This past week, I had the absolute pleasure of traveling with my friend, and fellow flight attendant, to beautiful Paris! We have both been before, so this trip was more for the shopping and food, and less for the sight-seeing. I hadn’t visited Paris since my time studying abroad in France six years ago, and I was dying to go back (mostly for the delicious food). It was a whirlwind of pretty shops, winding historic streets, and lots of wine and baguette.
Today’s post focuses on the few sights we visited between our shopping and my thoughts on the experience. I have now visited Paris as a teen, college student and flight attendant. There’s been good and bad times for me in this complicated city, and I can never get enough of it. Each time I’ve had a different perspective, different goals and dreams, and a different adventure. Paris has touched my life in so many ways. It’s inspired my passion and studies on historic architecture, influenced my classic vintage style, made me eternally crave crusty bread and fine cheeses despite my lactose intolerance, and opened my eyes to a different way of living. The type of life where you can skip the car and wander the streets, choose your food with care from local vendors, and enjoy life more beyond the 9 to 5.
We arrived very early on Tuesday morning, sleep deprived but ready for an adventure! Our first adventure came sooner than we thought…while I was determining whether the stopped train on the platform was the correct one to bring us into the city, my friend Amanda stepped inside. All of a sudden I hear her yell my name as the doors close, and the train is speeding away with an incredulous and waving travel partner with the only cell phone access (I really should invest in an international phone plan…) Luckily, great minds think alike, and we found each other at our next train transfer. Whew!
We got to our chic little hotel in Montmartre and dropped off our luggage. A nap and shower would have to wait until our room was ready. Some caffeine and a spritz of perfume covered the jet lag (or at least that’s what I told myself). We stopped in a cafe close to our hotel for espresso and croissants. Eclectic with its neon lights wrapping around traditional columns, and walls decorated in an interesting mix of decoupage advertisements, maps, and movie posters.
With an espresso buzz and a belly full of flaky French pastry, we walked up the winding streets of Montmartre towards Sacré-Cœur. This beautiful and imposing cathedral sits atop a hill with stunning views of Paris. We entered through its sooty Byzantine walls and viewed the stained glass and mosaic walls reverently. It was a quiet morning before the rush of tourists, with sleepy whispers amongst the patrons and worshippers. The views outside were my favorite though. Leaning against the iron railing, we gazed at the vast vista of low historic buildings, interspersed with jutting gothic towers and monuments. The fog and city smog rolling over the buildings gave it an eerie quality, like you were experiencing a scene from a thriller film.
We walked down the wide steps toward the heart of artistic (and touristy) Montmartre. I warned Amanda that street “vendors” would pester you at the bottom of the steps, trying to tie bracelets on your wrist and then demand compensation. I told her of my last time in Paris, when the rude men would shout vulgar things at me when I refused to stretch out my wrist. Low and behold, I experienced the same encounter, this time “big tits” was replaced by “ugly woman.” Needless to say, it’s my least favorite part of Montmartre.
During out long walk back to the hotel, we stumbled upon a second-hand shop and found some awesome deals on some great pieces (More details on my next post). We then toted our shopping bags up the streets and found this decadent fromagerie. The marble shelves were filled with glass jars of jams, olives and spreads to accompany their vast selection of cheese. We decided we wanted a simple lunch of cheese, bread and fruit for lunch, and discussed with the proprietor which cheese we were looking for. We taste tested a variety of cheeses before choosing a delicious truffle Gouda. Mouthwatering with its mild and slightly salty taste, the truffle adds an intense and earthy counterpart. We walked across the street to the produce market for some juicy red strawberries, and picked up some rosé wine from the liquor store. We completed our lunch hunt with fresh baguette from the boulangerie, the aroma of baking bread surrounding you in an intoxicating scent.
