“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” – Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
I’ve been dying to write this post. It just feels like life has been NONSTOP for a solid two months. The beauty of having a job that now allows for a social life– is that I have a social life! Thus, the blog has been pushed to the back burner over and over. But, I vowed I would get this written today and took my lunch break in a coffee shop so I could get this down.
Another thing that has kept me from writing it has been my over-obsession with the city. Since we’ve returned, I’ve reread my guide books. And, very oddly, have been fixated on the 1920’s in Paris. It’s unbelievable to me who all knew each other and became famous together (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Matisse, Stein, Joyce, Eliot). It’s ridiculous to know these people ran in the same circles, were friends, and basically shaped American pop culture in such a way that it’s still prominent today. So, instead of writing this, I’ve watched Midnight in Paris, read A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises, Z: Zelda Fitzgerald, and A Paris Wife. I’m basically having my own 1920’s Lost Generation Literature class. And I love knowing that Paris is the kind of city that it feels very similar NOW probably to what it did then. The cafes that Hemingway frequented are still open and the the store fronts look the same.
Something that struck me right off the bat upon arrival there: the riches and history of this city are abundant. It reminded me of the beauty of Venice or Dubrovnik — but more livable. Those cities seemed like text books almost too pristine to be livable, whereas this one felt very “quaint” and family friendly while still being a huge city. You could get caught up in a sweet street full of food, flea markets, with very few cars — all while being ridiculously close to giant palaces that once held Royalty and now hold timeless arts.
Multiple people have been to Paris and told me they don’t see what the fuss was about. I’m not quite sure what they were talking about. Perhaps Hem (I can call him Hem because we’re old friends now after my reading unit) is completely right, that Paris is different in memory for each person even if you saw the same things. It also could be that while we were there- barely anyone else was. It was not nearly as crowded as it usually is, both due to winter and also due to the recent terrorist attacks. I felt sad for the tourist industry of Paris, but was happy that we almost had our own city — one without lines or reservations. Paris will go down as a city like NYC to me – one that I will find myself thinking about going to all the time. Trying to constantly get back. You could go so many times and have a different experience each time.
On the first day, we arrived bright and early from a red-eye and went straight to our hotel. Our hotel, Le Derby Alma, was in an ideal location. It was SO close to the Eiffel Tower that we could marvel over it everyday. It was also in a walkable distance to most things we wanted to see and very near the Rue Cler. Once checked in, we set out to get breakfast and get the lay of the land. We immediately crossed over to the Right Bank and into shopping mecca — which we quickly learned isn’t actually the best part of Paris (http://www.parislogue.com/featured-articles/left-bank-vs-right-bank-whats-the-difference.html). We ate a croissant and had some coffee, then trekked 13 miles checking it all out. We saw Louis Vitton, Dior and oogled that these were in front of us.
We crossed back over the bridge and went into the Musee de l’Orangerie to see the giant Monet canvases (side note: truly epic.) We then ventured to see the world’s first ferris wheel and over to the Louvre. The Louvre to me was most amazing as a building. Knowing that was a once a palace is more insane to me than anything – it’s so much bigger than any “American” riches than I could ever imagine. The art in the Louvre is amazing, but genuinely not my cup of tea. That’s simply a matter of opinion because I don’t love ancient art. But, it is still something to respect. From there we wandered more, eating at a cafe and then going to the hotel for a nap (at this point I had had 6 hours of sleep in 3 days. So, I obviously was very close to losing my mind.)
Post nap, we continued our half marathon walk. It was here we crossed the Seine and saw the Eiffel tower lit up at night for the first time. And that’s where the magic of Paris truly happened. It felt like stumbling into Times Square for the first time. It was magic. Whomever thought, “Let’s light this thing up like glitter” deserves to win an award for sheer genius. We trekked to walk down the Champs Elysees (more incredible store fronts) and climb the Arc de Triumphe. The stairs at the arc were no joke, but the view was worth it. The Arc was built after Napoleon won the war and truly helps shape the whole Paris landscape. From there, we ate my favorite meal of the trip — a crepe place near the arc which was affordable and divine. (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d2337316-Reviews-Creperie_Framboise_Champs_Elysees-Paris_Ile_de_France.html) I had a buckwheat crepe with indian curry filling it and followed it up with a banana nutella crepe. Heaven.
Day two brought sore feet and exhaustion, but so much happiness. We stumbled upon a street, Rue St Dominique, that could have been out of a sweet story of Paris. Each corner held boutiques and a variety of foods – pastries, produce, butcheries — it was all so adorable. We saw Parisian families waking up and buying groceries, scooting their sweet, well-dress children down the streets on their scooters. On this same street we stumbled upon the Rue Cler flea market and the most “Parisian feeling” cafes we’d seen. It also had that magic feeling. I again couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that many of these cafes and stores had been there all along — since the days of Hemingway and still for us, today. It was liking being blessed to get to see a wormhole of time. From the flea market, we walked into the Orsay. This is where we most surprised. In our head we could quickly do this museum as we had the others. THE ORSAY IS INSANE. Name a famous picture: it’s probably there. Each wall held something I had only seen in text books or in art appreciation class. It holds an absolute embarrassment of talent and riches. Greg and I decided, if we had more time: we would come back here for the audio tour. There simply wasn’t enough time to appreciate each piece as it should be appreciated.
