What is it about Paris?
This was the question I asked myself two weeks ago when I returned from my latest adventure abroad.
I’ve been to Paris two times before this. Once, for a quick, 24 hour trip from London. I really enjoyed it that time and was delighted when I got to go back in September of 2016. My older sister, April, lives there, and we had an amazing time there with Katie, and my mother-in-law, Judy.
This time, I went for April’s graduation from grad school. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with extremely impressive degrees in… Diplomatic Relations? Internation Security? Either way, they were long and impressive. And I am incredibly proud of her.
This trip was a dream. Paris is the most enchanting, beautiful city in the world. I’ve lived in London, been to Dublin, NYC, and D.C., but none of them have anything on Paris (though they all have their own charms).
I’m going to try to distill my thoughts about Paris into words, but like so many, I’m sure I’ll fail. It’s hard to understand if you haven’t been there. Some of these experiences are universal if you visit Paris, some are personal, but all of them make Paris… Paris.
Chouquettes and Crepes
“Is the food really that good?”
This is a question I get asked a lot. After all, French pastries and baguettes, madeleines and macarons are what most people know about Paris. And I have to say… the food there is better than you’ve heard of.
The first thing I do when I enter Paris is make a beeline for the nearest boulangerie (bakery). This time around, April had found a boulangerie she loved and the pastries there were… incredible. I enjoy croissants and especially (pain au chocolat), but this trip I found out that my favorite pastry is a chouquette. It’s a light, crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside, sugar-covered miracle. Think of an unfilled cream puff. They’re divine. And one day, I literally ate 15.
April had also discovered a creperie that she said was the best in Paris. I was suspicious, as I’d already had amazing crepes there, but this creperie had the best crepes I could ever hope for. Crispy on the edges, soft in the middle and filled with egg, ham, and tomatoes. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it…
People Watching With Coffee
I love watching people. Not in a stalker-y way, but I just like getting glimpses into other people’s lives as they pass by. I like imagining the stories and lives they have that go on totally apart from me and mine.
It turns out, the entire city of Paris is obsessed with people-watching, too. I sometimes wonder how/when anyone works there because it seems like Parisians spend all their time sitting in cafes, drinking coffee, and watching the world go by.
That’s my kind of life.
Tiny Children! Speaking French!
It probably won’t shock you that French children speak French, but each time I hear one of these adorable, usually impeccably dressed (like WAY better dressed than me) curly-haired children speaking French, calling “Maman!” as they run after their mothers… Well, I want to die.
Soaked in Creativity
Like many big cities, Paris is full of art galleries and artists. There are people hawking reproductions, but you can also find true artists along the way. I met a lovely photographer outside Shakespeare and Co. (find his work here! Support art!) and bought one of his lovely Rooftops of Paris photos. I also met another artist who did pen-and-ink (my favorite) paintings of the buildings, and I bought two of his works.
It’s nice to feel like you’re supporting local artists, while also bringing home a unique souvenir from each trip.
Green Gardens, Green River
Like any big city, Paris can be loud, full of pollution and tourists, so it’s lovely to escape the noise of traffic for some greenery. My favorite arrondissement, the 4th (I’d live here in a heartbeat if I could), has a lovely garden called the Place des Vosges where we spent a lot of time, laying in the grass, watching the fountain, picnicking till we were kicked out when they closed. But in the end, getting kicked out made it better! Instead, we sat on the steps of St. Paul’s, a nearby church, and watched the world go by. My other favorite spot was Pont Neuf (a famous bridge). If you follow the steps down, there’s an outcropping into the Seine, where you can lay on the sun-warmed cobblestones and be lulled by the sound of the Seine.
I’d heard about the white nights of Russia before, where it’s dusk-like at midnight, and only gets dark for a few hours a day, and I’ve always wanted to go there and see it on my own (and will, one day!). I didn’t realize that Paris is light much later than the U.S. as well. We were constantly thinking it was two hours earlier than it actually was, and there was something magical about being out so late (it didn’t get full dark till midnight).
A Street of One’s Own
I’ve always been in Paris with other people. I love the people I travel with, but one day later in the trip I started to get restless, and I realized that I’d never been alone in the city before. I don’t have a great sense of direction, and I don’t speak French (though hopefully that’ll be remedied soon!) so I was nervous about going out on my own without April and Katie, but finally, when April invited me to join her for lunch at her work, I decided to go. Armed with my phone for directions, listening to Man of La Mancha on full blast, I wandered through the streets by myself (not getting lost once!), taking pictures when I wanted, stopping to buy chouquettes in very broken French, and not having to worry about anyone but myself. It was a lovely and restorative time for me, and once it was over, I didn’t want it to end… so it didn’t! I found the nearby metro, wandered my way down to the Luxembourg Gardens (stopping at a lovely sunflower-striped cafe called Judy to get a delicious coffee, and another boulangerie to get another pain au chocolat) and then sat in the garden for an hour or so, watching the people, and reading Colum McCann’s wise and beautiful Letters to a Young Writer (which I highly recommend to all writers).
Breakfast With My Sister
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment in a week so full of favorite moments… but without a doubt, one of the best was the last day, when April and I walked to breakfast together. We got breakfast at a little cafe where April said, “People always seem to be enjoying themselves there. They just always seem happy.” So we had breakfast there, under a green awning, at an outdoor table (another thing I love about Paris, half the dining space is outdoors). We sat next to a woman about our age and two adorable little kids (at one point the little girl turned HUGE blue eyes onto me and said something, but I couldn’t understand her! Another reason for me to learn French, to speak with the adorable children). April and I have always been quite close, so it was just wonderful to sit with her and talk about life plans and just be together. Paris often seems to be a place where you can comfortably be with people. Perhaps another reason I love it so much.
Those are just a few of my favorite things/memories of my time in Paris. What I realized while I was there last is that Paris is my place. It has tangled itself in my heart.
It can be scary to travel abroad, especially to a place where you don’t speak the language, but I wholeheartedly recommend it. Maybe Paris will be your place. Maybe somewhere else will be. Either way, I hope you find your Paris.
Any questions about flights/accommodations/my favorite things to do in Paris? Leave me a comment below.