5 Places to Lose Track of Time in Paris

The Esplanade des Invalides

When you’re a foreigner newly arrived in Paris, chances are you’ll soon start looking for places to call your own—those individual nooks of the city that make you happy, speak to you, and most of all, that you’ll lose time in. Fortunately, Paris is filled with such places—but where, you ask? Here are a few that stand unique.

  1. BOULINIER (20 Boulevard Saint-Michel, 75006 – map)

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    Boulinier, Boulevards Saint-Michel & Saint-Germain.

    This bookstore sells, buys, and is everything. Situated in the Latin Quarter, it offers used books (d’occasion), CDs, DVDs, BDs (bandes dessinées = French comics). Upstairs is the BD department—that’s right, the first floor is all comics—and truly, once you’ve ascended you may never come back down, because Boulinier has comics for everyone. (It was up there that I discovered both cartoonist Margaux Motin and the Captain Biceps series, to name just two of my favorites.) If you do emerge, head downward to the sous-sol; categorized by subject, you’ll find a sea of used books with titles you’ve never come across before, and probably never will again. But Boulinier’s true crowning glory is the plethora of used-book-buckets out front, where things rarely cost more than a euro. The selection changes daily. My favorite find was a glut of Tintin magazines from the ’80s and back. To a local, this is probably about as interesting as finding back issues of Highlights at Goodwill, but as a foreigner, I don’t think I’ve ever truly recovered.

  1. THE ESPLANADE DES INVALIDES (map)

    The Esplanade des Invalides where it borders the Grand Palais.

    Sprawling through the 7th arrondissement is this immensely welcoming green space. It abuts the Hôtel des Invalides, named for its original 17th-century purpose as a military hospital. The Esplanade is surrounded on all sides by beautiful backdrops. There is the rue Saint-Dominique, which splits the Esplanade in two; the Grand Palais and Petit Palais across the Seine; and the Air France building. Is there anything making the Esplanade more remarkable than, say, the famous Jardin du Luxembourg or Parc des Buttes-Chaumont? Surely not; the Esplanade’s time-stealing charms are small and personal. I recommend it for sitting down with a coffee, notebook, and some music. In such an open space, the thoughts just flow a little faster and happier.

  1. (ALMOST) ANY PARIS SUPERMARKET

    monoprix
    Monoprix: just one of several French supermarkets I love perhaps a little too much.

    First, a personal admission: I have a deep-seated love for supermarkets. In Paris, with only certain exceptions, the supermarchés have taken this ardor of mine to a whole new level. Let’s examine one important French example: yogurt. The supermarché‘s array is boggling; I think the yogurt aisle at one Monoprix stretches from the 14th arrondissement to Tokyo. This goes for things like meat, produce, and cereal too (and if you’re wondering why I mention cereal as a food group, it is because I have entirely too strong a love for cereal as well). Chances are you’ll find yourself making some supermarket runs more for the ambience than the food.

  1. THE BOULEVARD MALESHERBES (map)

    The Église Saint-Augustin, Boulevard Malesherbes.
    The Église Saint-Augustin, Boulevard Malesherbes.

    Between the Église de la Madeleine and the 17th arrondissement lies this refreshing, tree-lined boulevard. It contains the Église de Saint-Augustin, shops to peer into and get lost in, an excellent supermarket, and a connecting street that will get you quickly to the Champs-Elysées. There are other more vaunted Paris boulevards, but there’s something about this one that always calls out for a walk. It’s worthy of many a winding balade, with its curves to help untwist your mind. Oh, and it’s named for an 18th-century statesman (somehow, this always seems anticlimactic to me).

  1. THE MUSÉE DE CLUNY (6 Place Paul Painlevé, 75005 – map)

    "À mon seul désir," one of the Dame à la Licorne tapestries, Musée de Cluny.
    “À mon seul désir,” one of the Dame à la Licorne tapestries, Musée de Cluny.

    Literally catty-cornered from the book-buckets of Boulinier is the spellbinding museum of the Middle Ages, whose building dates back to the early 14th century. The true centerpiece is a series of unicorn tapestries, La Dame à la Licorne. Upstairs in quiet darkness, the six tapestries are displayed in a circle, so that you can sit in the center and view them on all sides. Five of them represent the five senses, while the sixth is À mon seul désir (pictured above). It’s hard to pick what about these images seduces the most—is it the color, the warmth, the complexity, the expressions in the eyes, the fact that these tapestries were woven around 1500 and have seen every moment since? Who am I kidding, the best part is the doggies and bunnies. It’s ALL about the doggies and bunnies.

Dog detail
Dog detail from “La Dame à la Licorne”
Bunny detail
Bunny detail from Dame à la Licorne
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