I love Paris in the springtime.
Okay, so I love Paris pretty much anytime. And we weren’t exactly there in the springtime. February is not, by anyone’s standards, springtime in Paris. But by some magical good fortune, the weather that we had while visiting allowed me to at least imagine that I was, in fact, walking through Paris in the spring. It was, while not warm, at least not freezing cold, and not raining. And a sunny, cool Paris is perhaps my favorite Paris of all. I’ve been there in December, when it was so cold it took your breath away, and Paris has the kind of cold that goes all the way into your bone marrow and settles there, making you feel as though you’ll never be warm again. I’ve also been there several times in the summer, and don’t care to repeat that experience at all- too many people, and there’s no hot like a dirty, grimy, muggy, city hot. No, thank you.
My son and I, however, decided to go over for our school’s winter break, almost on a whim. It’s been an unusually busy year for us, since last May, when we took in a set of teenage fraternal twins for their senior year of high school. It’s a long story how that all came about- perhaps I can sum up as a long series of less than stellar maternal choices- and we’ve known these kids since they and my daughter were in 9th grade together at our tiny little university model school. So when the two of them were facing the possibility of having to spend their senior year at a completely different school, in a completely different part of town (so that mom could live with her boyfriend, you see), well, somehow these two ended up in our basement apartment. And honestly? It’s been amazing. Sometimes trying (they are not, ahem, tidy, and I am a neat freak) and exhausting (cooking for 4 teenagers) and expensive (grocery shopping- need I say more?), but overall, amazing. We’ve had the privilege of watching two already extraordinary young people become who God intended for them to be all along, if only they could have the safe space to do so. Lucky us! But, there is still the need to reconnect and reset with my own children, especially my son. He is a little bit the odd man out, as the only freshman among seniors. But there’s also the fact that he is just an incredible travel partner! I love traveling with this kid! He has boundless and yet calm energy, is curious and interested about everything, and does relatively little complaining. He’s just not a drama guy. Also, I’d taken his sister and one of the twins to Victoria in January– it was time just to spend a little time with my boy.
And so, off to Paris we went. I though initially about complicating things, about arriving in Paris and catching a train down to Avignon and spending the time in southern France instead, but when you just have a short amount of time, it’s best to travel to someplace directly. And I feel like I really did it right this time.
First of all, we took a late flight out of Atlanta. This got us in to France in the middle of the day, rather than early morning. The benefits of this were twofold: we didn’t have to muddle through an entire day on no sleep- we only had to muddle through half a day on no sleep. And, we weren’t stuck in Paris morning rush hour traffic while trying to get to our hotel! Second, I didn’t mess with trying to take the train into the city. I know, I know, Paris has excellent public transportation. It’s true. But it’s also a struggle, when you have luggage and you’re trying to figure out exactly what part of the city you are staying in and what stop and of COURSE there are never escalators, so you have to drag those becoming-heavier-by-the-moment bags that you thought you’d packed so lightly up and down stairs. And then if you’re arriving early morning, jet lagged and exhausted on top of that? Oh, no thank you. It was worth every centime of the 50 euro set rate to get from Charles de Gaulle to the Marais. I will, from here on out, just include that in my travel budget!
And then, there was the fact that we chose to stay in the Marais.
Oh, the Marais! I’ve heard for years how wonderful it is there- my French teacher has expounded it on at length many times- but I didn’t know until February that really, she had only scratched the surface of how marvelous this place is. The Marais in Paris is a comfortable, cozy neighborhood, where the same people see each other every day while buying their bread and having their coffee. It’s filled with life and energy and people just living their lives, as well as wonderful restaurants (I’ll get to my favorite in a moment!) and shops selling interesting and unique objets. Where so much of Paris is Haussman’s vision of orderly architectural perfection, the Marais is still, in some ways, a little messy. You can even catch a glimpse of a couple of old half-timbered buildings that somehow escaped Baron Haussman’s wrecking ball. But my favorite part about being in this lovely little corner of Paris for a few days was the ability to step out the door of my hotel in the morning and take my pick of cafes serving an excellent cafe au lait, of bakeries with bread and croissants baked the way they’ve been baked for generations. I walked past cheese shops with Mont d’Or on display, past flower shops with their wares beautifully arranged to entice me to want absolutely everything they had. My son and I found a place for a late afternoon hot chocolate, and then a place for an even later evening nutella crepe, a treat that is de rigeur for both my children when visiting Paris. We went there two nights in a row.
But one of my favorite meals that we had there in this part of Paris was a meal of les galettes, or crepes, but not the sweet sort that lend themselves to slathering in nutella or cinnamon sugar. Mais non! Galettes are a treat from the northern part of France (not to be confused with the other use of the word galette, which means an equally wonderful yet completely different sort of rustic tart) and are made with buckwheat. Buckwheat crepes are heaven when filled with the typical savory fillings- an egg, some ham, some gruyere, maybe a little spinach- honestly, there’s a long list of things that are quite at home in a galette. And the place to explore those endless possibilities is Breizh Cafe. There’s nothing else I can say about this place except go there. If you are in Paris, go there.
Of course we did a few of the other necessary Paris things to do: we saw the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, we went into the Notre Dame (neither of these things ever get old for me), we walked a hundred miles through the Latin Quarter and along the Seine. But we also did something I’ve never done before- we visited the catacombs. Guidebooks will warn you that there is a long line, and they are right. There is a long line. You can circumvent this by buying tickets ahead of time, but you will pay twice as much. And so, we waited. All in all, it wasn’t so bad- maybe about an hour which indeed felt like much longer as we stood on a gusty sidewalk in a rather bleak part of town, but it was so worth it! So creepy! So macabre! So fascinating! Now I have to go back and take my daughter, who is obsessed, oddly, with all things plague related.
And that, for us, was Paris in February. A quick jaunt over, a few days eating and walking and exploring bone-filled underground chambers, but no museums and not really many of the well-known tourist attractions, a lot of time just enjoying each others’ company. I reconnected with my son while at the same time I feel like I fell even deeper in love with this amazing city because I got to know her a little more deeply (did I mention that you can now Uber in Paris? A game changer). I will go back to the Marais, and next time I’m there I’ll actually go into the amazing looking shops and ateliers I passed (shopping isn’t something I do when traveling with my son). I will go to the museum that I stumbled upon early one morning while seeking cafe au lait, a museum of the Holocaust whose exterior even brought me to tears, suddenly, inexplicably.
And you’d better believe that I’ll be back at Breizh Cafe. After all, there’s a long list of ingredients that could go into a galette that I haven’t tried yet.