15 April 2012

European Vacation: Paris

Paris—one of my favourite cities in the world. During my recent vacation, we left Belgium and drove to Paris where we spent a couple of days exploring the City of Lights.

We stayed in the Marais at the Hôtel Jeanne d’Arc (website here), which is perfectly situated for a base camp. Except for one Metro ride we walked everywhere, and the Marais was in the middle of everything. The neighbourhood is also filled with loads of good shops and food, and we took advantage of both. 

Best falafel ever.

We had what must be the best falafel I’ve ever eaten at L’As du Fallafel, which is located on rue des Rosiers, the main thoroughfare of the historic Jewish quarter.


As for shopping, we went into all types of stores including the tiny Au Petit Bonheur la Chance, filled with everything vintage from latte bowls to metal letters, À Chacun son Image, where you can purchase wonderful old black and white photographs of anonymous Parisians (I could have stayed there for hours), and Repetto whose rainbow circle of ballets had my heart skipping a beat but I somehow resisted making a purchase (the reminder of how many pairs of ballets I already own helped).

Notre Dame

Leaving the Marais, we walked over to Île Saint-Louis (or Ice Cream Island as we dubbed it; everyone seemed to have a cone in their hand) and followed along the Seine with Notre Dame looming in the distance. Heading over to the 5th arrondissement we stopped by Shakespeare and Company where I once slept upstairs many, many years ago on my first visit to Paris. The place had been on my mind recently with the passing in December of its owner, George Whitman, at the age of 98. He was a truly unique individual who had been kind to me when I stayed there (he made me dinner one night and let me feed his cat).


In grad school my field of study was the Lost Generation and so I cannot help but see Paris through 1920s eyes. For that reason, we headed over to the rue de l'Odéon to see the site of the original Shakespeare and Company run by Sylvia Beach who was the first to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 and had dinner at Les Deux Magots where I purchased a small cendrier (ashtray) to take home before walking up the hill to the Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, the church featured in Midnight in Paris (alas no car stopped to pick us up and take us to a party with Hemingway).

Montmartre Cemetery

Sacré-Cœur Basilica

The next day we walked to Montmartre, stopping on the way to have breakfast at Rose Bakery before tackling the walk up to Sacré-Cœur. We visited Montmartre Cemetery and wandered along the streets, picking out apartment buildings where we would like to live (a girl can dream) and peaked into some small gardens. Everything was so charming. Until you got up to the church and then it was tourist chaos but still, Sacré-Cœur is beautiful and the view is amazing even on a smoggy day.

We ended our visit with a boat ride on the Seine (boats seemed to be a theme of this trip), which I had never done before. It was a nice way to relax after walking all day and to see the city from a different angle.

No matter how many times I visit Paris, I always find it fascinating. I guess it's the details—rooftops, flowers in a bucket, bookstands on the quay, a bright red car, a partial face that looks like Charlie Chaplin peeping out from a wall. All these small parts that together make Paris the city it is.

Two days later I was on a plane back to New York. I can't wait to return.

Photos by Michele.

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