When I visited Paris earlier this year, I didn’t do much more than simply walk around and marvel at the beauty of everything in sight. Everything was new, and completely magical; on any subsequent visit, I know I will never be able to recapture the feeling of total wonderment at seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the distance for the very first time. However, despite not having that precious feeling of novelty about it, what was lovely this time was to feel more familiar with the streets and the various neighbourhoods, and to feel less pressured about visiting landmarks. Having seen most of the sights the first time around, on this visit, I felt free to be more flexible and spontaneous. There were a few things I definitely wanted to do; Versailles was one, and my other major wishes were to go to the Musee d’Orsay and to buy a book from Shakespeare and Co. Other than that, I was an open book, and thankfully so was my delightful travelling companion. As such, we set out on our first day in Paris with few concrete plans and a thirst for adventure!
We were staying with a lovely friend of a friend just off the Opera, so we were within walking distance of the entirety of the centre of Paris. Galeries Lafayette, Paris’ very swanky major department store, was on our way down to the Seine once we’d left our base in the morning, so we decided to pop in to have a look at what was on offer. Once again I had my breath taken away by the magnificent decorative stained glass central dome, which is currently filled by a massive and very sparkly Christmas tree. Christmas comes early in Paris, apparently! After a browse, we headed off down Boulevard des Capucines on our way to the Seine. We were surprised to come across a massive Palladian looking church, which reminded me very much of this one on Euston Road in London. Called La Madeleine, it is a beautiful, if somewhat gloomy, church that has a flower market on its front steps. We popped in to have a look, before continuing our walk down to the Seine, along the river and over a bridge on our way down to Musee de Cluny, otherwise known as Musee de Moyen Age, which is on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne.
We loved this little museum, which is solely dedicated to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. The stand out pieces are the Unicorn tapestries, which are breathtakingly beautiful and in an almost miraculously good condition. We sat and stared at them for ages, entranced by the detail and the bright colours. Something that I found quite surprisingly helpful was that there were very few signs in English. I can read everyday French pretty well, but technical words such as those you find to describe artistic techniques and historical periods in museums are a bit beyond my schoolgirl knowledge. As such, instead of poring over descriptions like I usually do, and just accepting what I am told about the object, I was able to just step back, look, and make up my own mind. I found that a much more enriching experience.
After about an hour in the museum, we were famished and our feet were aching badly. We took ourselves and our baguettes that we had bought from the super delicious Kayser’s earlier on in the day to the Jardin du Luxembourg for a much needed snack and a sit down. I managed to miss the Jardin last time I was in Paris, simply through not being able to read a map, but I’m glad I did miss them, as seeing them for the first time in a blaze of Autumnal glory was delightful. They are such pretty formal gardens, with lots of statues, a lovely lake, gorgeous avenues of trees and a beautiful view across Paris. We had a wonderful time doing some people watching while we ate. Perfect!
After our rest, we made our way back to the Right Bank. We’d spent less time than we had anticipated in Musee de Cluny, so we found ourselves with a good few hours to kill before dinner and our evening’s entertainment; the new James Bond film, Skyfall, at our ‘local’ cinema. With feet still throbbing, we decided on braving the Louvre. A trip to Paris surely cannot be complete without a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, after all. I wasn’t fussed by the Mona Lisa; I have never seen the brilliance others do in it, but I was amazed at the Napoleon apartments, which are truly breathtaking, and I did enjoy many other paintings, all of which have now merged into one in my memory!
After the Louvre, we needed a drink, and Naomi wanted to go to Harry’s Bar, famous for the patronage of Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, and various other Jazz Age luminaries. Decked out in flags from American universities and the coats of arms from Oxford and Cambridge colleges, it is certainly not a sight you’d expect to see in Paris, but it had plenty of atmosphere! Dark and dingy, warm and cosy, with all of its original fixtures and fittings, you could well imagine the great and good of the early 20th century literati holding court in here, smoke swirling above their heads. I’m trying to remember whether it features in Midnight in Paris, which I must re-watch…does anyone know?
After Harry’s, we headed over to Chartier, which we had heard was a must visit for cheap food and a great atmosphere. Little did we know that it’s a Parisian institution; it’s one of the oldest traditional restaurants left that used to serve up food to average workers, and it still looks exactly the same as it did 100 years ago, right down to the luggage racks above the tables for you to place your hat while eating! Our steak frites and red wine were cheap and quickly served, and while it certainly wasn’t the haute cuisine we’d had at the delicious Camille’s the previous night, it was still excellent. For 11euros each for steak frites in an amazing and unique place, who’s complaining? If you’re going to Paris, you must visit – but go early; we had no wait at 6.30, but by the time we left just after 8, the queue was around the block to get in. Full of good food and good wine, and with very tired feet after another long day of walking, we wandered off to the nearby cinema to watch the amazing Skyfall. As huge James Bond fans, we were on the edge of our seats throughout, and loved every moment. It was slightly awkward when we were the only ones laughing in places…the subtitles didn’t quite communicate the sarcastic undertone of some of the dialogue…but it was certainly an experience to watch Bond in Paris! The film ended just before midnight, and we wended our way back to our apartment under the light of a full moon, sleepy but excited at the thought of another wonderful day in Paris yet to come!