I love Paris.
The temptingly buttery smells wafting from the bakeries everyday. The beautifully coiffed women strutting out of the salons on each block. The generous embrace of heat offered by a passed-by cafe. The gorgeously fluid French chatter at the open-air markets. The contrast between the smooth, off-white stone of buildings and their blue-gray, window-boxed roofs.
All of this creates the glorious feeling of ancient, modest self-security: we are Paris. Stay a while and enjoy.
I was lucky enough to make a friend’s apartment my own for two weeks in exchange for keeping an eye on their funny feline friend, Minnie. The loft was located about 15 minutes northwest of Paris by train, making it simple to get in and out. The little town was lovely--holiday decorations up in windows, a few delicious bakeries that I frequented daily, and a quiet yet exciting feeling that I wasn't in Kansas anymore.
The first day I was there alone was a Saturday, so I ventured out to the town’s open-air market hoping to find some local produce. The town square was a hubbub of men, women, and children with their rolly-carts filled with fresh goods. Vendors were selling fruit and vegetables, clothing, fish, pharmacy products, cheese, flowers, honey. It was an amped-up version of my beloved San Francisco farmer’s markets. I wandered around for a while, smiling to myself as people greeted each other with kisses and parted ways with “Bonne journée!” Finally, I saw a fruit stand that was selling two kilos of clementines for two euros (a great deal), so I walked up to take my place in line. As I saw the people in front of me ordering quickly and with ease, a little lump began forming in my throat and my palms were feeling a bit damp. Oh god. I’m going to have to speak French.
Now, it’s not that I just realized this rather obvious detail about my trip. I took French in high school for three years and a refresher course in college a few semesters ago. I knew how to conjugate my verbs and pluralize my nouns. But, now...I actually had to use what I’d learned? Impossible.
The pot-bellied, apron-clad vendor with a scruffy mustache bid adieu to the woman in front of me and leered directly at me.
“Que voulez-vous, mademoiselle?” Blank stare.
“Oh. Um. Oui (That’s a word I know.). Um…”
His mustache gave a twitch. “Avez-vous besoin de plus de temps?”
Oh crap. What had I gotten myself into? How had I put myself under so much pressure within the first 24 hours of being there? I wanted to explain that I was jet-lagged and my knee hurt and my hair wasn't doing what it was supposed to and what a lovely mustache he had--anything to keep him from chopping me up with the cleaver he inevitably kept hidden underneath his booth for situations just like this where a crazy little American girl can’t put two words together in French. But then…
“Je prends deux kilos de clémentines, s'il vous plaît.” The words floated out of my mouth without my brain’s permission.
“Ah! Bien sûr! Ils sont délicieux aujourd'hui.” The man’s seemingly sinister mustache from moments ago turned up at the edges into a wide smile as he piled the little orange orbs into a brown paper bag. Blushing, I paid the man, then he raised his finger for me to wait and slipped a perfectly yellow lemon into my hand.
“Pour vous, mademoiselle. Bon week-end!”
I thanked him and my feet forced me towards a clearing in the square, so I could put my newly acquired purchase and gift into my bag. I felt a surge of heat in my chest that rose up to my throat, then my nose, and finally to my eyes which begin to sting with the beginning of tears. Just as one of them started to drop, my hand cupped over my mouth to suppress a giggle; but my hand couldn't do the job--I started laughing out loud to myself, while wiping the tears from my eyes. (What can I say, I’m a woman. I feel things.) I was so relieved that my French hadn't failed me, that the mustachioed man hadn't’t chopped me up to make meat pies, that my whole trip to France wasn't going to be a sham. And I felt so warmed by the man’s kindness. And I felt so proud of myself for just doing it--being in a foreign country on my own, speaking another language, being out of my comfort zone. I was overcome. Thus began my trip to France.
After that experience, I felt at home. My mom joined me a couple days later and we had a lovely time walking through the Marais neighborhood and popping into a sandwich shop we’d been to in 2001 when we were in Paris. We wandered through Saint Germain des Pres and gawked at all the gorgeous little shops and eventually settled at a cafe next to the famous Les Deux Magots and had a glass of wine and people-watched.
Then, my love joined us a few days later and we hit some of the sights. Waiting in line for the Eiffel Tower was much easier with a bit of wine, bread, cheese, and pastries from Rue Cler! There were many museums on our list, but we made it to the Rodin Museum, Musee D’Orsay, the Pompidou, and the Dali Museum. I particularly enjoyed the more interactive exhibits at the Pompidou--a room you step into that’s covered in felt, meaning it doesn’t carry sound; a mini “cave” whose every bulge is outlined in black, making it look flat rather than three-dimensional. I loved wandered through the spooky, yet beautiful Père Lachaise Cemetery. Greats like Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, and Frédéric Chopin are buried there. We sought out Jim Morrison’s grave, but had more fun just exploring aimlessly among the graves and mausoleums which were very ornate.
In between adventures, we stopped for delicious food, wine, tea, and pastries at various cafes and restaurants that we’d looked up. We were, obviously, never disappointed. With a little research, it was easy to find vegetarian options in the city.
The last few days, we stayed in a flat in Montmartre that my mom rented (she’s the best!). We’d gone from an apartment in a little French town to a flat in a Parisian neighborhood. It was glorious. I loved Montmartre--it’s known for the red light district (Moulin Rouge, anyone?), Sacré Cœur (a famous church), and everything in between; but for us, it was home.
