Forget Notre-Dame and look at the rats

Duncan J D Smith in front of Notre-Dame (rats not pictured)
Duncan J D Smith in front of Notre-Dame (rats not pictured)
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It’s not exactly your typical piece of travel advice: when in Paris check out the pest control shop near the old market.

But then Duncan J D Smith – the Ecclesall author of eight European guide books which have sold 160,000 copies – isn’t exactly your typical travel writer.

Rather, he proclaims himself an urban explorer, dresses like Indiana Jones and reckons, sure, if you’re going to the French capital, check out the Eiffel Tower – but don’t miss platform five of the Bastille Metro station.

Why? We’ll get to that shortly.

For now, this piece of advice – along with that pest control pearl – is among the wisdom offered in his ninth tourist book, Only In Paris. It follows previous tomes on such places as Zurich, Budapest and Vienna, all of which offered the same mix of unusual advice (visitors to Cologne were told to go into the sewers) and fancy-that facts.

The 52-year-old says: “The whole point of this series is to break new ground in revealing city histories by highlighting less well-known locations. Those are the most interesting bits, aren’t they?”

So, that pest control shop? Recommended because it once served the now demolished Les Halles wholesale market, described as the “stomach of Paris” and home to more rats than you could shake a whisker at.

“So this shop bears testimony to what was once a key location in Parisian life,” explains Duncan. “The visitor should at least glance in the window.”

That tube station, meanwhile, has remains of the famous Bastille prison within its walls.

The book doesn’t completely eschew the normal tourist trail either. Notre-Dame and the Arc de Triomphe both get a mention, as does the Eiffel Tower.

“Did you know,” wonders Duncan, “it’s painted three shades of the same colour to make it appear uniform from a distance?”

You do now.

If writing nine travel books is an achievement, though, so too is Duncan’s own journey to writing them.

The one-time book-seller came up with the idea for an alternative travel guide to Vienna after moving there from Sheffield to be with his Austrian partner in 2003.

Publishers Christian Brandstatter Verlag loved the format and have asked him to keep writing ever since.

Next year, he’s already scheduled him to do London. And he can’t wait.

“It’s the 10th book in the series,” he says. “So it had to be London.”

Only In Paris is published by and available at www.onlyinguides.com