Paris: Making Les Plans

Photos by Jacqueline Ostrowski

When four friends decide to head to Paris for a week, the planning can be an exercise in wish fulfillment, stress, and joy that rivals the trip itself.

In my case, our Chicago-based group bought plane tickets in May for an early September trip, allowing ourselves plenty of time to secure the perfect flat and map out our daily activities.

We all approached the trip with different goals, but individual and group research, a pre-trip planning meeting, and a dose of compromise helped make everyone’s Paris experience a memorable one.

Here’s a look at the four women that made up our group and what each hoped to get out of the trip:

Our unofficial leader, Hilary, is an annual visitor to Paris who dreams of owning a pied-a-terre there someday, so she already knows the best route to her favorite stores and restaurants. She put an emphasis on leisurely lunches, long strolls along the Rue St. Honore, and plenty of café time with a book and a glass of wine.

As the only Paris first-timer of the group, Melina’s list of must-visits included all the big hits — the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the d’Orsay.

Steph lived in Paris in college, so she hoped to revisit some of her old haunts. A recent convert from vegan to vegetarian, she put a premium on eating as much good cheese as possible.

As for me, I hadn’t been to Paris since francs were in use. I’d seen the major sights before, so I focused on exploring out-of-the-way neighborhoods, tasting sweets, and visiting lesser-known museums.

Some of us started planning our museum schedules as soon as we booked our plane tickets. Spreadsheets outlined our every move. A Google Doc catalog of links organized scattered thoughts into tidy columns.

Others were content to be more spontaneous and wait until arriving in Paris to make concrete plans.

Before the trip, we met at a new French bistro in Chicago to hash out the details over wine and creme brulee (bonus: some of the waiters were born and raised in Paris, so they weighed in with their own suggestions!).

We started by identifying each person’s must-dos up front so we could tailor the trip to make sure everyone left happy.

We all love culture, fashion and dining, making it easy to focus on our shared interests and to plan group activities around them: art museums, shopping, and dining.

Other activities, like my visits to Musee Carnavalet and Musee Marmottan Monet —- both gems, but probably not must-sees for a first-timer — could be enjoyed solo.

I’m happy to say that we all managed to fit in everything on our list with time left over for lingering over a glass of rose. And when we return to Paris someday soon, we’ll know exactly where to start our research.

(l-r) Hilary, Melina, Steph and the author

The following resources proved especially helpful:

Color-coded Google Map
Satisfy those pesky type A tendencies while you map future strolls and assess exactly how close that tempting bistro is to your hotel.

HIP: Happening In Paris
Written to complement a vacation rental company, this site’s writers offer a knowledgeable and informative look at Paris happenings. Check out the Parisian living section for insight on etiquette and socializing with locals, including the art of mastering the perfectly nonchalant “bon jour.”

Paris By Mouth
Reputable credentials and a wealth of culinary expertise make this site’s take on Parisian eats worth checking out. I used it to narrow down my list of bistros and hone in some good Sunday dining options.

Girls’ Guide to Paris
The site excels in its shopping guides and tips for bargain hunters. Alhough women are the target audience, men will find plenty that pertains to them once they get past the features on women’s fashion.

David Lebovitz

If you’re not already reading, start now! David is an Alice Waters-trained pastry/dessert chef expat who comments on Paris life and dining from a charmingly snarky perspective. His site is an indispensable guide to Paris dining, especially the extensive pastry, gelato, and chocolate shop recommendations.

  • Nice trip! Next time you might also want to check out – a blog with tips by Paris locals!

  • Mostlymo

    Loved your article! We plan to visit Paris next spring, and it was good to hear your must-sees.

  • Jackie

    Thanks, Mostlymo and Bart! Bart, I’ll definitely check out your site the next time I head to Paris.

  • Frank Brown

    Excellent job, Ms. Ostrowski.
    Loved the photos and, of course, prose.