Ah Paris, one of the well known fashion and shopping capitals of the world… if you’re the type to frequent Rodeo Drive and the like, otherwise you have to venture further out to find outlet malls like La Vallée Village.
We only had one day of shopping so we decided to keep it central and stick to the “must-see’s” which meant we gave the hoity-toity malls a miss and looked for boutique sneaker and toy stores instead
Les Halles metro station was the closest stop to most of these shops and conveniently part of the Forum des Halles shopping center which has a sunken open air section and the rest completely underground. Stores vary from high end brands to small boutiques. The few selling sneakers were more along the dressier side of things, coupled with the ever wallet punishing Euro, they were even less appealing. There’s a McDonald’s which is always a welcome sign… for free WiFi
Entering the mall was fine via the metro station but exiting? Well that wasn’t quite so easy. It wasn’t till we were outside that we realised the whole thing was underground and from what we could see there was only one set of escalators out (that’s if we weren’t having another travel brain fart, which was highly likely with fatigue and jetlag clawing at our heels).
Up on the surface, there’s a small nature area with a fountain structure, no doubt with some historical significance like many random relics around the city… oh look Footlocker! It definitely doesn’t have the same presence here as it does in London but this store was quite large with a dedicated boutique styled store attached, specialising in basketball related apparel and sneakers – which wouldn’t look out of place in LA or NYC. The punishing Euro once again left us breezing passed a lot of items but coming across some unique pieces like a Yankees bomber jacket in hot pink with multiple team patches or a Yankees New Era cap in an illusive army green and orange colourway were too hard to resist
A short walk down some narrow cobbled Carnaby styled streets sees a handful of small sportswear and street wear styled shops, many sport Diesel logos on the front, whether or not they’re all authentic is another thing. A few notable spots, Zoom flight sports – mostly lower end sports based model sneakers coupled with Diesel products and a signless sneaker store next door to Joe Allens which had an ok selection of Nikes and Vans. However THE store most heads will be here for is Opium, a store almost solely dedicated to the Jordan brand. There are a few “dressier” Nikes but predominantly Jordans, a couple region exclusive colourways like these J1′s in Torquoise and many were no longer in production so it was a fine opportunity to see some classic history in the flesh. There were also a bunch of boxes stacked to the ceiling in the back corner, possibly new stock, possibly deadstock but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to even ask ):
Heading north west along Rue Etienne Marcel will lead you to Shinzo, SBPro and Espace Kiliwatch. Shinzo is probably the pick of the bunch for the slightly limited releases but take notice if there is any “cleaning” going on. Turns out if there is, you’ll be told they’re “closed for cleaning” and ushered out even if you had already been browsing for a good couple minutes. I however have a sneaking suspicion that it was just more French hospitality since we didn’t look like we were going to buy anything since their prices are hardly favorable. SBPro tries terribly to latch on to Nike’s SB skateboarding range, even to the extent of incorporating a Tick like symbol in their logo, they do however have a decent selection of skate related brands and products. Espace Kiliwatch is more like City Beach or Universal with a broader selection of casual brands and styles.
Last stop in this area was Artoyz, the Giant Robot of Paris. As much as we love Kidrobot, it was refreshing to see fewer pieces from them. Instead there is a nice selection of toys and apparel from local (city and regional) artists and what can only be described as a Posca marker vending machine! Definitely has to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately prices again were bordering on cringe worthy.
With a couple hours to spare we decided to make a pass on Paris’ Rodeo Drive, Av. Des Champs Elysees. If you’re like us and can’t fathom how someone could charge, let alone spend $100 on a ratty thin t-shirt then the only points of interest will be the Adidas and Nike flagship stores. Both encompass more than ample real estate for their location and both come complete with eye catching quirks, Adidas with its Trefoil live photo wall (your photo is taken webcam style and then displayed along with other customers from the day) and Nike with a Bill Bowerman (original co-founder) collage of button pins featuring Nike and sub brand logos to form a mural. In true French fashion, the Adidas store also has a separate section for its “designer” range which wouldn’t look out of place in Jay Kay‘s waredrobe Other than those few points, most of the range and styles are almost identical to those found in London.
While you’re here, check out the Toyota showroom, most notably for its open wheeled F1 style concept car and wall mounted Yaris. Across the road is the Louis Vuitton store, perfect op to add some photographic proof to that knock off bag purchase :p
And we’re done! As they say, a quick game is a good game and we were out of there! Next and final stop, Beijing!
Travel tip: To get to Paris’ airport – Charles de Gaulle aka CDG, find a RER station and purchase a ticket from one of the machines.
Carousel du Lourve
Most notable for its big glass pyramids and feature spot in The Davinci Code movie, it also plays host to a bunch of historic pieces like the Mona Lisa but personally the pyramids were the highlight for me, looking almost alien against the late setting sun. It also seemed like my work is never done being roped into doing group shot photos for a class of excursioning school students!
Arc de Triomphe
All roads may lead to Rome but in Paris it seems like they all lead to the Arc’. With 12 roads firing towards one helluva roundabout it makes the Normanby 5 ways look like a Macca’s drive-thru. Of course there’s also all the chaos and flinching that would come with no lane markings and European drivers.
