Paris
...City of Light shines with must-see pleasures.

Story & Photos by: Larry Mayran

My wife Julie sitting in front of the Louvre one of the world's largest and most famous museums.

Paris — "Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose" goes the French mantra. The more Paris changes, the more it stays the same, as a sweeping glance from the ramparts of the Eiffel Tower confirms of this ageless, romantic and stunningly beautiful city.

It is 25 years since my last visit, but it could have been last week as far as the scenery goes.

The Eiffel Tower was a good place to start, with its 360-degree view of the city. It's the No. 1 tourist attraction in Paris, with 6 million visitors each year.

This was my fourth trip to Paris and my wife Julie’s first. More than a romantic celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary it was the culmination of years of promises to be able to say to each other like Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid Bergman, “We’ll always have Paris.”

Beyond the must-see tourist icons like the Eiffel Tower, museums, monuments and medieval churches, we wanted to ferret out some of the cafes, bookstores and apartments favored by the famous American and English expatriates of the 1920s and 30’s who added to Paris’ literary and artistic soul.

Most notable among them was Ernest Hemingway whose book “A Movable Feast” remains a reference for trying to capture what it meant to be young and poor and writing in Paris during the 1920’s. His remarkable circle of writers and artists included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, T.S. Eliot, Janet Flanner and Pablo Picasso.

Our journey would take us through several of Paris' 20 arrondissements (distinct neighborhoods): From Stein's apartment, cafe Les Deux Magots and St. Germain des Pres on the Left Bank of the Seine, to the Louvre, Montmartre and Sacre Coeur on the right bank. We were hungry to see the first course of our own movable feast.

The Eiffel Tower was a good place to start, with its 360-degree view of the city. It's the No. 1 tourist attraction in Paris, with 6 million visitors each year. On our arrival it seemed like all 6 million were in line to buy a ticket. But it was not always so popular.

When engineer Gustave Eiffel completed his 1,022-foot tower in 1889 for the Universal Exposition, a group of prominent writers loathed its dominance of the Paris skyline. Guy de Maupassant, considered one of France's greatest short story writers, hated it, yet he would lunch daily at the tower's restaurant. When asked about this seeming contradiction, he replied that the restaurant was the only place he could go in Paris and not have to look at the tower.

The Seine wends its way through the heart of Paris on its 476-mile course through Burgundy, Champagne and Normandy to the English Channel, or La Manche, as the French call it.

Below, the Seine wends its way through the heart of Paris on its 476-mile course through Burgundy, Champagne and Normandy to the English Channel, or La Manche, as the French call it. In a few days we will board a French Country Waterways barge cruising the Nivernais canal linking the Seine with the Yonne as it passes through Burgundy.

A nostalgic choice of hotel on this visit was Le Meurice. I last stayed in this 200-year-old grande dame in 1990, for its trendy location on the rue de Rivoli across from the Tuileries garden. The hotel then was ultra-regal, tempered by a noticeable look of aging of its furnishings and fabrics. A series of upgrades amounting to more than $65 million restored the 160-room, 35-suite Meurice to its former glory as a gilded palace, with the addition of two fine restaurants and with multiple Michelin-star chef Alain Ducasse overseeing all hotel dining. Le Meurice is now part of the Dorchester international collection of iconic hotels.

A nostalgic choice of hotel on this visit was Le Meurice.

Meurice's concierge, Pascal, helped us map out our tour. From my list of names, addresses and favorite haunts of Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Beach and others, he painstakingly located and circled each one on a city map, including a street in the Ninth Arrondissement, the rue Mayran. Aware of our limited time in Paris (five days), he recommended hiring a car with driver (60 euros an hour, plus lunch for the driver) rather than the less expensive but vastly more time consuming taxi and Métro route. We reserved the balance of our time for the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. Pascal briefed Stephan, an English-speaking driver, on our mission, and off we went.

On a quiet street in the Sixth Arrondissement, we found the ochre building at 27 rue de Fleurus where Stein and her companion, Toklas, lived. The gate to the apartment was locked, but a small plaque noted her former presence.

From 1914 to 1931, Stein, a stocky woman said to have had beautiful eyes, a rich contralto voice and hearty laugh, would hold court ensconced in a cushioned chair by the living room fireplace. She dispensed advice and liqueurs and discussed writing styles, books and painters with Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Flanner (who for 50 years wrote the "Letter From Paris" column for The New Yorker under the pseudonym Genet), and others.

Our driver found rue Mayran in a diverse district on the right bank off the main tourism charts. It was quite a feeling seeing your own name up there on buildings and street corners next to rue Rochambeau. Lt. Gen. Comte de Rochambeau led the French expeditionary forces joining the Americans at the Battle of Yorktown. Rue Mayran was named in honor of Joseph D.C. Mayran, who commanded a French division during the Crimean War. Gen. Mayran, a long lost relative? Maybe.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso had their studios here, and the Moulin Rouge nightclub and naughty Place Pigalle are also on the north side of the district.

Our driver found rue Mayran in a diverse district on the right bank off the main tourism charts.

Also on the right bank is Montmartre. This must-see artists colony, and the magnificent white-domed Sacre Coeur basilica, on the highest point of the city, offer an inspiring panoramic view of Paris.

Sadly, we found that the legendary Left Bank bookshop Shakespeare & Co., at 12 rue Odéon, owned by American Beach from 1919 to 1941, had become a boutique jewelry store. Beach's bookstore was unique as a combination library, bank, literary salon, post office and publishing company catering to writers.

Continuing on the Hemingway trail, we spent part of an evening at Les Deux Magots, the renowned corner cafe on the Left Bank. Deux Magots has had a vibrant history as a haunt for writers, philosophers and artists. It's always packed indoors and at outside tables with tourists and locals.

In the 1920s, Hemingway's crowd would rendezvous there with other expats for coffee, wine or — in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald — champagne. Fitzgerald was freely spending his considerable earnings from "The Great Gatsby." .

After a brief wait, we snagged a nice table with two wicker chairs outside — a feat tantamount to nabbing last-minute front-row seats on Broadway. It was fun sipping a chilled chablis and musing about what figures in literary history might have occupied our seats.

In a gastronomic capital such as Paris, deciding where to eat can be daunting. Cafes, bistros and brasseries fill the landscape. Prices range from 25 to 70 euros ($32-$90) per person for traditional or regional French dishes to upward of 400 euros ($514) at the temples of haute cuisine.

Crowds at Le Deux Magot, the renowned Left Bank corner café that’s long been associated with writers, artists, and philosophers.

Our last night in Paris we played the part of flaneurs, strolling along the Boulevard Saint-Germain deep into the maze of shops, art stores and ethnic restaurants along the side streets.

We followed our noses on one narrow street — the air heavy with pungent smells of basil, garlic and tomato sauce — to Dolce Vita Ristorante Italiano (131 Blvd. Vincent Auriol). Inside, the language was strictly Italian — always a good sign that the locals must eat here. My linguine with fresh tiny clams from Brittany, still tasting of the sea and dressed in a zesty red sauce, was beyond delicious and I devoured all, dipping up the last bit of sauce.

At 2 p.m. the next day, a van from French Country Waterways collected Julie and I from our Paris hotel, and headed south to rendezvous with our barge tied up in Coulanges on the Yonne River, the starting point of our weeklong cruise through Burgundy.

CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE BURGUNDY BARGE TRIP.