It's been a long few weeks in the Journey & Play world. From lots of work projects, hurt shoulders, and wrists, to the beginning of new jobs and all the anxiety that can bring. So from us (Kim & Kevin) enjoy your weekend and look for the fun, the lighthearted, the joyful. Start with this short film from Guy Trefler for a lighthearted and irreverent look at the City of Lights.
Visiting Paris? Nothing helps get you in the mood for a brilliant holiday like watching movies set in your soon to be locale. Here are my top eight recommendations for films to watch before you visit Paris.
In Paris, everybody wants to be an actor; nobody is content to be a spectator. -Jean Cocteau
Midnight In Paris (2011)
Probably the most accessible of the films on this list, Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris follows an American couple visiting Paris in posh style with their parents. the story quickly takes a turn as Gill, smoothly played by One Wilson, begins to long for the Paris of the past, the one written about by Hemingway and painted by Degas. Filled with nostalgia, romance and intrigue, Midnight In Paris is a perfect way to prepare for your trip to this magical city.
If Midnight In Paris is the most accessible of the films about Paris, then Breathless (À Bout de Souffle) will counteract that. This masterpiece from Jean Luc Godard is full of jump cuts, funny dialogue and some of the most iconic scenes set in the French capital. If you’re new to the films of the French New Wave, this is your perfect introduction. Breathless follows the whirlwind romance of a French outlaw and his American love interest as they traipse around the city avoiding the authorities. A French classic that must be seen.
If you’re traveling to Paris with children, Ratatouille is the best way to help pique their interest. Kids and adults alike will love this beautiful Pixar film that stars a French chef and his rat friend Remy as they work in a stereotypical Parisian restaurant. Directed by Brad Bird, who also helmed The Incredibles for Pixar, Ratatouille is a fun jaunt into the city of light that gives viewers of all ages a lighthearted look at Paris and some of its more known locations.
Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962)
Agnès Varda uses Paris as the backdrop for one of the best character study films ever made. Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7) follows Cleo through the back half of her day as she waits to get test results back form her doctor. the film also serves as a look at Parisian life in the 1960’s and the Algerian War, which led to Algeria’s independence from France in 1962. Cleo begins as a pretty vapid character that suddenly is faced with her impending mortality, prompting much wandering, physically and mentally. It’s a beautiful, meandering film that really captures the heart of the early 1960’s and gives a glimpse into the sexism that women dealt with.
Paris Je t'Aime (2006)
Eighteen short films set in different arrondissements, Paris, je’ t’aime is a love letter to the city in every sense of the term. With shorts from Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven and many more, this is the perfect film for a quick introduction to the many different flavors of arrondissements of Paris. My personal favorite is Alexander Payne’s short that follows Carol from Colorado as she takes her first European holiday. hearing Carol speak French reminds me of my horrible attempts to speak a language that I’m pretty bad at, as are most tourists.
Before Sunset (2004)
Director Richard Linklater's use of real time in filmmaking is absolutely genius. Before Sunset picks up nine years after the previous film, Before Sunrise, with Jesse and Celine meeting in Paris. In each of the movies in the Before trilogy, the city that it takes place in becomes a character in its own right, with Paris playing its magical part in the romance. There’s something ethereal about Linklaters’s film. the almost mumble-core style dialogue mixed with exotic locales just draws you in. If you’ve ever wanted to just wander around Paris, this film is a great place to start.
The 400 Blows (1959)
There’s too much to say about François Truffaut’s masterpiece The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) and how much of an impact it’s had on my life. So I’ll save that for another post. Suffice to say that this French New Wave classic inspired countless filmmakers with its gritty look at Parisian life in the 1950’s through the eyes of a child. Young Antoine Doinel is the quintessential misunderstood child, and a somewhat biographical take on Truffaut himself, that just can’t seem to do anything right. the opening scenes show a moving Paris from a very low angle, invoking how a child would see such a massive city. A bit more harsh of a look at the French capital, but a moving and necessary one.
There's just something about watching Amélie walk around Paris that is inherently romantic. Storyline aside, just seeing her interact with the outlandish but everyday Parisians makes you feel one step closer to eating a croissant in Montmartre. Jean-Pierre Jeunet created such a beautiful and whimsical film that puts you into the shoes of Amélie Poulain, a lovable and mostly accident prone young woman in the northern Paris district of Montmartre as she looks for love. It’s romantic, fun and a really heartwarming look at the former artist enclave of Montmartre and the area around Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.