After a “H-anger” episode fixed by a baguette and a fruit tart, we gathered information and braved the metro (and thank god we did.) The metro, as it turns out, is almost identical to the subway in NYC and we should have used it more. We metro-ed to the Opera House where we were once again shown we weren’t completely prepared to see what wealth looks like. The opera house was so ornate. Nothing could be built like it today. Had we known more about it, we should have planned our trip to see an opera. Next time we go, that is very high on the list. It would be incredible to see a show there- the stage is one of the biggest stages any of us had seen. We then went to Pierre Herme’s macaroons and were amazed at the beauty and flavors of all of the cookies (side note: Pierre Herme is basically the Jesus of Macaroons. He is IT in the world of macaroons.)http://www.yelp.com/biz/pierre-hermé-paris-9
From there, we held a reservation for sunset on the Eiffel Tower (thanks, Rick Steeves tip). We could only go up to the second “level” of the Eiffel tower due to the winter season, but it probably is about as high as I would like to go anyway. I think I was most impressed with the Eiffel Tower because it far exceeded my expectations. I imagined it to be a tourist trap. But, it truly was a sight to be held. You have 360 views of the city, all while watching it light up as you sip champagne. When it lights up, it’s even better. It’s an evening I would do again. From there, we had drinks at our hotel and had a very late meal at a Morrocan restaurant. The restaurant was gorgeous and bustling on the inside with interesting tagines and Morroccan wine. It was an experience like none any of us had had. (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d1804674-Reviews-Riad_Nejma-Paris_Ile_de_France.html)
The next day, everyone’s feet were on the out. Amazing was over 30 miles will do to one’s feet (all while trying to look stylish). We used the metro a lot this day and were infinitely happy to be doing so. We started the day at Notre Dame, by far the most spectacular church I’ve ever seen. We mostly looked around the outside and then went over to the shopping district in Marais. The jewish quarter was adorable. Sweet little shops lining curving cobble stone roads. We ate at L’As du Fallafel, which topped multiple lists I read as “best Fallafel in the world.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/31/travel/31bite.html?_r=0) It did not disappoint. We also stumbled upon an eclair shop that served eclairs that looked like actual works of art: decorated in gold, paint and glitter. From here we metro-ed up to Moulin Rouge and and the Montemartre cementary. I was pretty un-impressed with this little stop. Multiple people told us it would be worth doing the Moulin Rouge dinner, but it all seemed a little “touristy”. The cemetery was beautiful, but not the one I thought we were going to. We then hiked up to Sacre Cleur, the basilica that was built in the 1900s in order for the French to feel better about all of their sins. That hike was NO JOKE. If we could find a metro stop or use the gondola next time, we would. The town surrounding Sacre Cleur was worth the trip. It almost felt like a little German town — with lots of people serving roasted nuts and Vin Chaud throughout the streets. People were at every corner painting the scenery. The streets below Sacre Cleur were not nice- super touristy. After this, we went back to Notre Dame to learn more about it and see the inside. The thing that is most striking about Notre Dame to me is something this detailed, this extravagant, could never be duplicated today. Even with the Basilica (built in the 1900s) the detail is lacking. Somehow, even with all the modern advances, craftsmanship was much better in the past.
That night, we had our last dinner in Paris and chose a “french” meal with a French Michelin chef, Christian Constant, on our favorite street. We all dressed up and took night pictures with the Eiffel Tower. The meal was polarizing, some of us thought it was the best, while others thought it disappointed. I felt like their soups and salads were their strong points — which is a strange thing to be strong in. (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d783857-Reviews-Les_Cocottes_de_Christian_Constant-Paris_Ile_de_France.html)
The next morning we woke up, ate the most divine quiches and pastries and saw all the sweet Parisian children being walked to school by their parents. In such an “old feeling city” it was so interesting to see how normal family life functioned. It’s a big city that functions like an old school small town. We then loaded up and bounced back to reality.
The first week being home was terribly heart breaking. It’s hard to go back to work when you are wanting to do so many other things in a city you fell in love with. I suppose it’s like when you are first dating someone and your mind wants to only concentrate on them. It’s particularly hard when you do nothing but dream of the fresh, beautiful pastries that were at your constant disposal while you try to eat no carbs.
So- what would I repeat? Well, if it was my first trip: I wouldn’t change a thing. If I was going back: I would want to see an opera in the opera house, I’d want to do the audio tour of the Orsay, and I’d be more confident with the metro lines before day two. Next time I go, I would make certain to eat crepes, again, but perhaps try this place (Rick Steeves favorite. And that dude is somehow right one everything): http://www.yelp.com/biz/breizh-café-paris-2. If it was spring, I would want to see Luxemburg Gardens and also Monet’s garden at Giverny. I would like to eat at a place that specializes in soufflés. I would like to eat at this little vegan beauty: http://www.yelp.com/biz/gentle-gourmet-café-paris-3. I would want to go into the National galleries and just gaze up at the building. I’d like to take a river cruise or water taxi when it is not so brisk. I wouldn’t mind going to the latin quarter to see where Hemingway lived, since I’m suddenly obsessed. The possibilities are endless.
I also wanted to remind myself of how EASY it was to travel here. We had a long layover in Philly (which we have now seen The Liberty Bell and eaten the best salad of my life: http://highstreetonmarket.com/menu/ dreaming of you, darling farro salad.)
I’m happy to have been able to visit such a beautiful, timeless city during some of their darkest times. I’m also happy that I was one of the people that Paris charmed and that it will stick with me. It’s also one of the only big cities where Greg also felt completely overwhelmed with beauty. He typically hates big cities. Now we just have to sit and wait for our next adventure.
“You can’t escape the past in Paris, and what’s so wonderful about it is the past and the present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden.” – Ginsberg