Photo tip: For best photos and viewing of the Arc’ (and the crazy traffic), its better to get off a stop before Charles de Gaulle-Etoile eg. George V – especially late in the afternoon to get a nice glow on it from the sunset.
Even with the hours in the day dwindling, the good thing about those long upper Northern hemisphere days is everything stays open late, especially round tourist spots. Daylight till long after 10pm also gives you a little sense of security and a little more confidence when wandering to and from metro stops but do still keep your wits about you, places like the Eiffel Tower are notorious for thieves and scammers.
Travel tip: As always, keep all belongings on you or in your hands at all times. If you have to put something down like a handbag or backpack, stand one foot in the straps or stand on it if it’s a shopping bag or put it between your legs, this includes when you’re sitting down. At the very least this will slow them down if they try to swipe it. Thankfully it hasn’t happen to us but better to be safe than sorry right?
To top it off, this of course is Paris’ biggest and most famous landmark, it is a very bright candle for the tourist moths so there wont really be a time when the place is empty (even early in the morning) for you to have some picnic blanket time with your “main squeeze”. Different times of the day you may get less hawkers but in general be prepared to be bothered by at least 10 times in an hour by people trying to sell you stuff like cheap/rebottled warm champagne, wilted roses or take you on a “tour”. Another problem is the line to go up the tower… well the line for the tickets THEN the line for the tower. “9-11″ style security exists here as well so be prepared for at least an hour of standing around. Even late at night the line was still snaking its way around the base of the tower. The couple food stores also had quite long lines. Prices are inflated with the usual tourist tax and you get your choice of baguette or… baguette. Ingredients were however fresh and it made for easy eating on the grass areas. If these few factors haven’t deterred you too much then its certainly worth it come 10pm when the tower lights up like a Christmas tree and “twinkles” against the sunset.
Photo tip: Check local guides for sunrise/sunset times as you will find sunset is around 10-10.30pm in May.
Sainte Chapelle church
Don’t know much about churches but love the architecture and massive stained glass windows then this is the place for you. Sainte Chapelle has the largest collection of 13th century stained glass anywhere in the world. Even with the on going restorations, 95% of the place is accessible and viewable. Getting in early is again the key as the lines form quickly as you compete with other tourists and school excursions. The downstairs section and entrance may seem a little lack lustre till you climb the narrow spiral staircase to enter the upper chapel…. And whoa, you can almost hear the angels singing. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Being essentially “just” a room, a budget of an hour or 2 will be more than enough time here.
Travel tip: The #4 Metro line will get you to the Cite’ stop with no problems, then its just a short walk. Entry fee is E7.50 Euros. Check the website for opening times as these vary through out the year.
Next up we pretend we have a platinum card, impractical taste in clothes and head to the shops!
If you’re not staying near the airport (departure or arrival), the Eurostar is by far the most convenient way to get to Paris from London. Even though flights are short, the time and hassle with airport transfer eats into the total travel time …and your sanity. Since we stayed mere blocks from St. Pancras Station in London and like wise for the Grand Hotel de Paris (review here) from Gare du Nord, it was a short walk to and from both Eurostar stops. We’re not overly big history buffs so we budgeted 1.5 days in Paris for a highlights tour. Too tight a schedule for sight seeing AND shopping? Challenge accepted!
Travel tip: Purchase your Eurostar tickets well in advance, the closer to the departure date, the more expensive they become – if they’re available. Also note tickets take into account peak periods so there are different prices for different times of different days. Adjusting your trip dates to coincide with particular days can save you considerably. Eurostar also occasionally has sales, so keep an eye out for even more savings.
Rolling into Paris through a spaghetti maze of rail tracks and overhead lines I couldn’t help but to think of the Star Guitar video from the Chemical Brothers, cue loop. Heading from west to east we lost an hour with the time difference but the journey was surprisingly short and ride was bearable. We left London with the temps in the mid teens so it was a bit of a shock to arrive a few hours later to a muggy 27C.
Street signage is hit and miss and the once welcoming clearly visible landmarkers of “Underground” for the London Tube were completely non existent for Paris’ metro system. Some entry points were notable by their antique green garden fence styling but were difficult to spot amongst other bits of architecture of similar vintage. The ones that did have more visible signage was sadly only visible from front on so if you were a block or so away it was pretty tough to scan ahead to see if you’re at least heading in the right direction, b-bomm.
So it’s the city of lights, love and history… well it has lights, there’s things you’ll love and there’s plenty of history but if the only knowledge you have of Paris is from Meg Ryan spawned movies and stories from travel brochures, you will more than likely be sadly disappointed. Paris is like any other big first world city, its dirty, noisy, congested and polluted. Even in the short walk of a few blocks from the train station we encountered more shady ethnic types than last year in the Bronx or Brooklyn in NYC! But don’t let this discourage you, the history is certainly there with an abundance of sights to see and with the short stay we had, we had our work cut out for us.