Touring Paris (and Other Cities) with Locals

Eileen Ogintz takes a magical trip to Paris.

Forget the ubiquitous and delicious French macarons. “Parisians are very keen on eclairs now,” says Edouard Morhange, as he ushers us into a shop called L’Atelier de L’eclair on the rue Bachaumont, where all they sell are delectable eclairs—strawberry, caramel, chocolate…

Morhange, who lives nearby and is on the board of the Paris Greeter organization is touring us around this hip, foodie neighborhood, close to where Les Halles market existed for generations until it was moved out of the city.

The Les Halles redevelopment project, he shows us, is underway, complete with green space, shops, and a reorganized underground road and more functional train station. While the famous shopping mall under the Louvre’s glass pyramid, he explains, is largely used by tourists, this “new heart of Paris” will be largely for locals.

At the beginning of rue Montorgueill, we stop in The Church of St. Eustace, which was completed in 1637. Mozart held his mother’s funeral here; Cardinal Richelieu was baptized here. Today, it’s known for its fabulous acoustics (they are getting ready for a concert as we stop in) and the largest pipe organ in France (8,000 pipes)—larger even than that the one at Notre Dame. But tourists rarely find this amazing place, Morhange tells us.

We’re appropriately awed and thrilled to be seeing a bit of Paris tourists typically miss. The best part is it’s not costing us a penny.

That’s because the 360-volunteer Paris Greeters offers some 3,000 free tours every year. There are also free Greeter tours in Versailles and Marseilles and about 30 other French cities. “The French,” concedes Morhange, an engaging 40-year-old marketing executive with two kids, “have a reputation of not welcoming tourists … We want to show that is not the case.”

Not going to be in Paris? Sign up for a tour with Greeter in the city you’re going to be visiting this holiday season. We had a great time in Lower Manhattan walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with Big Apple Greeter, the first welcome visitor program in the United States, which now shows some 7,000 visitors 114 of New York’s neighborhoods.

Take a free tour everywhere from Toronto, Tel-Aviv, and Munich to Moscow, London, Zurich, Berlin, and Shanghai. In the United States, you’ll also find Chicago Greeter and Houston Greeters.

Paris, a city of about 3 million, gets something like 20 million visitors a year. We see this firsthand early in the day at the Musee D’Orsay—a top tourist draw for their Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections—with crowds lining up out the door in the rain. I’m glad we have the Paris Pass, which allows us to skip those lines!

“A lot of people want to interact with the tourists,” explains Morhange. “They just don’t know how.” Paris Greeters is a way to facilitate that interaction. “It is interesting for the tourists to meet Parisians, adds Morhange, “just as it is interesting for the Parisians to meet the tourists.”

We meet at 5 p.m. to tour the rue Montorgueill, the famous cobblestoned pedestrian street. It proves an especially good choice on this night, because we are staying in an apartment near the Arc de Triomphe at the Hotel Majestic in the residential 16th arrondisement, a short walk from the Champs-Elysees (courtesy of Exclusive Resorts, a private club for digs around the world).

Before we even got to Paris, the Exclusive Resorts concierge had offered us all kinds of restaurant suggestions, but after a week of multi-course meals on the Avalon River Cruise we’ve just taken to Normandy, we tell Morhange we want to shop for takeout for dinner. He laughs and tells us we’ve come to the right place. Rue Montorgueill is one of Paris’ most famous foodie streets, on which locals shop for their dinners—so many kinds of cheese!—and enjoy after-work glasses of wine or coffee at the many cafes that line the street.

Morhange explains the rue Montorgueill has historically been a foodie neighborhood because of its proximity of Les Halles, the traditional central market of Paris that was known, until it was demolished in 1971, as “The Belly of Paris.”

“The streets are just like they were in the 19th century,” he says, though today they’re packed with hip Parisians rather than those bringing food to sell at the market. Morhange points out signs on the buildings, which date back more than a century—one for a shop selling poultry and one for horse meat. The oldest pastry shop in Paris, Stohrer, is here. It was founded in 1730.

