So, regular readers (I use the term loosely due to my lack of regular blogging recently) and most followers on Twitter will be aware that the “Fuckit List” was born at the end of my previous marriage. The last item at the very bottom of the list was “Go to Paris with Someone Who Loves Me”. The “someone who loves me” part was, of course, going to take some time to come about, and I would be single for YEARS; hence it went on the bottom of the list.
I reckoned without the MrS though and in a striking turn of events, “Go to Paris with Someone Who Loves Me” has become one of the first things to be crossed off The List.
Last Friday, my birthday, found us at Ebsfleet catching the 9:35 Eurostar. Due to a milk-related disaster I was functioning on black coffee instead of my usual tea, so was already bouncing with excitement and caffeine overload when the MrS produced champagne, smoked salmon, cream cheese and bagels for a birthday breakfast on the train.
Surprise Birthday Breakfast
The couple sitting opposite us had had the same idea; I think they were celebrating an anniversary. The female occupant of one of the seats in front of us provided amusement for the journey as she persisted in regaling her friend (although really anyone within a 8 row vicinity) with stories of places she had visited. This might have been just plain irritating were it not for the fact that she either mispronounced, or couldn’t remember the names of, the places she had been.
We stayed on the Rue Sebastopol, which leads directly to Notre Dame, in the Hotel 123 Sebastopol (surprisingly). The hotel is relatively new and, given French hotels’ ability to call a broom cupboard a “room”, I was expecting compact and bijou. However, the room we stayed in easily had space to swing a couple of cats and was beautifully decorated with a view over the hotel courtyard below. Each floor of the hotel was designed in conjunction with, or as a homage to, stars of French screen and stage. The floor we stayed on was decorated using ideas which “emerged from discussions with Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, the storybook couple of modern French cinema”. (No, I don’t know either, but they created some fabulous rooms between them).
That afternoon we wandered the 20 mins to Notre Dame, via a pavement café for some lunch and (for MrS) some pastis, and then on to the Jardin Du Luxembourg, the garden of the French Senate, for some people watching. In Paris you are never far from a Park and most of them are formally laid out, this is no different and some of the flower beds practically stood to attention.
Jardin du Luxembourg
For dinner that night we went to Au Pied du Sacre Coeur, a restaurant that MrS had been recommended, and whilst I don’t think it was quite what he had been expecting, the food was totally delicious and the environment was friendly and cosy. I was slightly beaten by the rather large steak with shallot butter, but still found room for a small crème brulee. Well. It was my birthday after all.
The next morning dawned in glorious sunshine and after a (not very French) breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup and bacon we set off to the only 2 places I absolutely, definitely wanted to visit on this trip.
When I had last visited Paris, nearly 15 years ago, I wanted to go to Musee D’Orsay and Musee de L’Orangerie but both were closed and I was very disappointed. This time we made it. L’Orangerie is a beautiful building in its own right, and is most famous for housing, in a specially designed environment, a series of 8 of Monet’s water lily murals called Nymphéas. They are absolutely stunning and were well worth the years of waiting. Although whilst giggling at the thought of Mrs Monet complaining that he might be “painting those flippin’ lillies again” we were shushed by a stern looking lady. Clearly in her opinion Art Is Serious Not Joyful. Bollocks to that. Art provokes emotions, and that can be anything. They were spellbinding, although it was hard to believe that I was standing there looking at the real thing at last, having seen photos of them so often before.
This was a theme we returned to later that day in the Musee D’Orsay. It’s a strange thing to suddenly be standing in front of something so familiar we might have had them hanging on our own wall at home for years. The Degas Ballerinas that I so adore, looking like the lid of a jigsaw puzzle box! The Musee D’Orsay is housed in a Beaux-Arts railway station, built between 1898 and 1900, and is just as beautiful in its own right as the L’Orangerie. I would recommend going to either as early in the day as you possibly can to avoid the crowds. We spent time in the L’Orangerie looking at an exhibition of drawings selected from the thousands held by the D’Orsay, so we saw the Degas charcoal sketches of the paintings we saw later in the day. Just gorgeous. One thing we did do in advance was decide what we really wanted to see and made sure we saw those first.
The Eiffel Tower from the top of Montparnasse Tower
Deciding not to fight the crowds at the Eiffel Tower, we headed instead for the Montparnasse Tower, an ugly skyscraper that you can pretty much see from anywhere in Paris…unless you are on the top of it. The lift takes 38 seconds to get to the 56th floor where there is a cafe and the ubiquitous souvenir shop, an d then a quick step up the last remaining stairs brings you out on to a glass-surrounded rooftop. The views are spectacular and there were a lot less people at the top than there would have been at the Eiffel Tower.
Saturday night saw us eating in the tiny restaurant L’Ecluse Grand Augustins, on the Seine, almost opposite Notre Dame. It’s one of a very small chain and it’s known for the fact that you can buy the wine to take away as well as to drink with your meal. You just chose a bottle from around the room. There was a party of 12 in at the same time, and with us and another table of 4 it was full, but the food was extraordinarily good (Assiette of Charcuterie and Confit of Lamb, which just melted in the mouth, for me and Fois Gras and Goose with Duck for MrS ). Despite the fact that the clearly understaffed restaurant had been packed all day, the staff were again very friendly and took the time to explain the menu to me (pretty sure MrS knew exactly what it all said already…). Neither of us wanted a dessert but did enjoy a glass of a wonderful Sancerres dessert wine, a bottle of which accompanied us home, along with two bottles of red for offspring with birthdays approaching…
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur
On Sunday morning we strolled through Monmatre and around the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, perfect for lots of people watching and a little bit of ‘tat’ buying (two ironic Eiffel tower key rings for the sons).
The pavement cafes here did not demonstrate the very good service we had received everywhere else and was the only time on our trip that reinforced the ‘rude French’ stereotype. Perhaps it reflects the type of customers they usually get around this part.
Our last lunch on French soil was at another recommended restaurant off the Champs Elysee, Le Bistro Marbeuf and following more Charcuterie for me, I was introduced to the dessert “îles flottantes” – “Floating Island” . Basically a poached meringue floating in an island of Cream Anglais. It was tooth-achingly sweet and the meringue was as big as my head. Reader, it defeated me.
The Paris Marathon was on that day, the Champs Elysee was flooded with people in ‘finisher’ tshirts and bright green plastic macs. The atmosphere was amazing as we walked up to the Arc D’Triomphe. Sadly though, this was where our visit to Paris ended and then we were back on the Eurostar, both utterly shattered .
Paris was just as beautiful as I remembered it and we could easily go back another 2 or 3 times before running out of things to see. We would both love to go to the Musee Rodin in particular and maybe explore more of the back streets and quiet areas of Paris. Most importantly we enjoyed it together.
So, the best thing about the weekend? I really couldn’t say. Finally seeing the Impressionist paintings I’d longed to see was amazing, and the view from the top of Montparnasse Tower was breathtaking, and walking around hand in hand in the City of Lights together was romantic. But maybe, just maybe, the best thing was the surprise breakfast on the train, arranged by someone who took the time to plan that for me. Someone who loves me.