The heart of Paris for me will always be the Left Bank, and now as a solo womantraveler here, I particularly advocate this lively and compact Latin Quarter area for women alone or with girlfriends. In a relatively small and historic area of the 5th and 6th Arrondissements (extending into the 7th), the range of options is extensive (from funky to sophisticated). It's built on the original Roman origins of Paris and includes many important landmarks. The University of Paris and famous schools (like the Sorbonne) are centered here, bringing an intellectual, hip, and cosmopolitan air in the narrow streets, which are also filled with every imaginable shopping and dining opportunity. Compared to the big-city atmosphere of the Right Bank, it's easily manageable for hours on foot and, though busy, not noisy. The flowers in the markets, even in the snow and rain, are gorgeous and warm.
It's good to have some destinations in mind but not to be over-prepared so you can discard your original plans without worry. For any traveler, receptivity to the new plus openness to looking at the farmiliar in new ways are essential to a satisfactory experience; serendipity and discovery are natural partners. Importantly, don't try to pack too much into one outing -- it'll feel like a chore and a, well, job.
Here are some suggestions and highlights for a wonderful day through the 5th-7th, or take it in chunks. To feel comfortably fashionable (branchée), put on a jacket or sweater and a terrific scarf, perhaps a discreet beret if it's windy. The excellent scarf, wrapped with élan, is the key. Do not, absolutely do not, wear white sneakers or running shoes, jeans or shorts. We all can do better than that in Paris, after all, and we should.
Start at the Seine River at Shakespeare & Company, the renowned bookshop opened by American George Whitman that carries on the tradition of early 20th century ex-pat Sylvia Beach. Crawling through the stacks is, in fact, a wonderful all-day outing in itself. Across the river on the Île de la Cité is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, now being cleaned to reflect pale sandy hues. Follow the river past the bouquinistes (secondhand booksellers) with vintage and relatively new books, prints, and art along the river and equally interesting stores of the same variety on the street side. I could spend my entire trip in bookstores in Paris, filled with books in all languages, and am resisting purchasing a few this time.
Turn into the winding streets of the district along Rue de Seine and stop for lunch at Fish la Boissonnerie in an old half-timbered building. With about 40 seats and a bar for 6, you'd never detect that this restaurant is owned by New Zealanders and a Cuban-American -- unless you hear them discussing orders for their companion restaurant Cosi (specializing in sandwiches) across the street and La Dernière Goutte wine store around the corner (6 Rue de Bourbon Le Château, 75006 Paris, 01.43.29.11.62). Open 7 days a week, the wine shop offers Saturday wine tastings and carrying cases for easy travel. Especially great about Fish la Boissonnerie are the daily changing menus and the vast wine collection of the proprieters reflected on the pages-long wine list and daily wine specials. Following a pureed carrot soup finished with a little cream and cumin, I opted for a Loire Gamay Pierre Bise wine with my seared cabillaud fish over steamed spinach and circled by a balsamic vinaigrette sauce. The helpings are generous and the spectacular lemon-orange tarte at the end almost finished me off!
With such wonderful food, how do French women stay thin? One of my theories (and more on this topic another day), they walk as I did for the next couple of hours. In other words, I took my exercise by people-watching and shopping through the book stores, funky/chic shops, and street markets, topped off with active window shopping of the chic Left Bank stores -- from Sonia Rykiel (whose boutiques now go around three sides of the block between Blvd. St-Germain and Rue des Grenelles, Armani, the department store Bon Marché and dozens of shoe, jewelry, clothing and accessory boutiques for women mixed in with intruders such intruders as the Gap and Burberry, which the French love.
For a break, as it is oyster season -- and what a wonderful to stop with six sweet oysters on the half shell and a glass of dry white wine -- as I did at Les Jardins de St. Germain on Rue du Dragon. Or, if you're into something hardier, La Rhumerie recommended by some French friends for its vast selection of Caribbean French (and other) rums on Blvd. St-Germain just east of the Église St-Germain-des-Prés (166 Blvd. St-Germain, Paris 75006, 01.43.54.28.94, www.larhumerie.com).