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Published: December 29th 2015
Vantage point from the Trocadero across the river
If you want food, go to a restaurant; if you want fashion, see a designer; if you want art, visit a museum; but when you need all three, come to Paris. It's clear the French have it down pat with regards to eating, so much so they come off as snobs. But can you blame them when the modern concept of a restaurant with menus, tablecloths, and waiters originated here? Or that the Holy Bible of pretentious dining, the Michelin Guide
, awarded Paris the second most 3-starred restaurants in the world, trailing only Tokyo? Furthermore, this city is part of the fashion industry's Trifecta along with New York and Milan--the Brits would argue that London should be thrown in as well. It's home to the world's largest cosmetic brand, L'Oreal, as well as 3 of the top 5 luxury fashion chains: Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Cartier. Toss in the most visited museum in the world, the Louvre, and you've got a city unrivaled by any other.
Last month's terrorist attacks may dominate the headlines around Paris, but it won't overshadow the brilliance of the City of Lights for long. Whether you call it the "City of Love" or the "City
Chateau de Versailles
Europe's grandest palace and Marie Antoinette's residence
of Art," a rose by any other name is still a rose, which speaks volumes about the splendor of such a town with so many nicknames. Charles Dickens once hailed Paris as "the most extraordinary place in the world," while Thomas Jefferson asserted "a walk around Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life." When an American and Englishmen speak this highly of the French, one must wonder if the rumors are indeed true. Well, Kristina and I are here to dispel the mystery and proclaim once and for all, Oui
, the hype about this town is more than justified.
We arrived at Bercy coach station in the 12th arrondisement bright and early, checked into our AirBnb, and skipped to the nearest bakery for a quick breakfast of French bread stuffed with bacon. We gladly adopted the Parisian way and sat outside to enjoy the food while watching locals go about their daily business, always with a baguette in hand. Compared to our previous destination, London, where chaos was a way of life, the serenity of sitting by a Parisian cafe at the crack of dawn and letting the world go round felt so
A tea break with Laduree macarons for some people watching
calming; this explains why Hemingway once likened London to a riddle and Paris as the explanation. We eventually snapped back to reality and bought a carnet of 10 metro tickets (costs Є14.10 instead of Є18 if purchased separately) to mosey our way back into town.
Seeing that we had some time before reuniting with our friends, Kristina and I indulged in some shopping. Since we had an engagement photo-shoot the following day, we strode down Rue de Rennes where the best boutique shops are in search of khakis for me. But of all the retailers in the fashion capital of the world, we found our calling at... the Gap. We then made our way east on Boulevard Saint-Germain to meet our friends at the most famous fromagerie in Paris, the shop of Laurent Dubois (47 Blvd Saint-Germain). Dubois was down in the cellar babying his cheese, and if it weren't for his tri-colored collar, you'd never know he was the best cheese-maker in France. The tiny store was packed with specialty cheeses, but Kristina and I picked the truffle-infused tartuffe. We then hopped next door to Charcuterie St.Germain (47 Blvd Saint-Germain) to pick up some salami and jambon from
Picnic by the Luxembourg Palace, home of the French Senate
Bayonne, a regional ham from southwest France. Our final stop was around the corner at Eric Kayser (8 Rue Monge) for their famous baguettes, whose ends were pointy rather than round, a sign they were handmade. With our ingredients ready, we walked west to the Luxembourg Gardens for a quaint lunch surrounded by the Palace where the French Senate meets. A couple days of overcast skies with rain in London made the sunny, 50o
F Parisian weather a pleasant surprise and the perfect setting for our picnic.
But no meal would be complete without dessert, so we later headed to Pierre Herme (72 Rue Bonaparte) for their renown macarons. Rose flavor is their most popular, which we tried along with passion fruit, mandarin, white truffle, and foie gras. With crumbs still on our lips, our group proceeded west towards Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki (35 Rue de Vaugirard), a top 25 bakery in the world. We tried the green matcha croissant while our friends got the matcha eclair, both of which were as advertised.
