When good Americans die, they go to Paris -Oscar Wilde
If you’ve missed me, it’s because I’m preparing some of my more recent travels for the blog. But I seem to be caught in indecision city. Australia? Seattle? Maybe that weekend in Waikiki? The confusion of what to write here has echoed in the planning for my next trip, a certain birthday coming up in a few months. Brisbane? Indonesia? A bucket list trip to Kathmandu? I want it all.
The very act of going through photographs from past trips feels almost like caffeine coursing through my veins, a heightened sense of smell, of sight allowing me anticipate the next. It’s equal parts torture and nostalgia. Perhaps that’s all travel is for me, going out into the world to execute my plan, looking back fondly later.
Who am I kidding, I love the travel part, too.
So whilst I agonize over Tijuana, Prague or Zeeland, here is the first of a few posts, snaps and snippets from two nights in Paris, which is what I shall call my book of short travel stories some day. (All rights reserved, natch.)
Not everyone in England is lucky to live near an international airport, though most airports in England are. It’s on an island, after all, the North Sea separating it from the continent. And as an American expat, I was always so amazed at how easy and inexpensive it was to fly internationally, the travel time on a flight to Belgium taking less than rush hour traffic through Downtown LA on a Tuesday to Pasadena.
So being in Leicestershire, we have the delightful East Midlands Airport just thirty some odd minutes from our front door. It’s a small facility that used to be an RAF base, Castle Donington to be exact. It does the requisite European short-haul flights and recently even added some long haul to the mix, though I don’t think that will ever stretch to direct flights to LAX. Long of the short of it is if you’re happy for a quick hop to Spain or Paris, you’re in luck.
We chose to do a mid-week trip, thinking the crowds in the French capital may be a little more forgiving in the height of August’s peak season and knowing the locals have mostly skipped town for their summer holidays. We were partially correct, the locals had definitely split town, but the tourists were abundant.
And the nostalgia… The last time I was in Paris I stayed on the right bank in a youth hostel by the Anvers Metro, just in the foothills of romantic Montmartre and the stunning Sacré-Coeur. It was September 2001, just a three days after the 11th. It was an interesting time, with a quiet city going about its business under the watchful eye of soldiers with automatic weapons on high alert. Since then, not much has changed on that respect, though the city was far more vibrant on this visit.
Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant. -Honoré de Balzac
So true, Honoré, and that’s why we stayed at the delightful Hotel le Bellechasse just across the Seine on the left bank. Le Bellechasse is a boutique hotel using its Christian Lacroix designer pedigree to make it stand out in a city full of beautiful design hotels. What made this hotel stand out for us was its location only a few short steps from the Musée D’Orsay, du Louvre and the outdoor cafés of Saint-Germain des Prés. For a two-day trip we didn’t want to travel far to our tourist destinations.
We arrived late on the first night, checking in after ten PM and realizing our desire for dinner was going to go unanswered. That meant early morning hunt for un café et deux croissants. We wandered south toward Rue de Bac Metro in search of caffeine and popped into a little brasserie that served the purpose.
I’d heard somewhere that most of these little cafés and bistros, like pubs in the UK, are chains. That didn’t ruin the charm of standing at the bar with our breakfast cafe au lait. Saying à bientôt, we marched into the nearby Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger to stock up on our continental breakfast. We had a big day ahead of us.
But first… one of my favorite things to do in a city is strolling to find a place to picnic, wandering to a local lunch spot, picking up provisions and dining al fresco. With our fresh croissants in hand, we were on a mission.
The walk from our hotel was gorgeous, bright sun and blue skies with nary a tourist in sight. The Seine shimmered its hello.
Our plan was to check out the queue at the Louvre, so what better place to plan a picnic than at Jardin des Tuileries, Louvre-side?
Flaky pastries consumed, we found where all the tourists were hiding.
Why yes, that is a queue of people snaking around the side of the pyramid, the entrance to the Louvre. Without tickets.
What are they thinking?
I’m not one to judge. The boy and I have a habit of heading to a destination without pre-booking tickets. Maybe it’s the lure of our younger years as seat of the pants travellers. It’s definitely how we’ve managed to miss out on some of the world’s greatest attractions. Like that time we went to New York just after the Statue of Liberty opened and we couldn’t get tickets to the top. Too bad. And the time we went to Paris and didn’t get our Tour Eiffel tix either.
Oh, you mean this trip?
So we weren’t going to miss out on the Louvre. Our hotel concierge gave us a tip of purchasing tickets from the counter in FNAC, a shop that sells electronics slash cultural products (yep, that’s the description, and kind of what it looks like on the inside). We did a little research and discovered the Forum des Halles was the place to go. We designed a further wander through the streets of Paris to the mostly underground des Halles, determined to find something new.
Like a different view of the Louvre.
Or a look down one of the covered arcades of le Palais-Royal, a grand palace that used to be Cardinal Richelieu’s house and was later absorbed by the crown after his death. Now it’s the home of the Ministry of Culture, the National Library and the Constitutional Council. We chose to wander through the arcade adjacent rue de Richelieu alongside the Comedie-Française, one of France’s state-run theatres.
I feel like its worth mentioning at this point that we’d only walked a mere 3 minutes from the entrance to the Louvre. It’s impossible to visit Paris without marvelling at the history literally everywhere.
A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life. -Thomas Jefferson
We kept walking up rue de Richelieu to rue des Petits-Champs, a street originally opened in 1634. That’s where we stumbled upon Galerie Vivienne (Metro: Bourse).
As you can see, Galerie Vivienne is one of Paris’ many covered passages with a purpose. Built in 1823, it’s now filled with boutiques and cafés fit for luxury city centre living. One might say this could be the inspiration for modern-day malls.
If only our malls looked like this.
Upon leaving Galerie Vivienne, we soon stumbled across another Notre-Dame:
Basilica Notre-Dame des Victoires, to be exact.
This little church began its life as part of a convent in 1619. King Louis XIII himself laid the cornerstone. How’s that for pedigree?
Leaving le petit Notre-Dame we made our way toward Forum des Halles via the picturesque back streets…
… past cafés that would not have looked out of place in Amsterdam or Brussels…
… to the under construction entrance to the Forum des Halles.
I took absolutely no photographs in this mainly underground expanse of shopping, cinemas and passageways to the Metro and nearby residences. It’s something out of a science fiction film, so futuristic in its retro design that I knew my sad camera phone would not do it justice, my micro 4/3rds Olympus Pen even worse.
Besides, we had a FNAC to visit and my high school french to exercise.
Bonjour, je voudrais deux billet s’il vous plait, le Louvre. -this girl
And so we walked back.
Did you know that you don’t have to wander through Paris streets to buy tickets and avoid the queue? Just head to the Carrousel du Louvre, another underground shopping mall, literally across the pavement right next door. It even connects to the Louvre by another clever underground passage. Just head downstairs and there are museum passes ready for purchase.
Secrets travel fast in Paris. -Napoleon Bonaparte
Yes, Napoleon, but fast is not the way to see Paris. Stroll, take in, taste. That’s how you experience this city.
Next time I’ll show you there are places in the Louvre where you may actually find yourself blissfully alone.