I've always been jealous of people who live in Europe and who can travel relatively inexpensively and easily to other European cities for a couple of days. I was several thousand miles from reaching the next level of my Delta "status". I needed just a few more miles than I would have gotten going to the West Coast, so I turned my sights eastward. As an unapologetic francophile, I naturally chose Paris. Yes, a trip to Paris would land me at the next level! Paul, not the francophile that I am, opted to keep the home fires burning with our kitty Sammy.
Still among the working, I couldn't be away long, so I set out on a Friday afternoon and returned home the following Monday afternoon. Crazy? Maybe, but it was a perfect two and a half days. We arrived almost an hour early, about 7:00 a.m. I got through passport control easily and headed to the train station at Charles de Gaulle. We like European trains and since I had only a small carry-on, taking the train into town was an easy choice. It takes a little longer than a taxi, but it's also less expensive at about €10 vs. about €50 for a taxi.
I've always preferred the left bank and tend to stay there or on Ile St. Louis for its central location. I've stayed in both hotels and apartments in Paris; this time I was able to make a reservation at the Hotel Saint Paul Rive Gauche, a small, boutique hotel in the 6th arrondissement on rue Monsieur le Prince, just a short walk to the Luxembourg Gardens and blvd. St. Michel. I've had my eye on it for years but every time I try to book it, it's sold out. I got lucky this time.
The room wasn't inexpensive; I paid about $180 per night, but as this trip was in the height of the pre-Christmas season, rooms were at a premium. My room and bathroom were small, but the bed was comfortable and it was fine for me. The hotel offers breakfast in a cozy room below the lobby for 16 Euros, but I prefer to wander in the morning and grab my croissant and café au lait along my route.
I was in central Paris by 9:00, checked into the hotel and deposited my suitcase since my room wasn't ready yet, and I set out to attack Paris on foot. I had timed tickets to the Atelier des Lumières, a new museum in the 11th arrondissement just after noon, so I headed north and detoured at my favorite church, Notre Dame. Amazingly, there were few tourists, so I walked right in. I haven't been to Paris during the Christmas season since I lived in France in college - a very long time - and it's been several years since I've visited the interior of the cathedral. Not surprisingly, Notre Dame was dressed up for Christmas. In back of the altar was a display that was part creche scene and part period miniature villages. Of course the church itself was magical, too. Little did I know that this would be the last time I'd be inside Notre Dame for many, many years.
It's just as beautiful at night!
Atelier des Lumières
The Atelier des Lumières (Workshop of Lights) is a digital museum. It's a warehouse-type environment where you sit or stand anywhere you want to watch the beautiful artwork which is projected on the walls and floor, accompanied by music. The displays, which change every few seconds, were sometimes stagnant and sometimes moved along the wall. The combination of the colors, images and music made for an incredible experience. The tickets are timed and they sell out, so I bought mine before I left home. I arrived about 30 minutes before my time, but they let me in with no issue. The full rate is €14.50 with various discounts. My senior discount was €13.50; worth every Euro! Its inaugural exhibition was dedicated to the late 19th-century Viennese painter Gustav Klimt. Scroll through the photos below.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Every time I go to Paris I visit someplace I've never been. This time it was Père Lachaise cemetery. On a wooded hillside in the 20th arrondissement, it feels like an open air museum. By European standards, it's not very old, having opened in 1804. It was considered too far outside the city to be a popular burial ground, but some clever early 19th century marketing helped it gain attention and it quickly began to fill. Today it's possible to be buried there, but there are a number of restrictions. The day was relatively warm, but cloudy which added to the somber theme, and I enjoyed strolling through the tree-lined lanes. I had downloaded a map with the location of the graves of well-known people which was easy to follow. There's no charge to go on your own, but the next time I visit, I'm going to take a guided tour. It's hilly, so if you'd prefer to walk downhill, take the metro to Gambetta at the north end and enter there. Scroll through, below.
Some of the markers are so poignant.
Jim Morrison's grave is tucked away and fairly unremarkable, but tourists flock to it.
Haussmann was the architect of so many of the beautiful buildings in Paris; I had to see his grave.
