It’s morning, too early for the office commuters, the receding dawn quiet broken by the faint hiss of water from the street cleaner’s hose at the next intersection as he washes down the sidewalks. The waiters are setting out chairs, wiping their tables down, tucking the towel back into the waist of their freshly starched aprons. The regulars start appearing, like actors in a well-rehearsed play, hitting their cues and marks, shuffling out of buildings, past the sleepy concierge leaning in the doorway with her arms wrapped around her, a thick sweater keeping the morning chill at bay. Shutters unfold on the windows above the café, arms disappearing back into the drowsy warmth of bedrooms. It’s a daily symphony: the clinking of cups and saucers being stacked next to steaming espresso machines floats out of café doors, accompanied by the mechanical hum of an idling car, the rough crinkle of a heavy paper bag, overflowing with still-warm baguette, as the baker’s assistant makes his deliveries, and, distantly, the faint murmurs of two lovers on the third floor, starting their day tangled up in each other. Martin will order an espresso, hesitate over a croissant, and end up eating two, the crumbs falling into his newspaper and getting caught in the folds. Martin dans le matin, they call him.
Before we even left for Italy I’d made a long, detailed itinerary for what I wanted us to accomplish in Paris. We would be there for a little over 50 hours, which is a cruelly short amount of time when you get right down to it, which I was still grateful to have at all because Jamal didn’t have to change our flights to include the stay in Paris, but he did, and besides, 50 hours in Paris is better than 0 hours in Paris, non?
Looking back at that itinerary now, I wonder how I thought we could feasibly accomplish everything given that we are not yet blessed with hoverboards nor the ability to Apparate a la Harry Potter. It was ambitious and adorable to expect to cram so much in, when I should have known that the best part about being in Paris is just slowing down and spending way too long over lunch or flâneuring aimlessly in the shade on one of the leafy avenues.
We didn’t get to Le Marais, we didn’t visit le Musée Carnavalet nor the Béroud painting I was so desperately intrigued by. I didn’t get to take Jamal to La Grand Épicerie or Rue Cler, and we didn’t even visit the Eiffel Tower. Quel dommage!
But if you think I’m seeking sympathy for a trip that didn’t live up to my advanced expectations, let me assure you: I’m not. Despite all that we didn’t do (this trip), we still had an unbelievable time. We ate so, so well; at dinner on our second night, at a classic bistro on Rue Caulaincourt, we split a dozen escargots to start, which Jamal declared the best thing he had eaten on the entire trip. Not just in France, but Italy too. Out of the two weeks we swooned around Italy, inhaling everything in our path, eating fresh pasta and pizza every single day, the best thing we ate were escargots in Paris. That should tell you how good they were. Buttery, garlicky, steaming hot, and just out of this world.
I also did a fair bit of shopping this trip, including finally getting my greedy little paws on that Dior “Oui” ring up there. I posted a photo of it on Instagram, but it bears repeating here, too: I have been lusting after that ring for years, going back to my LiveJournal days pre-LWN, even. Shopping at the Dior on Place Vendome made me feel like royalty; we were offered champagne and attended to by white-gloved sales associates. Then there was a stop into Louis Vuitton. And then Colette. And then Mariage Frères. And Maille. Je ne regrette rien! (My credit card regrette tout.)
But after our whirlwind shopping tour, there was lots of ambling around Montmartre, reminding ourselves why we love it so much.
There was also bread. Lots and lots of fresh bread.
Paris, I love you. I’ll see you again soon.
Paris. What is there to say, really, that I haven’t already said before ad nauseam? By now, we’ve established how I feel when I’m there; there’s a deep sense of right and comfort the moment my feet hit the soil, like I’m not so much visiting but coming home. It’s a chemical, almost biological feeling of of solace that’s hard to articulate but so easy to get swept up in. Paris is home for me, in a way that’s matched only by my love of Philadelphia.
