I have been living in France a little over three months and only just made it to Paris this week. The husband and I decided last minute to go to Paris for two days en amoureux. We left Louis with his beloved mamie. This was a big step for me because I have never left him for more than a few hours at a time. But I trust mamie entirely and know my little boy is in good hands with his grandmother. This left the husband and I free to explore the city of light without having to stick to a nap schedule and a bedtime routine. And it was nice to have some quality alone time with the husband too.
Paris is without a doubt my favorite city. I lived there for four years and have always wanted to go back to live. I haven’t yet been able to convince the husband that we should live in Paris, but he is content to visit. We had been planning on taking a trip there much earlier, but the right occasion didn’t present itself until this week.
There were a few must-see exhibits on our list of things to do, and most of them are set to end in June, so we had to get moving. Paris is a one hour TGV ride from Lille, so once we decided to go, it wasn’t very difficult to get there.
We arrived on Tuesday evening checked into our somewhat dodgy but very well located and cheap hotel, the Hôtel Rivoli. I stayed in this hotel and one right next door to it years ago. It is located on the Rue de Rivoli at the corner of Rue des Mauvais Garçons in the IV arrondissement, just a few steps away from the Hôtel de Ville. It is a no frills, no star hotel. Reservations can only be made by phone and they only accept payment in cash or by check. Because of this, they still had rooms left when I called two days in advance. The price is right, but forget about any amenities. We got lucky, our original reservation was for a room with only a sink, the shower and toilet were in the hallway. But when I called back to confirm the reservation, the receptionist informed me that there was a cancellation, so we ended up in a room with a shower, toilet and sink for the reasonable price of 60€/night (a double room with sink only is 46€/night). I should also mention that there is no elevator. The accommodations weren’t stellar, but since we really only needed to sleep there, it didn’t matter.
After checking into the hotel, our first stop was to the Azzedine Alaïa gallery, which was just around the corner from the hotel. The current exhibit is photos from the World Press Photo contest. I am really interested in photojournalism, but some of the photos of war and violence are very, very difficult to look at. After the exhibit, we decided to get a drink. The last two times I have been to Paris I have been either pregnant or nursing, so this time I was ready to take full advantage of the wine! The first stop was Kong, a bar/restaurant designed by Philippe Starck. The bar looks over the Samaritaine building (which is still closed) and if you go up to the dining area, the view is very impressive. The dining area is on the roof under a glass dome which gives way to a pretty great view of the Seine.
For dinner we went east towards the Bastille. We didn’t find anything that enticed us immediately around the Bastille, so we went a little deeper towards Ledru Rollin. We had a great dinner of typical French cuisine at Le Rollin. After dinner, we stopped into a bar/restaurant that Laurent used to go to when he used to live in Paris, Le China. It was really cool; bar on the main floor, restaurant on the second floor and jazzy type of club in the basement. We didn’t stay long as I had a cold and didn’t want to aggravate it during our short stay in Paris. But it is a place I would definitely like to go back to the next time we are in Paris. We walked back to our hotel under a very light drizzle.
Wednesday we started early as we reserved tickets for two exhibits at the Grand Palais. The first was a photo exhibit by the fashion photographer Helmut Newton. I was already familiar with some of Newton’s work and it was cool to see large format prints of some of his very well known photos as well as of some of this lesser-known work. The second exhibit was Monumenta 2012 by Daniel Buren “Travail in situ”.
This is one of the most amazing installations I have ever seen. Laurent and I spent almost two hours walking around, taking it in from every angle, and, of course, taking photos.
The idea of Monumenta is that an artist is invited each year to create a work of art to fill the nave of the Grand Palais. This is a HUGE space (13,500m3, to be exact) and Buren’s colorful piece is masterfully integrated within. I highly recommend seeing this exhibit if you are going to be in Paris in the next few weeks, but hurry, the exhibit ends June 21st.
After our art-filled morning, we were hungry. We set off towards left bank to see about finding something to eat. We ended up taking a lot of little detours to find a place since we both wanted to eat salad, and ended up at Les Jardins du Saint Germain. This clientele of this restaurant was a wee bit on the geriatric side, but the service was very friendly and the food was delicious. They have a lunch menu for around 15€ and you can choose either entré + plat or plat + dessert. I had plat + dessert and ordered the salade de chèvre chaud and a tarte tatin for dessert. Both were perfect.
