There is plenty to love about ‘expected Paris’ - numerous world-class museums, beautiful squares, exquisite palaces, Notre Dame cathedral, majestic parks and gardens, grand boulevards, boat rides on the Seine, outdoor markets, music, theatre, restaurants of every flavor, the list goes on. Guidebooks are full of what makes the French capital the most visited city in the world.

But what about the Paris that pops up when you least expect it? The things that no guidebook can capture? This is the Paris that merits keeping your eyes open–and expecting the unexpected. Part of the fun is that you never know what you’ll get. For instance, I came upon this top-notch jazz player entertaining the crowds on a weekend walk from the Right Bank to the Left Bank… 

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Another weekend, this Parisian massage school was giving away free neck rubs to passersby in the shadow of Notre Dame…

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Or what about the sudden dusting of snow that turns into Paris into a winter fairyland?

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There is also the unexpected presence of ‘love-locks’ on many bridges across the Seine, fulfilling Paris’s image as the city of love. (If you haven’t come across this phenomenon, amorous couples attach small padlocks to these public edifices as a token of their love. Every so often, the city comes along during the night and clips them off…and then they just start coming back again!)

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I think my favorite unexpected Paris moment of recent memory happened during fashion week a couple of years ago. I was crossing the Champs-Elysées  and came upon a big buzz of people intent on something. What I found was that Paris Vogue magazine had mounted a retrospective of 80 of its best covers along the sidewalks of the Champs-Elysées to celebrate its nearly 90 years of French fashion and style.

It was amazing to wander amongst decades of French style moments captured so intensely on these magazine covers. And then to watch people interacting with this sidewalk art was pretty incredible too.

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This unexpected Paris experience lasted a month and was the must-see event of the fall. (For more on this open-air fashion extravaganza, click here.) If you missed seeing it in person, check out the gorgeous coffee-table book Paris Vogue Covers: 1920-2009 which came out last year and was inspired by the exhibition.

If you are in Paris this fall and happen to wander by the northeast side of the Luxembourg gardens (i.e. near the Pantheon), then you will be treated to another wonderful ‘unexpected Paris’ moment. The French Senate who govens from the Luxembourg palace in the gardens – what a great work environment, n’est-ce pas? – is sponsoring a fabulous photography exhibition of nature images from France and its overseas territories.

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Entitled “Coeurs de Nature en France,” the show consists of 80 extra large images of French natural wonders posted on the iron fences of the gardens. Image exhibitions on the Luxembourg garden fences have been going on for several years now. Organizers discovered that the well-trafficked sidewalks of this Left Bank locale were an art space par excellence. And in-the-know Parisians pride themselves on keeping track of the latest Luxembourg gardens show topic.

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This current exhibition is free and runs until January 15, 2012. Be sure to see it if you are in Paris this fall or winter. You can also stop by any Paris newspaper kiosque to pick up the commemorative edition of Terre sauvage magazine featuring the “Coeurs de nature en France” exhibition. 

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NOTE:  These outdoor Luxembourg garden exhibitions are separate from the Musée du Luxembourg art exhibitions. The Luxembourg Museum is a small, jewelbox art institution housed in a wing of the Luxembourg palace. The upcoming exhibition “Cézanne et Paris” opens October 12 and runs through February 26, 2012.