For months I planned our trip to Europe, with nothing more than sometimes dismal wifi, Google street view, and the stories of other travelers I did not know. By some miracle, I found time to do this amidst the frenzy of my actual life, until this planning became, well, my sort of other life. Pouring over guides, and maps, and subway routes, I planned until I knew the places like the face of some beautiful stranger I had been staring at for a long time.
Finally, after what seemed like a day of plane rides, Gabby and I arrived in Paris, our first stop in this two-week holiday. But the adventure began hours ago, late the previous night, somewhere above the Indian Ocean.
Our flight to Charles de Gaulle wasn’t the longest of long-hauls, but it was long enough. The first leg began after dinner, and hours later, above the Indian Ocean, I couldn’t tell if it was Bette Davis or the sporadic turbulence that woke me from the fragile sleep I so badly needed.
We landed in Abu Dhabi around midnight where I decided that — I like airports at this time of day. All the somber travelers who line up in a trance, the gentle whir of the walkways, the soundless ascension of planes in the distance, the sleeping babies, the synchronized way flight attendants move through the terminal like a flock of swans. The comings and goings. Airports are portals. The transient home of people from everywhere with suitcases full things and plans. At the gate there was this young man sitting across me who reminded me of Brandon Boyd. He wrote in worn notebooks and with a wooden ruler, he made lines in a page where there were none. And I thought I was the only one.
There was nothing to see from my window seat until we were close to Paris, where suddenly the light revealed a sky that looked like an ombre of cantaloupe and blue, and it dawned on me. Cliche number one: Paris does everything better. Even clouds.
We arrived an hour late, to a drizzly, cold, mid-morning in Paris. October averages are from 8 to 16 degrees Celsius, and very nice if you’re dressed warmly. From the airport we stopped at Gare de Lyon, one of Paris’ oldest and biggest railway stations, located on the north bank of the Seine in the 12th arrondissement.
Paris, one of the largest cities in the world in terms of land area, is divided into 20 arrondissements or districts. This is usually indicated in the last two digits of an address’ postal code. Far from the central arrondissements 1 to 8, where you’ll find the likes of the Louvre, the Marais, the Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, and the Champs Elysees — the 12th is a lesser known part of Paris. Although you’ll read about how this part of the city is becoming trendier by the minute. In his article in Gourmet, Alexander Lobrano writes, “It is here that countless young chefs have chosen to set up shop, due in no small part to the low rents, but also to the demographic turnover that’s seen an influx of well-heeled bobos (bourgeois bohemians) with adventurous palates and a love of good food.”
After a short ride by taxi from Gare de Lyon, we drove through Avenue Daumesnil and arrived at the Hotel de la Porte Doree, our home for the next three days.
In this charming hotel with an eco-label, I had asked for a quiet room on the third floor, because (cute quirk) the metro runs right underneath it. And truly in the night or early in the morning, we would hear the train and feel a shudder. But it was something I had come to love.
I just wanted to crash, but it was nearly noon and we had to run. After grabbing a quick lunch of crock monsieurs and espresso at the nearby Brasserie Les Cascades, we descended to the metro to do what we came to do on our first day in Paris.
We booked ourselves on a Hop-on Hop-off Tour by Viator, to see nine Paris monuments. Very touristy, but also wise, because we didn’t have all the time in the world. And basically, as the name implies, you get on a tour bus (a big red one you can’t miss) at any of the nine monuments, and the bus takes you through a special route where you can choose to get off at any time to explore the sites along the route at leisure. When you’re done, you just find the bus again and continue on the route til the end. It was a great way to acclimatize without getting lost, and it saved us tons of time. We chose to begin at the Opera.
The bus had an audio guide throughout the tour, and from the Opera, it took us to Champs Elysees, Grand Palais, Trocedero, the Eiffel Tower, Champs de Mars, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. That day the tour ended at the Musee D’Orsay, but we decided to skip that because we thought it was useless to visit since we didn’t plan on actually getting inside (the tour is exclusive of entrance fees). Same goes with the Louvre, which deserves a day really, although we did get to see the pyramid.
I enjoyed hanging out at the bus’s open upper deck where I took some photos after it had stopped drizzling. The bus would stop in traffic every so often, and somewhere between waves of jet lag, I felt peaceful amidst Paris’ beautiful architecture, and the gorgeous locals who zipped by on those Velib bikes.
I would have wanted to enter the Opera, and I planned especially on climbing the Notre Dame’s nearly 400 steps to see the gargoyles, but when we got to the cathedral, it seemed like all of the tourists happened to be there at the same time.
All the tourists, and hundreds of Parisians too. They seemed to be celebrating some kind of religious feast, I wasn’t sure. But there was a procession, and the sound of the tower bells, and the heady scent of incense wafting in the cold air.
After breaking for a Capuccino in the grounds, we took the bus home to our hotel. Our stop was a bit of a walk from home but I didn’t fuss or feel lost. This is remarkable given my zero sense of direction, and a testament to how organized and efficient the Paris transport system is. Still, it was a bit of a walk. And so when we chanced upon the Japanese restaurant Ayama near our hotel, we decided to park ourselves there for a dinner of chirashi and chicken teppanyaki. The food came hot and familiar, and a sort of antidote to all the happy shock of sensory overload that Paris can be to a newbie. I felt like crying in my plate.
We walked home and said good night to the youthful but clever Yacine at our hotel’s front desk. That night I lay in bed and thought of how far away we were from the kids, but also of how brilliantly the day went. Happy, sad, repeat. Until Paris, our part of it at least, became quiet. And the sound of the last train lulled me to sleep.
Here is Part 2 of Paris in the Fall! And thanks for reading.
*All photos by Ina Amor Mejia