With our stomachs full, we headed north to explore the shops, meandered through Rue de Buci where the best street food in the district is located, then
Arc de Triomphe
The west end of Champs-Elysees
continued onto Cours du Commerce St.Andre--which has Paris' first coffee shop (Le Procope)--drifted along the Left Bank of the River Seine to cross the Pont des Arts (A.K.A. the Love Lock Bridge, which city officials have removed), finally ending up on the island of Ile de la Cite.
Here, we entered the famous Notre Dame Cathedral that was immortalized in Victor Hugo's book and subsequent portrayals on the silver screen. While Quasimodo and Esmeralda were absent, the bell and organ so intricately depicted in the stories were certainly there. As a side note, the lucky soul selected to play the organ here is the most prized position for an organist in all of France, but without any tunes that day and some terribly gloomy lighting, we exited the cathedral for a more festive atmosphere.
We decided to get a souvenir at a shop on nearby Rue d'Arcole before continuing to the glitzy and ritzy Hotel de Ville, a misnomer for what turned out to be a shopping mall. After a brief break to rest our feet, we pushed north pass the Centre Pompidou, an avant-garde modern arts gallery, to Rue Montorgueil. This historic cobbled street lined with shops
Love Lock at Flamme de la Liberte
The unofficial memorial for Princess Diana marking the place of her death
is home to Stohrer (51 Rue Montorgueil), Paris' oldest bakery and reputed to make the city's best croissants. We took an almond croissant to go while exploring the area, at which point our group split up for the remainder of the night. Kristina and I bought some pepperoni and a baguette to finish up our cheese from lunch, then took it home for dinner to enjoy while conversing with our AirBnB host, Veronique.
The next morning, Kristina and I met our photographer, Frederic Placend, at Cafe Kleber on the Trocadero. Early morning best avoids the crowds, but the sun beaming directly into the lens causes inconvenient shadows. However, our best shot of the Eiffel Tower across the river was one of just our silhouette, letting the imagination and romanticism of Paris fill in the shadows. Our tour with Frederic led us down a picturesque side street called Rue de l'Universite where the Eiffel Tower loomed overhead, followed by Le Nemours Cafe (2 Galerie de Nemours) where the opening scene in The Tourist
with Angelina Jolie was filmed. We ended the 1.5-hour session at the Louvre where we met up with our friends again.
Our entire group started with
Hall of Mirrors
The hall decorated by mirrors crafted by Venetian artisans, many of whom were murdered to keep their secrets
a long cruise through the Tuileries Garden pass the fountains of Place de la Concorde where Anne Hathaway famously threw her phone into at the end of The Devil Wears Prada
. Now on the Champs-Elysees, we continued west, leisurely traversing the rows of Christmas stands flanking the avenue. Along the way, we discovered a cute tea shop called MD L'Autre Thé with aromatic varieties that our friends bought for gifts. After some 15-odd minutes, we finally arrived at the busier western half of the avenue where fashion giants like Prada and Gucci showcase their beautifully overpriced masterpieces. We perused Louis, Chanel, and Jimmy Choo just for good measure because Kristina wanted a purse, but since we couldn't afford to forfeit 5-years worth of salary, we abandoned the endeavor.
We did manage to find cheaper forms of entertainment, such as the best chocolate shop in Paris, La Maison du Chocolat (52 Rue Francois 1er). 5 pieces of chocolate ran for an arm, a leg, and Є8, which was not worth it for what tasted like sweets from Costco. The sugar rush continued down the street at Laduree (75 Avenue des Champs-Elysees), which looked fit for a royal tea party with
Assortments of the world-famous macarons
macarons. The presentation was impeccable and the service top-notch, which included a gorgeous box that we filled with 6 flavors: 2 of pistachio since that's our favorite, 1 Marie-Antoinette tea, 1 lemon, 1 blackcurrant violet, and 1 Christmas vanilla. At Є17 a pack, the macarons lived up to their price tag and surpassed their rival's, Pierre Herme, although Laduree wasn't as adventurous as the competition with their flavors.
