Christmas Day 2018 I was surprised by Mr P with a boarding pass for a flight from Manchester to Paris on April 1st 2019. I cried, not because the boarding pass couldn’t possibly be real, because for the second year in the row we had made the decision we were not doing Christmas presents; for the second year in a row I did receive a Christmas present, for the second year in a row Mr P did not. We do not spend Christmas Day together, choosing to spend the day with respective families but I am entering into a completely different type of post.
I can’t really think of anything nicer than a surprise trip to Paris apart from a surprise trip to Paris where your best friend MB, had also been surprised on the same Christmas Day, with the same boarding pass (albeit hers said from Glasgow) and we would be meeting in Paris as a four ready to spend some quality time together. The boys did good.
Where we stayed; The Apartment; The Area
I am a hotel girl, I love love love hotels. I can spend one night in a good hotel and feel like I have been away for a week. I love the feel of a hotel room, I love meeting in the hotel bar before you go out and I love the nightcap before you retire (fall in) to bed. I want to order room service and realise that the m&m’s I ate last night from the minibar cost more than my flight. A hotel it was going to be, until we started looking and we stumbled upon an apartment, just the one apartment in particular, Exclusive Loft in Le Marais, on booking.com. Once we had seen this, we couldn’t quite get it out of our head, it was booked.
We were greeted by our host at the apartment, which was convenient and comforting. The host also adjusted the check in and check out times as best as they could to suit our flight times; this way we had more time to enjoy our break. We could not believe the location, bang smack in the middle of Le Marais, in the 4th arrondissement. Le Marais is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Paris but is fast becoming one of the most fashionable. The streets surrounding the apartment were steeped in history, smells of food and wine, and fashion – the majority of shops surrounding our apartment were selling very pretty items from jewelry to beautiful cloths, materials and bags, but 90% of them were for trade customers only; very interesting if you are a buyer.
The apartment itself was just wonderful. The front door opened on to a stylish kitchen and living area. The pictures we looked at on booking.com literally are exactly as the apartment looks in real life. There was a place to sit and relax, peruse one of the many books on offer. There was a dining table for the four of us to sit at. This was actually one of my favourite things and a serious selling point for us. We all wanted to relax as well as see Paris. The ability to get up when we wanted, without the pressure of having to organise the night before what time we wanted to meet for breakfast. The ease of this made our trip all the more pleasurable. As it went in the mornings, everybody got up exactly when they wanted. On the first morning I very much enjoyed five minutes quiet time just me and my coffee(freshly made in the fancy Nespresso coffee machine) on the sophisticated sofa, enjoying the warm bask of the feeling that I was in Paris. From that first morning and the continuing two, one of the boys went to the local boulangerie on the corner for croissants, pastries and baguettes.
The table was set, the coffee was made, the juice poured and we sat and ate and talked and laughed. For me this was a real-life point, a real memory; when something so normal is elevated it makes your soul feel good. We would then all get ready in our own calm time and by midday we would be out pounding the Paris streets, ready for the next sight, the next delicious food and definitely the next drink.
After getting organised in our own bedrooms with wardrobe space, hangers, beautiful interiors, wonderful bathrooms. I will stop here and appreciate the bathrooms for a moment, they were both a great size and wonderfully decorated. Privacy with bathrooms is high on my life necessity list. Two of our party were particularly excited about one element of the bathrooms – the Dyson hairdryer. I wouldn’t like to say that it was the highlight of the break for MB, but think it was going to be hard for her considering it had reached such dizzy heights a matter of hours into our visit to Paris.
What we ate
Anyway, after we had ooohed and aaaahed at the marvellous apartment we would call home for the next 3 nights and four days. We set out to explore. First, we were hungry and thirsty and not necessarily in that order.
Our first port was about a 3-minute walk from the apartment to a very busy cross roads, that had at the heart of it a cafe Les Art & Metiers that currently had the sun beaming down on it. Luck was on our side, as we were being sent messages from home of the turn in the weather and possible snow in April, we managed to find ourselves seated at a table on the pavement, being warmed by the glorious sun.
It didn’t take us long to decide that the drinks were to be champagne and beer, and the food order was to be four Croque Madames, we decided Madames over Monsieurs as we were famished, we wanted something to soak up the champagne and the beer, and we wanted sustenance for our ongoing afternoons stroll in Paris.
The champagne was French, crisp and cold, the beer was large, cold and with perfect fizz. The Croque Madame was delicious, fresh, comforting and carb loaded. The waiter was attentive and perfectly Parisian. We could not have asked for a better first afternoon in Paris.
If you were to ask the boys what was their favourite day or memory of the trip they would both say the Tuesday late afternoon into Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, we had spent the afternoon on the Champs Élysées, ate patisserie at Pierre Hermé the Pierre Hermé x L’occitane to be precise. The patisserie was beautiful and delicious.
