We rented an apartment in the Marais (3rd arrondissement, French for 'marsh'). The Marais is old - the building next door to our flat dates to 1407 was the home of legendary alchemist Nicolas Flamel and is popularly claimed to be the oldest residence in Paris. The now Vietnamese noodle house we frequented is believed by some to be an even older residence. The Marais is a great location within a short walk of Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, Hotel du Ville and the Louvre yet at the same time not touristy. It's good that we had so much around us to see because we didn't have much space to move around at home. Yet at about 375 square feet, our apartment was quite a bit larger than many others we saw for rent. We were even lucky enough to have a full size shower/bathtub.
I find Paris to be relatively compact and very easy to navigate without getting too lost. Even so, we kept a wall map to track our walks through the city, and a pocket map-book to help out when we did get lost. That's not a tourist move, even locals carry maps here. We did see many of the usual sights, but we had the luxury to also explore some of the lesser travelled areas. One of my favorites was a grouping of buildings in the 16th by the Art Noveau architect Hector Guimard. He's the guy behind the instantly recognizable Paris Metro signs and his buildings are equally unique.
Paris has an endless supply of museums. We did a few new and redid our old favorites: Rodin sculpture garden, Louvre, Pompideau, L'Orangerie, D'Orsay, Picasso. We saw a few Operas at Opera Bastille and a truly bizarre interpretive dance show at the old opera house, Palais Garnier. Opera here adds a new dimension: we got to choose between translating from the Italian being sung, or from the French projected on the supertext screens. Luckily, the plots in a traditional opera are generally as obvious as a modern day soap.
Big in Europer is La Fete du Musique, a festival of street music that takes place every June 21st. If it even resembles music, it was happening somewhere in Paris. In the Marais shopping district, there was a band every two blocks. On one corner an acoustic choir was being completely overpowered by a nearby -really loud- rock band. A few weeks later, the Gay Pride parade strolled through town. It was a huge crowed of people having a good time, but we were a bit disappointed by the relative calm and lack of outlandish costumes.
Oh, and we went to EuroDisney. It's a surprisingly English interpretation of Disney. The new Space Mountain here is great, but the original Disneyland still has the best feel. And Toontown. There's no Toontown in EuroDisney!!
The Tour de France started just before we left France, so we rented a car and headed west through the Loire Valley to the town of Cholet for stages 4 and 5. The Tour is a huge affair here. Even in Paris, all the souvenir stalls were full of yellow tshirts and hats before the Tour started. The stage 4 time trial was very good. The riders race against the clock one at a time over a course that starts and ends in the center of town. We got to watch starts, a few sprints where faster riders caught up to slower and finishes. The stage 5 road race was also really exciting...for the 30 seconds it took for the pack to blow by us. Possibly the highlight of our Tour trip was the kabob dinner in Cholet. Wow, those were good shrimp.
Our favorite activity in Paris? EATING. Now, being unemployed long-term travellers, we didn't spend all our time at Michelin 5 star restaurants. We found a few everyday restaurants with awesome food and we ate in quite a bit. Most of our home dining was bacon/baguette brunches, salmon salads or hiyayako. Home meals invariably finished with a dessert of some form. Our favorites: La Fougasse for baguettes and tarts, ZenZoo for Asian fusion snacks and tea, old Pho house on Volta for noodles, OJilou for a proper meal, and Amorino for the best gelato ever.