I’ve dreamed of visiting Paris for a long time – since I first started learning French in high school. I’m not one to get overly infatuated with a place or an concept, but I’ve always felt that reading about Paris or seeing pictures/video of the city was not enough. It was something that I needed to experience in person. A few months ago, I decided that traveling to Paris in March would be a good time to avoid huge crowds and hot/cold weather. And since my birthday is in March, why not celebrate it in the City of Lights?! I spent many hours reading travel blogs and reviewing a bazillion top this and top that lists on Pinterest. I came up with an itinerary for four full days and two travel days.
We arrived in Paris by train (love taking the train especially when it’s fast) late afternoon on Wednesday and then switched over to a Metro line. When we came out of the Metro, our first sight was Notre Dame. Wow! We had some time to kill before meeting the person with the apartment keys, so we sat on a bench outside the cathedral for awhile. I took a long look at those flying buttresses and tried to soak in the fact that I was really in PARIS!
The Ile St. Louis was our place of residence for five days and we loved it. It’s a tiny slice of Paris charm and contained everything we needed — close to the metro, market across the street, bakery next door, plenty of restaurants and Bertillion was just down the street. We decided to give Airbnb a try for this trip and rented studio apartment in a 17th century building just off an enclosed courtyard. Some of the interior walls were stone, which gave it an old world feel. The most important features were present: a comfy bed, quiet at night and a great modern shower.
When Dick heard that Chris Thile from the Punch Brothers was giving a solo concert in Paris on the 15th, we decided to get tickets. Chris sings and plays a mean mandolin. We enjoyed a really fun, entertaining concert at Alhambra on our first night out in Paris. Many of the people there seemed to know each other (lots of cheek kissing going on!) and even though we were outsiders, it made the crowd feel very social and engaging. Chris definitely picked up on that and clearly had a great time performing — he gave three encores. Part of the concert consisted of movements from Bach’s Sonatas and Partidas (written for violin) woven through other music selections. It was brilliant. What a memory this will be for us!
My first breakfast was pain au chocolat consumed on the way to the metro. I might have had a couple more — maybe daily. If only every day could start with chocolate and flaky pastry!
On Thursday after a lot of sight-seeing and A LOT of walking, we trudged to the top of the Arc de Triumph. We arrived at the top just in time to see a procession form and then parade down the Champs-Élysées to place flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A short ceremony (a choir sang this time) is conducted by veterans and the flame is rekindled every day at 6:30 pm. We just happened to be there at the right time to see this meaningful daily ritual.
Have you ever had a soufflé? I don’t remember ever having one before this trip. Le Soufflé is all about them and they are delicious! We each had two as part of a three course meal. The third course was a delicious dessert — creme brûlée for me and ice cream with Grand Marnier for Dick. If we’re ever in Paris again, we will definitely go back to this spot.
Friday was my birthday and I planned a couple of special things to do. My favorite was lunch at Benoit, a Michelin rated restaurant. Even the lunch menu was a splurge, but if you’ve seen Burnt or The Hundred Foot Journey, you’ll know why I wanted to do this. I’ve been to a few fine restaurants, but nothing compared to this. It was quite an experience! The food was divine and the service was beyond my expectations. Excellent!
We visited Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and Sacré-Coeur and during our visits we were able to experience more than the architecture, art and relics. While we were at Notre Dame and Sacré-Coeur, there was a mass in progress. I love this because it’s a great reminder that they are active places of worship — not just tourist attractions. At Sacré-Coeur, nuns were singing and it was very sweet. We attended a classical concert at Sainte Chapelle on Friday night and experienced the romance of this beautiful chapel quite differently than when we wandered through it during the day.
The Louvre is amazing, but it wasn’t my favorite museum. The Musee d’Orsay contains an astounding collection of French Impressionism, which is my favorite art period. I loved the seeing the breadth of work for artists such as Monet, Renoir, Degas and Sisley. Just as we were finishing our tour of the Impressionism gallery, we were told to stay back and step over to one side. A bunch of museum guards appeared and held back the people who were in the gallery. I could see cameras flashing on the other side of the room and thought that someone important must be coming through. In a few minutes, I could see who it was — William and Kate! I grabbed my iPhone to take pics of the royal couple. Dick was able to get the best shots.
I think the best way to get the feel of a city is to walk it. We had some really nice walks in the Latin Quarter, through the Luxembourg Gardens, along the Seine (day and night), browsing shops in Ile de St. Louis and in a quaint quarter of Montmartre.
Saturday night we went to a restaurant that got good reviews for their moules frites. When we saw escargot on the menu, we had to order it because I really wanted to try them. They were delicious! Out of an order of six, one of them was a dud. Either it didn’t have any meat or we just couldn’t extract it. When the waiter heard that, he wisked out another three for us. Bonus! We also had some tasty mussels and fries.
We spent most of Sunday at Versailles. My favorite moment at Versailles? I don’t know. It was just okay for me. Obviously the scale and opulence of the palace is incredible. The Hall of Mirrors is less impressive in person than in pictures I’ve seen. The gardens are not at their full splendor in March. The trees were brown, the fountains were not running and the statues were covered up. Boo. It was also a cloudy, windy day, so strolling the gardens was not that pleasant.
I was nervous about going to Paris. I guess it was because I’ve forgotten most of the French I’ve learned and I was afraid we would be in situations where I would need to speak and understand it. That actually only happened a couple of times and I was able to understand enough to communicate. I had also read a lot about rude service, but we didn’t experience that. In fact, friendly and pleasant Parisians were apart of all of my favorite moments.
Dream come true. A bientôt Paris!