Wow. I Paris really is as dreamy and magical say everyone makes it out to be. No stranger to hyperbole myself, I thought, perhaps it was often over-sold. But, no. It’s all that and a bag of éclairs.
Here’s a rundown of our Paris adventure, so that I don’t forget the great details. That’s the magic of Paris and the French to me. So much attention to detail!
First, my flight was 4 hours delayed (shakes fist at JFK) on the tarmac, but I had already taken my Dramamine, so I intermittently woke up & the lady next to me would inform me that, no, we hadn’t taken off yet. Still in my haze I managed to email Sophie that I’d be late, and she managed to find me at Charles De Gaulle.
We decided to rent a Parisian’s apartment instead of a hotel to save money, and instead of a hostel to save ourselves from getting scabies. We took a much-needed taxi ride into th city to our new neighborhood, St. Germain. Our apartment is on Rue de Sevre, and it is just about the most darling place you can imagine, both the area and the tiny (tiny!) flat.
Our apartment courtyard
Our host met us, and showed us around (didn’t take long!). Despite being about 250 sq. feet, it has absolutely everything we need, including dishwasher, clothes washer, internet, two beds (mine in a loft) and a flat-screen TV! Actually, the TV is placed really, really high on the wall b/c there is no room for it at a normal height, so it’s pretty much useless. It was a perfect home-base while in Paris and so many cute cheese, pastry, and sweet shops all around us. Delightful.
My loft bed with exposed timber roof beams
To try and beat jet-lag (ha!), we decided to walk to the Notre Dame that afternoon. We got lost several times, because the streets of Paris are SOOSOsosos confusing (changing names 1/2 way down the street, having two different streets w/ the same name in different places etc). We eventually found it, and managed to stay up until 9. Didn’t really help with the jet lag, but c’est la vie.
Knocking on the door at Notre Dame de Paris – French for “Our Lady of Paris”
The next morning we headed to our #1 priority, the catacombs. On the way we visited the Montparnasse cemetery and wandered through it. When we reached the catacombs, we discovered MUCH to our DISMAY that it was closed indefinitely due to a air circulation problem. Distraught, but undeterred, we went to the nearby Cartier Foundation contemporary art museum. They had amazing pieces from all around the globe, including some tiny little wood carvings, and amazing geometric city scapes. We went to the Eiffel Tower at night to see it all lit up… it is, after all, the city of lights! We decided to go to a fancy Lebanese restaurant, Noura, for dinner (not many veg-friendly options as far as French food goes). It was very posh, and the waiter kept refilling our Perrier glasses every 30 seconds. Despite the fact that we were a little scrappy for the ambiance, he was really nice. We told him the food was wonderful, and he said “you too.” We topped off the night with a trip to the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum. It is a huge space that serves as a gallery and studio space for contemporary artists. There were plenty of extremely interesting exhibits, to the downright bizarre. For some reason, there are also photo booths everywhere in Paris, so we took some photo booth shots as an homage to Amelie.
Sunday we ventured out to the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, a HUGE vintage/antique/flea market on the north side of Paris. Needless to say, we were in heaven. It’s got endless stalls of treasures from porcelain figures to antique toys, to vintage theatre costumes, to furniture, to industrial lamps, to gags, to refurbished paintings with skulls over the portrait faces. It is AMAZING.
We spent hours combing the goods and found some amazing finds (not necessarily bargains).
Sophie got bunches of little figurines and I got a lovely vintage dress and clock.
We had our first baguette sandwiches and because we were so famished they tasted amazing.
We started the week off with the impressive Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre. It’s a pristine white cathedral on a high hill overlooking the Montmartre neighborhood. The limestone leeches white and keeps it that color throughout the years. The view was our first large panoramic glimpse of Paris. It is massive and teeming with life.
Sacré-Cœur Basilica, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Conveniently located at the foot of the hill is the Halle Saint Pierre Museum of Naïve Art (folk art!). This was one of my favorites in Paris. The collection was really diverse, and excellently curated (do I sound like an art snob yet??). There were amazing folk art paintings, furniture, and entire collection of decorated clothes and capes a gypsy woman had made, found objects bound together to form sculptures, carvings, drawings. There was an entire collection of Italian “outsider” art called Banditi dell’Arte… which we assumes means Art Bandits because the man taking tickets made a shooting with a gun motion when we asked what it meant. It explored the connection between madness and art. I heart folk art!
Famished afterwards we ate at a nearby cafe that had vegan, mint lasagna. L’été en Pente Douce was amazingly delicious and we ate on the patio because the weather was so delightful. We then scurried down the cobblestone stairs to the fabric district. We went through floors, and floors of fabric touching it all. Then we checked out some stores that only sell notions. I bought some overpriced, but fabulous (good description of all things Parisian) flower buttons.
