"The world is an oyster, and Paris is its pearl." A friend of mine said this long ago when I studied abroad in Paris in 2004. It has always rung in my head as a succinct way of summing up what could be the most charming city on the planet.
For a city that is timeless, it has certainly changed in the last six years. What has not changed is how much I love this city and the place it holds in my heart. After taking several trips to London last year (another city that I love dearly) and spending so much time in the North, I found myself really missing the City of Light. So were a few of the other assistants, thus, we decided it was time for a weekend in the big city!
Last Friday, I got out of bed very early (6 AM) to get ready and catch the direct train to Paris from Rang du Fliers/Berck. It is a 10-minute drive away and, fortunately, both Julia and I had planned to go to Paris this particular weekend. So she gave me a lift, and pretty soon we were heading out of Pas de Calais into the Picardie region, and then finally into Ile-de-France (Paris). The train ride is just about two hours, given that it is not a TGV and only a regional express stopping about four or five times along the way.
As we pulled into Gare du Nord (famous from the movie Amélie and the gateway to destinations like Lille, London and Amsterdam), it was still pouring rain. I was hoping that I had left that behind in the North where it belonged. But I did catch a glimpse of my favorite spot in Paris - and possibly my favorite spot in the world - the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur perched at the top of Montmartre.
I bid adieu to Julia, who was meeting up with one of her other friends for the weekend, and I continued on the Métro to the 4th arrondissement, Le Marais, where I and the other three ladies were renting a studio for the weekend. Being that I was the first to arrive, I punched in the code to the front door (pictured above) and met Justin, the owner of the studio. When he opened the door, naturally, I began speaking in French. Then he stopped me, saying that he is German and his English is better than his French. Fine with me, I said. The studio was quite perfect for us and fully equipped: towels, sheets, glasses, plates, wine-bottle opener and free Wi-Fi. All that was missing was a TV. (I only miss this because I like any chance at watching some French TV programming for practice and a bit of extra culture.)
After he left, I tried to take a nap being that it was noon as I didn't get much sleep the night before, and I was expecting that we'd be going out late that night. However, I couldn't fall asleep being that I was PARIS! One of the changes I noticed right off the bat was how much Le Marais has changed in the last several years. For the New Yorkers, it immediately struck me as SoHo, while Liana pointed out for the San Franciscans that it had undergone a change similar to that of the Fillmore. Historically the Jewish Quarter of Paris and now essentially the center of Gay life and culture in Paris, Le Marais has cleaned up and now littered with small galleries, boutiques and healthy food to-go joints. (Besides the typical Parisian cafés and Tabacs, of course.)
A few hours after I arrived, I met Liana at the Rambuteau Métro stop. Now it was time to finally hit the streets in Paris as Rachel and Chelsea wouldn't be arriving until evening. Before I met her at the station, I walked around the Centre Pompidou a bit trying to find my favorite Mexican restaurant on mainland Europe: A La Mexicaine, which was just across from the Pompidou. Keyword: was. Once the only decent (actually above average) Mexican eatery I had sampled on the Continent and even briefly mentioned by The New York Times, it was now an Italian restaurant. I think the world (especially Europe) has plenty of those already.
My stomach was only further disappointed and left empty when I dragged Liana up L'Avenue d'Opéra to Croq'O'Pain, the site of my favorite sandwich in the entire world that I had even revisited in 2007 when I dragged Brent and Paul up the same road. It is now a kebab place. Another cuisine that is abundant already. But I was not going to let some the disappearance of some (really good) food and a bit of rain ruin my Parisian escapade. After walking from Hôtel de Ville along the Seine to Palais Royal, I made sure to get a Parisian photo of my beloved Paddington Bear as I never actually did before (which is very strange considering I bought him in London when I studied abroad and lived about a five-minute walk from the Louvre, but I digress.)
I also wanted to get a snapshot of Paddington in front of Le Tour Eiffel and Liana wanted to make a routine pilgrimage there as well, so we reboarded the Métro to Ecole Militaire, where the rain had only gotten heavier and the winds picked up. After walking several blocks on muddy terrain and barely being able to hold our umbrellas up any longer, we were at the base of the Eiffel Tower when we just said, "Eh, whatever. Next time." I must be a very lucky girl to have spent so much time in France (let alone Paris) to be standing under a landmark that some people dream of and wait years to see (or might not ever experience in person) and just walk away like it is no big deal.
We headed back to the studio, where we dried off and rested a bit. Chelsea and Rachel eventually arrived, and we prepped for a night out with buying some cheap wine and cheese at the local Ed. Liana's friend from her study-abroad program in Aix-En-Provence, Jennifer, also came over as she lives in Paris and did the assistantship program last year. Given that all of my friends who are locals in Paris were out-of-town that weekend, it was nice having someone know all the latest hotspots.
