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Three years ago today, I landed in Paris for a two-month stint to work on my novel and, as cliché as it sounds, “find myself.” (The jury is still out on whether I should have come home.) It’s crazy to think how long ago that was; of all my Paris trips since (there have been five), that one still feels the most vivid and still with me. The weeks that I was there were transformative beyond words–literally. I wrote and wrote and wrote while I was there, and that still wasn’t the most important part of my experience. It was one of the happiest stretches of time in my life before or since, and my frequent trips back are, on some level, desperate attempts to repeat that magic, to find that feeling of absolute calm and certitude. It’s hard to explain to people the feeling that every day, you should be somewhere else, that your life is happening somewhere else without you, but it’s even harder to live it. That’s why I bounce back and forth so frequently.
(Also the butter.)
These photos are a bit belated (I’ve been back for over a month!) but about two weeks after I took them, I booked another flight back to Paris. I leave in 139 days. I’m going alone, again, and planning on taking a round of French class at the Alliance Française there and ducking out of town for the weekend and heading to La Ciotat, along the southern coast by Marseille. A large portion of my book takes place in that tiny town, and it would be nice to see it in person.
Until then, I’ll be reminiscing about the beautiful weeks I spent in Paris in the spring and early summer of 2014, about the gorgeous light, the view from the top, and the wonderful, unexpected moments that all feel like it was just yesterday.
My mom and I went to the Grand Palais one morning to see the Rodin centennial exhibit, only to find the line an unbearable two hours long. I’m not an over-planner on vacation, but I should’ve realized this exhibit would be popular enough to warrant advance tickets. I went on to my phone and purchased us timed-entry tickets for a few days later, and as we stood in front of the massive building wondering, “Well, what now?” my mom pointed across the street to the Petit Palais and said, “What’s in there?” In one of those classic happy-accidents, the Petit Palais ended up being a delightful (and free!) experience. The building itself was gorgeous, with a lush, newly-blooming round garden and café in the middle, and more intricate tile and skylights inside than I could handle. The permanent collection includes paintings and sculptures from the Renaissance through the 1900s, including Courbet, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Cézanne, among others. I deeply regret not purchasing a little notebook with Georges Clarin’s portrait of Sarah Bernhardt on it in the gift shop (next time).
After we left, we headed down the Champs-Élysées to Concorde, and then walked the whole length of the Tuileries. The blue skies were out in abundance again, and neither of us felt much like doing anything other than soaking them in. We were eventually coaxed inside by the prospect of lunch at Angelina, though we were quickly back outside and en route to the Palais Royal for another sun-soaked stroll. The bright pink magnolia trees were in full bloom, and everyone seemed to have the same idea we did; the gardens are so photogenic, especially in the spring.
What is there to say that I haven’t already repeated ad nauseum by now? This was my ninth trip to Paris, and I’ve been blogging long enough now (six years! I failed to adequately celebrate, or even mention, this anniversary back in February) that I’ve shared every trip with you guys, going back to my second, way back in May of 2012. Hell, I’ve even shared photos from my very first trip, back in 2001, when I wasn’t even aware blogging was a thing. I’m sure in the intervening half dozen trips, I’ve exhausted you all with my endless praise of the city, the teary-eyed love songs I’ve penned to the love of my life (can a city be the love of your life?).
So for today I’ll just say that I adore the Île Saint-Louis, and that the Marais is creeping up my list as well. I always thought that arrondissement was over-hyped and over-touristy, but I’m starting to come around. This trip, for only the second time, I ate at Café de Flore. I know, I know: talk about over-hyped and over-touristy, but don’t judge me until you’ve had the Jockey au Chester, a croque monsieur drowning in melty cheese. Sit upstairs, if you go. That’s where the locals eat.
Oh, Montmartre. My beautiful quartier. I’ve sung its praises at every turn (here, here, and here, to name a few) and it always feels like home. The Franprix on Rue Caulaincourt where I bought groceries, the crêperie at the bottom of Rue Lepic that makes the best crêpes in the city (a strong assertion, I know), the fromagerie on Abbessess, every precariously steep street and adorably winding alley. I hate to play favorites in a city that boasts so many wonders, but Montmartre is it for me.
