Now where was I? Oh, right…Paris.
The Seine was an unflattering shade of murky brown, spilling over its banks to bury roadways, trees, and its typically pedestrian-laden banks. The Louvre was closed, the rain was still falling, and it was a balmy mid-50-something degrees outside. Such was the state of Paris when we hopped off our replacement train (see: France labor strikes) from Amboise. How were we going to enjoy ourselves in this mess?
What a stupid question that I’ve knowingly just asked. We’ve been to Paris before. Maybe you have too, or you’ve caught word about it in movies. I’m partly convinced that people aren’t so much falling in love with each other in Paris as they are falling in love with Paris, and then sharing with those nearest. I’m not trying to steal the romance here, so allow me to elaborate with a few experiences and observations, in no particular order:
- After typical indecision when choosing a restaurant, we walked into a tiny, charming restaurant that sat – at most – 15 patrons. The space quickly filled with sweet-smelling smoke, obscuring our view of the little chalkboard on our table that listed the day’s menu. It was in neatly written, but condensed French, and these English-speakers spent what seemed like 20 minutes as deer in headlights deciding what to order. But the overall mood here quickly dispersed whatever discomfort we felt, as the other diners were clearly enjoying themselves. So we made partially educated guesses, and ordered our courses from a smiling gentleman, whom we soon figured out was running a one-man operation: all service, cooking and cleanup were his responsibility. Instant respect! And I must note that he did all tasks remarkably well. Our meals, including the husband’s sliced, raw beef (oops) and my salad with foie gras (again, unexpected) were excellent. And that sweet-smelling smoke? That’s what happens when the creme brulee is torched 10 feet away…
- It’s rare, though, to be trapped in a room with burning creme when you’re in Paris, or France for that matter. Nearly every restaurant, cafe or bar has a canopy over its portion of the generously-sized Parisian sidewalk, and under that canopy every possible table and chair is squeezed in (all chairs facing out, of course). To linger at your outdoor table while watching pedestrians pass by is quite simply their way. As a person obsessed with being outdoors, this characteristic leaves me hopelessly charmed.
- And even that poor weather didn’t scare the Parisians indoors. We stayed on Ile Saint-Louis, an island on the Seine, where we were indeed surrounded by the river’s angry shade of brown. Wherever and whenever we ventured out, a bridge needed crossed. On Friday evening, Parisians passing by in professional attire stopped to snap pictures of the rising river, and on Saturday morning, cheerful families gathered riverside to do the same.
- We forgot about the poor weather while standing in the Orangerie surrounded by Monet’s Water Lilies. Incredible. Serene. Beautiful. Don’t miss this.
- If you can’t process Paris from the ground, go up. Just go up regardless; 387 steps up the towers of the Notre Dame lead you to views of all directions. The contrast of green trees to aged, gray buildings just shouts of Paris. The Arc de Triomphe, surrounded by an absolutely insane roundabout, offers the same experience. We tried to do this once again, but alas a visit from the South Korean President had ceremoniously shut down the Arc for a bit.
- We wandered off the beaten path for an evening and found a narrow, pedestrian only street closed in by lively restaurants and seemingly undiscovered by tourists (the waiter-in-training called our credit card “exotic”). I’m willing to bet that Paris houses countless other such hidden gems.
- The Eiffel Tower. It is what they say it is. And honestly, you don’t need to suffer through the crowds to the top, because it’s better felt from afar, and preferably when twinkling.
I could go on and on, but I’ll spare the bravest of you who have survived to this point. I’ve heard a lot about Paris from folks who haven’t been there, but thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to learn it by experience that I do, in fact, love Paris.