Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Paris with one of my friends, Sia. We found a deal on a voucher website for three nights in a hotel in Nanterre, about 20 minutes outside central Paris on the RER, with Eurostar travel included, so we snapped it off and on Friday morning, off we went.
After a disturbingly easy journey to Paris, we headed to our hotel (with the rather ominous addition to the ‘amenities’ list on the website: ‘interior corridors’, but surprisingly OK) to dump our belongings and headed off to join a Seine cruise. The weather was – and I apologise for this in advance – inSeine, and in that one 90 minute trip we encountered bright sunshine, hail and a lightning storm. We even saw hail hit the Eiffel Tower. I wish I’d got a picture of that but I’m no photographer. I did, however, get some moody shots of the sky.
After that, we went roaming around the riverside and found ourselves in a little bistro where we eased our way into the Parisian diet (90% protein) with a cheeseboard and some rosé. The interesting thing is that it tends to be cheaper to buy a glass of wine here than it is a soft drink, so naturally we opted for wine much of the time. Everything felt very authentic. People were smoking. The waiters ignored our attempts to attract their attention. A man sat beside us with a tiny beer and a coffee. It was lovely.
We then took ourselves off to the staple of the French capital’s skyline, the Eiffel Tower, behind which a rainbow formed. I’m not quite sure what it was about us that attracted such diverse weather conditions, but as a secret meteorology enthusiast I certainly wasn’t complaining. Souvenir touts jangled endless Eiffel Tower-shaped keyrings in our faces. ‘Non merci’ wasn’t enough and we had to keep scuttling away. For dinner, we ended up in a little café-cum-bar where some of the obvious regulars got up and started inexplicably dancing.
The next day, we realised that perhaps we should do a little more than simply ‘the Eiffel Tower and drinking wine’, so in a blind panic we did pretty much everything else in one day. We started off at the Notre Dame, which was just as impressive as the last time I visited. I have a real penchant for Gothic architecture, so it’s a real treat seeing something so ornate and majestic.
A little bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, was our next stop, perched between the Latin Quarter and the Seine, which was teeming with books and books and books and lots of handwritten notes scrawled on scraps of paper. Our own contributions, for instance, were written in my lipstick (MAC Russian Red) on two old Brighton bus tickets. I wrote a Rufus Wainwright quote because I’m just like that:
‘So I’m leaving for Paris, won’t you try to take care of yourself?’
Lunch was AMAZING. Truly. I think the place we ate was called something like ‘Le chat qui peche’, and our meal was a steal at €12 for three (excellent) courses. I went for mussels in cream (it’s France, you have to), chicken with mushrooms and we both opted to try the mousse au chocolat. Of course, wine accompanied this too. So much wine. I think we drank Paris dry.
In the afternoon, we hopped back on the Metro to Montmartre, where we accidentally ended up walking up the five hundred million steps to the Sacre Coeur (or thereabouts) where for no obvious reason there were lots of police congregating. Once inside, we sat down for a little contemplate (not about Catholicism, unfortunately, more about our burning thighs) and established that the ceiling was gorgeous. It’s interesting the way they play the sound of a man sssh-ing everyone over the speakers if it gets a little rowdy, i.e. if someone coughs or breathes too loudly.
Our attempt to go see the Moulin Rouge was scuppered by our discovery of a chocolate shop in Montmartre. Inside was a chocolate Notre Dame (henceforth: Choctre Dame) and some dustily delicate pastel macaroons. A diabetic in a chocolate shop is an accident waiting to happen, right? Mais non, mes amis: I purchased two small macaroons (rose and pistachio) and a little bag of vibrant meringues to bring home for a staggering €1,80.
Eventually, after another stop in a confectionary shop with some beautiful vintage biscuit tins, we made it to the Moulin Rouge. I’d only seen it at night on my previous visit, and it’s not quite the same during the day, I must say. The gaudy neon struck something of a chord with me when it was illuminating the throng of tourists on my last visit, throwing a punchy red light out onto all the gawping faces watching the iconic windmill, but during the day it felt a little subdued. There is no doubting that Pigalle is as seedy as it comes. For some respite from the impending rain shower, and to protect ourselves in the absence of coats and umbrellas, we went to Les Deux Moulins, the cafe where the most famous French film of them all, Amélie, was set. Here, more rosé was consumed, and we sneakily nibbled on one of our macaroons. I went for rose, just so I could be eating a rose macaroon and sipping rosé. Chic, non?
In a decidedly less chic move, we thought we’d stop off in the museum of erotic art. I think we peaked too soon. We started, accidentally, on the super-explicit, super-graphic artworks, and made our way down to the ‘gentler’ material. Before we left, the man at the desk told us that if we stayed until 7pm, we could have a drink with an artist. It was about half four. We politely declined and made the next leg of the journey.
This time, we ended up at the Tuileries, the gardens running alongside the Louvre. It was raining but there were lots of dogwalkers and runners out nonetheless. Some boys played football. I kept thinking they’d lose control of the ball and it would knock me out. It didn’t. We gave up on the rain and took the Metro to Oberkampf, having heard great thing
s about its swinging nightlife. A word of advice: Oberkampf only has swinging nightlife if you enjoy spending your evenings in estate agents and video game shops. We tried again with a trip to Madeleine, where we took shelter with another cheeseboard and more wine and exploited the free Wi-Fi by entering into the first silence of the trip as we both caught up with the outside world.
For dinner, a further Metro journey took us somewhere I can’t quite remember. I tried beef bourguignon for the first time (I rarely order red meat) which was nice. We also had Kirs to break up the ‘monotony’ of wine. Both torn apart with exhaustion after our exceedingly busy day, we headed back to the hotel where we watched a bit of BBC World News before going to sleep. Thug life.
On our final full day, we kicked off with a trip to the Louvre. It was hot but we got in for free. The architecture was astonishing. The impressionist works were incredible. The Mona Lisa was a disappointment, but the huge painting adorning the opposite wall was far more impressive. There were some nice indoor trees. The Louvre, being so glass-based, became extremely hot so we went outside for some air and to admire the fountains. I even took my cardigan off. That never happens.
Lunch comprised Nutella crepes and more rosé. We were both pleasantly tipsy by the end of the gigantic glasses of wine we were given, and chose to walk up the Champs-Elysées. This was sweltering. We ended up sitting on a step in a back street for a rest in the shade before continuing on to the Arc du Triomphe. It certainly is a big arch. I felt like it was our own personal triumph just making it there in the searing heat.
We spent our last afternoon hot and exhausted in the Tuileries and sat in a cafe where a waiter was exceptionally rude to us for no real reason. Determined not to let him spoil our evening, we floated off to Montparnasse-Bienvenue to eye up the bars and restaurants, before taking the Metro one stop to Edgar Quinet (literally the other side of Montparnasse Tower) and taking residence in a bar for the evening. In a carnal rage most likely inspired by my beef bourguignon the previous day, I went for a steak which proceeded to bleed onto my plate. It was hard to tell whether or not they killed the cow before they plated it up but I just ignored the mooing. We got through a modest two bottles of wine plus another two glasses between us and tried to get the attention of two attractive French boys who ignored us. A cat walked in and sat next to our table for a little bit. We returned to the hotel, merry in both senses, and waved goodbye to our best friend, the Eiffel Tower, from the front carriage of the Metro. That weekend reminded me exactly why it is j’adore Paris, and I can’t wait to return.