My mom and I took the 80 bus from École Militaire our second morning, and wandered up Rue Caulaincourt to the Musée de Montmartre, a gem of a museum nestled on Rue Cortot that I had walked by hundreds of times but had never actually visited. Home to a number of artists over the years, the Suzanne Valadon studio and Renoir gardens alone make it worth the price of admission. It overlooks the Montmartre vineyards on one side, and has views of the top of Sacré-Cœur on the other, and was filled to the brim with old posters by Toulouse-Lautrec and menus and playbills for Le Chat Noir and Le Lapin Agile and the other cabarets that dotted the area in the 1880s. It was a delight, and I highly recommend it. We were the only people there for the majority of our visit, which blows my mind (though maybe I should keep it a secret? Too late).
Afterwards, we stopped at Sacré-Cœur and wound our way down the steps to Rue Yvonne Le Tac, eventually snaking our way to Abbesses, where we popped into Kusmi tea. A lot of people rave about their tea, so I figured it was worth expanding my horizons beyond Mariage Frères, where we’d already stopped the day before to refill our tea tins. Try new things, they said! It’s great, they said! Guys, the lemon verbana mint tea I bought tastes like feet. Non merci. The store itself was cute, but I have learned to stick to my Rouge Metis bubble. Afterwards, we had lunch at Le Nazir: two salades bergères, with runny eggs and the tangiest vinaigrette, over which we marveled at the leisurely French lunch break. Eating a sad yogurt at your desk while you continue working (my life)? Not here.
I had a sugar crêpe for dessert as we walked to visit my old apartment, and then we hopped on the bus back to the left bank, but not before stopping to shop around Madeleine and have tea and macarons at Ladurée. I had the loveliest conversation with an older French woman at the table next to ours, who told me I speak French very well. Several French people said the same this trip. Not to toot my own horn, but LE TOOT TOOT.
Apologies for the delay; I landed back in Philadelphia last week and immediately went to work, where I stayed for the next 10 straight days, including one 12 hour day and a full weekend. I’m not complaining, I knew what I signed up for (#auctionhouselife), but it definitely impede my ability to edit Paris photos from my trip. My mom and I landed on the 21st of March, the second day of Spring, and oh, oh Paris had turned it on full-strength. The majority of our stay we enjoyed blue skies and 65 degree temps; perfect Paris weather for flâneuring. Our first day, though, we got reacquainted with our neighborhood, the swanky 7eme. I was just there in December (and actually stayed around the corner from our hotel) but I am sure I’m preaching to the choir and sounding like a broken record when I say that Paris feels new every single time I’m there.
We got smacked head-on by jetlag by the late afternoon, and though it was glorious outside and we felt guilty, we bought an entire pallet of strawberries from Rue Cler and a rhubarb tart and ate them in bed before falling asleep at the ungodly hour of 8pm. We woke up refreshed the next morning and ready to take on Montmartre (my sweet, sweet old neighborhood).
On our last full day before we flew out, I did something that I’ve done only once before, several visits ago: I went outside of Paris. Well, just barely. We took the RER A train from Opera to the end of the line, to the adorable town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. It was a quick half an hour train ride, if that, which is about as far as we could reasonably go if we wanted to be back in the late afternoon. The main attraction in town, and the first thing you spot coming up from the train station, is the imposing château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The sprawling gardens, manicured that surround the castle were a bit soggy the day we were there but the vista at the end of the cliff provided a view straight back into the city, including a teensy Eiffel Tower in the distance. We spent the morning walking around the town, shopped at a Christmas market in the town square, and had two of the most delicious crêpes we’ve ever had at a small, packed restaurant off the main strip. Composer Claude Debussy was born there, and the tiny, two-story Visitors Information office housed in the building where he lived with his wife and daughter doubles as a small museum to his life (think one room, free admission, all of five minutes to visit). If I had to think of a word to describe Saint-Germain-en-Laye, it would be “cute.” It was just so, so cute. Five or six hours is the perfect amount of time to spend there, and it only cost €16 for both of us, round trip, to get there. It was a nice change of pace and while I wouldn’t have planned it on my own, I’m glad Jamal suggested it.