Between 1940 and 1945 the network of concentration camps in annexed Poland known as Auschwitz Birkenau killed an estimated 1.1 million Jews, Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war. The camp was a machine of death, its name now synonymous with torture, gas chambers and the Holocaust. In 1979 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is visited by an estimated 1.4 million people a year (number taken from 2011 estimate.) I've visited a few different Holocaust memorials and each time I'm struck by the way that each person around me experiences it. As I walked through the Mémorial de la Shoah's Wall of Names in Paris' Marais district, I noticed people running their hands along certain names, lingering slowly to let the realization of the horrors committed sink in. Others calmly walked by, noting the names but ultimately moving further inside quickly.
We Must Remember
The idea of a memorial as a tourist "attraction" feels odd to me. I love learning the history of a new place, connecting its now to the good and bad of its earlier years and soaking in the context. As I stood in line to enter the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam I remembered the scenes from "Nuit et brouillard"(Night and Fog), the 1956 French documentary by Alain Resnais that looked at the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and Majdanek a mere 10 years after their liberation. It's black and white depictions of the scene of so much horror is sobering, emotional and ultimately unsettling. The monochrome shots tear at your soul, urging you to examine how these atrocities could have occurred in a so-called modern society.
The pieces that always stick with me are the personal stories and recollections of survivors. They lived through hell and their words carry a weight that should cut through eternity. These memories must be remembered. Seeing the actual diary of a young teenage girl who was sent to her death at the age of 15 for simply being Jewish brought me to tears. I stood in a line of English, German and Dutch tourists viewing her writings and barely a word was spoken. As soon as we left the tiny house, each one sparked up conversations about nationalism and anti-Semitism in each others own country. The house of remembrance had done its job.
Tourist vs. Pilgrim
My wife leads a pilgrimage each year for incoming college students to London and Canterbury that aims to connect them with the roots of the Episcopal/Anglican faith. The students walk through Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey seeing the formation of their faith tradition come alive in front of their eyes. A pilgrim's eyes see not with wonder but discovery. They search for meaning, connection and context to inform their present lives. That's how these sites of remembrance must be approached. The Santayana quote "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," should live in our hearts. Simply visiting sites of remembrance and not letting ourselves be changed by their sobering realities is a disservice to our own selves. See not as a tourist looking for beauty, but as a pilgrim craving meaning and discovery. In that meaning, you'll see a deeper beauty, one that can change your worldview.
The first time I saw Paris was on a bus. It was 2007 and my mom had come to visit me while I was traipsing about London and on our itinerary was a quick day-trip to Paris. We hopped on the Eurostar and in a few hours we were aboard a private bus tour. It was air-conditioned, lovely and honestly, a bit sterile. We were experiencing one of the most beautiful cities in the world from behind glass and with no way to do what we wanted. Sure it was a quick trip but there had to be a better way.
Jump On The Big Bus
If you haven't been to a city before, the best way to experience it is by walking its streets. If you're pressed for time, an open-top bus is the next best thing. I've taken the Big Bus Paris Tour a number of times, including this past June, and have never been disappointed. It's a quick, fun way to get your bearings in Paris and plan where you want to visit with your remaining time. My wife and I have used Big Bus Tours in London to keep a group of high school pilgrims awake on their very first day in the country. In Rome, we hopped on a Big Bus to maximize a poorly planned trip (totally my fault) and see the highlights.
While it's not everyones preferred method of seeing Paris, there definitely are advantages to the Big Bus Tour. If you're using a Paris Pass, its included in the price and is a great kick off to seeing la Ville Lumière. It's hop off/hop-on feature lets you take your time when visiting museums or sites. So if time is of the essence, a Big Bus Tour is definitely the way to go.
Intimate Paris in a Citroën
If a bus isn't your thing, then maybe a private car ride around Paris with a local Parisian guide might be. On our honeymoon, my wife surprised me with a jaunt around Paris with Cedric of Cedric's Paris Tours and his 1982 Citroën 2CV "Thelma", complete with champagne. The tour was tailored to us and skipped the St. Germain de Pres area, since that was where we were staying, and focused on areas a bit further out. Cedric was beyond amazing and explained everything about the car, Parisian history and quirks of the city as we passed by the Arc de Triomphe and through the tiny streets on the Île Saint-Louis.
