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Paris Holiday {Travel}

I still pinch myself when I think about this trip to Paris.  Booked in early November, I was there over Thanksgiving weekend, and it was a quick, magical, last minute thing and – honestly, after dreaming of a trip to Paris since my first fifth grade French class – sometimes I can’t believe it actually happened.  I remember looking down at my feet while walking down the Champs Élysées and crossing the Pont Alexandre III just to try to comprehend where I was actually standing.  

While I was in Paris, I was really intent on focusing on being ‘in the moment,’ and taking it all in and I didn’t take nearly enough pictures {but it was pretty awesome to take a few pics then put my phone back in my purse and just ‘be there’} and they’re not even from my ‘good camera’ {packing priorities…and I didn’t want to lug it around..but I kinda wish I brought it!}, but I really wanted to share these beloved memories of mine, to remember this trip, but also to inspire more travel – just go!  

THURSDAY

We only had four days to get the ‘full’ Paris experience so we hit the ground running after the overnight flight to avoid hitting that jet lag wall.  After checking into the most perfect, fourth floor + antique elevator ‘quintessential Paris’ airBNB apartment in the 6th arrondissement {and right off the Boulevard Saint- Germain}, we took the Metro {Mabillon} to the 7th arrondissement {École Militaire stop….right next to Champ de Mars and la Tour Eiffel} for lunch at D’chez eux, a restaurant that specializes in traditional French cuisine.  We had a table right next to a window, looking out onto the street and the big gold dome of Napoleon’s tomb.  I think we were early – by Parisian standards – for lunch {noon-ish}, and being the only patrons at the time, we had the full attention of the staff, who were far more lovely than I could ever imagine servers to be.    There’s a preconceived notion out there that French food and French restaurants tend to be fancy-schmancy and snobby, and they can’t stand Americans, and this couldn’t have been less true at this restaurant.  The waitstaff was beyond welcoming, and delighted to explain anything on the menu and offer suggestions.  At their suggestion, I had the cassoulet, and my view of French food, and food in general, was changed forever.  The food was simple, hearty, satisfying, the flavors were perfectly balanced, and I found myself wanting more of this type of meal in my life.  

{All images by me and my iPhone…ugh!..except for the one above – that’s from the restaurant’s website}

        

From D’chez eux we walked to Champ de Mars, the park leading up to the Eiffel Tower, and finally caught a full glimpse of what is probably the most recognizable structure in the world.  Fun facts aside, this is one of those instances where seeing it in person is so different than seeing a picture.  The initial vista is striking {it’s SO BIG!}, and it just seems so tall, but once you get close you notice how beautifully intricate it is.  The wrought iron curlicues and lattice that blend into the overall structure in pictures seem to jump out when you’re there up close, and the details are almost overwhelming.  

After a walk through the neighborhood surrounding the Eiffel Tower {can you even imagine living there?!}, we headed back to the apartment for a quick nap {I was starting to stumble I was so tired!}, check in with family {it was Thanksgiving Day, after all}, and to get ready for dinner.  

My uncle is French, and he was so helpful in recommending sights {and places not to waste time in…my favorite phrase from his emails was ‘for that, you could really just drive by…’} and restaurants.  After some quick internet searches, we picked Laperouse from the list in the midst of prepping for the trip {it seemed really cool, it was old, classic ‘Parisian’ history, etc., Victor Hugo ate there, and you could make a reservation online}, but there was no way I could have imagined the amazing experience that we would have at that restaurant.  Again, the service was impeccable, and at some point one of the younger waiters, mentioned that he’d be happy to give us a tour of the restaurant – which is beautiful, and still maintains the original decor {from 1766!!  This restaurant is older than America…} – after our dinner.  We politely agreed {‘How nice of you!  That would be great!’}, not anticipating the half-hour-plus that this gentleman would spend with us, taking us through every staircase, hallway, and infamous private ‘dining parlor’ {there are six of them!}  in the building, PLUS the beyond-detailed verbal history throughout.   See that mirror?  Royal courtesans used to scratch the mirrors with the diamonds their suitors gave them, just to make sure they were real!  {Read more about the history of this restaurant HERE}

We left the restaurant, totally blown away, and then walked around a bit before heading back to the apartment, not realizing that ‘pretty bridge’ was in fact Pont Neuf, the oldest {and one of the most famous} bridge across the Seine, built in the 1500s.  In the picture below, you can kind of see the mascarons, or ‘stone masks’ that line the bridge {381 in total, all different} and represent various mythological figures {the originals are in museums now; the current mascarons were made by 19th century sculptors}.  