For us, Champs Élysées lacked the warmth that we had found elsewhere in Paris, if you are looking for large designer boutiques this is the place for you.
Getting off the boat, we wandered a little looking at the little stalls that line the side of the river, selling books and art. I will be haunted by the old copy of the Hunchback of Notre Dame for €80, that I never picked up, we live and we learn.
I was desperate for a comfort break and I could tell that the boys were beginning to count the hours from the last time they had indulged in a beverage. I suggested that we pop in to the lovely, very Parisian looking bar, on the corner at the end of the bridge directly across the river from Notre Dame. La Frégate. As soon as we entered the bar, we all fell a little bit in love, with the dark wood, red leather, and bustling waiters, it was the Parisian bar we had been waiting for. We managed to get a table for four right in a corner by the window. The waiter was quick to attend and we ordered red wine and a cheese board for the girls, beers and Croque Monsieurs’ for the guys. As our drinks arrived, we looked outside and the heavens had opened, the rain was literally bouncing off the ground as we watched Parisians and tourists alike run for cover. Serendipitously we had decided to enter that bar at that time because within ten minutes every spare seat they had, had been taken by slightly soggy people. One glass of wine, turned into another. The food was delicious and typical of what we wanted to find in our Parisian bar, the bread was fresh and delicious, the cheese was strong and moreish and the red wine was intoxicating.
Second comfort break in and us girls arrived back at the table expecting to leave when it seemed the waiter and the boys were conspiring against us, or simply with each other, to stay and enjoy the atmosphere we found ourselves in. Our waiter was attentive and definitely made us feel at home, regaling us with tales from Paris to Brazil, and he also kept us happy with a constant feed of warm cheese Choux buns. I cannot tell you how good these were, little bites of fluffy cheesy heaven. There is no pictorial evidence of these little bits of heaven, so they or may not have existed, either that or as we were so well lubricated they never lasted very long in their basket. Needless to say we never made it inside Notre Dame to visit, instead we sat in the bar, talking, drinking, eating and laughing. Four friends catching up, spending time together, listening and responding. Did I mention the laughing? Literally thought we were the funniest people in the place. Eventually we left at 10.30pm after arriving around 5 pm. We walked back to our apartment (probably more staggered than walked) but not before we stood in front of Notre Dame complete in slightly drunken awe. The photos that accompanied this of three of my favourite people posing on demand in front of the beautifully lit monumental building are definitely among my favourite photos ever; since our trip I have looked at them fondly, not before laughing, at the sheer splendidness of that evening.
In Montmartre, we settled into another corner table, this time a pavement table, in the sun; this time the complimentary blankets were greatly received and wrapped around our legs. We ordered small beers (to take the edge of the night before), French onion soup, a cheese burger and moules mariniere – a few more boxes ticked on our Parisian adventure. I never took the name of this restaurant, as we were still in a hungover just seen Sacré Coeur haze, so if anybody would be kind enough to tell me the name of the red restaurant on the right hand said of the square walking down from Sacré Coeur I would be grateful. If you go and see this restaurant, get the French onion soup or the moules.
Our last day also fell on MB’s darling husband, Mr B’s birthday so we planned a slightly more birthday-ish brunch than we had the other days – he would have been happy with nothing, which makes it all the more enjoyable to do in my opinion. Think cake, cards, sweets and the first choice of croissant. Anyway, we had until about 5pm that day to see and do what we wanted, so we decided on more walking which took us to a lovely lunch at the Louvre. The weather that day was one of those days where if you got a spot in the sun, then you could bask in it as it warmed you to your bones, if you got a spot in the shade then those aforementioned bones were positively jittering. It just so happened the one of Louvre restaurants has a balcony, The Cafe Marly, that is very well enclosed within the stone arches and its supporting pillars. The outside tables are nestled either in front of the balustrade or between the pillars.
It had socially set tables with comfy cushioned chairs; proper china, silverware and crystal wine glasses. You can have your lunch whilst gazing over at the awesomeness of the Louvre and all the building has to offer. The food was delicious for half of us and small for the other half, the other half particularly enjoyed the cocktails. I think the salads are a very good order, the Salad Nicoise was fresh, salty and delicious with the perfect egg on top. The Chicken Ceaser Salad also went down well.
There are definitely worse spots to sit and take in the majesty of Paris, yet also people watch at the ordinary happening around you as every tourist bustles to get the perfect photo. It was the perfect Paris lunch to top our few days, before we headed back to the airport.