We got back to Paris around 4, and headed straight for Montmartre. Given that it was our last night, we had made reservations at our favorite restaurant in the neighborhood (and, actually, the world), Le Cepage Montmartrois on Rue Caulaincourt. We went to Sacré-Cœur, visited our old haunts, our favorite hidden park on Rue Burq, and stopped into about four seemingly identical pop-up shops with the same aesthetic. (Montmartre is becoming hipsterized at an alarming rate.) I’ve made no secret of my favoritism in the past, but it bears repeating: I love Montmartre. I love it. It was my home briefly, and it’s where I keep coming back to. I’ll always have a soft spot for it, for my favorite boulangerie on Abbesses that makes the best baguette, the traiteur on Rue Lepic with the best rôti, and the cheap crêpe window right at the corner of Lepic and Clichy with the beautiful girl who always gave me an extra dollop of nutella with a wink. Parts of the neighborhood are tacky and overtouristed (helllooo Place du Tertre) but I still love it, warts and all. It was the best place to spend our last night.
And that concludes the Paris photos, kiddos! Thank you for being patient and putting up with all of them, as I’m sure some seem repetitive from trips past. I promise I have other, non-Paris posts scheduled in the coming days & weeks.
But, uh, you’re going to have to deal with this all over again, because I’m going back in 66 days. Ha!
We spent the last half of one waning afternoon in the 13eme, the southeastern arrondissement settled high on a hill. The architecture is different, there are so many charming, non-Haussmann houses lining twisting, cobbled streets, and there’s a feeling there that you’re not even in Paris anymore, that you’ve left the map and the century. Location aside, that sounds a lot like Montmartre, doesn’t it? Or, Montmartre five years ago, anyway. While you’ll never hear me speak ill of mon quartrier, the authentic, non-touristy pockets of the 18eme are harder to eke out these days, as people seem to have gotten the memo that Montmartre is amazing. The 13eme feels distinctly local, given that there are virtually no tourist attractions (no major museums or shops or destinations). People live there. It’s wildly affordable (We know because we stop at every real estate office we pass, regardless of what city we’re in) and after just an afternoon, spent wandering and gazing and stopping for tea, we were settled: next time we’re staying there. (I like to think further ahead, and couldn’t help but daydream about how much apartment I could get for my money, long term).
The next day, my friend John’s urging, we visited the Musée Jacquemart-André. To say it’s beautiful would be an understatement. An old hotel particulier turned museum to We walked over to Ternes and had lunch at an Italian restaurant, before splitting up and heading our separate ways for the afternoon: Jamal back to Martyrs to shop for dinner, and me to Louis Vuitton & Ladurée, two tasks I didn’t mind undertaking on my own. I’ve always been comfortable on my own, but there’s something about this city that encourages it, how the tables upstairs at the Laudrée on Rue Royale are just big enough for two people, but don’t make a solo diner look alone. I got caught in a rainstorm on my way home, and stopped for cover in the two bookstores on Rue de Rivoli before heading to the metro at Concorde. I walked into our apartment in the 9eme to a tiny Parisian kitchen overflowing with scents and steaming pans; Jamal made chicken and shallots, with lentils and roasted potatoes. Not a bad way to end the day.
Happy New Year! I try not to make resolutions, because I inevitably break them (going through a round of Invisalign last year was finally what stopped me from biting my nails, after 15 years of resolving at midnight on the 1st to do it), but this year I decided to focus on being the Best Version of Me, in whatever form that entailed. It’s kind of vague and open to interpretation, which means I technically can’t fail. Obviously, I am the best version of myself when I am writing, which means I need to blog here more often than the measly once a week (at best!) I was managing before. Four days into the new year (and almost a month since I left for Paris) and I’m just getting around to it. Baby steps!
Another beautifully sunny day spent in Paris. Walking around the Rue des Martyrs Sunday markets, wandering to Madeleine and down the Rue Saint-Honoré, with a stop to circle the Palais-Royal gardens, before heading all the way to E. Dehillerin (closed, as it was Sunday), stopping at Les Halles and marveling over the newly opened gardens and gigantic shopping mall (Jamal had just been to Johannesburg, and was especially excited at Jardin de Nelson Mandela; I lost my mind in the Lego store over the replica of Notre Dame), and eventually making our way to the Marais for falafel and a tour of the Village de Saint-Paul Christmas markets, a winding, hidden maze of connected courtyards south of the Rue Saint-Antoine. Our day didn’t even stop there, as we hopped on the metro at Pont Marie and headed south to an arrondissement neither of us had ever been to previously, but those photos will have to wait for another day. I’m exhausted just recounting the amount of walking we did this day. But with skies like that, what other choice did we have?
