While we have thoroughly enjoyed vacationing in other European countries as well as the United States, our first trip to Paris in 2012 exceeded our expectations and we made plans to return “some day.” Well that day came last month and we spent 2 weeks enjoying everything the City of Lights had to offer, including its museums, churches and gardens. But when we planned this year’s trip, we kept our daily itinerary to one major attraction, making sure to give ourselves enough flexibility to add or subtract places to see and plenty of time to explore the parts of Paris that weren’t in any guide books.
We enjoyed revisiting the Louvre and D’Orsay Museums, as well as the restaurant “Angelina’s” which shares my name and has the best hot chocolate we’ve ever tasted. Traveling by train to Versailles and Chartres were adventures we enjoyed and visiting the Bagatelle Rose Garden in the western part of Paris was high on our list. (Stay tuned for upcoming blogs.) But what added to the enjoyment of this trip was the free time we built in to wander the neighborhoods and stroll the gardens to see how Parisians lived in what we find to be one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world.
We returned to the Hotel Le Six, a small boutique hotel in the 6th arrondissement in the Montparnasse section on the Left Bank. It’s centrally located, less than a block away from the Boulevard Montparnasse which offers a wide choice of restaurants, bistros and cafes. Plus it was only a few minutes walk from several metro stops, bus stops and even a train station which made getting around Paris easy. We used the Paris Visite pass which allowed unlimited use of transportation and after a few days we were using the metro system to quickly travel from one part of Paris to another.
Since there is no shortage of restaurants in Paris, we decided not to eat in the same place twice. We broke that promise only once and returned to Invictus for our final night because our first meal there was so memorable. Invictus, a small restaurant with 12 tables, is owned by Christophe Chabanel, a former rugby player who played in South Africa for a number of years before returning to Paris, hence the name of the restaurant. He greets his guests, explains the menu in English or French, suggests wines and makes everyone feel welcome. He also assured us that he could adjust any of his meals to be gluten free. I ordered the lamb chops which were the best I have ever tasted and Mike enjoyed his entrecote steak followed by creme brulee for dessert. After sampling creme brulee in various restaurants Mike declared Invictus’ was the best.
There were other memorable French restaurants and we did not have a bad meal anywhere. Paris is full of small, intimate restaurants like Invictus, located discreetly on side streets, with limited menus featuring excellent food. Night after night we feasted on entrees like crispy boneless duck, tender veal stew and chateaubriand, all accompanied by an array of French red wine.
For evenings after we had indulged in late lunches, we took advantage of the creperies on Rue Montparnasse, a narrow street that we refer to as “Crepe Alley” a few blocks away from our hotel. Creperies line both sides of the street and, to our surprise, in addition to wheat crepes all offered galettes — gluten free crepes made of buckwheat that could be filled with a wide array of ingredients. Mike especially liked the one with ham, cheese and egg.
One place that I just had to go to was Les Deux Magot, a cafe frequented in the 20’s by Ernest Hemingway and other well-known writers and artists. It was doing a brisk business when we arrived at 2 PM but we were seated at one of the small round tables along the sidewalk and I ordered my favorite Parisian lunch: a jambon et fromage baguette (ham and cheese). We sat and people-watched imagining what it was like back in Hemingway’s day.
While we enjoyed our dining experiences in Paris as well as visits to various museums, churches and gardens, what we enjoyed just as much was meandering around the city in order to savor the flavor of this fascinating city. Several times we took the Metro to the Ile de la Cité area, where Notre Dame Cathedral is located, and strolled along the Seine, stopping at the bouquinistes who have their stalls set up along each side of the river. Bouquinistes are licensed vendors and are allocated a pre-determined amount of space for their green painted boxes. These green boxes open up to display shelves with their merchandise and when closed the green boxes are folded up and locked. We had fun perusing the old posters and books (in French) that were mixed in with the countless souvenirs as well as some original art. We took long walks along the Seine and over the bridges that connect the Left and Right Banks, stopping to watch the tour boats taking tourists along the river to see the many sights, including the Eiffel Tower.
On one of our free days, a Saturday, we strolled through Luxembourg Gardens to find the park filled with Parisians, both young and old. There were men and women playing serious bocce, a couple of tables of men gathered around a very lively game of chess, children playing soccer, as well as people basking in the sunshine or reading under the trees that surrounded flower gardens. Parisians love their parks and gardens in the city because they don’t have backyards where they can otherwise enjoy outside activities.
Another day we chose to go to the Père-Lachaise Cemetery, a very old cemetery in Paris. The Père-Lachaise is the resting place for well-known celebrities such as Edith Piaf, Chopin, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, and even Jim Morrison. It was impressive and a little eerie with over 100 acres of tombs and monuments so close together, there was hardly room to walk between one and the other. There was also an area with monuments honoring the French who had died in the WW II French Resistance and powerful remembrances of Nazi Concentration camps.
When we made our way back to the hotel late in the afternoon after a day of sightseeing, we detoured onto side streets and found small shops and markets. We shopped like Parisians — got cheese at the fromagerie, bread at the boulangerie, and wine at the local wine shop. We’d take our purchases home (back to Le Six which had become our home away from home) and be greeted by the staff who always asked about our day. After chatting for a while and getting recommendations for dinner, we’d return to our room where we would slice the cheese, pour some wine, put up our feet, and come to the conclusion that this was the life.
Now that we’re home, we ask ourselves what was the best part of our trip to Paris. It’s hard to pinpoint just one part. We’ve come to realize that a really good trip is more than the sum of its parts — it’s the whole experience melded together into an incredible adventure and the memories only get better with time.