A Paris Weekend: the good, the bad and the surprising

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I went to Paris last week, though I think you know this already.  The trip was a complete adventure from beginning to end.  Sometimes good, sometimes bad.

The adventures began standing on an empty train platform the day before I arrived in Paris.  Instead of flying both ways, I took an overnight train from Milan.  Unfortunately, the train left at 11:38 pm.  Italian train stations are dodgy during daylight hours and completely unpredictable once the sun sets.  Despite freaking out as my train was delayed in Pavia, I made it to Milan without incident and found a group of only slightly strange people waiting for the Thello train to Paris Gare du Lyon.

I had taken an overnight train once before, from New York to New Orleans (I really hate planes), and slept in a reclined seat.  Perhaps foolishly, I though I would do the same this time.  Instead, I was in a compartment with a bed.  The car was meant to hold six people, but there were only five of us in total.  The missing person was above me (score!  less claustrophobia).  There were three beds going up each side of the compartment.  If you’ve ever travelled in Italy, it was as if an intercity train had a bunk instead of overhead baggage racks and the tops of the chairs folded down to create a bunk.  Surprisingly, I slept very well, despite being woken up at the Swiss border to hear the border patrol yelling at the passengers in the adjacent car.  If you don’t like planes, it’s a fantastic way to get from Italy to France.  Even if you don’t mind planes, it’s was still a pleasant experience that I would recommend without hesitation (I booked a female only car and, for any female of any age traveling alone, I highly recommend it.  I saw some people in other cars who seemed to be having an all night party, whereas my car had the lights off straight away and the beds down.  it was a group of people who were serious about sleeping, score).

I arrived in Paris at 9:30 well rested and ready to immerse myself in my new environment.  My mother met me at the train station.  It was incredible to get off a train in Paris and see her standing there!  We immediately hopped on the metro to the apartment she was sharing with her friend. My eyes grew wide with the beauty of being completely and totally confused.  I forgot how exciting it is to be in a country where I don’t speak the language and don’t know the culture.
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My mother and I didn’t do much the first day.  We went to a fantastic, and huge market, on Boulevard Richard Lenoir that ran from Bastille into the horizon.  We pieced together words and tried to figure out how to say this, that and not spend all our money on a kilo of haricot vert.  We did well.  Although that could just be the goat cheese and honey galette we shared at the market talking. Everything seems a little better when enveloped up in a crisp buckwheat wrapper.
A trip to Paris in early to mid January wouldn’t be complete with a trip (or two or three) to Les Soldes.  My mother and I did them justice.  We spent too much time combing Galleries Lafayette for the perfect pair of heavily discounted french shoes (I got a lovely pair of black leather booties and my mother got a pair of suede lace up shoes).  We looked at scarves, hats, bags and waited on line to see what Longchamp was offering.  We even paused to have a Pierre Herme macaron break (mother: grapefruit, cloves and nutmeg.  me: white truffle and hazelnut).  When we tired of the department stores, we went to Petit Bateau where I spent hours debating whether or not a forest green turtle neck would work.  Verdict?  It kept me very warm during my linguistics exam.
We waited in the frigid cold to drink hot chocolate at Laduree.  The chocolate was fantastic, the pisatchio ecair we shared was so bland we left half of it on the plate.  We found a shop that sold just canelé and planned to share one, until my mother realized she didn’t like canelé and let me have it all.  We went to La Grande Epicerie and spent hours oogling the chocolate (Michel Cluizel!) and the baking mixes.  I’m still regretting not getting a brioche mix.  The idea is so hysterical that it might be worth a return trip.  We got a savory jam made from apples and cumin that I ate perhaps a bit too much of.  My goodness, it was delicious.
Saturday morning my mother and I took our traditional walk outside to get croissants.  We wandered through the nearly empty streets to Au Levain du Marais.  We admired the lovely pastries eagerly and came back with an astonishingly large and beautifully wrapped bounty: three croissants, a pain au lait and a chaussons aux pommes.  I had a croissant, a slice of the chaussons aux pomme and a little bit of the pain au lait.It was a calm start to what would be come an incredibly trying day.  We were going to Malmaison. The internet in the apartment disappeared without a trace sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning, leaving us with directions that were only partially completed.  After a fortifying noisette we hopped on the RER to the Reuil-Malmaison stop.  Easy as a baguette.

