Sometimes, you go to a city for the first time and it clenches its sphincter, shines a flashlight in your face and tries its very best to kick you back to where you came from. That’s how I always felt about London, and my recent weekend trip just confirmed my suspicions. Rome was no better — I could feel the city trying to squeeze me out, and the feeling was mutual.
But sometimes, if you’re lucky, you meet a city who leans back, makes eye contact, fans its hair out and parts its knees a teensy bit.
I arrived in Paris on Saturday morning, dropped my bag off at the hostel (more on that later) near Republique, and walked south towards the Marais to begin one of the sweetest vacations of my life.
Paris was…Parisian to the Paris degree. Pliant, enchanting and just gorgeous. I fell in love almost immediately. As someone I went to dinner with last night said:
STOCKHOLMER: There are only two cities in the world that look just like they look in the movies — Paris and New York.
But that’s not the only parallel. I found that Parisians engage the way that New Yorkers do. They joke with strangers, or they shrug their shoulders at you, or they yell things at you and they acknowledge your presence. That famous Parisian rudeness they talk about — I didn’t experience it. Maybe I was too busy gawking at the buildings and stuffing my face with delicious things.
Look at the sunlight! Just pure and pearly, trickling softly through the leaves of aged trees lining les boulevards, les avenues, les rues. The temperature hovered in the 70s for the whole of my stay, raining only once for the five minutes it took me to flip through a rack of clothing in a little boutique. I didn’t even notice it.
I also didn’t go to a single museum. I didn’t buy a single foodstuff to bring back to Stockholm. I didn’t go to a single bar.
I basically bicycled or walked until my feet hurt, looking at beautiful things and beautiful buildings and beautiful people. I stopped to try on a pretty dress or two. And every few hours, I ate something utterly scrumptious. Sometimes I knew what I was eating and sometimes I didn’t. You can forgive me for my lack of details or not, but I don’t care because it was my self-indulgent vacation and it made me happy. It was only 3 days, but it was total perfection.
I took advice from David Lebovitz’s site and packed pretty dresses to wear, and I’d encourage you to do the same. But comfortable shoes are a must for all the walking.
I thought my Swedish lessons would hamper my French, but my one semester of francais came back pretty smoothly. It was able to ask for water, say please, thank you, etc., and it was enough.
What I’m saying is, if you’ve ever wanted to go to Paris, go now! Go while the current mayor has cleaned up the Seine and made Paris beautiful. Go while the Velib’ bikeshare program is pretty new and well-kept, so it’s easy to get around town without having to use the Metro. Go because there has never been a good reason to keep Paris waiting. I know that now.
With trips every weekend last month, including the one to Rome that
bled my wallet dry, I think I put together an full but thrifty
itinerary for myself. I probably could have been perfectly happy to rent a bicycle for 30ish euros for three days, dawdle through the weekend street market of the Marais and sit on the Pont Neuf at sunset each evening with a hunk of cheese, a baguette and a bottle of wine.
Scrimping in Paris
Breakfast at Le Comptoir des Archives — about 13 euros
It’s not that the food was so spectacular at Le Comptoir des Archives. The tartine with a thick trench of unsalted butter down the middle was as reliable as any tartine in Paris, the confiture of an unremarkable berry heritage. The salade de fruits was a fine mix of apple, peach, mango, banana and grape (thank God they don’t put awful melon in fruit salads). And the cafe creme was perfectly good. (I know coffee is supposed to be terrible in Paris, but I thought all the coffee I had was better than all the coffee I had in Rome. You don’t have to believe me. But that’s what I think.)
But in Paris, it seems that the most popular spot at any given moment is the one that has the most attention from the sun. And at 9am in the Marais, it feels like the sun is looking only at you in front of Le Comptoir des Archives. 13 euros is obvs. not that cheap for a small breakfast. But
Paris is stunning in the morning, before the tourists wake up, and it’s
worth it to get up and catch the sun and quiet while you
can. Think of it as 6.50 euros per hour.
You’re better off spending 13 euros and a few hours on this quiet corner of the Marais than you would be for a twice-as-expensive breakfast at Cafe de Flore on St. Germain, where the confiture is an extra 2.20 euros and the salade de fruits is a mushy mess of soggy kiwi and papaya. Besides, a baguette with butter is pretty much a baguette with butter anywhere you go.
I sat next to the most elegant lovers. I imagined they’d just rolled out of bed to take a post-coital coffee and cigarette. Her strawberry blond, wavy hair was wild and thick, framing green bedroom eyes. But her white linen pullover dress was crisply pleated, punctuated by slip-on black kitten heels. Her head leaned into the crook of her young lover’s arm. He had tousled black hair, wire frame glasses, a t-shirt and jeans. His jacket (a suit jacket, of course), was carefully folded in half on the wicker chair across from them. He had a book on the table but was only paying attention to his girl. Neither of them was particularly amazing looking, but together, they were irresistible.
Le Comptoir des Archives
41, Rue des Archives
MÃ©tro: Hotel de Ville
01 42 72 13 56
Paris Opera — 5 euros
I tried to see Tosca at the last minute on Saturday, which was playing at the Bastille Opera. I’m glad I didn’t get in, though, because it forced me to see another show the next night at the other venue, the magnificent Palais Garnier. It’s smaller than the Met, but about five times more glamorous, with crazy chandeliers, gold carvings, and a Chagall ceiling mural.
The show was far from sold out, so the ushers encouraged me to move into the more expensive seating. No matter that I fell asleep during the concert, quintets and sextets of Ligeti, Prokofiev, Janacek and Hindemeth. It was totally worth the five euros to climb the marble staircase into Baroque heaven.
The corner of Rue Scribe and Rue Auber
MÃ©tro: OpÃ©ra lines 3, 7 and 8, RER Auber
Ticket prices vary depending on performance and your seat.
L’As du Fallafel — 5 euros
It’s a great falafel, maybe not a life-changing one, but a great one. The hot, crunchy falafel themselves are a manageable size, a bit smaller than a ping pong ball. The pickled veggies are great, the tender fried eggplant even better. The thick pita could stand to be more interesting. Don’t worry, the guy asking you for your order and your money while you wait on the long line is legit. The question is, where do you sit and eat it? I wound up in one of the chairs in front of the place — not ideal, and just okay for people watching. If you figure out a better place to sit, let me know. But it’s a cheap filler up in the middle of the Marais on a beautiful, historic street.
L’As du Fallafel
34, Rue des Rosiers
MÃ©tro: St. Paul
Caramella — 3 euros
Why does everything in continental Europe have to close on Sundays? I had hoped to crowbar a meal at Rose Bakery in the Montmartre into my very full itinerary, but had no luck because the French don’t like working like New Yorkers do. I had to have dinner at Caramella instead. Wasn’t such a bad option, though — cooled down with a scoop of mojito sorbet, which was fresh and minty if a bit too sweet, and yogurt sorbet which was tangy, creamy heaven. Totally better than much of the Roman gelati I had. Again, you don’t have to believe me, I don’t care. I don’t know how it rates compared to Berthillon ice cream, but it was pretty damn good and I didn’t have to wait on line for it. Worth a pit stop to Rue des Martyrs if only to pretend you are Chocolate & Zucchini for a minute.
47, Rue des Martyrs
MÃ©tro: Notre Dame de Lorette
To be continued…