Featured writer: Elloise Bennett
No matter how often one visits Paris, there is always something special to discover. Something that grants this city it’s recurring spot in the top destinations of the world.
My Dutch friend, Janne, and I decided sort of on the last minute to travel. We had been chatting about a summer trip for a while and either work or life kept interfering. Amsterdam weather forecasts of seemingly never-ending rain inspired Janne in mid-July to suggest Paris – a ‘quick’ 4 hour drive from Amsterdam. But I was in this mood of exploring new places, seeing new things… going somewhere I’ve been countless times… sigh… sounds like a waste when there are SO many places on my to-see list.
Then I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. I am not a big Hemingway fan – he is too much a MAN from the first half of the twentieth-century for me. But this autobiographical collection of sketches about his time living in Paris in the 1920s was a reading of pure pleasure.
I could SEE the Paris he was describing, I could SMELL it. I could HEAR the conversations in the cafés where he sat with Ezra Pounds and crazy-as-a-loon F. Scott Fitzgerald. I laughed out loud at the retelling of their antics and experiences.
So Janne and I were off to Paris after all!
And how glad I am that we went! Because this trip was so very different from any other trip I’d taken to the City of Lights.
To be budget conscious, Janne and I decided to rent an apartment. After letting our fingers do the walking, we had found the perfect sleeps-two spot close to the heart of Montmartre. (For Paris-neophytes, Montmartre was a village known at the end of the nineteenth century for its community of artistic residents such as Toulouse Lautrec. Today, a part of the city of Paris, and made famous by the film Moulin Rouge, it still has a charm of its own, has one art gallery and shop after another, and a beautiful square filled to the brim with bistro and brasserie tables.)
“Location, location, location” is the by-word of all realtors the world wide, and so typically you would want an apartment in the heart of the historical center on your visit to a city. But Janne and I were intrigued by the idea of being out of the crowds, and it turned out to be the perfect choice!
The apartment description indicated that it had a terrace (huge bonus!) and was a fifteen-minute walk from the heart of Montmartre. That distance was fine with us. It meant that we were out of the super-touristy section and could walk out the door and see actual Parisians and Parisian shops instead of another place selling a bad copy of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”
Every morning while Janne brewed us fresh coffee, I went only a few steps from the building entrance to one of four boulangeries (bakeries) located within a two-block radius of the apartment. There I had my pick of decadent fresh croissants, steamy pain-au-chocolats, crunchy baguettes, and fluffy white loaves.
For less than $5 (US Dollars) I would return to the apartment, victorious with a breakfast of champions. Coupled with some soft and creamy cheese from the fromagerie (cheese shop), also on the corner, it was pure Parisian heaven.
Granted, the average California gal would have to be resuscitated after all those carbs and white flour (and butter! Don’t forget the butter!). But how can you not indulge and enjoy the pleasure of fresh bread and pastries – in Paris of all places! After all, the French have made the idea of revolution around the price of flour (and therefore the price of a loaf of bread) a standard against which to measure all ‘les misérables.’ And did you know, that in France, you can actually find historians who study bread as both a cultural, social, and economic force.
Besides – a few uphill walks to the Butte (hilltop) of Montmartre and you have excised all that bread and are ready for a crêpe! Don’t miss the crêperie just off the north side of the Place du Tetre. They make delicious crêpes that you can take to-go as fortification for the downhill walk into the heart of Paris.
The fact that we had a kitchen and a fantastic terrace with views of the Paris rooftops and the dome of the Church of Sacre-Coeur, colored the nature of our entire trip. We would bravely leave the apartment every morning to face the tourist throngs of Ile de la Cité, the shops along the Rue St. Honore, and the crowds around the Louvre. But after the quiet of our terrace and the serenity of the rooftops, the press of bodies and the noise of cars would be too much, and we’d go for emergency fortification (also known as coffee and tart) in one of the charming cafés lining the Place Dauphine; a hidden treasure of a square located behind the Conciergerie.
We would lazily lunch in the Jardin du Palais Royale on a tarine of chicken baked in curry, apricots, raisons and dates along with a glass of crisp Sancerre. That would bolster us enough to make it back via the metro to our ‘home’ neighborhood to pick up a bottle of sun-scented rosé wine and for dinner some cheeses, cold meats, and, of course, a loaf. If we felt wild, we’d head out for dinner at one of ‘our’ neighborhood cafés to be surrounded by the sound of French and the allure of Parisians.
Despite my initial resistance of revisiting a place, this was unforgettable way to experience Paris. Even Hemingway would be proud. (And I did make it to the Jardin du Luxembourg to wonder through the gardens that he loved to explore!)
If you feel like a trip to Paris, apartment rental is definitely the way to go! (Check out user-friendly sites like www.all-paris-apartments.com or www.airbnb.com) To find a boulangerie for your own local experience with the loaves: walk out your door, turn left or right, and go a few feet. You’ll find it!
For more travel writing and tips by this author, visit http://foundtravel.wordpress.com