In my never ending quest to travel the world, I often do not end up visiting the same place twice (unless, of course, it is a place with friends or family). It is not really a rule of mine, but more of a practicality, simply a desire to keep visiting new places. For some reason or another, Paris — of course — seems to be the exception. Although I spent two weeks in France as a teenager, I could not resist the idea of seeing how the city (as well as myself) has changed in the last 16 years, especially since it is only a 90-minute plane ride away!
So we booked ourselves a weekend in the Marais neighborhood, also quite close to the neighboring Bastille. Our hotel was eh, okay, nothing to write home about. Even though it was not horrible, and turned out fine for just a weekend, I don’t want to bother even giving you their link because it is not worth it. However, we loved the area — close to the Metro and near by tons of delicious restaurants, cafes and hip bars. In fact, I ate the best salmon of my life — that’s a bold statement coming from a Northwest native, you know — at a restaurant called Le Dôme Bastille.
We had just spent the better part of a chilly evening standing in line at the Eiffel Tower, more than an hour or so on the observation deck on top, and then another hour or so making our way down using the stairs (as a revolt against the long elevator lines) and capturing the 9:30pm sunset. In other words, we didn’t make it to the restaurant until about a quarter to 11pm, we were starving and had no reservations. After repeating a French phrase from my Lonely Planet to the hostess, we were shown to a table and treated to a first class meal. There were no menus available, the day’s dishes were written up on a large chalkboard, which was moved from table to table. Even though we were the last ones to finish up our meals, we were not hurried one bit by the wait staff and were able to savor every bite. Fantastic and yummy and perfect.
In addition to eating, we managed to pack quite a bit into our weekend, mixing some things that I had already seen– Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Louvre — with new stuff — the Catacombs and the exhibitions in the Pompidou Center. The new stuff ended up being my favorite part of the weekend, especially since the crowds at major spots were absolutely atrocious.
If you are looking for something unusual, check out the Catacombs, which are tunnels beneath Paris that were originally used for mining, but when the overcrowded cemeteries started creating unsanitary conditions and spreading disease (around the 18th or 19th century), the bodies were transferred to the tunnels. The bones of over six million Parisians are now housed in the Catacombs and the endless tunnels are stacked with skulls and bones. Super interesting, but definitely not for the faint of heart!
Also a favorite was the Alexander Calder exhibition at the Pompidou Center, featuring his wire toys and sculptures. It was magical, and we were decidedly among the minority of tourists surrounded by mostly locals and their families.
Other amusements included my many failed attempts to resurrect my high school French. My brain definitely knew we were in a foreign country and needed to speak a foreign language, so every time I opened my mouth to say something in French, German came out. Which makes sense, since German is the only foreign language that I actually speak, but a little French would have been nice! Mein Schatz did his best too, with Spanish being the default foreign language rolling off his tongue. We tried to be polite (we thought) and asked everyone, “Parlez-vous anglais?” and were met with a resounding “Non!” every single time. But we managed somehow to get through the weekend with a combination of sign-language, pointing, and our helpful Lonely Planet phrases. Next time though, we are definitely taking a mini-crash course in French beforehand!
So, good times and a lovely way to ring in another year of life. If you haven’t already, check out the zillions of photos over here!