Most people go to Paris and take in the usual sights (Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, visiting Jim Morrison's grave with a flask of Jack Daniels) and eat at a smattering of well-known -- and usually very expensive -- restaurants. You should do some of these things on a first trip, especially if your time is limited, but I want you to also consider doing a few out of the ordinary things that are still very Parisian. You'll have a wonderful and, for most Americans, a unique experience that will long outlive your memories of taking the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower (which is fun, don't get me wrong!).
So here goes. Five wonderful sights and activities in Paris most folks don't even know about:
1. As this year is the 100th anniversary of World War I, let's start with the Great War Museum (Le Musee de la Grande Guerre). The museum is located just outside Paris, in the small town of Meaux, where one of the great battles of that war was fought: the Battle of the Marne (actually there were two battles at Marne, one in 1914 and one in 1918). Believe it or not, one guy put this entire museum together from his private collection -- about 50,000 pieces, documents, and artifacts. There are great thematic exhibits, photographs, 3D setups, films, sounds, and much more. Explanations in English and German, not just French. For more info: www.museedelagrandeguerre.eu/en.
2. Take a canal boat ride on the Canal St-Martin instead of along the Seine, and it will cost you less too. Bridges, footbridges and locks have all been refurbished here, and this pretty oasis is a nice spot to just walk around and relax (see photo above). A ride on the canal through Canauxrama lasts two hours and boats depart from the Port de l'Arsenal in the 10th arrondissement. For more info: www.canauxrama.com.
3. Step back into Paris's Roman era with a visit to the Arenes de Lutece, a 1st-century Roman arena smack dab in the city's famous Latin Quarter. Very few tourists come here. Once an amphitheater seating 15,000 and host to gladiator fights, now it's a great place to eat a picnic lunch on a nice day. No admission.
4. I haven't given you any activities yet, so here's one and it's a freebie. Every Sunday night free concerts are held at the American Church in Paris (from September to November and January to June) at 5 pm. This has been going on since the 1930s, and performances of all types are held there. For more info: www.acparis.com.
5. Paris is the home of the world's greatest cuisine, right? So take advantage and enroll in a cooking class at Lenotre, which is also a cafe and kitchen wares shop as well. Desserts are their specialty, but you'll learn all about the fine art of French cooking from their master chefs. For more info: www.lenotre.fr.
In my next article I will feature 10 of Paris's best but little-known restaurants and food events. Enjoy Paris in the meantime!