The hotel room was finally ready! So we took our food and shopping bags up to our room on the sixth floor. Amanda took the teeny-tiny-you-couldn’t-pay-me-enough-to-take elevator, and I trekked up the winding staircase. There was not one time during that trip that I used that coffin to ascend to the room, despite my heavy breathing every time. Many buildings and homes in France (and really most of Europe) are tight spaces because of age, and my claustrophobia has a direct relation to my time living in France six years ago. I can handle the rooms with a breeze and a window just fine, but those elevators will never see my face. We enjoyed lunch on our little wrought-iron balcony, a cool breeze on our face and we munched on food and listened to the city noise. The truffle Gouda was some of the best cheese of my life, and I fully intend to find some similar at a specialty market back home.
We headed to Champs-Élysées to continue our shopping adventure (more details on next post) and took a coffee mid-perusal at Ladurée. This pastel and gilded shop is the epitome of French dessert and vintage glamour (at least from a non-local’s viewpoint) and I adore its opulence and dainty sweets. We had espresso and an array of macaroons, each nibble a burst of flavor and crumbly cookie.
For dinner, we picked a place close to the hotel, bustling with locals sipping on wine and cocktails with friends. I indulged in my first of several Croque-monsieur (a favorite of mine), which I recommend to anyone looking for simple but tasty French food. Having dinner at a restaurant in France is a different experience than in America. Where you are more rushed to order, eat and pay the check. Here you take your time, call the waiter over when you feel ready, and enjoy the atmosphere with the food.
The next day we grabbed cafe au lait, more flaky croissants, and headed back to the center of Montmartre to explore Place du Tertre. It’s a square of shops filled with tourist trinkets and art, portrait and landscape artists dotting the cobblestone streets, and cafes with colorful wicker chairs. We explored the shops for awhile, peaked at some of the art (while politely declining the numerous offers for portraits) and had our own little photo-shoot. We took an early lunch at a cherry-red cafe, mostly because it matched my outfit and partly because it had the food we were craving. Bellies full of French onion soup and this time a Croque-madame (difference is the fried egg on top), we headed back down to our hotel for my wardrobe change. I’d say I changed because I’m glamorous and famous, but it’s actually because I’m not a fan of mini-skirts combined with hilly treks.
We whisked away to the chic 7th arrondissement, to shop at the high-end, high-glam Bon Marche (see next post for more details). Beautiful but mostly way out of our price range, it was fun to imagine what could be…
Dinner on Wednesday night was at the beautiful Art Nouveau restaurant La Cremaillere 1900. Not sure if it’s an authentic Art Nouveau restaurant, but gorgeous none the less. Curving wood trim around the mirrors, floral glass light fixtures, painted goddesses on the wall, and live music at the piano; an enchanting step back in time. We indulged in a bottle of wine and dessert for our “fancy” meal of the trip, and it was all equally delicious.
We continued the night by sitting on the steps of Sacré-Cœur and watching the street performers light the night sky with their twirling batons and hula hoops ignited with flames. Their daring tricks escalating with the crowds enthusiasm. Wanting to keep our spirits high and our night lively, we continued on down the hill to a bar brimming with locals. We ordered champagne and chatted with a group of French friends, speaking in Franglais and laughing as we tried to explain things to each other. When we departed for the night, we exchanged bises (I felt so French at that moment) and headed back to our hotel.
Our last day in Paris was full of sunshine as we explored the area near the Eiffel Tower. We struck a pose on the steps overlooking the grand monument, getting that iconic Parisian picture. Our plans for a picnic on the lawn by the Eiffel Tower came together with some wine from a nearby shop, and sandwiches and soda from a vendor on the street. We loaded up Amanda’s recently purchased straw basket and found a perfect spot by a little pond, the Eiffel Tower peaking through the trees. After our picnic we made a stop at the gardens by the Louvre, enjoying those last bits of Parisian spring weather and the garden in bloom.
Our last meal was unfortunately not the best, with it being more like subpar bar food than French cuisine, but it didn’t put a damper on the trip. We had explored, found amazing pieces to bring back home, made some new friends, and had our fill of delicious French bread, cheese, wine and espresso. I can’t wait to go back and bring my husband next time, to the city of love!