The bus that would take us from train station to the chateau wasn’t there.  It was at the end of the metro line, not the RER stop.  The other bus, that should have been a perfect substitute, didn’t run on the weekend.  We could have walked, but we weren’t certain about the direction and it was horribly cold and rainy.  After a good amount of time debating what to do, we reluctantly called a taxi and waited ten minutes before the beacon of warmth arrived.  When the driver went on the highway, I chuckled.  Our direction were most definitely half-baked.  After a while we arrived and got out, ready to see chateau.
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Or so we thought.  We arrived in the middle of lunch and while the website said the schedule was continuous, the chateau was closed.  After a few minutes of depressed laughter, we decided to find somewhere to warm up for a bit.  Not even at the end of the street, there was a local arts center with a huge lobby.  It was glorious.  We ate chocolate.  We loved the hand dryers with their exceptionally warm air.

And then we went back to an opened Chateau Malmaison.  I got in free as a student, showing them my Bristol ID with the last interaction I fear I will ever have with my beloved Marc Jacobs wallet my parents got me for my twentieth birthday.

That’s right.  My wallet was stolen when we went back to Paris that evening.  Was it on the metro?  Was it when I was eagerly taking a photo of my second white truffle and hazelnut macaron of the trip?  Was it by that guy who was very clearly smoking an illegal substance in the Marais?  Who knows.  I kind of wish I did.  But I also kind of don’t.

That evening I drowned my sorrows over brilliant falafel from Chez H’anna for dinner and cheap champagne, a taste of Ispahan and a small carrément chocolat from Pierre Herme for dessert.  My mother and I bought pomme du terre cakes (essentially a fatter version of a latke) and ate them walking down the street.  Very few things have ever tasted so good.

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Sunday was, sadly, my final day in Paris.  It began, as all good days should I think, having a long chat with my mother at La Cafeotheque.  If there is a cafe in Paris with more space and more gorgeous views, I have yet to find it.  Frankly, I’m not sure if I’d want to.  We spent the day walking around a sleepy Paris.  I got a new wallet.  We tried a cafe called Cafe St Victor and don’t understand the fuss.  We walked and looked in closed store windows.  We managed to get a baguette from Gosselin, which won a best baguette award.  My mother and I took a few greedy bites of steaming hot baguette on the street and agreed that it was worthy of the title.  By the time the bread arrived home it was fallen over and sunken in; not nearly as good but amusing to look at.

Monday morning my mother woke up at 4:30 am to accompany me to the airport.  We waited in a nearly empty metro station and then took an astonishingly crowded RER to the airport.  It was a maze to get to terminal 2B, the EasyJet area.  Yet we managed, stopping at Paul on the way for a ritual cappuccino.  Did you know that Laduree and Paul are owned by the same company?  That bit of knowledge made me like Paul that much more and Laduree that much less.

My mother and I spent a long time hugging and crying (all on my part) before I went through security.

The flight was the strangest flight I’ve ever taken.  Not because of how short it was, or because of how tired I was, but because it was only business people flying.  Despite being a budget airline, every one on my flight was well dressed and polished.  It almost made waking up at four am worth it.  Though not really, to be honest.

I had a great trip to Paris and I’m sad to be back.  While I’m still not head over heels in love with the city like some people are, I think it’s safe to say that I have a new appreciation for it.  Even if I do need someone with better French skills to help me navigate it.

Have you ever been to Paris?  If so, what was the highlight of your trip?  If not, do you want to go? 

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3 thoughts on “A Paris Weekend: the good, the bad and the surprising

  1. Pingback: To Learn French or Not to Learn French « emilialiveslife

  2. Pingback: The Croissant from Le Moulin a Café in Yorkville | Emilia Lives Life

  3. Pingback: On 2013 | Emilia Lives Life

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