated food places can you add to the list?