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Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Sometimes, you really just have to drop everything and move to Paris. Follow along as I move to my favorite city for eight weeks to work on my novel, wander the city of light, and become fluent in French.
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.
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.
Spring was making a slow crawl into the city while we were there. Buds were appearing on trees, but most remained bare, stark and beautiful in their own way. We wandered Saint-Germain, had lunch at Angelina, went to the Louvre (where we were briefly separated in the throngs and where my mom was sufficiently underwhelmed by the Mona Lisa again), and made a special pilgrimage to E. Dehillerin, the storied kitchen supply superstore where Julia Child loved to shop. Since I can barely find my way around a pot of boiling water, I stood near the entrance and struck up a conversation with a lovely woman from Arizona, whose husband was as starry eyed in the narrow, dusty aisles as my mom was. She and her husband had been coming for the past nine years; now in their late 60s, they were both retired. “We just wish we figured out how much we loved Paris when we were younger,” the woman told me, as her husband oohed and aahed over copper spoons and pie molds. “You’re lucky,” she said, “to have been here so often already, so young.”
And she’s right. I am so lucky.
And with that, we conclude the Paris photos from this vacation. I will spend the next however-many months until my next trip to this great city (because there will be another) staring at that last photo, taken right outside my favorite boulangerie as the sun was beginning its showy descent. I’ve never met a lens flare I didn’t like, and as we stepped out after enjoying a late afternoon tea & chocolate gateau (#vacation), I reached for my camera, and then headed right into the light, full of hope and cake. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, I’m just sure of it.
The two little islands nestled in the middle of the Seine have to be some of my favorite pieces of real estate in the entire city. Each arrondissement has the overwhelming feeling of being a tiny island in the middle of a big city already, a self-sufficient ecosystem providing everything you’d ever need within its boundaries (my old neighbor on Cité Veron had lived in the same building for close to 30 years, and never really felt the need to leave Montmartre, he said, save for the rare occasion). The two îles have the same sense of being a self-contained world, on a much more heightened scale. And maybe not so much the Île de la Cité, but absolutely the Île Saint-Louis. The architecture is different, the streets are smaller, and while there is no metro stop and only one bus route, walking laps around the island makes you realize there might not ever be a need to cross one of the ponts back to the other sides of the Seine. There are cheese shops and butchers and fleuristes and, seemingly most importantly, the Café Saint Régis, where I had the pleasure of having brunch with my dad’s friend John and his lovely wife one morning. My mom was so taken with the food we went back for lunch two days later, and we both agreed, as we stuffed ourselves silly, that we could easily live there. Not just in Paris, but specifically in the café. We could pitch tents and live there without a complaint in the world.
In my continued effort to not shy away from photographing people (and, er, ducks!), at lunch I snapped what may be one of my favorite photos: a man reading a book at the bar. I could start a series of French men (1) reading in restaurants (2) by themselves (3). What a hardship that undertaking would be!
1. This combination of light and lattice that makes my heart go boom:
(That lens flare ain’t Photoshopped, either.)
2. I have this thing with doors:
That something as simple as a door could be so elegantly designed just because is just one of the many reasons I love this city.
3. Looking up from the gardens of the Musée Rodin, admiring the view:
As if there isn’t enough to marvel over in the actual museum gardens, the periphery has to be lined with classically lovely Parisian architecture, too.
4. This decadent dessert that was almost (almost!) too pretty to eat:
My mom and I splashed out one afternoon, and I treated us to tea and dessert at the Plaza Athénée. (You know, the hotel where Carrie stayed with The Russian.) And then because we hadn’t indulged enough, we went across the street to Louis Vuitton. As you do.
5. The best way to spend €7, as far as I’m concerned:
Why can’t there be more flower shops in Philadelphia? Rue Cler has about four in two blocks, and every bouquet is affordable, to boot.
Have a wonderful weekend, kiddos! For those of you sick of seeing Paris photos, I’m almost done, I promise!