I should be in Paris right now sipping champagne, strolling the Rues and Avenues, enjoying croissants and crepes, cheese and baguette, gazing at Monet, Renoir and Degas, and exploring the most beautiful city in the world with my betrothed. Like so many others I know, another trip has been canceled. Instead of moaning and groaning (too much), I am taking to my refuge – writing. I’ve never blogged about Paris, so perhaps this is the perfect time.
There is no city on earth that has what Paris has: a mixture of elegance and art, of beauty and soul, sights to take your breath away, or melt your heart. Boulevards lining the Seine to walk and gaze and wonder how an architect named Hausmann could make all that beauty in buildings. Have you ever thought about how much you might love to look at buildings? There’s the Parisian café. It’s perfect. You sit, you savor, you drink, you ponder and watch the French and tourists go by. The food is undeniably delicious: the croissant, the crepe, the tarts, the champagne. I could devote a whole 5 pages to cheese alone. The frites, the potato of the French – they are magnifique. The shopping, it’s too much to bear, but I try every time. So many museums, so many sights, so many world-renowned places to see, and never enough time, that is Paris. I haven’t even mentioned the romance.
I was 28 when I first went to Paris. I was very late getting there, I know. My husband and I had just settled into our first expat life in The Hague and our first excursion, just four hours away on the fast train, was to the grandest city of lights. It was early spring and we were young, just starting our married life together. He was concerned I might not like Paris at that time of year and would throw out little statements like “The French can seem rude, but try not to pay too much attention to that,” and “It’s a little smelly and dirty in some of the tourist places, we can skip those.” My expectations were getting lower and lower as the train crept closer and closer to Gare du Nord.
It was 1996 and there were no iPhones so that trip was armed with ACCESS Paris, a handy hand-held map and the love and anticipation of exploration. We waited in lines for paper tickets for trains, the Metro and museums. We wandered and enjoyed getting lost on the most charming streets stopping every few feet to whip out the Nikon camera and capture it. I was usually left behind as my husband went ahead, lacking the patience to wait again and again for me to keep capturing my first glimpses into Parisian life, and who can blame him? He’d already explored Paris years ago on his study-abroad semester in London.
We stayed at an affordable, yet super charming bed and breakfast recommended by our new expat friends, Chris and Rachel, called L’Ermitage (which means hideaway) in the 18th arrondissement of Montmartre. After exiting the metro at Lamarck-Caulaincourt, we lugged our oversized suitcases, unseasoned over-packed American expat travelers that we were, all the way up Rue Lamarck to number 24, a 15-minute hike. Our room was adorable and had a little patio with a fountain full of fish. It was early morning when we arrived and our host, Marie, brought us my first introduction to food in Paris. The simple, yet positively delicious taste of authentic fresh warm croissants, café crème and orange juice left an indelible impression. I can still taste and smell them.
The village of Montmartre (mount of martyrs), situated way up high in Paris, is a diverse area full of art, beauty and atmosphere. It’s the home of Amelie, Moulin Rouge and it’s famous windmill, and the imposing white basilica, Sacre Coeur. The hilly neighborhood has changed since our first trip there, but there’s no changing its heart steeped in history. The cobbled and winding streets are still there, along with the carousel and crowds. Once you make your way up to the top of the hill standing next to the white church, the view is nothing short of spectacular. Go inside the church, it’s worth the wait and price of the ticket to see the largest bell in France and the famous relic of what is said to be the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. It has the usual “bells and whistles” of European churches and is full of the glitz, stained glass and expansive ceilings one would expect, and an even better view at the top of the dome.
Walking around the Place du Tertre, just around the corner from Sacre Coeur, you’ll find too many tourists and some starving artists displaying their art, or asking you to sit for a caricature, and quaint restaurants with seats outside. Slink around to the funky and interesting Salvador Dali Museum for a break into this Spanish artist’s surreal paintings and sculptures. I remember enjoying the quiet of this museum while admiring the strangeness of his art, so different from the Impressionists we’ve so often awed at in the mesmerizing Musee d’Orsay.
Montmartre was a perfect introduction to Paris almost 25 years ago, but it doesn’t matter where you begin to explore in this city. Every arrondissement offers its own flair and temptations. One of my favorite neighborhoods to explore is Le Marais. More trendy and funky, with outstanding shopping, Le Marais offers historic scenery, museums and restaurants fit for foodies. Walking through Paris’ oldest square, Place des Vosges, will give you a highlight into the Paris of old. Be sure to peek into the tucked away courtyards on your way to the best little cookie shop in Paris, Pierre Herme, to savor at least one marvelous macaroon. Le Marais is home to the Jewish Quarter, with a very famous and scrumptious falafel restaurant, perhaps the best in the world, L’As du Fallafel. It’s worth the wait in line to get in.
We were due to sleep smack dab in the middle of Paris in the Opera neighborhood on this canceled trip. We would have taken in an opera (whatever was playing) and walk the seemingly never-ending banks of the Seine for our anniversary. This too will have to wait till the great pause of my lifetime is over. C’est la vie! If memories are there to retain when needed, now is the time for me, and even in these, Paris never disappoints, and even exceeds expectations.