Fifteen years ago my family took a trip to Scotland and England. Last minute, my mother added a few quick days in Paris. As a young, impressionable girl, those three days began a lifelong obsession with all things French. While my love of art was probably inevitable, our tour of the Louvre played a huge role in my lifelong devotion to museums and I went on to major in art history and study French for 6 years. I’ve dreamed about returning to France ever since.
However, winter is definitely not the time to plan a dream trip to France. I spent several days agonizing over the details of a country-wide trip, realizing that none of the tours would open up until March (right when I’m leaving) as nothing from the lavender fields to the flowers of Giverny would be blooming, and the chateaux would probably all be freezing. In the end we planned a big trip to Spain instead, and went with the old mantra of “I will always make travel a priority, and I will return”. Well, low and behold, a cheap flight on EasyJet pops up on my computer and the next thing I know, we’re easyjetting off to Paris for 3 days in the city and a day out to Versailles. I will definitely need to return at some point, to travel through the country-side and see the South of France, but for now it was the perfect short trip to get me going again.
Day 1: We arrived in Paris on Monday morning, checked into our beautiful little airbnb in the Marais district, and went out for a walk. We decided that for this trip (or every trip, really) the best approach was to pick just a few sites, and then play the rest by ear. Many tourist attractions and restaurants are closed on Monday and/or Tuesday, so we decided that Monday would be our designated relaxation day. We walked around the neighborhood, which I highly recommend if you’re ever staying in Paris. It’s close to many of the main attractions (Notre Dame, Pompidou Center, Palais de la Cite and Sainte-Chapelle) and full of cafes, bars, and markets… not to mention, incredible shopping.
We stopped in a local cafe called le Petit Paris, for a quick bite, and I got to try out my French for the first time. As I’ve always known, my reading is better than my speaking, and we quickly reverted to English. However, we earned major brownie points for trying… which is the key in France… they really do not appreciate when you don’t know any French, and frankly, I’m on their side. While gazing out the window, people watching, I swear I locked eyes withSofia Sanchez de Betak, or someone who looked identical, wearing Gucci sliders.
After lunch we walked around for a few hours, and then parked ourselves at another cafe to split a carafe of wine. The sun was shining, the wine was good, and the people watching was incredible. My mom peeled off at this point to go rest, and I continued to walk around, trying to orient myself. I got lost about three times, and criss crossed all over the city, but ended up with a full view of the Eiffel tower at sunset. Then I walked back along the Seine and passed out early, exhausted.
Day 2: We had a lazy morning, followed by a desperate search to find coffee and croissants. Next we made our way over towards Sainte-Chapelle, stopping at every flower shop and river kiosk along the way. As it’s off-season for tourism and we arrived early in the morning, Sainte-Chapelle wasn’t crowded at all, and we were able to comfortably tour the beautiful light filled chapel for almost an hour. We stopped at some touristey, overpriced cafe that was nonetheless delicious, and I partook of my second Croque Madame in 24 hours (yes, cliche… but oh so good). We wandered through the latin quarter, or left bank, and observed a school full of French kids on break, in their natural habitat. Quite enlightening.
Next we stopped at the Musee d’Orsay. Oh my lord… talk about dream come true. Since the Louvre takes at least a full day, and we had visited when I was young, we decided to focus on seeing something new. Housed in an Beaux-Arts railway station, this incredible collection includes mainly French art spanning the period of 1848-1915. It’s the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in the world, and includes some of the most famous examples: Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh. My particular favorites from the museum however, were the enormous works by Toulouse-Lautrec and the rooms dedicated to Art-Nouveau furniture and decor.
We wandered over to the Champs-Elysees, took a gander, and then hopped on the metro to find our way back. Stopping at a small market I picked up a hunk of fresh bread and a wedge of cheese, along with some Cote du Rhone wine, and had myself a delicious picnic, while my mother and I binge watched some Downton Abbey.
Day 3: We started off the day with a trip to Breizh Cafe: widely acknowledged as the best crepes in Paris. As soon as the doors opened at 11:30 the place was packed… and with good reason! Technically what we ordered were galettes, made using buckwheat flour, but mannn they were incredible. I ordered the Provencal (Which included tomatoes, onion, camembert, herbs de provence, ham, anchovies, and an over-easy egg) and my mom ordered the Mushroom (Which included Ham, Mushroom, and Gruyere Cheese). We skipped sweet crepes in favor of hunting down this patisserie by our apartment for macarons. As you can see, my mother and I were two happy girls.
Next, I adventured out on my own and was immediately approached by a stranger named Pierre on the street. Apparently if you smile while walking down the street in Paris, you really stand out. Pierre told me I looked really happy, and he crossed the street to find out what I was up to. As I walked over to the Musee de l’Orangerie, I was approached several times for directions. I tried my best to help out, in jumbled French, but don’t think I managed to help at all. It’s always fun to think that you blend in enough though.
The Musee de l’Orangerie is another collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works, located in the Tuileries Gardens. The main attraction is two large ovular rooms, lined with Monet’s famous Water Lilies. However, there are some incredible works down below in the basement.
After the Musee de l’Orangerie I headed over to Rue Saint Honore to window shop and people watch. To be honest, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of some Couture Week Madness while in Paris, but had to content myself with people watching on this most fashionable of streets. My favorite stop was Colette, a trendy shop filled with quirky designer clothing and accessories. I was lucky to be able to see Azuma Makoto‘s installation of 10,000 petal-filled jars.
Next, my mom and I headed over to Montmartre for dinner and a show at the Moulin Rouge. WOWEE. The venue is very cool, but still bohemian feeling. I could just imagine Henri Toulouse-Lautrec sitting in the corner. Dinner included an excellent pate, duck, and chocolate cake, along with a bottle of champagne to split. I think in the performance, I was expecting subtle sexuality, considering its modern popularity. I was totally wrong… boobs everywhere. Even the most sensitive person (like a girl sitting with her mom) will become de-sensitized eventually, and then you’re just floored by the costumes and the showmanship. The whole performance is like some tawdry, politically incorrect fantasy from the 1920’s.
All in all our three days in Paris were incredible. The food, the culture, the art, and the energy are just unparalleled. Now, if I can only make it back in less than 15 years!