You can see why I’m so in love with this neighborhood, right? The Rue des Martyrs winds its way up (fairly steeply) from the church of Notre Dame de Lorette to Pigalle, crossing the Boulevard de Clichy, and up to Montmartre, just east of the Abbesses metro. Which meant we weren’t too far from our beloved quartier, and so could still spend a lot of time there, too (and we did). There’s such an interesting, quiet authenticity to this neighborhood. Years ago, on the trip when Jamal & I got engaged, we stumbled up to Martyrs to a Sunday brocante where we bought old printing press letters in our initials, and it remains one of the highlights of all of our Paris trips. Staying here this time gave us a new perspective; stopping at the boulangerie on our corner after watching them bake the days’ provisions in their back kitchen window (lurker status: expert), shopping at the bio (organic) market for lentils and shallots, taking our petit dej at the same café every morning, joined by the very lovely cat who lived there.
We also did a lot of walking this trip, even though the public transit system was free the first few days we were there because of the overwhelming smog and pollution. On our second day, we walked from our apartment to the Marais for our macaron class, back to the 7eme to retrieve Jamal’s debit card (an ATM machine had eaten it the night before), over to Odéon, looped around the Jardin du Luxembourg, and finally stopping for dinner at a Tunisian couscous restaurant by Notre Dame. I collapsed into bed each night exhausted, but exhilarated, that classic Paris combination where I’ve run myself ragged but still can’t fall asleep because I don’t want to miss a single second. And if the photos above prove anything, there is a lot that happens at night. We rounded Luxembourg in a thick fog, and saw a lone gentleman in a wool coat and hat walking through the mist in the glow of a streetlamp. Jamal and I both stopped short and said, almost identically, that it was a movie poster or book cover come to life.
I know what you’re thinking: with a view like that, how did I ever leave the hotel room? (Short answer: the beckoning scents of warm pastries six floors down.) I landed in Paris before Jamal, and checked into our hotel –the hotel we booked for free using his seemingly limitless supply of points– to find they had upgraded me to their best room, the one at the very top of the building, with a king-size bed, an enormous bathroom with a rainfall shower, and, oh, A MAGNIFICENT VIEW OF THE EIFFEL TOWER. There are no words, just heart-eyes emojis.
When Jamal arrived from South Africa a few hours later, he found me in a puddle of my own drool out on the balcony, my camera in hand with my finger permanently pressed on the shutter button. No joke, I think I took roughly 150 photos of la tour the 24 hours we were in the room, capturing her in all different lights. (I slept with one eye on her, watching her sparkle at 11 and midnight, the fierce jetlag absolutely no match for her beauty.) Jamal managed to drag me out for food & a nice long walk, all the way to the Christmas market along the Champs-Élysées. It was overwhelmingly magical, and I couldn’t get over the size of it; it stretched from Concorde to Avenue Montaigne, on both sides of the wide boulevard, with hidden, smaller villages behind the main vendors. I’ve had plenty of people ask me why I would go to Paris in the winter, and the amount of Christmas cheer, the city all decked out for the holidays, is reason enough (like I need a reason).
The next day, we attended a macaron making class at La Cuisine Paris. I took the same class with my mom in March, and while I felt more confident this time around, the process is still extremely intimidating and nerve-wracking even with Jamal’s calming influence, and I’m more than happy to pay someone else, someone more skilled, $2-$3 ea. instead of making my own. (Guys there are SO MANY STEPS.) We also (sadly) checked out of the hotel and (happily!) moved to an apartment on Rue des Martyrs in the 9eme. We’d both read, “The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs” by Elaine Sciolino, former New York Times Paris bureau chief, earlier this year, and were smitten. It was a new neighborhood for us, just south of Montmartre/Pigalle, but it might be our new favorite. It felt like Montmartre the very first time we visited, with an authentic, local vibe. More photos to come, of course.