We then headed to a famous candy shop, and en route mistakenly went to the Moulin Rouge, which is along a huge boulevard filled with sex shops, and unfortunate detour. But, also along the way we stopped in at a French designer’s shop named Hortensia Louisor. She was there with all of the clothes she had designed and I bought a skirt she called the “denim princess.” Amazing.
Cute designer shop with Hortensia
We then continued on to the most amazing candy store I’ve ever seen. Like the one in Charly and the Chocolate factory, but better, and French. It’s called À La Mère de Famille and has been in business since 1761, since before the United States existed. We ate delicious samples of candied fruit, truffles and caramels. Très magnifique!
Sophie browsing the jam selection at À La Mère de Famille
Tuesday was a foggy morning and we took the train to Versailles. Versailles is massive, expansive, sprawling and very impressive. We toured through the main section with the Hall of Mirrors and then headed to the garden for the special musical program which turned out to just be speakers playing music in the different gardens (so that they could charge extra for going into the gardens). We walked (and walked, and walked) through the endless gardens (all the while enjoying faint music) and got to see one of the fountains do a show. We also visited Marie Anoinette’s separate estate at the end of the gardens. After getting a tour of that estate, it’s easy to see why the revolutionaries drove them out of it. The luxury of that place was epic.
Golden gate and golden tights
A tiny corner of Versailles
Back in Paris we went to the Grande Épicerie de Paris the food hall at the Bon Marché. Luckily it was on our street, a few blocks from our apartment. It is they most amazing, impressive grocery store ever. Trillions of kinds of mustard, crackers, sugars and teas, sweets, yogurts. It was so fun to just walk around the isles and look at everything. The American foods section was pretty hilarious. We were represented by brownie mix, marshmallow fluff and Easy Cheese. We wandered and wandered and bought some tasty pastas and sauces for dinners and loads and loads of candy to take home.
Man, the French have a really, really low opinion of our cuisine
We walked the the Cluny museum of the Middle Ages. On our walk we smelled a delightful quiche shop and stopped to get a slice. It was so fresh, with green onions and vegetables.
Sophie enjoying her quiche in a lovely plaza
The Cluny museum was amazing. They had books, jewelry, household goods like spouts, reliquaries (to hold bones and other relics) and an amazing tapestry series of the six senses (6th being understanding and love) that prominently featured a unicorn and a girl with unicorn hair.
Unicorns! One of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages in Europe.
They also had the outer statues that were part of Notre Dame, but were destroyed during the revolution because they looked too much like the aristocracy. The destroyed statues were found in the 1970s buried under a building in Paris. After the Cluny we went to the Pantheon. It was an impressive building, but not much to see but the graves of famous French people. Marie Curie is there, but we couldn’t find her. On our walk back to the apartment we stopped at La Patissere Vienoise for some Vienna hot chocolate. It was the most amazing hot chocolate of my life with about two inches thick of fresh cream. I also had a delicious rasberry pastry. We sat in their tiny little dining room at a cramped table across from the French male version of me who was wearing my same glasses with clear frames and a yellow cardigan. Except he had longer hair than I do.
Chocolat viennois and my doppelgänger behind me
Later that evening we went up the Arc de Triumph. The view at night was really something. All of the lights and the traffic of the city heading out from that point.
Eiffel Tower from Arc de Triumph
We tried to get some good panoramic shots, and then headed to the Eiffel Tower to get some more photos. The tower lit up all sparkly for just a few minutes and it was glorious. I got one photo of it’s sparkly glory. We ended the night watching the Scarlet Pimpernel.
The iron lady
On Thursday we went to Notre Dame Cathedral in the morning. The best part was climbing to the top of the cathedral to see the view and the famous bell tower. The view of Paris below was really quite dazzling.
If you click on the photo you can see me in the right corner by the gargoyles
In the afternoon se decided to do at least a small visit to the Louvre museum, but mostly we wanted to go to the Les Arts Décoratifs part to see furniture, jewelry, although sadly the fashion section was closed.
Crashing on some modern furniture on display at the Louvre
We ate a much-needed quiche for lunch and set out for a Lourvre speed-tour that mostly just involved seeing the Mona Lisa and the other Leonardo da Vincis.
The Louvre speed tour
We ended the day with some éclairs and the movie French Kiss. Although I usually hate Meg Ryan, this movie was the best. Especially her interactions with the French concierge at the George 5, “after all, unlike some countries, France is not a nation of puritanical hypocrites.” And when Kate (Meg Ryan) asks if he speaks English and he says, “Of course, Madam. This is the Georges V, not some backpacker’s hovel.” Hi-larious.
