Lifestyle & Culture

Third time’s the charm: Beth Hoke takes you to the Paris only the cognoscenti know

When you visit a city more than once, your relationship with it changes.

STYLIIN’ AT THE CHAT NOIR, WEARING FASHION TREASURES FROM PARIS’ SECRET SHOPS (All photos by Beth Hoke)

During your first visit, you see the highlights and get acquainted with the pulse of the place. The second time you visit, you hit the places you didn’t have a chance to see the first time. But the third time you visit a city is the best. You’ve seen the tourist hotspots, eaten at some of the most popular restaurants, and dutifully posted the expected number of selfies on Instagram.

Now you get to wander.

On my third visit to Paris with my daughter and her friend, that’s exactly what we did.

We spent several days devoted to finding hole-in-the-wall boutiques, drinking house wine, and drifting (sometimes aimlessly and sometimes with a goal in mind) through the arrondissements of this sublime city.

We started our weekend in Paris walking from the Gare de l’Est railway station to our AirBnB in the garment district, where bolts of cloth line the walls of small shops and the newest fashions can be bought directly from the manufacturers.

On the way, we stopped for lunch at a small bistro and then had organic cookies baked by Jean Hwang Carrant while we waited to meet our AirBnB host. Jean is a Taiwanese-American expat from Manhattan, Kansas who married a Frenchman and sells her creations in an adorable little storefront at 84 Rue d’Aboukir.

She exudes American friendliness and recommended several restaurants in the area where we could grab dinner later in the evening.

FINDING THE ESSENTIAL PARIS

GALERIE VIVIENNE

It was drizzling the next morning, so we took a shortcut through Galerie Vivienne, a covered shopping arcade in the style of the Arab souks with mosaic tile floors.

The galerie houses an array of small art galleries; a wine bar, several bistros, and a tea room; a watchmaker; gift, clothing, and home decor shops; and Jousseaume, a rare-books shop filled with first editions, autographed copies, and out-of-print titles.

After croissants and café au lait at Angelina, a favorite hangout of Coco Chanel on Rue de Rivoli, we walked over to the first Chanel store at 31 Rue Cambon. Though it was well-guarded, we were able to catch a glimpse of the iconic mirrored staircase where she was often photographed watching fashion shows from the fifth step.

Despite the fact that it was Fashion Week in Paris, the only indications we saw of the events being held around the city were lighting and sound trucks and a single model hurrying down the street with an assistant who held an umbrella over her head to keep her makeup from running.

It’s kind of an unwritten rule that you can’t visit Paris without sampling the macarons. These small meringue-like cakes are originally an Italian specialty, but the addition of the creamy filling has been attributed to Ladurée’s Pierre Desfontaines. In the spirit of authenticity, we stopped by Ladurée for a mid-morning treat.

Next was a visit to Shakespeare and Company, an independent bookstore at Kilometer Zero in the heart of the city. A must-see for bibliophiles, we missed this gem the first two times we were in Paris despite its location right next to Notre Dame. Notre Dame is certainly worth a visit, but as an avid reader, Shakespeare and Company was far more interesting to me. It is full of nooks and crannies stuffed with new authors, old favorites, and collectible editions of leather-bound books. Several rooms had places to sit and while away the afternoon and one housed the resident cat who willingly accepted attention from the browsers and buyers.

We ended the day with a charcuterie and cheese plate and a shared bottle of the house red at La Fusée, a small café in the Beaubourg neighborhood. Its warm atmosphere and reasonable prices make it a local favorite and it was filled with chatter and camaraderie the night we were there.

SOMETHING TO SATISFY ALL THE SENSES

The next day started with a shot of caffeine and some breakfast at The République of Coffee where the city’s café culture meets Mexican cuisine. It wasn’t easy for me to forego Starbucks, but when in Rome … oops, I mean Paris.

Properly caffeinated and prepared to face the day, we began meandering in the 16th Arrondissement where we had popped into a KiloShop on a previous visit to Paris. My daughter was hoping to pick up a flowered dress from a selection that was hanging on the racks when we were there last, but it was not to be.

As KiloShop is a second-hand shop, the inventory changes frequently and is unique to each location. The concept is unique as well. Each franchised shop carries thousands of vintage clothing items and customers pay by the kilo.

This chain of ecological concept boutiques has spaces filled with colorful silk scarves, fedoras, denim, patterned dresses, and shirts that would have been right at home on “That 70s Show.”

Backtracking to the foot of the stairs that lead up to Sacré-Coeur, we revisited the Christophe Roussel pâtisserie where you can get bags of broken macarons for a few Euros and then headed down the street to shop for gifts at Fragonard. This little perfume shop is an explosion of color and fragrance. In addition to their signature scents, they also sell cosmetics, soaps, candles, and diffusers, all packaged in beautiful boxes.

With more gift shopping to do, we continued to pop in and out of the shops nearby, eventually finding cologne and clothes for my daughter’s husband and her friend’s boyfriend at Loft Design By, a men’s clothing store with several locations throughout Paris

Nearby, at 2 Rue Yvonne le Tac is Jade, we happened upon another vintage shop with a carefully chosen selection of designer outfits. Shopping for work clothes was high on my daughter’s agenda and she found a lightweight flowered dress at Jade that fit the bill perfectly.

The best part about rummaging through shops is that you never know when you’re going to come across a real find. At By Flowers in the 18th Arrondissement (86 Rue des Martyrs), my daughter’s friend unearthed a vintage Dior scarf in a display case filled with accessories. Later in the day, she also bought a pink brocade jacket, perfect for chilly spring weather, at Antoine et Lili, a shop filled with internationally-inspired women’s clothing.

Our last stop before returning to the train station for the trip back to Germany, was Le Chat Noir. This historical cabaret and Bohemian hangout has been located in several places throughout the years, but is now at 68 Boulevard de Clichy near Moulin Rouge.

I’m not sure when I’ll be heading to Paris again, but a return visit is definitely in my future. As Audrey Hepburn said in Sabrina, “Paris is always a good idea.”

If you have recommendations for what I should see next, leave me a note in the comments below.

BETH

About the author: Beth Hoke rejoined the expat life after spending her childhood in Europe and the United States, then settling in Chicagoland to raise two daughters.

Now an empty nester, she is roaming Europe, armed with a TEFL certificate and an online position teaching English for EF.

Beth has been traveling around Europe for over a year. She’s filed posts for Dispatches Europe from at least six countries including Italy, Germany, Croatia, and Madeira, Portugal.

Also see Beth’s accompanying post on Paris here.

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