Almost two decades after I first discovered Paris with my friend, I finally got the opportunity to understand the city. Previous trips were either rushed trips with the dreaded Charles de Gaulle as the main destination, or working trips which left little time to do more than basic tourism.
Heading back from Bangalore to Grenoble, we decided to spend a few weeks in Paris to explore, meet people and understand the French Tech ecosystem. Living in Paris like a local (well, almost), taking public transport to co-working places & meetings, dealing with Parisians outside the tourist track opened my eyes to a different Paris.
The world’s biggest startup campus spread over 34,000 m2 Station F is the heart of the French Tech ecosystem. Housed in a former rail depot, the campus runs several programs for startups, including Facebook’s Startup Garage.
Along with the startup offices & event spaces, Station F also houses La Felicita, a restaurant and co-working space that’s ideal for meeting people. It is where we had most of our meetings with startup founders from Paris, and even a young & dynamic marketing team of Moyu, a Dutch startup that sells notebooks made of stone paper!
You might think that Station F is only for professionals, but people come to La Felicita just to hang out. Its proximity to the national library, Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand, and several offices makes it an ideal place for people to catch up for a quick drink after work. Definitely worth checking out, even as a tourist!
Ile de France
Most people you meet in Paris don’t necessarily live in Paris, or even the banlieues (suburbs). A significant percentage of them are Franciliens, or residents of Ile de France, that state that surrounds Paris.
Traveling with a dog meant that most AirBnbs in Paris were no longer opening their doors to us, and made us explore cities outside Paris. We found a very convenient place with direct access to Station F in a city called Athis-Mons. It was quite a unique experience, living so close to Paris, yet so far away…and in a small city where none of the cliches about Parisian life applied, with a much slower and laid-back pace of life. While it annoyed us on days we wanted to enjoy Parisian life, on most days we were glad to be away from the temptation that Paris offers. It turned out to be a smart decision for our budgets, and the convenient location didn’t hold us back from hopping over to Paris for meetings and more.
As a tourist,you are probably familiar with the RER B which connects Charles de Gaulle airport to the city center. If you have friends who have studied or worked in Paris, you’ve definitely heard them grumble about the RER A and B. My experiences with both lines, though not very traumatic, were definitely not pleasant. Not as crowded as the Mumbai local trains, they definitely didn’t go with the popular perception of Paris as the most beautiful city in the world.
Luckily for us, Athis-Mons was connected to Paris through a very convenient RER line, which travels along most of the popular tourist spots from Notre Dame all the way to the Château de Versailles, making it easy for us to sneak in some tourism once work was done. There was a bit of a learning curve of course, when we had to figure out which train would stop at our station. We had to decipher and memorise some acronyms before we could stop consulting the board for all the stops. Avoid SARA and ELBA, go for CITY and JILL. With a train coming every 15 minutes and a commute of 20 minutes, the RER C made our weeks in Athis-Mons very convenient!
The icing on the cake? The trains were almost never crowded, and mostly very clean!
Large halls that served affordable meals to the working class, Paris had 250 bouillons in 1900. Today only a few remain, and are worth checking out for their interiors, and a very affordable traditional French meal.
We went to Brasserie Julien, a bouillon in the historic district of Saint Denis, and were awe-struck by the mahogany bar and the peacock panels flanking large mirrors on the walls. The food served is classic French – from the hors d’oeuvres of Foie Gras and Escargots and main course options of Confit de Canard or Saucisse au jus à la sarriette to the desserts of Baba au Rhum and Chou Chantilly…and all at amazingly affordable prices!
France24 recently talked about Brasserie Julien in a report about the tradition of brasseries in France.
Needless to say, we enjoyed the meal, and look forward to exploring the other bouillons in the city on future visits to the city.
Parisian Fitness & Chic
Not quite what you’d expect in an article about Paris, but the fitness & chic seemed to be a Parisian theme.
Parisians are fit. No two ways about it. How else can you survive the long, winding corridors and the many staircases of the Parisian metro, that is the most convenient way to get around the city? And no slow movers in these corridors. Most people move at a very brisk pace, and women don’t shy away from wearing heels despite the arduous commute! It’s no wonder most Parisians are so fit and active – which takes care of 50% of their chic appearance. I left the city feeling fitter and perhaps, even the tiniest bit chic!