When lunch was over, we had a few hours to kill before meeting up with a friend for coffee, so we wandered around the left bank. We stopped into a few stores, notably La Grande Epicerie, which is one of my favorite stores in Paris. I know, I know, it’s just a grocery store. But it is an amazing grocery store with products from all over the world. You can find fantastic gourmet souvenirs there or load up for a pick-nick or pick up a quick snack. Their products are arranged by country and then by type and they have beautiful pastry displays, an amazing cheese selection, specialty meats, a wine cellar, and the list goes on. Another stop on the left bank was to Ladurée to buy macarons for dinner with friends later that evening. My favorite are the caramel au beurre salé. Yum!
Walking back to the right bank, we crossed over the Pont des Arts. The Pont des Arts used to be one of my favorite bridges in Paris. It’s a pedestrian bridge that passes over the Seine and connects l’Academie Française to the Louvre. I used to have summertime pick-nicks there with friends.
A few years ago people started putting “love locks” on the bridge. I found it sweet at first, but now there are so many that it makes the bridge ugly. If the city of Paris ever decides to get rid of them, I think they would have to replace the entire railing rather than cut off each lock. In any case, the local locksmith must be making bank.
The rest of the afternoon we spent with an old friend of mine in a café not far from Beaubourg. Then we had dinner with Czech friends who live in the banlieu, in Fontenay-aux-Roses. They have a 6-month-old baby girl who we met for the first time, and who feels like a feather in your arms compared to our hulking toddler. We spent the entire evening at their place until it was time for the last RER back to Paris. Getting off the RER at Saint Michel, we took advantage of one last late-night stroll back to our hotel. One of the many things that I love about Paris is that it is a big city, but it is very calm in comparison with New York.
Walking back to the hotel at around 1 a.m. the streets were practically deserted. There were still cars, but it wasn’t the honking speeding whirr that is New York. In any case, I was happy to get some night shots in. When traveling with a baby, it’s hard to get out and play tourist at night.
Thursday was our last day in Paris and we filled it as best as we could. We had a leisurely brunch on the terrace at Café du Centre on the Rue Montorgeuil while waiting for the Centre Pompidou (the locals call it Beaubourg) to open its doors.
We arrived at Beaubourg right at 11 when it opened, but there were so many people that we decided to go buy tea while the people filtered in and bought their tickets. So we went to one of my other favorite stores in Paris, Mariage Frères, a tea shop in the Marais (apparently all of my favorite stores involve eating). Mariage Frères is an old-world looking shop from the inside out. When you walk in, you are immediately engulfed by the pleasant smell of tea. The store part of the shop has many wooden shelves displaying fancy teapots and gift boxes and in the main area of the store there are giant tea tins neatly arranged on wooden shelves from floor to ceiling. The vendors wear cream colored linen suits and are extremely polite and ready to help you navigate their list of 300+ loose teas. Two of my favorite teas are Casablanca, which is a mint tea with bergamot and Mahé an evening tea with a soothing earthy flavor unlike anything I have ever tasted before. They have everything from the ordinary to the exotic with prices to match. Mariage Frères also has a tea room where you can drink tea and eat fancy desserts.
By the time we walked back through the Marais to Beaubourg, the line had disappeared and we were able to buy our tickets from the ticket machine inside of the museum. We saw two exhibits one on Matisse and one on Gerhard Richter. Both exhibits were interesting but there were just too many people to really be able to enjoy the exhibits, especially in the Matisse exhibit. We ended up seeing both of exhibits rather speedily because we had a lunch date right after with an old colleague.
Lunch was at La Closerie des Lilas right next to the Port Royal RER stop. This place is old (since 1847), and has had the pleasure of welcoming many artists, thinkers and creators from every epoch. The food was typically French and perfectly delicious. I had the haddock served with a poached egg, wilted spinach, a few steamed potatoes and a nice buttery sauce. I was more than full when it was time for dessert, but I couldn’t resiste a bite of each of the guy’s desserts; a cherry-pistachio clafoutis and a mille-feuille, and, of course, everything washed down with red wine and coffee to finish. It was an excellent last lunch in Paris before hopping back on the RER to the Gare du Nord to catch our train back to Lille.
I hope we make it back to Paris sooner next time. There are so many more people to visit, things to see and pictures to take!
List of addresses:
44 Rue de Rivoli
1 Rue du Pont Neuf
92 Avenue Ledru Rollin
50 Rue de Charenton
Les Jardins du Saint Germain
14 Rue du Dragon
La Grande Epicerie
38 Rue de Sèvres
21 Rue Bonaparte
Café du Centre
58 Rue Montorgueil
35 Rue Bourg Tibourg
La Closerie des Lilas
171 Boulevard du Montparnasse