Say "bonjour" to the city of lights.
I've been, admittedly, putting this post off for a month now. Partly because I got very busy at work, and a largely in the wake of the events a few weeks ago in Paris. It felt trivial at the time to post about my brief 24 hour visit from October right after the attacks. But life must go on, and it's important to see the bright spots after dark times.
We took an 8:35am Eurostar train from St. Pancras to Gare du Nord, the ride taking a little over two and half hours. We bought some Metro tickets, which come out as single tickets per ride and are much smaller than Metro or Oyster cards. After our first ride on Paris' metro to get closer to our hotel, we walked along Rue de Rivoli to the Westin Vendome, where we were staying for the night. It's a very lovely hotel right near the banks of the Seine, the Tuileries, and more importantly, it's a stone's throw from Angelina. While waiting to check in, we had the lunch and the obligatory hot chocolate at Angelina. It is every bit as good as everyone insists. It's deep, delicious thick heaven in a cup. I bought a tin of the powdered version to take home, and it's almost as lovely, but not quite.
After we walked through the Tuileries, which was fairly quiet as it was a Tuesday in Autumn. We walked along the Seine headed towards Notre Dame. Now here's where I learned a rather tricky thing about Paris- if you suddenly have to go the bathroom in touristy areas, well, good luck. I ended up finally finding a small bar that charged 1 Euro for the toilet, but there wasn't exactly a Starbucks or convenience store readily around to use the toilet. So keep that in mind as you stroll across the lovely Seine.
We made a quick pass by Notre Dame, where flocks of tourist snapped pictures of the impressive building. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture as my phone was dying and I had Berthillion on my mind. The streets leading to Berthillion, one of the finest ice cream shops in the world, are lovely and the perfect framing for the utter tragedy of finding Berthillion was closed until mid-November. Luckily, some nearby shops were selling their ice cream, and a cone of strawberry later, I was happy. It is very good and very cold ice cream. We crossed the Seine to the Right Bank so I could stop at every booklover's required Paris stop: Shakespeare & Company.
This English-language bookstore is something of an institution, covered wall to wall in books, books, and more books. I walked away with a short volume on a brief history of Henry VIII's wives and a fictional booked called "Alias, Hook", which was actually quite good. After my literary mission was accomplished, we headed for part two of the day's mission- City Pharma, a legend of its own that's earned the praises of Lisa Eldridge, Ruth Crilly, Caroline Hirons, etc. etc.
And with good reason, it really is a stack-them-high, sell-it-cheap type of pharmacy and sweet baby Caudalie was it packed. Extremely so. But oh my God, so gloriously full of La Roche Posay, Nuxe, Caudalie, and so much more. I wish it had been less crowded so I didn't start feeling anxious inside, but I managed to get quite a good haul of skincare (which is another blog post coming) and let me tell you- Caudalie is in fact cheaper there, even with the exchange rate, than in the US. If you head there, the morning is probably a better time, though I suspect it's always rather busy. But if you love skincare do stop by and check it out.
It started to rain a bit, so we took the bus to the Eiffel Tower, took sight of it like every tourist ever, and then tried to find the right Metro line back to our hotel as my feet were really sore by that point and it was cold with the drizzle. This is where things went a little south as there was some confusion on Metro direction, some frustrated tears on my end, and finally an Uber back to our hotel where I could warm back up and we could figure out dinner. There was a small bistro around the corner called L'ardoise that did a fixed price menu, and it was quite good. I'm not kidding when I say it's small, but it's cozy and the food is delicious. We were really impressed by how many languages the waitress knew as she juggled tables of different nationality. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and to bed.
In the morning we checked out and wandered around, finding one of the fanciest Starbucks ever, and had some breakfast before our tour at Opera Garnier. This is really good tour if you like opera or theater, and the Opera itself is a gorgeous building.
And yes, there is actually a Box No 5 and it is actually marked as belonging to the Opera Ghost. This is a recent thing, as it turns out the French don't quite get the fuss British and American tourists make over it, but in the past years the Opera management figured it out and smartly capitalized on it. You cannot actually book the box right now, but our tour guide, who was fabulous, commented they really should do that and offer a special package because people would spend a lot on it most likely.
After our tour, we headed towards Montemarte with a quick stop at La Cave Gourmand so I could get some beef bourguignon. There was no way I was leaving France without trying it.
It was delicious, and this was a nice little place to eat that wasn't very touristy, reasonably priced, and the food was really good. Once finished, we walked up to Place Du Terre to take in the view, then headed for the Metro and over to the Right Bank so I could stop at Bon Marche and buy some Bourdier butter, which I had heard would redefine how one thought of butter. There's a couple of different flavors, but I chose salted butter, grabbed a baguette, and we headed back to Gare Du Nord to catch our train back to London. We ate some of the bread and butter on the train and yes, the Internet was right, there is butter and then there is Bourdier butter and it is some damn amazing butter.
24 hours is probably not enough to really get a good feel for Paris, but it's a good way to get an idea of it. Having Metro tickets were handy because while absolutely should wander by foot as much as they can, one does get tired after a while. But they also do bike hires around the city, and Paris seems very much a charming place to bicycle around. Were we to go again, I would want to explore the Bastille area more, but were we to go to France again period, I'd actually really like to explore the Alsace region and places like Colmar and Strasbourg, but also Lyon, Provence, and the Riviera. So I'm talking road-trip really.
I do think some travel-related anxiety did dampen my liking of Paris a bit, and unfortunately it's something I can't always control, and while I think my heart was more with London, my stomach is happy to dally with Paris again sometime.