I knew I should’ve taken the earlier train – it meant that I missed service on the breakfast menu at the increasingly popular Holybelly cafe and thus missed the savoury stack of pancakes that I’d been craving for a year!! (They were closed for refurbishment last time I visited in September.) And it meant I got in to Paris at lunch time so everyone will be queuing with me.
Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait and my alternative choice of meal, as recommended by one of the lovely girls there, was an experience and a joy. Two poached eggs, with that ridiculously amazing French bread that is crusty to the point of almost cracking teeth but is too temptingly delicious to leave be, plus salad and crispy bacon and the most wonderful baked beans I have ever had in my life. Quaffed down with a London Fog – earl grey tea with vanilla syrup and frothy milk.
I’d decided to visit Paris again on a whim, as I knew hubby would be here for work and the tickets for £29 each way were released-instant decision made! I wanted to see if I could visit some of the places I didn’t on my last trip in September and pick up a few more bits from my favourite pharmacy. As the weather was so miserable I decided to spend the majority of the Friday shopping and spend Saturday doing the more touristy stuff.
My belly was full with deliciousness from Holybelly and my course was set: tackle City Pharma first, then try Sephora and Mac for some extra bits. I managed to pick up some clay masks from Argiletz, extra Nuxe goodies like the brilliant Reve de Miel lip balm and the oh-so-yummy smelling Huile Prodigieuse as well as lots of hand cream (I get through it so quickly!) and a mini Beauty Elixir spritz from Caudalie.
By the time I left (€50 lighter) it had started to rain and oh reader, Paris in the rain is not fun. I still needed to find my Mac bits and headed off on a wild goose chase to two separate stores but they had sold out of my exact shade. Oh well. The second store was very close to the Montparnasse tower and I briefly wondered whether I should head up for a touristy visit, but with the skies so overcast and gloomy I decided to save my €15 and promise to head back another time.
I had bought my usual carnet of metro tickets and hopped on a line taking me towards les grandes magasins making note of one of the more unsettling aspects of Paris since the attacks: when entering most shops you were asked to open your coat – to show you weren’t wearing an explosive vest, and bag – to show you didn’t have weapons.
By this point in the day I’d already walked 13km according to my tracker and I was feeling it. I headed to the hotel before the others for a freshen up before a much needed dinner.
Once reunited with hubby and his colleagues, we had a quick turnaround to visit one of my favourite chocolate and sweet shops – A la mere de famille – situated just a 10/15 minute walk away from the hotel. I only wish I could give you smell-o-vision dear reader!
This feast for the senses was founded before the revolution, in 1761 and maintains its old charm beautifully, from the counter filled with chocolates and jars with delectable treats to the beautiful floor tiles. There’s even a kiosk where the cashier sits! I learned that the French for marshmallow is not marshmallow with a French accent – *dies* – thankfully not me, that was hubby making me seriously embarrassed, but guimauves and I asked for one of each flavour of the huge fluffy sweets.
I also picked up a selection of macarons, not the fanciest of selections but delicious all the same. These are the plain almond biscuits without the colouring but with traditional fillings inside such as pine nut, almond, chocolate and salted caramel. My brain translated lack of colourants as basically good for you – if I’m wrong, I don’t want to be right!
After a strange nights sleep (apparently I need a small monster of a cat to crush my legs or hear him purring on my chest to feel truly relaxed) it was time to set off and hit the tourist-y places. I was grateful for the early start to be able to get the metro down to the Louvre and be one of the first in to see the Mona Lisa before the crowds made me question life and the use of aggressive elbows.
A wonderful friend *waves to Nikki* sent me a note about the secret entrance to the Louvre. Secret? Well, not quite but I can’t tell you how much it cut down on waiting times. I HATE queuing and crowds and this basically avoided the worst of it. I hadn’t pre-purchased my ticket so I thought my best bet was to head to the underground entrance. Basically, get off at the Palais Royal Louvre stop and head for the Carousel shopping centre. This will bring you to the inverted pyramids. You can also access the Louvre via the Porte Richelieu if you have pre-paid tickets. I can’t say enough for being an early bird getting the worm here either, just a handful of people were waiting with me for the security checkpoint.
This meant I could get to the ticket booth, pay my €15 and race to the Richelieu wing to see the lady with the enigmatic smile, without a million people joining me.
No, seriously. Look at all the emptiness I had! It was like a perfect dream scenario for me. I was tempted to dance on the stairs (no one would have seen me) in gleeful joy.
Just a handful of people were in this giant room waiting to see the Mona Lisa. I managed to get a moment admiring her by the barriers all by myself.
After that I decided to explore the quiet museum a little more and make the most of the time I had to kill. I reckoned two hours at the Louvre would be more than enough for my back/legs/brain. I decided to visit the opulent apartments of Napoleon III and enjoy some alone time there.
Once again I pretty much had the place to myself so did my usual “pretend you live here in the past” thing and let my imagination run wild.