Montmartre, in the 18th and northernmost arrondissement of Paris, feels like it's much farther away from central Paris than it is. Easily reachable by metro or bus, you feel like you're in another world. I haven't spent enough time getting to know it, so I decided to lose myself in its hilly, cobblestone lanes the second morning I was in Paris. Abbesses metro is a good stepping-off point. It's also the deepest metro in Paris at about 120 feet underground. I wish I could say that I chose to climb the 200 steps because I'm in such good shape, but the fact is that I forgot that there were so many. By the time I remembered, I was committed. I can assure you that I won't forget again! Yes, there's an elevator!
I also wanted to visit the charming Christmas market at Abbesses.
I walked for a couple of hours, stopped for breakfast and frequented many of the fun and sometimes quirky shops. My breakfast choice was La Galette des Moulins just around the corner from Sacré Coeur.
It started to rain, but I walked down to Pigalle, the raw, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, rough and tumble southern section of Montmartre. It feels more like a different country despite being a few blocks from its artsy, upscale neighborhood to the north.
Although I peeked at Sacré Coeur, I didn't visit it this trip because I had limited time and I've visited it many times. Its travertine exterior is exquisite and very calming.
I love the steps that seem to be around every corner in Montmartre. The views are lovely, too, although the day I was there, it was a bit foggy.
Back Down to Central Paris
I found the Musée Marmottan about 15 years ago. It's a former hunting lodge in the 16th arrondissement at the western edge of Paris. In 1932 Paul Marmottan left the lodge and its artwork to the city of Paris. It now holds the largest collection of Monet's works in the world as well as works of other artists of the period. As a lover of Impressionism, I could easily spend an entire day there. The lodge itself is also lovely, I hadn't been there in the 15 years since I discovered it and I was in heaven to be able to return! It's a short walk from La Muette metro station.
Scroll through below for a peek inside.
By the time I left the Museum, I was ready to take the metro back to my hotel and rest before going out again. Walking to the metro, I happened to look up...the Grande Dame was ahead of me in all her glory. I hadn't planned to see her this visit, but the day had become warm and sunny and she was calling me.
So I walked the mile and a half east and was rewarded by this beautiful sight.
On the way back to my hotel I experienced another first; an arc en ciel above the Seine. Wow! And the sky offered a special view of the Pont Alexandre III and the flag over the Grand Palais.
A Magical End to a Magical Day
As if the day hadn't been full enough, I had heard of a special after dark exposition at the Jardin des Plantes, the botanical garden in the 5th. "Espèces en Voie D'Illumination" was on view for only two months, between mid-November and mid-January. Again, I had lucked out. The president of the Jardin des Plantes presented the exposition as, "the Garden of Plants has chosen to illuminate biodiversity to better invite us to preserve it". They created animals which are extinct, in jeopardy of extinction and not yet extinct, out of cloth and light. The night was calm and quiet; walking through the garden, it was fun to hear the delight of the children as they came upon each animal. Scroll through, below.
At the end of the day, this is what my phone told me. Yes, most of those 45 floors were thanks to the Abbesses metro station!
I don't know how to say, "sleep like a log" in French. Does anyone know? Anyway, I went to bed very happy and fulfilled by another incredible day in the City of Light.
The Last Morning
Since I didn't have to leave for the airport until Noon, I made the most of my last few hours. I had breakfast at a café at Place de la Sorbonne and walked over to the Jardin du Luxembourg one last time. I wanted to see the famous Christmas windows at Galeries Lafayette, so I took the metro to the 9th and walked down blvd. Haussmann, enjoying the beautiful morning.
What a surprise when I happened to look down this side street!
Galeries Lafayette is magical at Christmas!
Their windows are famous around the holidays.
Here are a few miscellaneous photos from the weekend. The street sign says, "Street of the Cat that Goes Fishing ". It's actually considered a street, and is the narrowest one in Paris. I haven't yet researched the origin of the name, but I imagine there's a story behind it. Does anyone know?
Hmmm, a wicker bike!
Like so many others, my heart was broken by the fire that devastated Notre Dame. It will be many years before we can see it again in its glory.
All in all I walked almost 78,000 steps or 34 miles and I climbed 69 stories during the two and a half days. It was worth every tired muscle!
A bientôt, Paris. Je reviendrai.
What are your favorite memories of Paris?