Todd DeFeo

For author, Paris’ history, culture is the draw

(Photos by Todd DeFeo)

PARIS — Touring the world was always a part of Robyn Webb’s “life agenda.”

It makes sense, after all. The child of hoteliers, Webb grew up around the tourism industry, and living out of a suitcase is second nature for her.

“I started with the great cities of the world. Paris was top of the list,” Webb recalled.

So enamored with the city was Webb that she authored what became an Amazon best seller The Paris Vacation Apartment Guide: Rent with Confidence — Learn Where to Stay Without Getting Overwhelmed, Ripped-Off or Scammed!

“To me, the city is like a giant onion; there are so, so, so many layers and to date, after all my trips there, I still think I’m not even halfway through the layers,” Webb said. “There’s so much to absorb; the history, architecture, customs, art, theatre, dance and not to mention a country that produces over 300 kinds of cheeses.”

From the Louvre to the Musee d’Orsay to the Eiffel Tower, Paris is home to some of the world’s most iconic landmarks.

“Some people slowly warm up to Paris, while some never really take to it at all; I was sold at first ‘bonjour,’” Webb said. “Even though on my first trip to Paris I didn’t speak a lick of French, I was just fascinated by the smells, sights, and sounds of the city. Having been from New York, a big city atmosphere was not new to me, but this city presents its ‘busyness’ like a beautiful dance; I find it all so intriguing.”

Robyn Webb

Robyn Webb

Why is Paris such an alluring city for many? What makes the city your favorite and one that keeps you coming back?

Well I think you chose the right word: alluring. When I describe Paris, I refer to it in a feminine way. I think of the city as a well-groomed woman who indeed is alluring and captivating. I think it has feminine beauty in the elegant bridges, the church spires, the lovely flower boxes adorning so many buildings and enchanting, slightly crooked streets that draws people in.

While I love the many, many places I’ve visited all over the world, Paris is probably my favorite because of its contrasts. You can get your fill of the exciting, perhaps one would say noisy atmosphere, but then you could turn a corner and come upon a serene little park where the outside world almost ceases to exist. You can still see lovely elegant elderly women walking with linked arms and then come upon a pack of hip, young and stylish teens giggling as if they don’t have a care in the world. You’ll see homes still standing from the pre-Haussmann days to modern structures built recently.

And beyond the contrasts, come the choices. Will it be an apple tart or éclair for a midday stop? Chanel or a funky Marais boutique? Metro, bus or will I decide to just hoof it? I love these choices, as they always keep things fresh and interesting.

What are some of the common mistakes visitors to Paris make?

That they can do everything in a few days visit! Like I said before, it takes years to get through the fabric of Paris. Visitors often make a snap judgment about the city in just a few short days. While one may never love it the way I do, getting to really know Paris takes a few trips or an extended stay.

Remember you’re not in your home country when you visit Paris (or really any place outside your home country, you should heed this advice) so you are a guest who should respect your host city. No one is asking you to adopt the French culture on a short visit, but it helps if you do a bit of research on the city and any aspect of it you are interested in. And do learn a few simple French words, the two most important: Bonjour and Merci!

What tip or bit of advice would you offer first time visitors?

Take your time, slow down and savor. Don’t run from site to site, enjoy downtime in between just to sit and relax. If that’s not your style, just try it for a bit, I guarantee you’ll appreciate the city better when you see it from different aspects rather than from just inside four walls.

What are a few sites that everyone who visits Paris should experience? Is it the famous attractions such as the Louvre or is it more off the beaten path/less well-known sites?

You know it’s funny, I always run across comments made in travel forums that people want to visit Paris but they want to be totally away from other tourists. Now maybe with several trips under your belt, this might be a good idea, but the iconic sites in Paris are touristy for a reason; they really are that good.

With that said, there is no obligation to visit the Louvre or climb the Tour Eiffel if you really don’t want to. Paris is one of those cities that you can walk to your own tune and do what makes you happy; there’s no lack of stimulation in Paris!

I do have however a few of my favorite places that are less well trodden by the mass tourists. I love Parc Belleville in the 20th arrondissement. This green space begs you to stretch out with a picnic basket while you overlook the entire city from high on a hill. I also love to spend time on the Promenade Plantee in the 12th arrondissement. This flower-filled raised walkway sits on top of the Viaduc Arts and extends from Paris all the way right outside the city to the gorgeous Bois de Vincennes park. Another favorite spot is in the 10th arrondissement; the Hopital Saint Louis. This fortress-like structure was built during the horrific plagues to keep those afflicted away from the rest of the city. The courtyard is reminiscent of one my favorite squares in Paris, the Place des Vosges. When the yard is open on weekends, you’ll find me there in deep contemplation.

Note: Some responses were edited for length.

About Todd DeFeo
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and Railfanning.org.