Expat tales: Paris, je t'aime France

VIVE A PARIS: Kiwi expat Margot Burton lives in Paris.
VIVE A PARIS: Kiwi expat Margot Burton lives in Paris.

There's so much to see, but so little time in the French capital, writes Margot Burton.

Why did you move to Paris?

I had always wanted to travel and improve my French after university, and then I watched Midnight in Paris. I had visited before, but thanks to Woody Allen, I guess, I fell in love with the idea of living here.

What do you do there?

I teach business English to employees of multinational companies in the business district La Defense, and in my spare time I play tour guide to visiting family, friends.

What do you like or dislike about life in Paris?

I love the buildings most of all. The architecture is so unlike what we have in New Zealand, and if I have time I will usually walk places I need to go, and take detours along la Seine or small interesting streets on the way home.

Mostly I dislike that there are so many interesting and obscure exhibitions on that I never have time to get to - although this is not exactly a bad complaint to have. Apart from that, Parisian people always seem to be in a rush.

How does the cost of living compare with New Zealand's?

The cost of living is higher here, with rent (higher) and wine (lower) being the biggest differences.

What do you do at weekends?

I like to meet friends for a drink, explore new shops, or discover new parks and castles outside Paris. One of the most beautiful is Fontainebleau.

What do you think of the food?

My favourite French meal would be a savoury buckwheat crepe washed down with some cider, both originally from the Bretagne region, and my favourite restaurant is a modern take on French Japanese food, called Nanashi.

As a vegetarian, I think France still has a way to go, but it's possible to find delicious meals; it just encourages you off the beaten track a bit more. Just recently I went to a vegetarian expo, and there are more vegetarian friendly restaurants popping up.

What's the best way to get around?

I always recommend taking a hop-on, hop-off bus the first day, just to get your bearings. After that, walking or the velib (public bike hire).

As Paris isn't too big, you can easily explore a neighbourhood on foot, and when going a bit further take the bike. Cars are surprisingly accommodating to bike riders, and there are not many steep hills in Paris. If you are looking to explore the local region, the RER (trains) is great.

What's the shopping like?

You can find anything and everything in Paris. I recommend going to the beautiful streets in Montmartre if you want some vintage clothes or to check out French-made gifts and clothes.

If you are lucky/crazy enough to come to Paris to shop during the twice yearly sales, then I suggest you know exactly what you want before the sales start. Be prepared for crowds.

What's the nightlife like?

Be it a club, live music, a pub or a classy cocktail bar, there is always somewhere to go in Paris, and something happening every night of the week. In summer the parks, banks of the river and canals are lined with people making of most of the weather and having a BYO picnic.

What is your favourite part of Paris?

The area around Canal Saint-Martin. There are so many great cafes, shops and places where young people love to explore, and new places are popping up all the time. The canal is picturesque in all weather, it is well served by public transport and the atmosphere is laid-back and friendly.

What time of year is best to visit?

May to June, or September to October. Summer is absolutely beautiful in Paris, and you can make the most of the parks, outdoor events and al fresco dining, while also avoiding the high tourist season.

What's your must-do thing for visitors?

A long walk from Biblioteque Francois Mitterand, along the Seine right to the Eiffel Tower. Les Berges (left/south bank of the Seine) has recently been done up, closed off to cars and improved with sculptures, trees and places to sit, and in summer is full of things to do and see. This walk also takes you past many famous Paris sights.

What are your top tips for tourists?

For the best view of Paris, go up Tour Montparnasse, there you can see everything, including the Eiffel Tower. I would also recommend visiting some of Paris' beautiful parks, especially Buttes Chaumont (20th) for the view, and Parc Montsouris (14th) to see part of the disused railway line "la petite ceinture". There is also the Promenade Plantee (12th) which offers another view of Paris

How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?

Many airlines fly from Charles du Gaulle airport to one in New Zealand, with a stop in either Asia or the United States, so it's pretty easy.

If you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home, email escape@star-times.co.nz with Expat in the subject line.

Sunday Star Times