If you are one of the millions of tourists who has helped my hometown of Paris top the lists of most visited cities in the world, you may think that by getting an eyeful of the Eiffel and sipping Champagne by the Seine, you know all the delights of the city of light.
Yet even though the French invented the word blasé, there’s plenty more fun to be had after you’ve done all the touristy stuff. Here are three of my top tips for an offbeat day out in the world’s greatest city.
1. Pay a visit to the real “underground” Paris
No visit to a romantic hot spot is complete without seeing a wall made of human skulls, which is what makes the catacombs one of my favourite places to take lovebirds. After entering the “attraction," a 10-minute walk through some creepy underground tunnels brings you into a collection of galleries filled with tens of thousands of human cadavers brought from overflowing cemeteries in the 18th century. They are lovingly arranged into interesting patterns -- while most of us would consider plague and pestilence a nuisance, French forefathers saw the opportunity for some fun bone art. Don’t miss the message carved into a doorway welcoming you to “the empire of death” -- it’s a real crowd-pleaser.
2. Check out a really weird museum
No, the Louvre does not count as weird -- although it is strange that its most famous painting is of a lady with no eyebrows. But there is no avoiding the fact that Paris is a city of museums; official sources state there are more than 200 of them. Among them are gems such as the Paris Sewer Museum, the Museum of Magic, the Museum of Perfume, the Museum of Automated Toys and even a Museum of Vampires. Please don’t leave without visiting at least one of these places -- you may be the only ticket they sell that day. My personal favorite is slightly more conventional: the opulent Musée Jacquemart André, which was once the mansion of an eccentric nobleman and now houses a priceless art collection.
3. End the day with the original Bloody Mary
One of my favourite urban legends of Paris goes something like this: back when Ernest Hemingway was renting a room at the Ritz, he became notorious for his drunken escapades -- much to the dismay of his wife, Mary Welsh. In an attempt to stem criticism lest she discover alcohol on his breath, he charged a local barman with inventing a cocktail that would prevent “bloody Mary” from finding out. The resulting libation contained just enough tomato juice and spices to mask the smell of vodka. Don’t let the fact that this is probably a myth prevent you from sampling one at Harry’s New York Bar, which is indeed where the cocktail was invented. As you drink the expensive yet delicious mixture, consider that your seat may have been occupied by Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart or indeed Hemingway himself at some point during the bar’s 100-year existence.