Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Claustrophobia and other excellent reasons to go to a concert in Paris

The thing about visiting old friends in a new city is that sometimes you get so caught up in catching up, that you forget to get out and see the sights. Suddenly another precious day has gone by, and you are still stretched out on the sofa, finally exchanging all of the vital information that hasn’t fit into emails and Facebook. Staying with friends is less expensive and more personal, but it can mean taking your homebody ways with you.

In Paris, however, unless your old buddy is heiress to some great fortune, you are in no danger of not getting out of the house. Because, when you get out of bed in a Paris apartment, chances are, you are already halfway out the door. In order to live affordably in the center of the City of Lights, perfectly normal and full-sized adults move into homes that would barely qualify as a walk-in closet in other European capitals.

If you have not yet experienced this phenomenon, I can only offer this advice: When your friend says she lives in a really small place, she doesn’t mean upright piano instead of mini-grand. She means that if your suitcase doesn’t fit in the overhead compartment or beneath the seat in front of you, it will be living in the bathtub for the duration of your stay in Paris. So, pack light, bring earplugs, and plan to go out a lot.

When the trek to the top of the Eiffel Tower has worn you out, drop into the Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel metro station, and re-emerge at St Michel/Notre Dame. With a bit of advanced planning, you can grab a bite to eat and then plunge into the magical atmosphere of Notre Dame Cathedral, where Tuesday evenings are often filled with sacred music. Let the hectic thoughts of the day (many of which probably begin with “I can’t believe how much I just spent on that…”) melt away, while the powerful organ or a vocal ensemble offers a sense of the Cathedral atmosphere beyond the elbowing tourists. Notre Dame is one of the most popular tourist sites in the world, so try to reserve your concert seats beforehand.

If your visit doesn’t allow for a concert at Notre-Dame, never fear. Sainte-Chapelle Church is much more manageable in size, and its stained glass windows are breathtakingly beautiful. Here, your visit is almost certain to coincide with a concert, if you travel between mid-March and November. The musicians are excellent and the concert programs feature many of the “greatest hits” of the classical repertoire. For a more relaxed experience, be sure book the tickets in advance.

If your friend’s digs are leaving you feeling less than regal, plan a visit to the Palais Garnier. It’s the perfect opportunity to put on the fabulous dress that you probably just bought for an insane amount of money in a boutique in the Marais. (In fact, you should probably just put the dress on in the store’s changing room. Chances are, it’s bigger than your host’s flat.) Take the métro to Opéra, and enter the dazzling 19th century interpretation of Baroque, known to many simply as the Paris Opéra. The program here includes opera, chamber music, and recitals. Many events sell out, so it is worth doing a bit of advanced planning here as well.

As your Paris holiday is coming to an end and you are tackling the acrobatic task of getting all of your new purchases into your suitcase without taking it out the bathtub, you might want to leave a space-appropriate thank you gift. (e.g. If you haven't noticed a clear surface in the flat, avoid bringing flowers.) Give your expatriate pal a reason to leave the house, too: You can’t go wrong with a couple of tickets to the Salle Pleyel concert hall, or even a Classictic Gift Card, which lets your friend to decide when and where to go, when the walls start closing in.