We stop at Eric Kayser, where Morhange buys his bread. There is a line out the door. Other shops offer everything from ducks (with their heads still on), hundreds of cheeses, delectable chocolates and macarons that come in a rainbow of colors, as well as quiches and the best takeout salads I’ve ever seen.

We opt for rotisserie chicken and potatoes—a typical, quick weekday dinner or Sunday lunch for Parisians, Morhange says.

We stop for a glass of wine at a small cafe called Le Couchon, decorated with painted tiles from the old Les Halles. At the next table, two men are playing with their pooch—very common in Paris. We invite Morhange to visit us next time he is in New York; I promise to send his kids one of my city guides for kids.

We head “home” on the Metro, clutching a baguette, our chicken, and, of course, the eclairs. Takeout never tasted so good.

(c) 2013 Eileen Ogintz Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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By Eileen Ogintz

Appearing in more than 50 major newspapers, Eileen Ogintz's "Taking the Kids" column is a past winner of the national Clarion Award from Women in Communications.

The meeting of a three-year-old, a cat and a goldfish pond started "Taking the Kids." The three-year-old, Eileen Ogintz' son Matt, pushed the hapless kitty into the pond at a Wisconsin cottage her family had rented for the weekend. "I thought the kitty wanted to go swimming," Matt explained. The furious owner insisted they pack up and leave immediately. The embarrassed parents drove home three hours to Chicago in a downpour.

Eileen Ogintz was a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune then, covering news stories around the country. The travel editor, hearing her tale of woe about the cat and the goldfish pond, encouraged her to write a story about the trials of traveling with children. That story led to others. "We realized there were a lot of people like me, parents who wanted help planning trips now that they had kids." The award-winning syndicated column Taking the Kids grew out of those stories. Ogintz left the Tribune, after 14 years as a reporter, national correspondent and feature writer, to spend more time with her three young children and to launch the column nationally. The Taking the Kids series of travel guides for children, published by HarperCollins West, has followed.

"More people than ever are taking their kids places, whether they're going to Grandma's or a museum, to Disney World or on a business trip," Ogintz said. "Their time and budgets are tight. I give them the help they need to make the most of their family time." "Planning with the kids' interests in mind can make the difference between a great trip and one that's a disaster," she added.

Taking the Kids now appears in more than 50 major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News and Portland Oregonian. The column won a 1994 national Clarion Award from Women in Communications, Inc. and appears on AOL's Family Travel Network and elsewhere on the Web.

Ogintz has traveled with her husband and kids across the country and abroad -- from London to Disney World to Disneyland -- skiing in Colorado to fishing in Minnesota, soaking up history in Washington, D.C. to sightseeing in Las Vegas, New York and Yellowstone National Park.

The fifth book of the Taking the Kids series, A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains, was just published, as well as a book for parents, Are We There Yet?? on taking the kids and surviving. She was the recipient of a 1995 and 1996 Parents' Choice honor for the series, which also highlights the Southwest, Southern California, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Ogintz, who holds a master's in journalism from the University of Missouri, is a 20-year veteran of the newspaper business, reporting for The Anniston Star, The Record in Hackensack, N.J., and Des Moines Register as well as the Chicago Tribune, where she created the paper's family-issues beat. Today, she is regular contributor to numerous national publications, and has appeared on such television programs as "48 Hours," "The Today Show," "Good Morning America" and "Oprah." She created a course on the changing American family at Northwestern University and consults on work/family issues.

From their home in Connecticut, Ogintz travels with her husband, an executive in financial services, and their three children, Matt, Reggie and Melanie, who serve -- not always graciously -- as Taking the Kids' special team of experts.

Write to Eileen Ogintz in care of Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.
Or e-mail Eileen at eileen@takingthekids.com

© 2007 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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