A Celebration in Paris

Part 1 of 3

It was practically a “spur of the moment” decision for Rick and me. We usually plan months ahead for a trip. But a month before we left, we decided to make a six-day ‘pond’ crossing to Paris to celebrate twenty years as a couple, rather than throwing a house party for ourselves, which is always a lot of work. It was the best decision!

Using frequent flyer miles earned on credit cards and booking an Air B&B apartment, we bought no souvenirs, ate mostly in cafes and bistros, and rode the metro and walked our way across Paris, managing to spend surprisingly little money.

Wanting the Cliff Notes version of our anniversary lark, a friend asked me afterwards what the #1 attraction was for us. “It’s Paris!” I told him. With its beautiful architecture, museums, parks, churches, monuments, buildings, shops, and streetscapes, Paris is THE spectacle. It’s hard to walk down a boulevard or turn the corner into a narrow lane and not be greeted by a lovely view or a well-appointed building or an intricate gate or doorway. All together, Paris is a cornucopia of sensual experiences.

Then there is that sense of sophisticated urbane living. Parisians seem to wear it well. (Okay, I suppose I might be a bit smug if my address began with Rue.) Maybe it appears that way to me because the language, the personal mannerisms and sense of style of the French are so seductive, and they make it look easy.

We had read before the trip that the city’s population age is continuing to get lower, attracting more young people internationally, as retirees were choosing to move to the country. Fit and trim for the most part, both men and women were nicely dressed, even when casual. The population seemed a lot less native French than I remember from my last visit 15 years ago. Many more people filling the streets appeared to be from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and they didn’t seem to be tourists.

Our fourth floor walk-up apartment — 73 steps from the street — was on Rue Saint-Croix de la Brettoniere in the heart of Le Marais, our favorite neighborhood in which to stay. Le Marais, architecturally characterized by attractive stucco and light stone four-and-five story rows of buildings, is the old Jewish Quarter of the city. There still remains a block or so of shops and purveyors of services that cater to a Jewish clientele — kosher butchers, bread makers, creperies, and street food vendors.

These days it has the feel of a village within the city — narrow curving streets and lanes lined with trendy shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes, along with residential apartment buildings and boutique hotels. Located adjacent to the Hotel de Ville, Paris’ city hall, and two blocks from Rive Seine, Le Marais is also the epicenter of Parisian gay culture.

Le Marais is quintessential ‘cafe society.’ One block of Rue Archives, just around the corner where we stayed, is lined with cafes and restaurants on one side. Patrons spend the morning, as we did, sipping espresso and eating croissants and smoking cigarettes (which we did not), and in the afternoon, having late lunches and small plates, sipping wine and other potables, and smoking cigarettes.

Every morning we prepared for the day’s activity, gathering maps, tickets, camera, snacks, and directions — and descended the 73-step circular staircase to street level. (In the airport, we purchased train and metro tickets, plus museum passes for 4 days, and that proved to be a huge advantage in avoiding long lines at museums and ticketed sites.) While “On The Move” characterized our five-day stay, we did so at a more leisurely pace, seeing one or two sites, wandering around neighborhoods, then returning to the apartment late afternoon to rest up for an enjoyable evening of cocktails, dinner, and wine. We chose two museums to visit (among Paris’ 130), one out-of-the-city excursion, and a few neighborhoods and parks to explore.

NEXT: Versailles and Musee d’Orsay