We landed mid-day on Thursday and flew out at the same time two days later, giving us a little over 48 hours to soak up every ounce of this city as I could. I did a lot of shopping, and lot of eating. We stayed in Montmartre, bien sûr, and even Jamal made mention of the fact that we just feel so comfortable there. We don’t need maps, we don’t need translations, we don’t even need good weather (but we had it in abundance; someone said last year that Paris really seems to “turn it on” for me whenever I’m there, and I can’t help but agree. This city knows how to woo you, and while it rains more in Paris than in London per year, historically, it seems to always be blue skies and sun for me.) We just need Paris.
We took a sneezy stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg, since Jamal had never been, and then wound our way back up through Saint-Germain (where I jettisoned my poor husband and ducked into City Pharma to load up on all the beauty products I’ll need until our next visit). We had drinks at a new bar in Montmartre, where they make their own juices and herbal, vegetable infusions for their cocktails, and I realized: my quaint little neighborhood is becoming cool. At some point, just like our gentrifying neighborhood in Philly, we’ll be priced out. Even the neighborhood near Rue des Martyrs, in the 9eme, has its own hip name now: SoPi, or South of Pigalle. An area once known for prostitutes and vagrants is now a trendy hotspot for les hipsters, or however you say it in French.
Speaking of French, a highlight for me this trip was that not one, not two, but three separate Parisians told me I speak excellent French. One even stopped me, as I switched to translating in English for Jamal, and asked, “Vous êtes Américaine? Vraiment?” To be mistaken for French by a Frenchman even for a brief moment, is something I’m going to put on my résumé under the ‘Special Skills’ section. Life goals: realized.
My favorite, and oft-recommended, “perfect Parisian morning” circuit is as follows: breakfast at Le Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur, flowers from Monceau Fleurs across the street, and then a morning at le Musée Rodin around the corner. That was a requirement on our second day there, and everything was as perfect as I remember, except the brioche aux pralines tasted even better than my memory accounted for.
Just a few photographs from Paris I, for whatever reason, didn’t share with you back in March. It’s safe to say I’m busy cobbling together a teleporter and pining extra hard for my city. It’s been almost six months, surely it’s time to go back again, right?
The weather in Paris went from mid 60s and sunny down to 30 and snowing in a matter of two days. And no, my advanced planning did not allow for such drastic snaps in climate. I was layered within an inch of my life: tights, pants, tank top, turtleneck, sweater, scarf, two pairs of socks, boots, gloves, (blessedly) waterproof coat. There were many stops into cafés and stores this day to dry out and warm up. I will pat us on the back and say that we were completely undeterred in our adventures around the city that day, though we did waddle like penguins and slipped and slid all over the place.
You know what Parisians are really bad at dealing with? Besides the English, tourists, Germans, Italians, and basically everyone else not French? SNOW. Not a single sidewalk was shoveled, not a single street was plowed, not a single staircase was salted. And still! Still! Women were walking around in tiny stilettos. I LOVE THE FRENCH.
When I say “it snowed,” I mean it snowed the entire day Tuesday, actively, and without a break. After finally trekking to the tippy top of Paris and touring the Basilique du Sacre-Cœur, we walked back down through the Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis again (what can I say, we were charmed by those tiny islands), only this time we had a mission: love locks. My mom had given us a lock to attach to the Pont de l’Archevêché before we left, and we picked the coldest possible day to stand on a bridge over the Seine and toss a key into the river. Sure, it’s cheesy, but since when is that a bad thing?
We had lunch in the 10eme at a restaurant without menus or prices, where you were given a plate of kebab and frites, before going to the absolute coolest, tiniest shop in the world (I’ll write a full post on it tomorrow) to pick up some unique souvenirs.
Tuesday night was the night we had luckily rescheduled our tickets to see “How to Become Parisian in One Hour,” (which we showed up ON TIME FOR) and we laughed for an hour straight. It’s a one man show, by a Parisian, in English, detailing the cultural differences between non-Parisians and Parisians, and trust me, he makes just as much fun of Parisians as he does tourists. And we had front row tickets! He’s bringing the show to London for a dew dates this month, and if you’re in the area (ahem, Annie/Sam/Sue/Chi/Meghan!) I cannot recommend it enough. I’m hoping the show comes to America at some point because we’ve been remembering small bits of his act days later and cracking ourselves up.
