Skies are gray, but winter doesn’t dim the City of Light. Paris is brilliant any time of year, January included. The difference is, it’s a little colder and much less crowded. Lines at the Eiffel Tower are short and the plaza in front of the Palace of Versailles is empty. During another season, these attractions swell with tourists and strollers and busses. Today there is time and space to stage photographs without anyone strolling into the viewfinder.
Instead of flora and greenery, the streetscape is lavished with last month’s holiday decor–strands of garland and globes of light, colorful albeit a bit droopy. Light snow dusts the banks of the River Seine. The chilly temperature doesn’t send anyone indoors. Brasseries wrap their patios in plastic and erect a heater or two. Purveyors at the Puces St. Ouen flea market bundle up in down or fur, and await their next deal.
It’s the perfect time for serious shopping. January is one of two times yearly when all Paris goes on sale. (The other is in July.) The city’s commercial code dictates when store owners can lower their prices and by how much. Discounts typically start at a modest 20 percent, and gradually grow deeper as the weeks wear on. Window signs shout “les soldes” and “soldissimes,” even in the designer districts and hotel gift shops. Department store Galeries Lafayette is overrun with shoppers, from the sidewalk kiosks to the Belle Epoque glass-domed ceiling. Good thing I left room in my suitcases–I came home with thick terry bathrobes, designer scarves and a cool umbrella.