As we did three years ago, Adam and I could not think of a better place to spend our birthdays than in Paris. Disagreeable as it may be for some, its idyllic charm, palpable romance, and seemingly endless list of things to do and places to see make it a no-brainer for us.
We elected to rent an apartment through airbnb rather than stay in a hotel. We’ve had luck with rentals through them in the past and this trip was no exception. Our “host” was very nice and helpful and gave us a list of neighborhood restaurants and museums. He even invited us over for a drink one night and told us a little about his family heritage. You miss out on a couple of luxuries like a clean bathroom every day and concierge, but the extra space and local flavor make up for it.
We stayed in the Marais neighborhood (3rd) and feel in love with the winding streets and adorable shops. We stayed quite close to the old Jewish quarter and couldn’t resist picking up some extra-sweet pastries and schwarma sandwiches one evening. It’s a district I highly recommend visiting, if not staying in.
If I learned anything from my trip to Berlin it’s to always keep an eye out for street art. Paris is an ideal locale for such sport and we spotted quite a few adornments all around the city.
Thursday night we had dinner at Bouillon Racine. It’s an art nouveau brasserie in the 6th and has a great all-encompassing menu. We had foie gras to start, as one certainly should in Paris. But I’m disappointed to report that my swordfish was cooked beyond repair and remained mostly on the plate. Adam’s stuffed suckling pig, however, was as decadent as it sounds. A shared cheese plate capped off dinner and we set off in search of drinks.
We passed by Notre Dame on our way to find refreshments and marveled at its beauty at night. It felt like such a treat to enjoy the facade with only a handful of other patrons. Despite the drizzling rain we persisted long enough to swoon over the mind-bogglingly detailed craftsmanship. Crossing the bridge onto Île Saint Louis we were more or less coerced into Cafe St. Regis. The accordion player serenading us outside nearly ushered us in, along with the ethereal glow in the falling rain. It has everything you want in a bar: smooth subway tiles, dim lighting, an easily navigable bar menu and a secluded table.
Friday morning, at my friend Maggie’s suggestion, we took a walking tour through Paris Walks. This particular tour, titled, “Hemingway’s Paris,” took us through the 5th, or the Latin Quarter. It’s where so many of the famous avant-garde writers worked and lived. It was colder than cold but we really liked seeing the famous haunts and imagining the magic of Paris in the 1920s. Unfortunately, I was too distracted by the cold and interesting tour to take any pictures.
But, I did pull out my camera after we had lunch at La Pré Verre, a delicious spot also in the 5th. We crossed over the Love Lock Bridge (surely not its official name) on the way to the Louvre. We didn’t add to the mighty collection on either railing, but did manage to snap the only picture of the two of us taken on the whole trip!
I had never been to the Louvre before and really enjoyed our three hours there. We made a plan (which is a must) to see Greek and Italian sculpture, Italian paintings (including the one and only…), and Flemish painting. While there I did choose to snap a few photos, which ultimately reminded me of this experience. What are your thoughts on photography in museums?
That evening (my birthday, for those of you playing at home) we went to “our” restaurant. Three years ago, after finishing the punishing and demanding GRE in Geneva, we arrived out of breath and nearly an hour and a half late to Chez Toinette. What ensued was gastronomic bliss to the nth degree and I will never forget the perfection of that evening.
Attempting the impossible, we recreated the evening (minus the test and fashionably late appearance) and were in no way disappointed. Tucked away on a small street in Montmartre, Chez Toinette is run by two brothers and is turning out some of the most authentic French food I can imagine. Above you’ll find a glamour shot of Adam’s rosemary- and honey-roasted duck breast, with my massive lamb shank photobombing in the back. A bottle of red and a half-baked chocolate cake every Applebee’s in the world strives to serve were outstanding additions. As were the snails we shared for starters.
If you are going to Paris please, please go there. Reservations are essential and can only be done by phone, but they speak wonderful English so you will have no trouble. Call me after you go and we’ll just drool over the phone, okay?
Saturday morning we had coffee and croissants at les philosophes, which we completely stumbled upon. It had a very Parisian feel and my only wish was that it would have been warm enough for us to sit outside and people-watch. Otherwise, a nice stop while walking through the 3rd.
Which one of those guys doesn’t fit?
After a molto deliziosa lunch at Presto Fresco in the 1st we headed across town to the Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th. There were lots of joggers and kids playing games, but we were most interested in the intense pétanque games. Again, the cold shooed us away early, but I imagine it’s a glorious place to stay all afternoon in the spring and summer. Next time, next time.
Saturday night we imbibed in the aforementioned schwarma sandwiches before heading over to a friend of a friend’s party. Adam’s sister’s friend has been living in Paris for nearly two years and graciously invited us to hang with her friends. Funnily enough, it was also the hostess’ birthday and we were immediately welcomed into the fold. It was an excellent reminder of how welcoming and warming hospitality can feel (especially when you’re jonsing pretty hard for friends ; )
Sundays prove a bit tricky in Europe. In many countries Sunday is rightly observed as a day of rest, meaning many shops and restaurants are closed. It took a little while to adjust but now I’ve come to appreciate the quiet day and opportunity to relax at home. Although, I do sorely miss being able to do laundry on Sunday…
I happened upon this article, however, and it literally saved the day. A long list of places to go and bakeries, fromageries, restaurants, and more to see on Sundays? Yes please! We brunched at Le Bal Cafe and I am here to tell you it’s a must if you are looking for classic fare with Parisian flair. (see what I did there?) Le Bal also houses a book shop and art gallery, making it an excellent afternoon stop.
Our last big excursion of the weekend was to the Eiffel Tower. I hadn’t seen it since high school and was eager to see her again in all her splendor. In fact, stepping out of the Metro stairwell, the sight of it nearly took my breath away. I suppose I forgot how imposing it can feel. It’s ornate without being gaudy and represents so many ideas I have about Paris. Though, people-watching around the tower may be better than the view itself.
The Italian at the end arrived with a serious entourage and trail of paparazzi weren’t far behind them. I have no clue who he is or if his family is famous but they certainly caused quite the stir. But, with selfie-taking skills like that, can you blame the crowds for being so enthusiastic?
A lasting scene on our way to the train station.
Before hopping on our train we picked up provisions for dinner, including what turned out to be a highly pungent cheese. Shortly after opening it and indulging the gentleman across the aisle exclaimed in frantic French something that roughly translates in sign language to: “If you don’t put that cheese away I’m going to projectile vomit all over this place.” After questioning his French origin (I mean, really!), we put it away and couldn’t help but have a laugh, still thinking that the cheese wasn’t that smelly.
We quickly learned, however, that we had brought a verifiable stink-bomb onto the train. We had simply become immune to it, for each time we accidentally knocked the bag a distinct smell of something rotten and rancid that’s been microwaved beyond mercy met our noses. It seems like such an amateur move and I swear this wasn’t our first train ride. On our way out of the car I swear the look on people’s faces made it clear that a situation akin to Sex Panther had devastated the train car. Apologies all around.
Overall, the weekend was an immense success and as I said earlier, I’m already looking forward to our next visit.
(many thanks to Adam for generously sharing a great deal of his own photos–mostly the black and white ones : )