Get to Know Martin & Paris

Martin is the owner of Paris by Martin & Friends and has been living in Paris for years. I became acquainted with his tour company a couple of years ago when we partook in a Paris by Martin & Friends tour. What stood out to me was the guide’s extensive knowledge of the history and culture, their desire to curate a unique tour, and the customer service oriented approach – at the end of the tour we received a thoughtful list of tips and an invitation to reach out to them directly should we have any questions or concerns.

I reconnected with Paris by Martin & Friends recently and Martin kindly agreed to offer some insight into this beloved but oftentimes overwhelming city. Not being able to meet in person, we spoke on a video call (see below for a short clip from our discussion). My hope is that his insight can bring a deeper understanding of, and connection with, Paris and its culture, especially as we shelter in place but eagerly anticipate the day when travel is again possible.

Before getting to his advice though, I think it’s helpful to understand what makes Paris by Martin & Friends unique and why they continue to receive exceptional feedback from their customers. Martin’s tours start with an introduction to Paris, background on its history and culture, and an explanation of the essentials of navigating the city. Based on where his guests come from, he’ll even utilize familiar cultural references to help them feel comfortable in a new place that may be outside their comfort zone. Sometimes this entails references to American pop culture like NCAA athletics. He adapts his tours to his audience and entertains all ages while keeping the focus on the details that go above and beyond expectations.

What really sets the tours apart though is how hard he and his collaborators work and their focus on service. When the tour concludes, that is not the end of the relationship. If you have a problem, you can call him because he is always there to help as “your friend in Paris”. He tells me that he’s taken calls from the shower and from customers who got themselves locked in a courtyard, even helping another figure out how to get medical treatment in the middle of the night. Martin desires that the focus of Paris by Martin & Friends is on the people, not the money. He says you will always recognize the same familiar faces when you come for a tour.

Paris by Martin
Martin leading a tour in Paris (photo provided by Martin)

Name: Martin Muda

Profession/ Job/ Title: Owner of Paris by Martin & Friends

As a local, how would you describe Paris?  Martin says that first of all, you have to think of Paris as a big snail because of the position of the neighborhoods. He explains that Europe differs from America in that neighborhoods in the US are laid out like a chessboard, organized in towns with blocks, whereas villages in Paris are irregular, spiral developments. Paris, like most European cities, has patches – one patch over another patch, over another patch. That makes them like a salad with different colors, textures and dimensions.

He likens Paris to mannerism, a style of European art that emerged during the early 16th century in Rome and Florence towards the tail-end of the Renaissance and preceding the Baroque style. On one side, you have a style that is very peaceful and symmetric and then there is a break and on the other it’s broken, beautiful chaos. He says that every city has their own way of doing things – Rome is different from London, is different from Paris. In the case of Paris, “it’s a city full of contradictions but that make sense”. Paris has one side with the highlights, like the Eiffel Tower, but if you go deep in Paris, “it’s a mess, a beautiful mess”. It’s a call for many kinds of adventures, not simply one dimensional.

What is one thing you would like visitors to know about Paris?  Martin’s advice for visitors to Paris is to not be single-dimensional – do the highlights, but also do the hidden side of the highlights at the same time so you get a sample of all things. He also cautions visitors to take it easy. Don’t try to do everything in one time – “you have to enjoy, enjoying is first”. He says you can collect the list of highlights and try to do as much as you can but be smart. He likens sightseeing to American football. If you give everything you’ve got in the first half, you won’t have any fuel left. Similarly, you have to be smart on how to approach the city. Take the time to enjoy it with all your senses and try to get from the city something that will be useful for the next time you visit.

In your opinion, what can’t visitors miss on a trip to Paris? According to Martin, visitors should see the highlights, of which he identified six powerhouses, but also get off the beaten path. His list of the six powerhouse sites in Paris includes the following:

  • The Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe can be done together by way of walking 20-30 minutes.
  • His notable downtown attractions are Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Louvre Museum.
  • The attractions in the northern area of the city are the Opéra Garnier, because it’s a nice building, and the neighborhood of Montmartre.
  • He lists Versailles Palace, just outside the city, as the seventh powerhouse. It’s an easy 35 minutes by train and the last station on the RER C so he recommends a visit.

Martin also identified important sites that are practically on par with the powerhouses. The Musée d’Orsay’s collection of art continues where the Louvre Museum leaves off. Another museum growing in popularity is the Atelier des Lumières, whose digitally animated, immersive art exhibit now has as market share on Paris museums. Other museums Martin noted are the Picasso Museum with its extensive collection; Arts et Metiers, especially for engineers and architects; Carnavalet for Paris’ city history; and Pompidou Centre which houses the Public Information Library, Musée National d’Art Moderne, and IRCAM, a center for music and acoustic research.

Likening a visit to NCAA athletics, he says you can focus on Division 1, the six powerhouses of Paris highlights, but on the road there are so many things around that you should optimize the way you expend your energy and make time for one or two on your way. As an aside, Martin casually mentioned that a stop at Pierre Hermé for some of the best macaroons in history, is another good use of your time.

What’s something that most visitors to Paris wouldn’t think to do or see but you would suggest they do or see?  Martin suggests you become part of the city’s ritual, experiencing your visit not just as a spectator, but living it. As an example, he suggests understanding the difference in croissants – there are two kinds – the straight and the round. The straight kind is overloaded with butter and “that is heaven”. Consider classical Paris drinks or the award-winning breads of the city. For the best baguettes, consult the results of the annual baguette competition – get the bakery name and address of the winner, and go for them. Once you have these tools, he says you can use them to integrate and take a step up to the next level.

Visitors should stay in different parts of the city each time they visit. Per Martin, when you change where you are staying, you approach the city in a different way and find new corner spots. He suggests that when you go back to your apartment or hotel you take different routes every time so you can discover new things, like a “restaurant on a street at a dead-end with a grandpa cooking for you and your entire meal costs 12 Euros”. Martin advises against being lazy – push yourself a little bit and you will think “Wow, I didn’t expect to find this”.

Finally, he says you have to be open to receiving the culture and applying it. Sometimes we tend to fall back into our comfort zone, but we can use that to put our feet on solid ground and then take some risks because that’s where you find stuff. Martin suggests, “don’t take main avenues, those are tourist traps, take the little streets. If you see a door open, go for the courtyard, you’ll find amazing things in there”. Fittingly, he follows that suggestion with the assurance that if you get lost or have a problem you can call Martin, he is a friend in the city.

I love visiting Paris because there is something new to see each time, so I want to encourage other travelers to get to know this spectacular city in a fresh way, especially those who are eager to visit France when travel is again possible. I hope that Martin’s perspective can bring a deeper understanding of, and connection with, Paris and its culture, even if from afar.

I would highly recommend booking a tour with Paris by Martin & Friends next time you visit Paris. They offer walking and electric bike tours, as well as the occasional picnic tour. Just don’t forget to bring him a shirt representing your favorite NCAA team (size M). He collects them from his customers as reminders of the connections and friendships established by his tours. Plus, if he ever needs a recommendation while on a visit to your city, he can recall who to get in touch with!

Many thanks to Martin for sharing his local insight!

Below is a short clip from our video call wherein Martin is describing the Paris that he knows.

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