What we did
As our chosen mode of transport was by foot, it was repeatedly commented that it was hard to get over the scale of the buildings both in their intricate detail and decoration, but, also their size. The boys could not get over the size of the Louvre , without even going inside and getting lost along its halls. Tuileries Garden in the beautiful April sun, which was reaching 21 degrees at this point was full of lovers kissing on benches (this happens a lot in Paris), co-workers having picnics on the grass, families enjoying time in the warm open air all the while tourists are buzzing round taking as many pictures with selfie sticks as they possibly can. Continuing our walk along the Seine it became even more apparent how good people are at using this city. There are locals in suits, dangling their feet over the riverbank with their bottles of wine and plastic cups enjoying an after work drink, there are many many runners up and down the Seine making you wish you yourself were a runner but then you don’t have the Seine to run on every day, and there is us walking, chatting, looking and soaking up every last ounce of sun and Paris river air. After stopping for another drink, at one of the many bars that appear along the Seine and the all important comfort breaks, we headed to the Eiffel Tower , who had been gazing down at us during our last twenty minutes or so of walking along the Seine.
Mr B took it upon himself to be our personal navigation system, although at this point it felt like he was playing chase the Eiffel Tower. Either way he found us the best route in, I have been to the Eiffel Tower before, but, previously I approached from the river side through the amusements and lucky lucky men. This time by chasing the Eiffel Tower Mr B had found the perfect side street to approach the Eiffel Tower, as if she was born out of the streets and grew into the sky.
Where she had always belonged but looked like nothing else around, a place that allowed her to be seen as majestic as she is. I know a lot of people, particularly Parisians would disagree, but I personally can’t quite get over the engineering feat, and I think she is beautiful. I also like sparkly things and when she lights up at night, she blows my mind.
We all decided we were going to summit, this was something I previously did not do. My last experience was a lift to the restaurant, a lovely dining experience and back down again. I have to admit this time certainly took my breath away. After queueing for some time, we made it to our turn in the lift. The first lift goes up one of the legs, it had not occurred to me at this point that even the first level was quite high and the lift is perpendicular and could send someone quite queasy. Needless to say by the time I got out the first lift, I was feeling weird and when I looked at the mid-height bar that was between the people and the great outdoors it seemed my legs did not want to move. The other three in the party were absolutely fine and marched on ahead to get the next lift to the summit, stating we can look from this view on our way back down. I could not be the party pooper nor could I listen to them regale of the views they saw from up there, and the ‘you should have seen it’ ‘you would have loved it’ ‘I wish you had been there’ and so on and so on. So up they, and I, went.
The summit lift, was the longest lift I have ever been in, and the noisiest, every clunk I envisioned the worst possible things. As my panic rose, the lift driver (would they be called a driver? an attendant? they seemed more important than an attendant) announced that we are at the summit. We stepped out and the first thing that hit me was the air, we had been lucky and it had been a beautiful day, the temperature had dropped this evening, it was still only April after all, but the air up here was clear, crisp and you were able to take in the deepest breath. For some of us this deepest breath was more important than for others. The picture and the presence of Paris was immense.
We arrived at the summit just after dusk, when the sun had just disappeared for the day so we saw Paris come alive by lights, for a magpie like me it took me to a very happy place.
Talking of magpies, I have a serious gypsy gene that draws me to every sparkly, some would say tacky, I would say kitsch souvenir, that on after exiting the gates I have to succumb to one of the lucky lucky men, for a light up Eiffel tower. Now currently looking fabulous in our home.
With tired legs and hungry tummies we decided we were too tired to walk home, the 16500 steps we had done that day had been enough. We walked towards the taxis when a little fairy light covered tuk tuk stood out to us and before we could say Bonjour Monsieur we found ourselves hurtling around Paris, listening to French opera music, lit by blue fairy lights and holding on for dear life.
That little tuk tuk took us directly to the end of the little street our apartment was on, and stopped outside what turned out to be a wonderful café providing delicious burgers and fries that the boys ordered and brought back for us to eat with a glass of fizz, on the sofa watching Netflix after exhausting ourselves on our first day in Paris.
The morning after the night before (the best bar in Paris) gave us a slightly slower start, we headed on foot from Le Marais to Montmartre. We found going on foot everywhere was, yes tiring, but you got to see parts of the city you would not have necessarily seen otherwise. Streets that held beautiful buildings that housed people’s homes, each area holding its own businesses and much different to the next. On the walk to Montmartre we knew we were getting close as the streets became steeper and steeper until we arrived at one of the staircases that leads to the Sacré Coeur, with a big inhale in and best foot forward we climbed the stairs.
Yes, I want you to think we were amazing for doing this with a hangover. I had never visited Sacré Coeur before, I had often dreamed of the soul and the spirituality, and it did not disappoint. Being an old romantic I could not wait to see what Sacré Coeur and the bohemian Montmartre had to offer. Everything about Sacré Coeur fills the soul. From the views that look out over the whole of Paris, the magnificent building itself from the outside, to the ethereal beauty inside. I am not a particularly religious person but I find a calmness and stillness that comes from a religious building very intoxicating. None more so now than Sacré Coeur. I enjoy and look forward to the moment you light a candle, and take a moment to think of the thing that comes to your mind, whether that be a loved one, a wish, a loss or a dream; to take pause is a wonderful thing to do.