The last few days were spent walking around and meeting with friends who were staying in the city as well. It felt so wonderful pretending to be a “local” from our little flat. On New Years Eve, we had a delicious lunch out in our neighborhood, then opened up a bottle of bubbly and started packing to leave early the next morning. Just before midnight, though, we walked up to Sacré Cœur and chanted the countdown to the new year with hundreds of strangers and saw the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle. It wasn’t a huge party. There weren’t fireworks. We didn’t know anyone besides each other. But, as we walked down the cobblestone street back to our “home” for the last time, it was enough. Perfectly enough. Paris was so so good to me and I can’t wait to be back.
Places I loved
- Ladurée is a famous bakery known for their macarons. If nothing else, go for the experience! The shop is right off the Champs-Élysées and the inside feels like the salon of Marie Antoinette--lots of light green and gold and crown molding. I got a gorgeous box of eight macarons: pistachio, vanilla, chocolate with coconut cream, chocolate, coffee, and salted caramel. Coffee was my favorite!
- Angelina is a tearoom known for it's African Hot Chocolate. We waited in line for about 25 minutes to get a seat at this place and weren't sure if it would be worth it. We'd heard about their hot chocolate, but how good could it really be for 8 euros and a long wait? Let me tell you...GOOOOD. It was literally the best hot chocolate I've ever had. It was like liquid gold with a serving of the best whipped cream of my life on top. The whole time, my love and I were just sipping and looking at each other like we were in pain because it was so good.
- Cosi (not like the American chain by the same name)is the sandwich shop my mom and I frequented when we were in Paris in 2001. This place has the most amazing house-baked focaccia bread for it's sandwiches. I would have a sandwich then leave with a loaf of bread. We came back here twice and both times I had a sandwich with roasted tomatoes, arugula, and olive tapenade--to die for. Lots of vegan and vegetarian options here.
- Frenchie was recommended to me on multiple occasions. We waited in line for the winebar for about 30 minutes before they opened and we were the first to be seated! They had a great wine list and all of the food was tapas-style. Although it was pricey and there weren't many vegetarian options, the butternut squash dumplings with sage butter that we had made up for it. I recommend this place for wine and a nice appetizer.
- Cafe Pinson is an adorable little place with tons of vegan and vegetarian options. I believe their specialty is detox foods. My mom and I split a nice salad and a delicious potato gallette! This is a great spot for a healthy, relaxing lunch while walking through le Marais.
- Nanashi is right across from Cafe Pinson in le Marais. It's a cute little "Parisian Bento" spot. Healthy, Asian-inspired foods with a French twist. I had a delicious vegetarian bento with quinoa, a beet gallette, a few types of salad and an Apple-Cinnamon-Pineapple freshly pressed juice. It was really yummy and delicious.
- Tuck Shop reminds me of a brunch spot in San Francisco. It's tiny and rustic with a very cool vibe. Their menu changes daily and has tons of vegetarian options. I ended up taking my order to go because it was busy on a Sunday morning. I got a sandwich with cantal cheese, figs, walnuts, and arugula on great seeded, grainy bread and a fresh pineapple juice with mint. I wish I made it back to this place before it closed over the holidays--it was great!
- Craft Cafe is right near Tuck Shop in a very cool part of town on Canal St. Martin. The cafe itself was very modern and "hipster-esque" just like the area. I needed a refuge from the cold, so I popped in and joined the other young people for a bodum of green tea and some time to read my book. It had a great feel and great music (Jamie Lidell and Mayer Hawthorne, anyone?).
- Rose Bakery is a lovely English-run place that's perfect for breakfast and lunch. Right when you walk in you pass crates full of produce which are organic and locally sourced. I ordered the "Assiettes Legumes" literally meaning the "plate of vegetables." It was a gorgeous bowl of six different vegetarian salads that they'd prepared that day. It was DELICIOUS and filling--just what I was looking for!
- Hotel Amour is right near Rose Bakery in a little side street. We sat in the glass-enclosed terrace surrounded by trees and plants one evening and split a carafe of wine. The environment was really lovely--quiet with lots of cool, young people around. This would be a great place during the day for brunch, but we didn't make it back!
- Marcel was a few doors down from our flat in Montmartre. It's a very cute, American-esque feeling cafe/restaurant. We ended up here a few times for quiet, yummy drinks and snacks, but never for a full meal. I wish we'd come for brunch because it was packed!
- Le Depanneur is another great spot in Montmartre/Pigalle with delicious vegetarian options. I got a quinoa salad with feta and other yummy add-ins that aren't coming to mind right now...They also had some goood guacamole!
- Le Pain Quotidien is in a few spots in the city, but we went to a couple in Montmartre. I'd never heard of this place until I came to Paris, although they're apparently in the US now, too! Oh, well. We had some easy, organic, healthy meals at this place, especially between Christmas and New Years when many of the places left on my list to try were closed for the holidays! They're tartines are really delicious.
- Merci is this gorgeous, modern take on a department store. They have man and women's clothing, furniture and housewares, bedding, skincare, random doo-dads. It was pretty pricey, but nevertheless fun to walk around and find inspiration.
- Pere Lachaise Cemetery (as I mentioned above) is a very cool, spooky place to wander and take photos. It has a ton of history and beautifully ornate gravestones and mausoleums.
- City Pharma is a woman's dream (maybe for men, too). Pharmacies in France sell upscale skin, hair, and beauty products that we can't always get in the states, plus they're mostly paraben-free and preservative-free. The French sure know about skincare! This particular pharmacy is big and has great deals on most of the products. The pharmacists are also trained to help you find exactly what you need.
I had a lot more restaurants and shops on my list to try, but many were closed for my last week there (between Christmas and New Years). To see the full list, check out my Pinterest board "To Do While In Paris!"
HiP Paris Blog helped me so much while I was there. They have a ton of recommendations for anything your heart desires, whether it be date ideas, food rec's, or events going on. I highly recommend checking their website out!