We tried to take a cab back to Montmartre afterwards, only the thing about Montmartre is there are a million 90º angle hills, and did I mention it snowed and everyone in the city lost their ability to function? Yeah, our cab stopped halfway home and wasn’t going any further. BECAUSE OF 4″ OF SNOW. I’ve talked a lot about my Inner French Girl, but my Inner Philadelphian was eye-rolling SO HARD. In Philly we eat 4″ of snow for breakfast and get on with our day. I’m not going to complain, though, because the city was so staggeringly beautiful covered in all that fresh white snow. I think the apocalypse could hit Paris and it would still find away to look gorgeous even as it’s going up in flames.
We had one last dinner at a place that looked like an English medieval cottage before cross-country skiing our way back to our apartment, ordering a cab for the morning to take us to Charles De Gaulle (which ended up being an hour late to pick us up, BECAUSE OF THE SNOW), and passing out. Paris, I love you. And I miss you already.
If Saturday was our “picture perfect day” in Paris, then Sunday was the day where Murphy’s Law kicked in and everything went wrong. It was drizzly and overcast, but not unbearable, so we hit the streets early and headed down to Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité. We walked along the Seine before heading into the behemoth church. It was packed with Sunday morning mass-goers and tourists alike, celebrating its 850th (!!!) birthday. It was beautiful inside, and we caught the tail end of the mass services (delivered in French, obviously), and as we were walking around the back of the cathedral, the processional of priests and alter boys came down the aisle towards us with the incense and all the religious accoutrements they use in mass. It was incredible. I took a quick video on my camera, and then switched the dial back to Manual mode. The screen on my camera showed a red error message of “BUSY” and then seemed fine. (This is what we call ‘foreshadowing’).
We spent the rest of the day wandering around Saint-Germain and having a fantastic (and fantastically overpriced; it was €7 for a tiny bottle of Orangina) lunch at Le Bonaparte, macarons at Ladurée, and shopping on the Île Saint-Louis. We also walked along Rue de Seine as part of my book research (remember that?! I’m writing a book! supposedly!); Rue de Seine and the streets around it have a ton of small galleries and art spaces and antique furniture stores, and is the setting of Sylvie’s gallery, where Mirette works. I’d spent so much time researching this neighborhood and virtually walking around in Google Earth, and so much time developing these characters and their habits and their lives, that to finally be there, on that street…it felt as if, at any moment, one of my characters would just pop to life on the sidewalk in front of me. That’s how real it all felt. It was one of the most beautiful moments in my life.
Unfortunately, all of my pictures from that afternoon were lost. My memory card corrupted when I tried to take a video in Notre Dame (hence the error message), and didn’t capture anything I shot after that. While everything I’d shot previously was safe (THANK GOD), it did result in 40 or so lost photographs, a lot of tears, and something that looked like this. We ended up finding a store that sold memory cards and camera equipment, but this being a Sunday in Paris, everything was closed until Monday. JAMAL fed me macarons until I got over it enough to compose myself, and we headed down to Rue Poissonnières for the comedy show that night, “How to Become Parisian in One Hour.” Only neither of us had checked the tickets since he gave them to me for Valentine’s Day, and we were both under the impression that the show as at 8pm. False. The show was at 6pm, and we arrived at the theater to find the gates down and the doors locked. More tears!! I was practically inconsolable at this point, but thankfully some kind man working inside the theater opened the doors and gave us the business card of the woman who organizes the show, and told us to call her tomorrow to explain we were dumb Americans. The icing on the cake was that we had planned to have dinner at a Mexican restaurant near the theater, and when we walked over, we found out they were closed for vacation.
So yeah, not everything goes perfectly in Paris! Here’s where the story gets a happy ending though: I bought a new memory card Monday morning, we re-visited a lot of the places we’d been the day before, I re-shot most of my deleted photographs, we called the woman who ran the show and she took pity on us and gave us free tickets for Tuesday night’s performance, and we ended up having an amazing (and cheap!) boozy Indian dinner Sunday night instead of Mexican with some of the best paneer we’ve ever had. All was not lost.