Afterwards, we made our way to the western end of the Champs-Elysees where stands the Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon's creation to honor those who died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The names of French victories and generals are inscribed on the arch, which is a good thing it was constructed during the heyday of France's military instead of the World Wars, or the list inscribed would have been much shorter. We then turned south along Avenue Kleber, stopping at a cafe along the way for some ham and cheese crepes, while our friends got a nutella and banana crepe. Shortly after, we continued back to the Trocadero once again, arguably the best vantage point for the Eiffel Tower.
A million selfies and poses later, our group trekked across
An almond croissant at Paris' oldest bakery
the river to stand under the world's most recognizable landmark, which wasn't so adored during its infancy. Many critics ostracized Eiffel's unaesthetic design for the entrance to the 1889 World's Fair, including author Guy de Maupassant who famously ate lunch at the tower everyday because it was the one spot in Paris where the tower wasn't visible. Following intense skepticism, the landmark was ultimately accepted by the 1920s as a national symbol, one that lovers, artists, and dreamers everywhere have now adopted as their own.
After some contemplation under the Eiffel Tower's admittedly ugly facade, we decided to take a light breather at Cafe Constant (139 Rue Saint-Dominique) where a couple of teas and some macarons were the perfect people-watching snack. We then made the circuit around Rue Saint-Dominique, Rue Cler, and Avenue Bosquet, all of which felt awfully dead, so we crossed the Pont de l'Alma to return to the Right Bank where the Flamme de la Liberte is located. This sculpture is a golden replica of the Statue of Liberty's torch that represents the friendship between America and France, but later became the unofficial Princess Diana memorial when she died in a car accident in the highway
MD L'Autre Thé
Aromatic varieties of tea at a stand on the Champs-Elysees
tunnel beneath it. Kristina and I felt it was the appropriate place to leave our love lock as a symbol of our eternal bond and pay homage to Diana's compassion for all people. With one key left at the statue, one in our scrapbook, and one free for use, this gives us a reason to return in the future to reunite with our lock--as if we needed another excuse to come back to Paris.
Across the street from the monument was La Pistacherie (5 Place de l'Alma), a specialty shop carrying every assortment of nuts for all you nutty aficionados. Kristina bought some chocolate peanuts for her dad, but not before we received some real French hospitality from the snappy cashier. Like James Baldwin once joked, "It's perfectly possible to be enamored with Paris while remaining hostile to the French." We brushed it off and continued north, inadvertently hitting Champs-Elysees where we indulged in some bling at Tiffany's, breakfast excluded.
It was dinnertime by now, so the group made our way down the avenue to the Place de la Concorde where we were almost killed by the 10-lane wide symphony of cars directed by no one. We turned
A night-time view of the world's most famous avenue
east from Rue Royale onto Rue Saint Honore in search of a restaurant, discovering it was oddly difficult to find somewhere to eat this late in the food capital of the world. We finally stumbled upon La Castiglione (235 Rue Saint Honore), a fine dining establishment suitable for our tired feet, growling stomachs, and full bladders. We ordered the French onion soup and risotto with truffle, while our friends ordered the soup with shrimp risotto. Both were well prepared, although it wasn't the best meal we've ever had. However, for the first time on this trip, we were able to simply sit and talk for what seemed like an eternity. The evening grew old so each couple retired to our respective beds for the night.
For our last day in Paris, we began once more in the Saint-Germain district. Today was reserved for tying up loose ends, so we ran errands like buying jambon as gifts for Kristina's mom, which was later confiscated by the terribly inconsistent Customs. We met our friends at the Louvre after an hour delay due to checking-out issues with their AirBnB. Regardless, we took the 45-minute ride on the RER train to Chateau de
Notre Dame Cathedral
The setting of Victor Hugo's 1831 novel and one of the most important churches in the Catholic world
Versailles, Europe's grandest palace. The Є15 admission granted access to the complex and gardens, which for the dead of winter was quite vibrant. Its history as the home of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XIV, the longest reigning monarch in European history, foreshadowed the opulence we were about to witness. Scholars estimate the Sun King and his successors spent over $2 billion on its construction, something even Trump can't afford. The French government has since spent twice that amount to restore its original glory, meaning Versailles is now worth more than the GDP of 61 countries. If that doesn't spell excess, then a visit to the lavish Hall of Mirrors will. At a time when the manufacture of mirrors was proprietary to Venice, the King enticed artisans from Italy to make them for his residence, spurring the Venetian government to assassinate the artisans to maintain their secret; nothing says luxury more than a walk through a hall decorated by murder.