FRIDAY

We started the day with breakfast at Cafe de Flore, which was – unbelievably – across the street from the apartment.  I’ve mentioned it’s ‘quintessential Parisian’ vibe, but the main feature was its location near some of Paris’s oldest, most well-known and ‘must go’ restaurants:  Cafe de Flore, Les Deux Magots, and Brasserie Lipp {and you guys…it was totally reasonable…check it out for yourself!}.  The restaurant was busy – breakfast/brunch seems to be very much a ‘thing’ in Paris – but the food was good,  the service – as we had come to expect – commendable, and the ambiance itself was worth it.  

After breakfast, we wandered around the neighborhood, stopped into a few shops, and eventually found ourselves in a courtyard with a huge fountain, in front of an equally huge church – St. Sulpice {which was featured in The DaVinci Code….remember the ‘Rose Line?’  I stood right on top of it!…it’s actually part of a gnomon, i.e. a sundial}.  It’s only slightly smaller than Notre Dame, and is the second largest church in Paris.  We went inside, and  – oh my goodness – the church is just so, so magnificent.  It has a giant center sanctuary, but also several smaller ‘chapels’ around the perimeter.  It’s pretty impossible to convey how magnificent this church is through my iPhone images, but I did the best I could!

St. Sulpice is very close to the Luxembourg Gardens – Le Jardin de Luxembourg – so we headed there next, prepared that it wouldn’t be in its full splendor, given the time of year.  Though the normally lush gardens featured only mums in the planters, it was still nice to walk through.

We walked back to the apartment through the Latin Quarter, past the Sorbonne and the Pantheon, and down the Rue Mouffetard.  I noticed right away students gathering at cafes, sitting on steps, and just generally around these crazy-amazing university buildings, and I just had to pause and think of the lives they must lead as students as students at the Sorbonne in Paris.  

 

After a quick check-in at the apartment we were back out on foot {did I mention how much walking I did?!} to Notre Dame.  We had seen a few – what I would consider – pretty amazing churches since being in Paris {we had also stopped into Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Pres, which is an old Benedictine abbey – and one of the oldest churches in Paris – right across from the apartment that was also pretty remarkable}, and I couldn’t imagine how much more remarkable Notre Dame could be.  But, alas, it was.  The first remarkable thing about Notre Dame is it’s location.  Situated on Ile de la Cite, a small island in the middle of the Seine, you have to cross a bridge to get there, and you feel like you’re in this special place in the middle of Paris.  {The second remarkable thing is that we didn’t have to stand in any lines to get inside – we walked right in…I’m still not sure how that happened!}  Because it’s on the island, Notre Dame isn’t surrounded by too many buildings, and you can see it as you approach, beautifully lit.  It’s SO big inside, it takes a while to walk through, and as a lifelong Catholic, you feel surrounded by this beautiful, religious place – with candles, crucifixes, statues that are so historic and so magnificent, and it really reenergizes your faith.  

After about an hour inside of Notre Dame, I got some rosary beads from the little shop inside {as a good Catholic girl would}, and we head out to the Louvre.  I can’t remember what time it was at this point, but – oh my goodness – I was so so tired!!  It had been a marathon day, with one part left, and a pretty significant part, at that!  We took the Metro to the Louvre and, miraculously – we had just come from Notre Dame, after all! – we didn’t have to stand in any lines to get inside here, either.  The Louvre is notorious for its long lines, but I guess we were at an off time {who else goes to the Louvre on a Friday night?!} and after walking around a little outside the museum, we totally lucked out and went right in.  Other than taking better pictures, my one regret about Paris is that I wasn’t more ‘present’ and active while at the Louvre.  We were there with all this world-famous art, and I was just.so.exhausted at this point, I just wasn’t feelin’ it.  People, to give you an idea of just how ‘over it’ I was…I had to be CONVINCED to go see the MONA LISA, when it was just up one floor.  Unbelievable.  I did manage to ‘take in’ some of the art – the paintings are just so massive, and intricate, and expressive – it really was beautiful.  And YES, I’m glad I saw the Mona Lisa, and – again, I’m not sure what it is – but that painting is one of those things that really does look different in person.  We went through the museum {just a few sections} in about an hour or so {way too quick} and then hopped back on the Metro, back to the apartment, and headed out for dinner at a tiny restaurant around Saint Sulpice, where I revived myself with an amazing charcuterie plate and some wine!

SATURDAY

Saturday morning we slept in a bit {I totally needed it!} and set out to have some breakfast before the day’s destinations.  I remember wanting eggs, which turns out to not really be a ‘thing’ for breakfast in Paris, and we wanted to try Brasserie Lipp, which didn’t open for about 20 minutes (I think we got there at about 10:45), so we waited in the lobby-area drinking espresso – not a bad way to pass the time, at all.  Long story short, they didn’t have eggs, they didn’t really even have breakfast, but they did have amazing food and I ended up having some kind of ham and sauerkraut dish {yes, at 11am} that was out-of-this-world, and fueled me up for a day of art-gazing and walking through the city.  

