We left Lille, the perfect city, on a 12 pm TGV (fast train) to Paris’ Gare du Nord. I love Paris. Who doesn’t love Paris? Okay, there is one thing to dislike about Paris: its name. It is impossible to work out how to pronounce it. Yes, we all know the French pronounce it “Pareeee” and they all sound grand saying it. But if you, as an American, in regular English conversation term it as “Pareeee” you sound like a pretentious doof. “Why yes, I am going to Pareeeeeee this weekend.” Seriously, I don’t like me when I say it, so then I just say Paris and expect the Parisians to think I’m an ignorant doof. Personally I think it not worth taking on the Pareeeeeesians on cultured high-heeled well-dressed and well-spoken. You will lose. Even Upper West Side New Yorkers lose. Give it up.
Okay, so on arrival in the HUGE and escalator-y Gare du Nord train station, we attempted to find an exit. I am glad I was not being chased by wolves because I would have been eaten before finding my way out. Finally we arrived in the light and oriented ourselves while side-stepping hurrying folks. Our plan for Paris: walk until our shoes fell off.
I had purposefully chosen a hotel that was walking distance to the train station since we were leaving for the airport the next morning. I have to spend a short moment giving kudos to the tiny Hotel Marcel, walking distance to Gare du Nord, and right in front of the Gare d’Est. I could spend a further moment wondering why Paris placed the east station three blocks to the east of the north station but what’s the point? Technically it was east–the fact that you could chuck a softball from north and hit it is besides the point.
Oops, back to Marcel. So, the front of this hotel is not promising. Tucked in between down-at-the-heels cafes and Stores de Crap (I think that is the right translation), we were greeted by a dark-suited security guard who checked for our name. Up we went in the small elevator and the door opened to a crammed with guests with suitcases lobby and a somewhat frazzled receptionist. No, our room was not ready at 2 pm. This is not where the kudos come. They come later. Oh all right, I will complete the thought and tell you were the kudos are.
When we arrived at 10 pm that night, our suitcases were already in our lovely top floor room (Room 701–awesome!) which sloped with the window gables. Views were of Sacre-Coeur, the train station, who knows which cathedrals etc. Yet totally soundproofed windows–no traffic noise at all. Modern furniture and the obligatory French shower which crazily sprayed water in every direction except on you. And what is it with the French and shower doors? None work. None exist, really. Clean your floor and yourself. God help your pajamas neatly stacked on the toilet. Dead. Meat. Breakfast=delicious in a fun modern Ikea-y dining room on 2nd floor. Awesome and not expensive. Love.
Okay, enough kudos–back to 2 pm. We popped out the hotel’s front door and headed south. I must say the surrounding area is not lovely. Not dangerous, not scary, just perhaps forgotten by the loveliness fairy who lives in Paris. Scenes of regular life and no tourists–kids flooding out of large wooden doors on their scooters, groups of men chatting and hanging around.
As we walk, we begin to hear a drum beat. Then we spy some people marching all in white. And I think to myself – “those are Brazilians”. Unfortunately I did not say that out loud so was not given credit by my husband later. Tough crowd.
So, the Brazilians were having a late Happy Independence Day parade (it was September 10, and Brazil’s independence day is September 7). Dancers, drummers, and strangely–a very scary werewolf on the top of a double-decker bus. Not part of the tradition as far as I know. What are the chances of running into a Brazilian parade on any one day in any one international city? Apparently around 100% as this was not the first time for us. The drummers were amazing, the dancers full of energy.
Finally we crossed over the parade route and farther south we got to the chic areas. And ran into the little garden at the Louvre (is that the Petit Palais? Honestly there are so many beautiful big buildings and manicured, regimented parks, I get confused. Also lots of little dogs. No I see, it is the Palais Royal). Okay, I say beautiful parks but I have to tell you that this whole prune the freaking trees til they look like little pyramids (not topiaries, mind you, just manicured trees) must be stopped. Let the trees be trees. How do I get that in front of Macron? I think he would agree with me. Well, maybe not.
So then we pop out in front of the Louvre and there is a small group of people–not quite an orchestra–with their fancy violins and violas etc standing around casually in their jeans and nice footwear (let’s be honest–the french have nice footwear but very very poor choice in socks) and playing the stuffing out of some Vivaldi. Just playing. 40 people. So Paris.
Now, as it does, hunger started to hit. All the little streetside cafes near the Louvre were chock-a-block with tourists so we took ourselves off down a side street and found a cafe whose name I will not remember. Ever. Oh wait, maybe its on the wine glass. As is stereotypical, the wait staff were less than the American friendly “Hi my name is Biff, I will be your server today and how are you today, hmmmmm??” No, our waitress was a bit stressed I would say and reprimanded the people next to us for moving their chairs slightly into the street…you can hear it “non, non, non….”
Wine in a carafe, hooray and a salade niçoise hooray and carpaccio also hooray. It was a hooray day. We set off again through the streets, passing the other garden near the Louvre–sorry, I am bad at the names. Big one. Lots of chairs to move around. Lots of people perambulating. Cone-trimmed trees. Views of hulking Louvre then L’Orangerie. We crossed a bridge over the Seine and marveled at the boats all tied up together, just one bateau mouche moving, a sad grey view.
But wait, the sun comes again and we are walking and then we suddenly have to find a bathroom. Yeah, the wine in the carafe. But you cannot find a public bathroom in Pareeee…actually, you can’t find one anywhere in any big tourist city. It’s like we all like to torture our visitors. So we stop and have 8 euro capuccinos so we can use a cafe bathroom. No toilet paper. Maybe that costs more.
Walk, walk, walk…ah, is that the Eiffel Tower? Oui. We watch the Brazilian girls posing for their perfect shots for about 15 minutes…and wander on…Invalides….past the Rodin Museum, the War Museum…go go go. I get lost, Vlad finds our way, we plunge into the Jardin Luxembourg where we are also bathroom-challenged (a euro buys us our way into the kiddie bathrooms at the playground). Since you also have to pay to use the playground (whaaaaaaaatttt??), I really think I should have been allowed on the slides. Nice playground. Should be no-fee. Paris, take note.
And then we did what all Parisians do. We pulled up a metal chair at the side of a path and we sat around and watched the clouds move away, the person next to us reading an actual book, the groups of families all out for a stroll. Also cone trees. As an aside, I will say that the French are MUCH better than the US about getting off their electronics. People sitting and reading. Groups of teenagers actually talking to each other and not scrolling around on their phones. Love.
Okay, I am going to have to take a break from Paree which is unfortunate but necessary as my car service is done and I have to go sell my kid to pay for it. Back tomorrow with the coup de grace of Paris… the denouement…the je ne sais quoi. Yeah, high school french does not work.