Many moons ago I had read the brilliant La Reine Margot by Alexander Dumas which takes place in Paris and the Louvre around the reign of Charles IX and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. It is funny and gory and makes Game of Thrones look like Little House(s) on the Prairie. I imagined Marguerite running down this staircase chased by a crazed Catherine de Medici.
Satisfied with my foray back in time I wandered around the rest of the museum.
I thought this was a great use for the medieval moat and enjoyed walking around. I realised that some people were looking at me funny but put it down to a natural paranoia. Then I looked down at my top and realised why…
My next stop was only a short walk away from the Louvre, at the Musee de l’Orangerie and I walked through a cold and bleak Jardin des Tuileries admiring the many runners and strollers braving the freezing temperatures.
I had pre-booked a ticket using the handy fnac website to visit the large, permanent water lilies exhibition by Monet in the oval rooms, specially built for his large paintings.
They were beautiful spaces, I just wish it had been a little quieter so I could’ve had a longer sit down on the central benches and admired the work. One of the rooms was filled with art students sketching away and other tourists taking so many selfies to the point of making me want to rip the cameras out of their hands. I genuinely don’t understand why they think a picture of them duck-facing in front of exquisite work, by one of the most talented artists in the world, is a thing. *mini rant over*
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the museum for more paintings by artists such as Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Cezanne and more.
My next stop took me south/left of the river to the stunning Pantheon, sat on top of a hill in the fifth arrondissement. This huge building has been a church, science display and mausoleum in its many incarnations.
It also houses the mesmerising Foucault pendulum a simple contraption that demonstrates that the Earth rotates. A brass-coated lead ball swings from a long wire secured in the ceiling of the dome and the plane of the pendulum’s swing rotates clockwise 11° per hour.
Make sure to take a trip down to the crypt to visit the tombs of some of the greatest French writers and people in history including my pal Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo and Voltaire.
By this point, around 1-ish, I was hungry again and being so close to my favourite spot I decided a brisk walk down the hill and across the river to Ile St Louis and the wonderful Cafe St Regis.
I’ve written about this gorgeous little place before from my previous trip, but it’s worth saying again. There are many cafes and bistros in Paris but this one holds a special place in my heart for being an oasis of calm. Dining as a woman alone can sometimes feel intimidating or uncomfortable but I was welcomed with a warm smile as if they knew me as a regular visitor – I guess I practically am though!
I didn’t have to be back at Gare du Nord to meet hubby and his colleagues until 4 so I had some time still to kill. I settled in and ordered a hearty meal of Croque Madame which is Croque Monsieur (bread, ham and cheese, all grilled – so basically hammy pizza!) but with an egg. Utterly delicious.
As I felt so comfortable there and I was in the middle of Wet January I decided to order a little cocktail to wash all the food down. I chose a Sweet Home Alabama – Amaretto, Southern Comfort and Stolynichaya vodka. Let’s just say it was potent. *hic* I had to order crepes with Nutella to ensure I wouldn’t be too wobbly on my feet. That’s my excuse for stuffing my face and I’m sticking with it!
I rolled out of the cafe over an hour and a half later, satisfied and very cheery, pausing to stop and listen to the amazing pianist on the bridge connecting Ile St Louis to Ile de la Cite and briskly avoiding the crowds by Notre Dame. I thought I would kill time by heading to the lovely Cité metro station but I ended up being distracted by the spires of Sainte Chapelle.
Checking the time I still had an hour until the meeting time and I really didn’t want to hang around Gare du Nord. There was still a bit of a queue for Sainte Chapelle but if you walk up, past the police at the gates, you’ll come to a non-description entrance with a National Monuments board for the Conciergerie.
The stunning fairytale building that looks like a medieval chateau from the other side of the river – that’s the Conciergerie. It was once part of the Royal Palace complex, together with the Palais de Justice and Sainte Chapelle and served as a prison.
This huge space (imagine the parties you could host!) greeted me as I walked down the steps into the lower hall, the Hall of the Men at Arms. I had NO IDEA this vastness existed and I was in it for a mere €8!
It was originally a massive dining hall for the many thousands of staff that serviced the palace complex.
The Conciergerie gained infamy during the Revolution holding prisoners who would then be transported to the guillotines across the city. The most famous prisoner was Marie Antoinette and they’ve preserved the chapel created in situ of her cell as well as a mock up of the cell itself. I found the different types of cells really interesting – you could pay for a private suite! – and the roll call of the many names of political prisoners was harrowing.
It was finally time to head to GdN and meet up with hubby and his colleagues. Although my time in Paris was pretty short I felt like I had managed to do as much as I possibly could within the time frame and still enjoy myself. I checked my tracker, I’d managed to walk nearly 20kms despite taking the metro nearly everywhere! I was exhausted but happy. I just needed one final item to pick up for the journey home – delicious demi baguettes. A bien tôt Paris!