An Irish woman living in Paris, Emma Kennedy has the insider’s guide to the city
During the 2008 US election, a simple stencilled poster of Barack Obama, with the word ‘hope’ in large print, came to represent the campaign.
This iconic image is easy to recognise, so anyone who knows it would certainly do a double-take should they find themselves on a residential street in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, in the south-east of the city.
There, on the side of a nondescript apartment block, is another striking piece of work by the same distinctive artist, Shepard Fairey.
In fact Fairey has created two large murals in that part of the French capital; this one ‘Rise above Rebel’ and another, a play on the French motto ‘Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite’, in response to the 2015 terror attacks in the city.
He is one of a number of street artists who have put their stamp on buildings in this out-of-the-way part of the French capital, as part of a street art project backed by local galleries and city officials.
Although, it’s not far from the Seine and within easy reach of many of the famous buildings of Paris, the 13th arrondissement is not the Paris of romance and riverside strolls.
Instead, it is a neighbourhood synonymous with a new Paris. Street art, start-ups, and modern architecture sit side by side with tower blocks and corner shops.
A few hundred metres away from Fairey’s mural, a former freight depot has been transformed into the biggest start-up campus in the world, Station F. It launched at the end of last month, and with 3,000 desks, is likely to bring further change to this already evolving part of the French capital.
This district, one of the 20 ARRONDISSEMENTS that make up central Paris, is not the only part of the city that’s changing.
American writer Lindsey Tramuta, in her recently published book The New Paris, sums up this evolution beautifully. “There is a false notion that the old Paris of centuries prior must be mourned as it shares ground with the new.
“Traditionalists comb every new opening, development, or trend as an augury of how the new guard is forcing unwanted change upon the local landscape,” she writes.
“I prefer to see this shift as the next chapter in the city’s monumental story.”
One of the areas where that change is most evident is the Paris food scene.
It’s almost a year since Boneshaker Doughnuts opened its doors on Rue d’Aboukir, near Paris’s Sentier metro stop.
Run by American pastry chef Amanda Bankert-Scott and her Irish husband Louis Scott, the small batch doughnut shop is one of numerous additions to the Paris food scene in recent years.
“It’s unrecognisable from when I first came here,” Bankert-Scott says.
“Burgers, tacos, they just didn’t exist here then.
“In the last five years, the amount of speciality coffee shops. And there are new ones opening all the time.”
On one hand, she welcomes the change.
But part of her is a little saddened by it too.
“I don’t like this idea of Paris as a museum. It’s a living, breathing city.
“My idea is if you can get a good croissant in New York, why shouldn’t you be able to get a doughnut or noodles in Paris. Of course you should, it’s a major capital city.
“But I feel like, unfortunately, the quality traditional French food is harder to find now,” she says.
“I mourn the loss. I feel there’s been a trade-off.
“There’s a load of people coming in and doing different things but you are losing it a bit.
“But then there are lots of young chefs coming back and actively trying to reclaim that.
“It’s coming back, which is great,” she says.
Much of the change can be seen in eastern Paris, in the neighbourhoods that frame the Canal Saint Martin.
It’s here that many of the city’s newest restaurants have sprung up.
Tourism nosedived in Paris in the wake of the November 2015 terror attacks.
But the city is bouncing back, with recent official tourism figures pointing to a recovery in visitor numbers.
While the city is evolving, tourists are still keen to take in the more traditional sights too.
Official tourism figures show that Notre-Dame cathedral was the most popular spot with visitors last year, drawing 12 million visitors overall.
Ten million people visited the Sacre Coeur, the famed church in Montmartre that looks down over the French capital.
The Louvre museum saw almost seven million visitors last year.
A trip to many of the big-draw tourist attractions can mean lengthy queues, so try to get the most out of a weekend trip by looking beyond the obvious.
Take the Eiffel Tower for example.
Instead of spending hours in a queue to take the lift to the top, head to the Arc de Triomphe instead.
You’ll still have to stand in line, but the queue is a lot more manageable. Plus you’ll get to see the Paris skyline complete with the Eiffel Tower.
While the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay are two of the most popular museums, there’s no shortage of other options.
The Musee de l’Orangerie, nestled in the Tuileries Gardens near Place de la Concorde, is an easy museum to visit. It’s small enough not to overwhelm, the queue is usually not too bad, and the main event — Claude Monet’s water lilies — is simply stunning.
For those with a penchant for inventors, the Musee des Arts et Metiers is a lovely place to while away an afternoon.
The adventure begins at the nearby metro stop, which is designed to appear like the inside of a submarine. The museum itself provides a whistle-stop tour through centuries of design and innovation.
Afterwards, take a stroll to the nearby Marche des Enfants Rouges.
One of the oldest covered markets in Paris, it takes its name from the orphanage that occupied the site in the 16th century.
It’s similar to Borough Market in London, a mix of hot food stalls and fresh produce.
If, after lunch you crave a little something sweet, check out chocolatier Jacques Genin on Rue de Turenne.
An astounding array of flavours, from the traditional to the unusual, await.
There’s an option to sit for a ‘chocolate tasting’ menu or simply buy some goodies to take away. Genin’s caramels are particularly worthy of a mention, especially the mango passionfruit ones.
For many tourists, a trip to the Paris is not complete without a visit to Montmartre.
There you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view of the whole city.
If you can fight your way to the front of the tourist throng that is.
The part of Montmartre closest to the Sacre Coeur is packed, brimming with tourists.
But just a few streets away, the pace of life slows and Montmartre reclaims a sense of being a village. Cobbled streets and quaint houses feel a world away from the busy squares and jam-packed restaurants nearby.
It’s here that you’ll find the oldest vineyard in Paris too, Clos Montmartre.
Not far from Montmartre, you’ll find Pigalle, home to the Moulin Rouge.
This area still feels a little seedy in parts, but there’s more to it than just nightlife.
KB Cafe in South Pigalle is a good place to stop for a coffee and a spot of people-watching.
Nearby, you can explore Rue des Martyrs, a market street with all sorts of food on offer.
Paris has plenty to offer tourists, whether you want to explore the old favourites or the newer delights.
It’s a city with many faces, and one that’s likely to continue to evolve.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Aer Lingus offers regular flights to Charles de Gaulle airport from Cork and Dublin. The airport is connected to the central Paris by train. Ryanair operates flights from Dublin to Beauvais, with a connecting bus to take visitors to Port Maillot, in western Paris.
WHERE TO STAY:
There’s no shortage of places to stay. You can choose between high-end hotels or smaller boutique hotels, and most international hotel chains have a presence in the city. Airbnb is also worth considering, with plenty of options available.
WHAT TO DO:
For popular attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, book tickets online and arrive early. Even still be prepared to queue. Don’t forget to look beyond the big-draw attractions, and catch a glimpse of another side of Paris.
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