We left for Paris two days after the tragedy in Nice. It was with a heavy heart that we thought of the country we were travelling into – France has experienced so much pain in the last year and a half.
After a four hour drive through the beautiful french countryside, and a thirty minute drive through the crazy outskirts of Paris, we pulled up into the tiny garage of our AirBnB in Saint-Ouen. The house was small, but very lovely. Built sometime in the early 1900s, it was tastefully and completely fitted out. We crashed for a bit on the couches while we planned our evening excursion.
We decided to set out into the city to get some dinner, and see some of the sights before the late summer sun set (around 10:30pm!).
We took the metro (a first for the boys!) into the city, and emerged into the sultry air of the Paris July evening. The Paris architecture was stunning – tall apartment buildings with detailed columns and wrought iron rails blocking the view, and when you walked around them and peered down the streets, glimpses of the Seine or the gold gleaming roof of a government building. Paris was more like Barcelona than London (to me). Warm-colored stone, and the bright windowsills, and doors with more of a Southern European feel than the Northern European vibe of London or Bonn. But the city that it reminded me of most of all was Philadelphia, and apparently that is no coincidence.
We ate dinner in a charming downtown establishment, then walked down towards the river – I was longing to get a glimpse of the famous Seine. The sun was setting in a haze of purple and orange as we rambled through the parks around Palais Royal, and saw a group of Parisians playing Boules in the gravelly pathway. We rounded a last corner, and the beautiful Louvre complex spread out in front of us – what a moment that was! I slipped my arm through Aaron’s, and we just smiled and laughed as the boys whooped and ran around, getting pictures of the famous building.
We eventually made our way back to the AirBnB, and watched “100 Foot Journey” to get ourselves in the mood for French cuisine before turning in for the night.
The next day we went to Notre Dame for the International Service. Only in France would a service be advertised as “International” and then be 99.99% in French. I’m serious – I think one sentence was English. We were honestly a little disheartened by the tourists inside: there seemed to be little to no respect for the building as a place of worship. It seemed that many people were just there to check off another box on their “Paris List.” That doesn’t bother me in and of itself, but when you’re treating a historic place of worship with the same nonchalance as the Arc de Triomphe, and with less respect than the Louvre, we have a problem.
Notwithstanding, we had a good time, and a pleasant walk around the city. The day was hot, so we avoided the sun and instead set off down the shady sides of alleyways. We happened upon Shakespeare & Co. bookstore quite by accident, and naturally had to go inside, where I spent a happy few minutes wandering around the crammed bookshelves and walking up and down the rickety stairs in search of the poetry section.
For lunch that day the boys went off in search of something cheap and hardy, and Aaron and I lunched at Laduree – a must-see on our list since Aaron’s sister recommended it via a Pinterest Pin. 🙂 The lunch was lovely – I had a fantastic omelette, and Aaron had some sort of delicious roast duck. It was cool, quiet retreat after the heat and noise outside.
Quick note about the food in Paris: it lives up to the hype. Everywhere we ate was simply delicious, and we didn’t need to break the bank in order to have a good meal. One of my favorite things was the breakfasts provided for us by Aaron, who walked down the bakery and picked up some baguettes each day. I cannot imagine a more Parisian thing than opening the door to see your husband standing on the step with an armful of fresh baguettes for breakfast: it made me very happy. 🙂
On our last day we visited the wonderful Louvre. It was so crowded we only had time to zip through the amazing place – lingering over some objects because we had to: who could bear running past the Winged Victory, or the entire two walls dedicated to David? Seeing “The Oath of the Horatii” in person almost knocked me over. I had forgotten that it was in the Louvre, so when we rounded a corner on the way to see the obligatory Mona Lisa and I suddenly came face to face with David’s masterpiece, I was literally brought to a standstill. After I’d recovered myself, I told Ian and Will about the painting and the story behind it, and I think I now have to more converts to the David fan club.
Next we visited the Musee de l’Armee, and Napoleon’s tomb. That was a fantastic tour! Aaron and I got in free with our military IDs, which was a plus. The width and breadth of the military museum was impressive. We arrived not too long before the 6pm closing, so we had to go faster than we would have liked. The crowning jewel to my mind, however, was the building that housed Napoleon’s remains. The vastness and intricacy were stunning, and I was interested to see all the Romanesque and classical influences – the man clearly thought he was Rome’s latest, greatest emperor.
We wandered down to the Eifel Tower in the evening. We’d seen it peeking at us from a distance the whole trip, but it was neat to finally go and stand at its massive base. It was larger than I could have imagined, and also… sand-colored? Did anyone else not see that one coming? It looks steel-grey in most of the pictures I’d seen.
We thought about staying until the sun set, but it was July, and that would mean waiting around until nearly 11pm.
Instead we wandered into a little French Cafe somewhat off the beaten path. The first floor was tiled in black and white, and a group of older Parisian men sat outside, sipping their wine and laughing, probably at the passing tourists. A waiter inside showed us up to the comparatively quiet upstairs, where we ordered drinks and talked about the trip while we waited for our food to arrive.
There’s always a danger in getting expectations too high when visiting a famous city, especially one you’ve heard about and read about so many times. But Paris is so big and intricate, that I’m sure you could visit a dozen times and still feel there was more to discover. My brief glimpses of the Orsay, Louvre, and even the Paris streets and alleys, have only succeeded in making me want to discover more.
Till next time, Paris – Au revoir!
With Paris, the bulk of our adventures with Ian and Will came to an end. I cannot think of two more chill or game people to have stay: they were happy to explore the village or explore a nearby castle at the drop of a hat; they made trips to the commissary seem fun (partly because they insisted we use the kiddie shopping cart…); they threw themselves into the culture, into the language, and into household chores. They made our lives brighter, and our first trip to Paris unforgettable.