From Brasserie Lipp we walked to the Musée D’Orsay, another famous Paris art museum {and one of the largest art museums in Europe}, housed in an old train station and featuring mainly French art, particularly impressionist,  and post-Impressionist works by artists like Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh.  I think I made up for not appreciating the Louvre at Musee D’Orsay, being fully present and really taking in what I was seeing.  There’s something unreal about standing in front of paintings you’ve seen for your whole life in books; to finally see them in person is kind of an unbelievable experience.  The most impactful painting, for me, was Van Gogh’s self-portrait.  I couldn’t believe I was looking at it with my very own eyes.  

We crossed the Seine {on a bridge with lots of ‘love locks!’}  to the Jardin des Tuileries and the Musée de l’Orangerie.  This is a smaller museum, but it’s absolutely beautiful, bright, and with lots of white space – a contrast to the bigger, more elaborate museums we had been to.  The best part of this museum was the oval-shaped room encircled in Monet’s Water Lilies.  You could sit in the middle and just look around, surrounded by Monet.  It was magical to have these beautiful paintings all around you.  The colors are more beautiful and perfect than you could ever imagine.  At the time, they also had a women’s photography exhibit featuring work by Gertrude Käsebier and Julia Margaret Cameron, whose images were just as remarkable up close.

This evening’s dinner at La Fontaine de Mars was hands-down one of my favorite meals of all time.  Serving traditional French food and with impeccable service, this restaurant is unbelievably cozy, and you step back in time a bit to 1930s Paris {never a bad thing!} and it seems like you’re dining in rooms of a quaint old house.  They seated us in an upstairs room with the most beautiful toile wallpaper, which was the perfect compliment to my amazing pot au feu dinner {so simple, but SO good!}.  One of my favorite things, though, was the crock of cornichons with little wooden tongs they place on your table.  They were so good!!  

SUNDAY

Our last day in Paris was such a great, relaxing day, though we were sad that we would be leaving the next morning.  After another Cafe de Flore breakfast, we took the Metro way up north, just past the 18th arrondissement, to something I had read about online – the Paris flea market.  We kind of reluctantly went, not knowing what to expect or if it would be ‘worth it,’ but – oh my goodness – it certainly was!  You have to go through sort of a sketchy part of town, but then you get to this giant space where there is shop after shop of the most magnificent french antiques – really anything and everything you could possibly imagine.  Furniture, dishes, pots, posters, books, paintings, keys…I only wish I had more room in my suitcase!  

We walked around the market for a while, and then headed back to the apartment and to evening mass at Saint-Sulpice.  I’m not as regular of a church-goer as I would like to be, but I figured this was a really special opportunity to go to mass in such a magnificent place, and I’m so glad we went.  Hearing the mass in French was beautiful, and it was really nice to be there with members of the church community – young and old.  Walking to and from mass really made me feel a true sense of the neighborhood, and I could only imagine how wonderful it would be to be able to come to this beautiful church every Sunday.

After some deliberation over what we wanted as our ‘last meal in Paris,’ we ended up right where we started – at D’chez eux.  We really loved the meal we had the first time there, and wanted the opportunity to try something else on the menu and to be able to relax somewhere we felt comfortable.  The restaurant was quiet, and the servers were even more lovely than before, and it was such a great way to wrap up the trip.  I ordered something elaborate that I never would order at home I think it was the rack of lamb?  Along with their ‘salad cart,’ for which this wonderful waiter brings a literal cart to your table with about 10 bowls of marinated-type salads {i.e. calamari salad}, then explains each one and arranges servings of each on your plate.  That man was so kind and so attentive to detail, I would go back to that restaurant just to see him!  

After a long dinner {is there anything better?}, took one final stroll through the streets of Paris, walking past Notre Dame, and through the smaller of the two Seine islands – Île Saint-Louis.  It’s even quieter than Île de la Cité, and mostly residential, with narrow one-way streets, and the most quaint shops, hotels, and cafés.  It was the perfect walk to wrap up this quiet evening. Crossing over the Pont de la Tournelle, back to the left bank, the views of Notre Dame at night really couldn’t be beat.  

When I returned, and people asked me what Paris was like, the first thing I could think to tell them was that it was just as magical as you think it would be.  And no one was surprised.  The thing that I really didn’t get into much was that, once you’ve experienced it, Paris affects you very deeply; it gets inside your soul and is truly a ‘moveable feast,’ as Hemingway said {…’wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’}.  I learned a lot from this trip to Paris, but most of all, I learned that – after so many years of wanting to travel – how important it is to me.  If there’s somewhere you’ve been dying to visit, you should just GO.  Take the trip.  Make it happen.  Because it’s this kind of thing that truly enriches your life, far more than most things we fill our days and our lives with.  I left Paris changed, and since then, I’ve been to many places – places I never thought I would see, places that have also left me a better person.  But regardless of where I go, or where I am each day, part of my heart is always in Paris, and I can’t wait until I return.  

“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.”  ~  A Moveable Feast

 



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