Compared to the second night, the first was relatively calm. We had some Lebanese food for dinner in the Latin Quarter (the best site for any ethnic and cheap food in Paris), followed by going out in Bastille. One of Jennifer's Parisian friends joined us at this point, and we ended up in what I think was an Australian bar, but I can't remember. After a lot of wine and some tequila shots, we decided to call it a night and walk back. However, the night was not over - at least not for some people. As we were turning the corner in one of the more quiet streets of Le Marais, we walked into two people (a boy and a girl, both of whom looked fairly young) having sex against a wall. I tried to just keep walking (I've probably seen worse), and we all tried to hold our giggles in while turning the next corner as they ran away.
We awoke to a surprise the next morning: sun and blue skies. I almost forgot what those two things looked like after the last, very dreary month in the North. After some morning nourishment at one of those healthy to-go food places that have popped up around France (sort of reminds me of the food sections at Marks & Spencer, both in choice and price), it was only time to continue on to second breakfast at Angelina on Rue du Rivoli. (We almost went to Starbucks, which are EVERYWHERE in Paris now - another big change in this city.)
Angelina is a popular, touristy upscale café on Rue du Rivoli across from Jardin des Tuileries. They are most well-known for their signature, old-school French hot chocolate, named L'Africain. (I don't know why it is named that.) It was so touristy in fact there was a line out the door, mostly of people holding "Paris" or "France" guidebooks in various languages in their arms. But after about 10-15 minutes, we were seated in the balcony section and had a really friendly waitress who even brought us water without having to ask for it. (That is a plus in France. Big time.) Seen in the photo above, our jugs of hot chocolate came out and I ordered a croissant to dip in it, which turned out to be a superb idea given how sweet the beverage was. It was delicious to say the least, but almost to the point where it was overwhelming.
After two meals of mainly just sugar, it was time for some shopping and a stroll past the Place de la Concorde to the Champs-Élysées. I wanted to go to Ladurée for some macaroons, but that will have to wait until the next trip, as I prioritized a visit to the world's flagship of Louis Vuitton. Overflowing with tourists on the ground floor, it was still a magnificent sight. And I just might have to go back for a special purchase in a few months...But continuing on, we hopped across the river to Passy in the 15th arrondissement (from where I snapped this shot of Le Tour Eiffel) for some Soldes shopping as it continues until the first week of February. After a stop in a designer vintage shop as well as H&M, we headed back to the studio for some rest, freshening up and more apéritifs.
Then it was time for a real night out on the town in Paris. After getting a bit lost on the way to St. Germain-des-Pres (must have taken the wrong Metro exit), we got in a cab to Chez Fernand to meet up with Jennifer and some of her friends who are also both American and living in Paris. (I really have to look into doing this myself...) Dinner was scrumptious, although it might not have been as good as I thought at the time. Liana and I both ordered the boeuf bourguignon (was having a craving after just watching Julie & Julia a few nights before). It tasted magnificent and went well with the wine, but the following day, we were the only two who were slightly sick from it (and I was certainly sick from other contributing factors). But after dinner we continued around Saint-Germain, meeting some nice locals along the way who took us to a jazz club nearby. It's not entirely clear what time we headed home, but it was certainly fun nonetheless!
The following morning, I was feeling a little under-the-weather, thus I stayed behind at the studio while Liana and Chelsea headed to a posh boulangerie in Neuilly-Sur-Seine and Rachel headed for Gare du Nord to take the TGV back to Lille. By early afternoon, I wasn't going to let a little headache and stomachache hold me back from enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Paris, so I hopped in the shower, cleaned myself up and popped on the Metro to Montmartre, where I met up with the Valenciennes girls. I also grabbed some McDonalds for breakfast/lunch/afternoon tea time. It truly is the best cure to a hangover, making it the top reason why I'm glad it exists all over Earth.
We began to make our way up the hill of Montmartre (my favorite neighborhood in Paris), which has also become far more trendy and kitschy than it was five-six years ago. It was still a little gritty, so I feel its best comparison now might be either Lower East Side or even Brick Lane in London. This is also my requisite pilgrimage on each occasion to Paris, and Sunday was the perfect day for one. It wasn't too chilly or windy, and the late afternoon sky was shining with plenty of fluffy clouds hanging over the French capital city. (Top Photo)
It's one of those spots where you simply have to take a moment and appreciate how wonderful life is, no matter what frustrations one might have. Liana poignantly pointed out that despite all our problems, difficulties and differences with France, we love this place in the end. It's definitely an up-and-down relationship. But we're willing to eat rice and lentils every night to stay in this country and be able appreciate beautiful sights like Sacre-Coeur on a regular basis.
Eventually, it was time to say au revoir to Paris, and we collected our things from the studio in Le Marais. (I'd highly recommend renting this studio to anyone who visits Paris considering the price and the location). The three of us headed back to Gare du Nord to go back to our respective Ch'ti cities and lives. It's hard to believe that Paris and Montreuil-Sur-Mer are only two hours from each other. They seem like different planets. Now I'm just figuring out when to go back.