Saturday, April 27, 2013

Au Revoir, Paris

Our second day in Paris was Easter Sunday. The crowds were unimaginable. We walked along the Champs-Elysees along with hundreds of other tourists. Then we made our way to the Louvre. We opted not to go inside due to the crowds and our time restriction but we did see the Louvre Pyramid. Admittedly, all I really know about the Louvre is that it houses the Mona Lisa. What surprised me the most is how large the complex is. It seems to go on forever. It would take days to see everything!

The Paris I was really itching to see was the Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Not so many years ago, it was the haunt of Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. Just before our trip I read a book called The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter. The author is an expat who lives in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood and his commentary takes readers back to a time when Hemingway sat outside of Les Deux Magots cafe, sipping a cocktail while thinking about writing A Moveable Feast. The book is a good read but the travelers' tips at the end are priceless. They will save you money in Paris, to be sure.

Cafe di Flore is another famous cafe in the neighborhood. This cafe and Les Deux Magots are often considered rivals. Both boasted an impressive, elite clientele of literary geniuses and philosophers. They are
steps away from each other. I felt the need to go to both so we had lunch at Cafe di Flore and then sipped wine outside at Les Deux Magots. We managed to see Paris on the cheap, and this lunch and wine were the most expensive things we did. I knew that we were paying tourist prices but, like many others there, I was trying to soak up some literary genius by hopefully perching myself exactly where Fitzgerald or Hemingway once sat. My husband gamely complied and to his credit, didn't even blink when we were presented with the astronomical bill for two glasses of wine and some peanuts.

Next we decided to leave our mark on Paris at the Passerelle des Arts. This pedestrian bridge crosses the Seine River and thousands of padlocks with lovers' initials adorn the fence. You can purchase a cheap padlock from street vendors and then find an empty spot (difficult task) to attach your declaration of undying love. Again, a very touristy thing to do but also a perfect way to contribute to the whole "City of Love" vibe. It's a lot of fun to read the other padlocks and see names like Ludwig and Helga, knowing that people from all over the world have been standing right where you are, padlocking their names to a fence in Paris, vowing to return someday to see it still fixed there for all the world to see.

Our next stop was Notre Dame. Once again we were reminded how crazy it was to visit Paris on a holiday, and especially to visit Notre Dame on Easter Sunday. I don't know how many people were lined up outside of the cathedral but it really did appear to be thousands. We knew there was no chance of us going inside so we walked around the perimeter and commented about how beautiful and grand it all was.

Then we decided we'd had enough of our whirlwind tour. We felt as if we'd been almost everywhere worth seeing on your first trip to Paris, especially since we had only two days. We'd walked miles and miles, shouldering past throngs of tourists and bundling up against the cold. We both knew what time it was: pub time.

We consulted our guidebook and headed back to Saint Germain-des-Pres for a drink or two. I have already forgotten the name of the place we were going but it doesn't matter anyway because we never made it. When we reached the location, there was a sign indicating that it had moved. A crudely-drawn map showed us where to go and we found the "new and bigger" location about five minutes away-- closed for Easter Sunday. We didn't let our spirits sink too much because Le Pub beckoned to us from down the street. And I'm not joking about the name; it really is called Le Pub.

It was around 3pm so we were just about the only people there. We saddled up to the bar and ordered some fine Belgian beers (Grimbergen Blanche). Black and green olives and pretzels were complimentary and they were refilled every time our beers were... which was several times. My husband ordered some absinthe, just to clinch the experience. The bartender artfully prepared the absinthe and we felt truly hip. At one point my husband asked what time Happy Hour began and the bartender informed us we still had an hour. We shrugged and ordered more beers anyway. An hour hadn't passed by the time we needed the next rounds but the bartender plunked them down in front of us and with a wink and subtle smile as he said, "Now, it  is Happy Hour!" And you know what? He did give us Happy Hour prices for those beers. Who says the French are rude to tourists?!

We finally decided to pull ourselves away (reluctantly) from Le Pub because we had a long walk back to the hotel. Un Dimanche a Paris (A Sunday in Paris) is a chocolate shop close to Le Pub. We purchased a sampler set of 12 delicious truffles for dessert. They were the best truffles I've ever tasted!

We walked through the Louvre once more, heading toward the towering Eiffel growing larger and larger as we made our way. We decided to stop off at a grocery store to buy bread, cheese, olives, meats, grapes, and wine for a dinner on the rooftop of our hotel. It was the perfect way to end our Paris vacation: sipping wine over the top of the city, with the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower sparkling in front of us. 

Eventually the cold became too much for us to ignore and we began clearing away our dinner to go back down to the room. As we reached the stairs, I looked back for one last glimpse at the tower and suddenly it began sparkling and the lights changed colors. I yelled for my husband to come back because I was worried it would stop as fast as it began. Luckily for us, the light show went on for a long time and we held hands, mesmerized by the beauty of it all. It was a perfect moment. 

Did I fall in love with Paris? Oui! I can't wait to return. Next time we'll be able to enter some of the museums and see things we missed. The city is HUGE! I don't know why that surprised me. I think we did a good job with the time we had and I wouldn't change anything about my first time in Paris. 

It is true that Paris is an expensive city but there are ways to make it affordable. We didn't dine at a Michelin restaurant but I doubt any of those restaurants have the views we enjoyed eating our pizza in Montmarte and our baguettes on our hotel's rooftop. Just keep that in mind.

So go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and everything else important we missed. But make sure to leave your love lock on the bridge, have a cheap picnic somewhere with a nice view, and definitely go to Le Pub and order one or four Grimbergen Blanches. And top it off with some chocolate from Un Dimanche a Paris. 

Au revoir, Paris. But hopefully not for long.

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