After drinking in all the atmosphere Sacré Coeur had to offer, we headed to the cobbled streets of Montmartre. We turned a corner and there was a group of football supporters clinking beers and chanting football songs. There were kids running around the square, artists lining the street, with shop owners and waiters chatting and laughing, all whilst trying to barter you into their shop, restaurant or to paint you. Everything you would expect. We took it all in, perused the shops, buying the obligatory tea towels, perfect Lautrec prints, a snow globe (I love a snow globe) and a little wind up music box that I completely fell in love with. This little box, when wound, plays La Vie En Rose and can transport me right back that square. This magpie never leaves empty handed.
On the same day, once we had changed into our glad rags we were picked up by our taxi and swept through the crazy busy Parisian streets back towards Montmartre for the Moulin Rouge. The iconic windmill, not as large as in my imagination, draws you in to the Moulin Rouge doors.
The decor is gorgeous, like you have stepped into a 1940’s movie set, the lush red velvet enhancing the gold facades to create an atmosphere of glamour and grandeur.
The queuing to get in, held back by big burly bouncers all dressed in black slightly takes away from the glamour but all is forgotten once you are inside. The tables are packed in and the dinner service is pleasant, the food tasty and better than average, but fast and attentive is putting it better than abrupt. But you do not come to the Moulin Rouge for the culinary experience. We were well looked after, kept watered and were ready for the show when the time arrived. The show itself is as sparkly, camp and boobtastic as you would expect. The dancers, both female and male, are beautiful and talented, the other performers all amaze and draw gasps from the crowd. It may not be the Baz Luhrman spectacular but it is a spectacle and very entertaining. If you can sit back, enjoy the entertainment and the beauty then please go.
How we got there and got around
The guys had booked us flights with Air France and it could not have been more perfect as we were due to land in Paris within twenty minutes of each other. The only downside for us was we actually flew out with Fly Be in conjunction with Air France , the plane was smaller than we thought, therefore, the carry on luggage we had did not fit, our luggage ended up in the hold. I will state at this point I have vowed to check in my luggage at all times now, the stress of fitting all of my toiletries into one of those teeny tiny little plastic bags to just be pulled aside for my case to be gone through is just an anxiety step to far from me, very pleased for the security but not for me. So its checked in luggage for me. The flights were pleasant and got us to where we needed to be.
We had pre-booked a taxi, but after a multi-lingual argument between myself, the taxi driver and his boss on the phone, the pre-booked taxi left without us in it. I had been told to book the taxi through booking.com, as it saves time at the airport, you know your transfer is sorted and it is often cheaper. Obviously in this instance it did not work out. I got half of my money back, I am still arguing about the other half. So read the small print before you think it is a good idea.
Anyway, we were soon on our way in a very nice airport taxi, that actually ended up cheaper than the pre-booked taxi, and got us directly to our front door. All’s well that ends well. Those of you who have been to Paris before will know how far away Charles De Gaulle airport is from Paris City Centre. On a good day in a car this would take at least thirty-five minutes, when I was first in Paris five or six years ago it took about forty minutes, this time the traffic was immense. It took one hour and fifteen minutes for us to get to our apartment. The good thing is the airport taxis are flat rate, so the thirty-five-minute journey would cost the same as the seventy-five-minute journey.
Apart from the taxi that took us back to the airport, we used one further taxi company on the night we went to the Moulin Rouge, G7 taxi, the service was online, quick, the driver was lovely and took us through the very busy Paris roads to the Moulin Rouge. There are many boat tours and buses that pootle up and down the Seine all day everyday, we chose the BatoBus as our means of travel for one day, it cost €17 each, and we could hop on and off as many times as we liked, as it sailed from Jardin Des Plantes down to the Eiffel tower and back again. Apart from that we walked, we walked and we walked some more. For us this was the best way for doubling up sight seeing and commuting. The average street in Paris is a sight in itself, you do not always have to go to the tourist hotspots.
If you see a little tuk tuk with blue fairy lights, belting out opera – get in, enjoy the ride and hold on tight.
Paris for me is…….
Thomas Jefferson said “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life”. To me this sums up Paris, Parisians are mingled in their everyday life among the tourists who are seeing all these things for the first time, I believe both are as equally in awe of this beautiful city.
The architecture in Paris really does take your breath away. You could choose to not go and see any of the tourist sites and you would still be blown away with the architecture, the beauty and the history. It’s the very ordinary in the extraordinary. The city is there to be used, seen, lived in and enjoyed. If you haven’t been, yes take your wallet, but please go. Paris I love you and I will see you soon.
Paris is always a Good Idea – Audrey Hepburn