Ah, a sunny Saturday in Paris. It felt like a dream! It also felt like Billy Blanks popped out of my suitcase and forced me into a grueling 12 hour Tae Bo workout: we walked over 7.5 miles through eight arrondissements. Here’s a rough estimate of our path (but this doesn’t include the half hour we spent walking in circles around Les Halles, lost) :
It was beautiful and warm with bright blue skies, though, so neither of us noticed how sore our legs were until we made the final climb up the steep hills of the Montmartre streets to our apartment at the very end of the day. We took the metro early in the morning down to Avenue Victor Hugo to visit Zara Home and pick up the first of the 3 Valentine’s Day presents JML (JAMAL!) had reserved for me around the city (a picture frame and two adorable vintage-y door knobs for the guest room). We walked past the Arc de Triomphe, all the way down the Champs Élysees, around the Place de la Concorde, through the Tuileries, and up to Rue Saint-Honoré. We had lunch before stopping into Colette for my second present (Diptyque Precious Oils and Rose Duet candle). By this point I was sufficiently spoiled, but we still had to head the FrenchTrotters in the 3eme (where I got an Astier de Villatte notebook for scribbling book ideas, though it’s so beautiful I might never use it). We made a pit-stop for a glass of rosé first, as you do when you’re on vacation.
After our last stop we were far enough north we figured we might as well walk the rest of the way home. The weather forecast had predicted a lot of upcoming rain, so better to take advantage of the nice weather while we could. There was another pit-stop at another café (this time for crème brûlée), and then we stumbled onto an amazing brocante, or flea market, on the Rue des Martyrs. We got two vintage letterpress letters of our initials in mismatching typefaces as a souvenir. I’m planning on framing them in a small shadowbox along with the cork from the bottle of champagne we had the night before.
We also got fresh chèvre ravioli from a market along with other groceries on our way home. We had some of the best (and cheapest) bleu cheese I’ve ever had, on a warm baguette. JML made a delicious dinner and we fell asleep, exhausted, our calves and feet aching. But in a good way! It was one of those perfect days, and I felt like I could cry at any moment from sheer joy. (And no, not just because of all the presents).
Last Friday morning, we landed in an overcast Paris and checked into our amazing apartment in Montmartre. I could talk forever about how beautiful and authentically “Parisian” the place was, complete with creaky herringbone floors, layers of detailed crown molding, three fireplaces, built in mirrors, old doorknobs. It was a dream come true and I could have stayed there for ever. But there was a city to see, so we headed right out to the Rodin Museum where we got engaged (!!), and then just wandered the city in the rain (and I quoted “Midnight in Paris” the entire time: “I don’t mind getting wet. Actually, Paris is most beautiful in the rain” which I think was only true because my coat was waterproof).
Tuesday we woke up early, walked to the D’Orsay to see the Degas Les Nus exhibit (and stumbled across new French President Hollande’s motorcade in front of the Place des Invalides, random). We followed Süsk’s guide to the 17eme and had dinner at her favorite restaurant before heading to the Eiffel Tower at 11pm and taking the last elevator to the top. Between my fear of elevators and Boyfriend’s fear of heights, it was quite the experience. It rained a bit that day but we managed to avoid it, and the light that splashed across the city after the storm was unreal.
Wednesday morning we went to the Louvre bright and early and got to skip the long line thanks to the advanced tickets we’d bought from our hotel concierge (I highly recommend this!). We spent over 2 hours in the museum and both walked away feeling like we could have spent a full week. Afterwards, it was time to check out of our hotel and take a train back to Belgium. I’m still sad about it.
Two weeks ago today, we landed in Brussels at 8am and took a train straight to Paris. The weather was incredible, warm and sunny. Our first day there we walked the entire city it felt like, stopping only for lunch, Ladurée (verdict: they taste better in Paris, and they’re less expensive), and then later, drinks when we were exhausted and needed a pick-me-up. The first time we rounded a corner and caught sight of the Eiffel Tower I actually started crying. Wept, openly. We took a late nap (at 7:30 at night! thanks, jet lag) before heading across the street from our hotel for dinner. I’ll never get over walking out of the front door and seeing the Arc de Triomphe at the end of your block. Or having champagne at every meal.
“To know that Paris exists and anyone would choose to live anywhere else is a mystery to me.” – Midnight in Paris