In a rather spontaneous move last Monday (November 3rd) while out for dinner celebrating our second year of marriage (to each other) Brian asked me if I thought we should take the direct flight from St. John’s to London’s Heathrow airport and train it over to Paris the following week. I took a swig of my drink, dipped a fry in ketchup and said, “Of course we should, let’s go home and book some flights.” On Tuesday morning, Brian had secured the week off work, I had booked our flights and started searching for hotels. Things happened fast, and on Friday night, a mere four days later we boarded a plane at midnight that would deliver us across the ocean in 5 hours.
I spent most of the summer struggling with back pain that ruined a few of our best laid trip plans: like a camping trip to Gros Morne in September with friends who flew to Newfoundland specifically for that trip. I’ve been on the mend for about a month now and my back is 90% healed (in my medical…er, personal opinion) and what better way to celebrate our marriage and our good health than a jaunt to Paris – a city neither of us had before visited – and arguably the most romantic city in the world. Pictured below: two very happy people on their first day in Paris.
We stayed in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area at a hotel recommended by my good friend Nicole. It was perfect, comfortable, and quiet. We arrived at night and immediately went looking for dinner.
Brian has an uncanny ability when we’re traveling to guide us down an unremarkable looking street on a hunch (and usually at night) and stumble across amazing hidden restaurants. On our first night in Paris, after traveling from Heathrow to Paris’ via downtown London, and after walking 5km from the Gare Du Nord train station to our hotel in St. Germain, on very little sleep – he did exactly that. We walked into a great little restaurant with about eight tables in it, that smelled like heaven. Without a reservation on a Saturday night, we sat down to a gourmet French dinner, filled with wine and several items on the menu neither of us could translate. I rely more on local blogs and recommendations from friends to help me find great places to eat and drink in a new city. Between the two of us, we found some pretty excellent restaurants.
Our first full day in Paris was spent wandering along the Seine River, to the Notre Dame Cathedral, down the windy streets of the 5e and 6e arrondissements. It was a Sunday, and the city was peaceful, even in the most touristy of locales. Many shops were closed, and I smiled thinking back to a time when this was the way in Canada too. It was nice to have a quiet day to take pause and just walk around and spend time with my favourite person.
On my perusal of Time Out blog, I came across “Un Dimanche à Paris.” Until this trip, I had never enjoyed hot chocolate but apparently I’ve been imbibing the wrong kind my whole life. The dixie cup serving of hot chocolate both delighted my tongue and left no unwanted (chalky, milky or other) residue in its wake. And, after just a small amount of hot chocolate (could the name be more perfect? Hot Liquid Chocolate, maybe?) I didn’t want more. I was satisfied, unlike the way I feel when I have 3 squares of a Fruit and Nut Bar. I’m going to dream about that hot chocolate until I learn how to make it myself. It was goddamn perfect. On Monday, when I got on Skype with Sue and Caroline, they both asked me what my favourite thing about Paris was, and though there wasn’t much I didn’t love, the first thing I told them about was this tiny cup of hot chocolate. So, there you have it. My rave review about the hot chocolate and truffles (oh, did I mention the truffles?) at “Un Dimanche à Paris.” We went three times – on three separate days. If you love chocolate, please go there if you visit Paris.
Our feet sore and our bellies full we headed back to our hotel and had a sauna. It was exquisite: I loved it and Brian fell asleep in the heat. That freaked me out so I woke him up and dragged him up to bed.
The next day was our long ascent up to Montmartre. The weather was stunning. In fact, the weather was on our side during the entire trip but for one hour one morning in London where it poured buckets of rain. The rest of the week it was sunny, blue skies, with temperatures of 10-18 degrees. The picture below, is us standing in front of La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre. Outside the Basilica were couples in love, and families taking photos of the view of Paris from the hill. My favourite pair was a couple posing for kissing photos, their lips barely touching, the kiss looking more like a game of “I’m-not-touching-you” than the precursor to a passionate embrace. I watched them for two minutes, posing like this, their lips almost touching and decided I wanted to try it to see if I could do it without laughing, for like 30 seconds. Turns out I cannot. And neither can Brian. So, for the rest of our days in Paris we stopped in romantic locations, on romantic bridges, in romantic lighting and fake-kissed, our lips barely touching, just like that couple demonstrated. Clearly, in the photo below, we are having no fun whatsoever.
We walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg twice during our walkabouts. It’s huge and gorgeous, and there are chairs arranged around the manicured lawns where tourists and locals hang out, eat lunch, read or admire the gardens. On one end is a massive playground/fair area (it looked like so much fun we wanted to go in, though I’m sure we would have been shamed out of it.) Kids ate cotton-candy and scooted around on scooters. There were tennis courts, swings, walking paths and more gardens. The photo below is one of the striking statues in the Luxembourg garden.
The Louvre was more impressive than I thought it would be. We first walked the grounds at night, surrounded by the massive structure, quiet even on the outside, probably because we were all in awe of it. When we went there the following day, it was just as beautiful, and just as imposing in daylight. Here’s a picture of Brian talking a little break outside the Louvre after another long day of walking.
The third day we walked about 15km, and visited the Eiffel tower, The Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées and eventually back to our hotel for a nap. A NAP! We took a load off for a couple hours, read books and I fell asleep. I woke up around 8pm and there was some debate about whether to go out again or just stay in. Brian is such a morning person that I think sometimes he forgets about all the fun things that happen at night. He experiences so many early hours of the day that many of us miss, that it was nice to nudge him into a late dinner and walk about town. We had dinner at 9:30pm dinner at “Chez Fernand” – our favourite meal of the trip – complete with the finest creme brûlée for dessert. And though tempted, we could not bring ourselves to order a cup of their “world-famous chef’s coffee” for 14 euros a cup, when the rest of the meal had been so reasonably priced. Maybe that was a mistake, I wonder what made it so famous… maybe its price? It’s decided, I’ll order it next time I go. The picture below is the Arc de Triomphe.
The last bit about Paris I want to mention is our visit to the Catacombes. I can’t describe it better than the website does, so take a second and read the description. What I can say is, the experience of walking through tunnels of carefully arranged bones from all the cemeteries in Paris is unnerving. Words like “ossuary” weren’t in my vocabulary until that afternoon, and the reference to the Cemetery of the Innocents – is something I won’t soon forget. The picture below is one I took, in the dimly lit tunnels far underground. 83 steps underground to be exact (I counted on my way back up.)
By the end of five straight days of walking, our dogs had barked. We were due for an easy day of sitting and our two hour train ride back to London was up next. A few of our fellow travellers must have accidentally had cologne showers that morning because the nauseating chemical smells of Axe-like fragrances filled our train car. We landed at our hotel around 3pm hungry and adamant about eating Indian food for dinner. Our hotel was a lot swankier than I thought it would be – Hotel Russell – (it even had a Canadian electrical outlet on the wall which meant we could charge our phones and use them to GPS our way around the city!) Yes, I was so happy to see the familiar looking outlet that I felt compelled to write about it. The photo below is our hotel at sunset (which is happening in London around 4:30pm these days.)
For dinner, we found a restaurant called “Dishoom.” Our excitement was palpable (and our bellies were empty) and when we arrived at Dishoom we ordered everything they recommended. I had a half litre of wine to Brian’s three beers. It was a lengthy and delicious meal complete with coffee and Chai Tea and when we left it felt like bedtime. It was 6:30pm. As we were leaving the restaurant we noticed a massive line of people waiting to get in. I highly recommend eating there: the food was amazing, the ambiance lovely, and the price reasonable. But apparently, get there early, like we did unknowingly, or you’ll be waiting outside.
It was Brian’s first visit to London and my fourth. We walked quite awhile that first night through Covent Garden, Camden-Market, around Trafalgar Square, through the theatre district, passing pub after pub after pub filled with people, spilling out into the streets drinking beer. It was a perfect night. We were happily buzzed, we were happily lost in the bustle, and eventually we wandered home. The next day we did everything else we had energy to squeeze in. A great breakfast of croissants, oatmeal and delicious coffees at Tap Coffee. Then Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, more Covent Garden, on and on we walked.
We tried to take advantage of the sun rays and stayed outside as much as possible on this trip. We sat on patios, and squinted at the sun, knowing full well we would be returning to a predictable Canadian winter in no time. I love traveling with Brian. He likes reading and writing, and on the plane he’s the guy who keeps his reading lamp on through the whole flight, while everyone else is watching TV. We brought four books over with us, and brought eight new ones back. We visited so many bookstores in France and England, he bought a coat from a great French shop and we both bought new shoes. Most of the time though, we just sat together, walked together, and laughed together, feasting our eyes on the cities before us and left all our worries and day-to-day lists behind.
A truly happy anniversary it was.