Friday we went to the Sainte-Chapelle which is a smaller chapel near the Notre Dame with amazing stained glass windows that are being restored. The light was amazing and the windows so detailed. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion Relics, including the Crown of Thorns – one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom.
Panoramic of the stained glass & relic alter
We bustled over to the Centre Pompidou modern and contemporary art museum. There was a huge collection of amazing art, including my favorite piece which was a re-done chain link fence with a flower design.
Centre Pompidou design “turned the architecture world upside down”
In search of another restaurant, we happened upon Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest covered market in Paris. They have many booths with cuisine from all over the world and we opted (of course) for a delicious Lebanese feast. Falafel, dolmas, tabbouleh, Mmmm. While we sat enjoying our feast at the covered tables, we sat across from some French girls enjoying a nice lunch of water, cigarettes and sharing a plate of small baklava. As far as I can tell, that’s how people in Paris stay so thin. They smoke like chimneys, and eat teeny, tiny portions. That evening we went to an all-vegan French restaurant called Le Potager du Marais. I had vegan French onion soup, seitan Bourguignon, and chestnut crème brûlée. You wouldn’t think French cuisine had much to offer w/out meat, butter or cream, but it was très délicieux!
Seitan bourguignon with potato gratin
Chestnut crème brûlée and Sophie
Woke up feeling lackadaisical (and a bit under the weather), we decided to explore our neighborhood. We ran into a store Neil had researched, Ben Simon, and Sophie was delighted to find that a designer knew her inner mind and designed a collection just for her. We wandered the streets and high-fashion boutiques with fabulous delights like $80 tights. Luckily everything was SO far out of my price range it wasn’t even tempting. Then we ran into an artisanal bakery Poilen and stocked up on treats like raisin bread and brioche. We did a bit more shopping and coveting at Brand Bazaar.
Ben Simon shoes!
Pastries, glorious pastries!
For lunch we decided to make up for lost time on the cheese front and went to a cheese shop on our street, Fromagerie Quatrehomme, and went to town. The owner, Marie Quatrehomme, was the first woman to win the coveted Meilleur Ouvrier de France title, and they had an amazing selection. We got their specialty, a goat cheese and pesto mousse, another goat cheese, a brie, a cheese preserved in olive oil and a fruit pâté. We took home our bread and cheese and had a feast!
From vegan food to all-cheese feast!
We watched Marie Antoinette, and loved seeing all the Versailles scenes after having just been there. Our afternoon consisted solely of a macaroon journey. We found Herme, and got a lovely sampling. Dinner was a repeat of lunch, with pasta and our desserts. The best thing I ate today was a pistachio éclair. Scrumptious!
Then we watched Agathe Cléry, a French film about a racist who turns black. It turned out to be a musical, and was quite entertaining. The French sure do know how to make a really strange, yet entertaining, film.
We woke up on our last day in Paris ready to hit a few markets. We went to an organic market near our house on Rue de Raspail for breakfast. We had potato cakes, freshly squeezed orange juice and nutella crêpes.
Nutella crêpes for breakfast
We then headed to another nearby market that sells arts and crafts, Edgar Quinet. We looked at all kinds of art, including mini portraits on the back of Paris Metro tickets and beautiful silk scarfs. We tried on all kinds of wonderful hats, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend 180 Euros on one. Later in the afternoon we went to a scrappy flea market at Rue de Vanves. It was hilarious and filled with tons of Muslim grannies elbowing each other for goods like tights and ḥijābs. Sophie and I jumped right in there and elbowed the grannies for some pretty good looking metallic and lace tights.
Sophie elbowing grannies for wacky tights
At the end of the market are what I can only describe as mini-garage sales with people selling all kinds of amazing junk. I even found an 80s version of the Book of Mormon in French. Basically it was the best possible way to spend all those Euro coins and pocket change we had left.
Mormon memorabilia at Rue de Vanves market
Our last hurrah in Paris was at Ti Jos crêperie. We had an amazing vegetable soup that came out with a chunk of butter melting in it. We had savory mushroom and another tomato and onion crêpes and sweet banana and rum en flambé (kinda gross, but fun) and walnut and creme fraiche. There was a crazy man sitting next to us that looked like a homeless man, or an artist. Despite the fact that we didn’t understand a word he was saying, he kept trying to talk to us, and it is hard to ignore someone sitting 2 inches away from you (they pack tables tight here). Great way to bid au revoir to Paris! Great food and very eccentric people!
Au revoir Paris!
My vacation was unexpectedly extended by 5 days in LONDON… To be continued…