Let’s start by saying Galaries Lafayette is not a secret nor is it hidden but there is more to this monster department store than an amazing stain-glass skylight. Near the Opera Garnier (think Phantom of the Opera) the home to the French National Opera, Galeries Lafayette operates 3 huge stores on Rue du Lafayette. It is always mentioned in the shopping sections of guide books as ‘the’ department store in Paris, and really in all of France. That being said it can be much more than a basement full of women’s shoes, and we mean the entire basement floor is stall after stall of brands of women’s shoes. It is near the Paris Metro stops of Opera and Chausse d’Antin de Lafayette.
Near the roof of the store there are multiple cafeteria style cafes. You won’t find high cuisine here but what you will find is a reasonable place to eat a meal or grab a snack, and that place has amazing views of the heart of Paris. Venture up to the roof you will find lounge chairs set up on AstroTurf and 360 degree view of the City of Light. This is a free view of the city where as most other view points are ticketed and have huge lines. We visited on a rainy day in March and the views were a little obscured by clouds but because most of Paris was built 5 stories or less you can still see all the sites that you would want to see.
Across the street from the main store which is geared toward Women you will find the men’s (Homme) store and kiddie corner from the main store is the home store. These are fun places to wander on a rainy day. The main store has a pretty fun toy and souvenir section as well. While we wouldn’t say that it is a must do we have always enjoyed the spectacle of the store and it is a great place to rest from the elements for a while.
For our 10th anniversary we left our kids home with both sets of grandparents and checked off a few items on our bucket list. Italy was on our list and Rome as part of it, but a place we went back to almost everyday and most nights while there was the Piazza della Rotonda and all the pedestrian shopping streets around it. This is the Piazza right in front of the Pantheon. One of the nights we were there eating dinner and it felt as if the world walked by our table as we shared pasta and a 4-cheese risotto.
By itself it is an amazing building built over 2,000 years ago it evokes an idea of how amazing Rome must have looked during its heyday. With solid columns quarried and built in Egypt, Italian Marble and a dome made from one of Rome’s greatest inventions cement. To get a better sense of the History of the Pantheon (and many other locations in Europe) we like to use the Rick Steve’s Europe Ap, we download and listen to the History Podcasts in our hotel and we download the Audio Tour podcast to listen to while on location. You can listen to the actual podcast here: Rick Steve’s Pantheon
The Pantheon Is on every ‘night-walk’ list we found. Besides being a close walk from the Trevi Fountain (a must at night) the Piazza comes to life at night and suffice it to say it is no ghost town during the day.
We ate 2 meals right by the Pantheon and one on the end of a shopping street heading towards the Trevi Fountain. As mentioned above one night we sat in a restaurant shared pasta and risotto and watched the piazza come alive. There were at least 3 other restaurants where your view could be similarly amazing. One day at lunch we stopped by a family run pan pizza shop, Super Pizza. It was within earshot of piazza. Here we got in line behind touring students and Father who ran the shop with his 20-something son was artfully and quickly cutting, weighing and plating food all while running the till. His son waited on the 12 or so tables they had for people who were not on tour or in a rush. We did not know this was separate at the time. We ordered and then sat down. They almost seemed embarrassed that we would have had to wait in line and then sit down. The son and father playfully jabbed back and forth at each other about who knows what the whole time we were there. Even though the food was not as good as the risotto this was my favorite meal.
For dessert we would opt to not order of the menu of where we were eating but to go to one of the many gelattaria’s and order gelato or a hot waffle with Nuttella on it. There are few things better than eating gelato and window-shopping this is especially true here.
One of our favorite things to do on vacations is go to the grocery store. This may sound a little lame but it is true. It is even truer when traveling outside the country. Right next to Super Pizza was a grocery store. The first thing we found here was Loacker Wafers. http://www.loacker.com/usa/eng_2297d969.html We carried a pack or 2 of these with us for the rest of our trip, it was a sad day when they were gone. We found fun Kinder chocolates to take home for our kids Easter Baskets. When we find a store we usually buy bottled water, other drinks and any snack that sounds good as they are much cheaper here and nice to have back in the hotel.
From the piazza there are at least 6 pedestrian shopping streets leading in all directions. While all directions will have what will be deemed ‘tourist trap’ stores there are many other stores that are worth walking by, even if you are just window shopping. Our favorite was a store that sold pottery from all over Italy. The funny thing is the shop was the part that stole the show; all the shelves were adjustable but appeared to have been built by a skilled carpenter a long time ago.
Whatever you do near or at the Pantheon you won’t be wrong because you are in Rome and in the moment…