We left the grounds after a couple of hours to get lunch at the nearby Le Coup D'Etat (4 Rue de Satory), solely because it served escargot. At Є35 including tip, the 12 incredibly decadent snails seasoned with a
La Maison du Chocolat
Paris' most famous chocolate shop located on the Champs-Elysees
garlic butter sauce, coupled with tender duck breasts in a red wine balsamic reduction, were the perfect remedy for our hunger. We returned to the city full and ready for dessert, so we found ourselves at another top 25 bakery in the world, Du Pain et des Idees (34 Rue Yves Toudic). Located in the rougher part of town, this shop had such a long line we had to fight for the last few croissants, reportedly the best in Paris. They're also famous for the pain des amis bread--something our friends tried at Anthony Bourdain's behest--and the escargot au chocolate-pistache, a spiral pastry that despite its name, doesn't contain snails.
With time running out, we made a last ditch effort to squeeze in the Louvre before dinner. Admission is free for everyone under 26 on Fridays after 6 p.m., so we took advantage and raced around the museum in search of the Mona Lisa
, just as Tom Hanks did in The Da Vinci Code
. Undoubtedly the most fabled painting of all time, the Mona Lisa
has sparked so much intrigue it would be criminal to come this close and not visit the work. Her enigmatic smile and mysterious identity
World-renown macarons fit for royalty
all add to the aura surrounding her, but remove the story behind the painting and its history of having been stolen in 1911 by an Italian national who hid in a broom closet, and you have just a tiny piece of artwork guarded by inch-thick, bullet-proof glass and 24/7 security.
It's a shame we couldn't spend more time exploring the rest of this museum, but we had to hurry off to dinner at Le Potager du Pere Thierry (16 Rue des Trois Freres). This compact restaurant on the hills of Montmartre is a cozy and authentic French dining experience. The place is so small we were astonished to find 4 seats left in the corner, despite not making reservations. Surrounded by exposed stone and quirky paintings, we comfied up and prepared for a hearty meal. We ordered the egg en cocotte with duck foie gras for starters, duck breast with blackberry dressing and peppered steak with bleu cheese for our entrees, creme brulee and chocolate cake with mango sorbet for dessert, and a regional red wine to wash it all down. Our friends tried the same dishes but ordered the crusted veal with thyme instead of the steak. The
The Mona Lisa
The most fabled painting of all time and source of much intrigue
portions were phenomenal, the food was spectacular, and the ambiance couldn't be better. With good company to share stories and a great meal to top it off, this was the best dining experience in all our travels.
But our blissful moment was cut short because we needed to catch the EasyBus from the Palais Royal to Charles de Gaulle airport. The journey from our AirBnB to the city center was deja-vu all over again from our last day in London; the host, Veronique, was none to happy about us picking up the luggage at 11 p.m., 3 hours after we told her we would. While the metro operated efficiently and we ran like hell through the streets of Paris, Kristina and I still missed the shuttle. Not to fraught, however, because our friends also arrived late due to issues with picking up their luggage. Lucky for us, there was another departure minutes later, getting us to the airport as planned.
We spent the night there getting ready for our early flight to Manchester the next morning. The other couple would part ways and head to Monaco instead, but both of us reminisced about the grandeur of the city
Du Pain et des Idees
A top 25 bakery in the world famous for their escargot au chocolat-pistache and pain des amis bread
we were leaving. No place on Earth could surpass the history, art, food, fashion, and culture of Paris. When the likes of Picasso, Monet, Renoir, and van Gogh have roamed these streets, you know there's something special about this city. There's already a laundry list of things to do for our next trip, including revisiting our love lock and delving deeper into Montmatre. But whether you have a single day or a whole month, Paris will never leave you bored; your senses are engaged, imagination running wild, and romanticism in full supply. Paris is a city for dreamers, and Kristina and I can't wait till the day we return to this heaven on Earth.
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