The tour was so great that we even sent our parents on it this past June for an anniversary present. Cedric and his drivers are all local Parisians and they have a few different cars and options to choose from to help tailor your tour to your taste. On our honeymoon we opted for a two-hour night experience with Champagne and photo opportunities behind Notre Dame. You can even book a tour with a photographer and visit all the best Parisian photo spots.
Life On Two Wheels
One of the most hilarious experiences that I've ever had in Paris was taking a Fat Tire Paris bike tour that snaked in and out of traffic, through crowds and in parks. We "dominated" lanes while drivers honked at us and thought we'd never make it back to the office, but we did and it was a blast. We took the Paris Day Tour but the real excitement came with the Versailles Bike Tour. Most people head out to Versailles and only experience the Chateau and a little section of the impressive gardens, but there's so much more to see. With Fat Tire you get transportation from Paris To Versailles and a truly magical ride around the massive palace grounds.
Did you know that Marie Antoinette had a small hamlet built away from the main palace to escape life as a French royal? Well, this tour takes your right up to the hamlet, complete with farm animals and a unique look at life in the time of Louis XIV. For lunch you get to shop at the local market and have a memorable picnic at the far end of the Grand Canal, with many great photo opportunities along the way.
However you see Paris, make sure you wander a bit. That's where the magic in the city really comes out.
Paris is expensive. Even with the current exchange rate, Paris is expensive. But that doesn't mean there's not lots to offer a budget conscious traveler. On my last visit to Paris we were able to maximize what we did (think great food) by doing some of the free things the city has to offer.
Trocadéro and Parc du Champs de Mars
There's nothing quite like your first look at the Eiffel Tower and for me, the best way to get that view is coming up from the Trocadéro Metro stop and seeing the hulking mass of the Tower from the viewing deck above the Jardins de Trocadéro. The steel beast looms large over the Seine and your first glimpse from this angle will endear its girded frame to you forever. Partner that with a quick walk across the Seine and a picnic at Parc du Champs de Mars for a perfect afternoon. If you make the trip at night, you may even get to see its famous sparkle.
A View of the City From Montmartre
For the most part, Paris is flat. That is until you visit the northern section and it's crown jewel, Montmartre. Seen from anywhere in the city, this district is spotlighted by the Basilique du Sacré Coeur at its highest point. A modern building when compared to Notre Dame and other churches in the city, Sacré Coeur offers a Byzantine-esque style architecture not seen anywhere else in the city. After perusing through the interior, make your way to the observation deck and through the ever-present souvenir sellers and street performers for a unique view of the city. Looking out towards the heart of the city, you can spot all the famous landmarks that Paris has to offer, and even a little bit of the Eiffel Tower, on a clear day.
During our last stay in Paris we called Rue Mouffetard home and this little cobblestoned street is easily one of the best in the city. A simple stroll down this market street will give you access to pretty much any type of food that you can imagine. On Saturdays, the street is closed off to traffic to form an open air market. Walk through and smell the gourmet cheeses, breads and sweets freshly made by artisans.
Cimitière du Père Lachaise
French philosophers like Foucault and Descartes loved to taklk about death so why not read some of their work while perusing some amazing funerary architecture in Cimitière du Père Lachaise. Located in the 20th Arrondissement, here you'll find the graves of The Doors singer Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust, Honoré de Balzac and Oscar Wilde. My first few times in Paris I avoided Père Lachaise in favor of the smaller Cimitière du Montmartre so that I could see the grave of French New Wave film director Francois Truffaut. While also a great place to spend an afternoon, Père Lachaise is by the far the better option.
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
No trip to Paris is complete without a stroll through the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. Positioned at the literal heart of the city, Notre Dame is a gothic sight to behold. Inside, tourists walk along its outer edges taking in the art and history while local parishioners and Catholics from all over take part in the church's host of daily services. Make sure to walk along the backside of this medieval marvel for a beautiful look at its flying buttresses from the bridge over the Seine.
So grab a quick-lunch from a food stand and stroll at a leisurely pace along the Left Bank. There's so much to offer in Paris for free, you'll wonder why you hadn't gone there sooner.