At the end of a day of non-stop sight seeing, some visitors to Paris feel compelled to see a performance such as Moulin Rouge or other “tourist traps”. Not only are these types of shows only for the tourists, they also cost too much money. If you have your mind set on one of these shows, then by all means go. But if you’re just wandering the streets after dinner looking for a little nightlife, or hiding in your hotel room to save money, then try returning to the area near Notre Dame for a surprisingly good time that is light on the wallet. Paris is not a museum, it is a vibrant city that truly comes to life when the street lights come on. Kilometer Zero, the heart of the city exemplifies this as the crowds come out to spend the night, but not their Euros.
During the warm weather months all sorts of young entertainers will congregate around the church and the river after nightfall. No need for expensive entertainment here as skateboarders and rollerbladers perform stunts on makeshift ramps. Some of the tricks can get pretty impressive as the performers try to outdo each other. However it’s a friendly competition with a lot of regulars and at the end they pass around the communal hat. Often street musicians accompany these performances, sometimes whole rock bands perform along the quay playing both standards as well as some French tunes that get the crowd singing. The music scene changes every night and the sounds echo off the stones of the Quay and into the night, giving a soundtrack to your nightime adventures.
Don’t like what you see? Take a short walk along the river, there is something for everyone and every night is a little different. For the literary crowd there is a great hangout/bookstore across the river from Notre Dame in the Latin Quarter. Shakespeare and Company Bookstore may look like an impromptu yard sale, but it is a must visit. Since its founding in 1951, the quirky shop has been a Mecca for the bohemian set and is always worth the trip. The ramshackle building is packed with mostly English language books of every genre, even out of print editions and at really cheap prices. The best part is all purchases are stamped with the bookstore’s logo: “Shakespeare and Company – Kilometer Zero, Paris”. After dark is the best time to visit as the most interesting people seem to come here at night to discuss anything from Dickens to Descartes. The shop has also rented out beds to writers over the years, by their count fifty thousand! The list reads like a who’s who of twentieth century literature including beat poet Alan Ginsberg and comedian Michael Palin.
The bookstore is also a great way to get information on the city as well as meeting some expatriates. Since many of the patrons are students, they can always lead you to inexpensive fun such as a cool Jazz Cafe or a nice quiet place for a glass of wine. To me it is this experience that makes traveling worthwhile. Churches, tours and museums will start to blend together over time, but memories like listening to a band play under spectral glow of an illuminated Notre Dame, or meeting a French couple that showed the way to a great restaurant are the memories that stay with you. As you get acquainted with this area it is fun to venture out to the other neighborhoods to see what other treasures you can find at night. Just remember to use a travelers most valued resource: the People.