Jim and I had a short break in Paris at the end of September. We wanted to take the opportunity to catch up with our friends Chris and Paul Del Balso, visiting the French capital on their annual soujourn from their home in New York.
We stayed at Port-Royal-Hôtel, a small family run hotel on Boulevard Port-Royal, in the 5th arrondissement at the lower end of the Latin Quarter. It's a great spot, recommended by my francophile friend Val, it's located just round the corner from the bustling Rue Mouffetard and a ten minute walk from Luxembourg Gardens. I've stayed there twice and would return.www.port-royal-hotel.fr/
The hotel is convenient for the Metro at Les Gobelins, various bus routes and you can also take the train from Port-Royal all the way to Charles de Gaulle airport. Mainly we walked, including all the way to Musee d'Orsay, where we caught up with Chris and Paul. They were staying at a beautiful apartment in Saint-Germain des Prés, where they treated us to a wonderful dinner. We had a great time wandering around that area, admiring the designer shops, vibrant cafes and investigating the ancient covered passages.
I particularly liked Rue de l'Ancienne Comédie, where you can find the restaurant, Le Procope. Founded in 1686 it lays claim to being the oldest café in Paris and the haunt of many famous literary figures including, La Fontaine, Voltaire and Oscar Wilde. We were very impressed by the chocolatiers and Chris introduced us to Patrick Roger, with its amazing chocolates and more unexpectedly – an art gallery full of sculptures on the first floor.
There's something very relaxing about visiting a place where you have been before and which has some degree of familiarity. There's not the same tendency to consult the guide books and cram in all the tourist attractions. So we took it fairly easy, plans were minimal and we indulged ourselves in a lot of long, aimless walks.
These included a lovely day wandering along the banks of the River Seine – we went to Shakespeare & Co bookshop, which is irresistible – then walked along to Musee d'Orsay, where we queued for tickets for the Splendour and Misery Exhibition. The first major exhibition on the subject of prostitution, it retraced the artists' fascination with people and places. It was certainly very impressive with the work of many well known artists on display, including, Toulouse Lautrec – it was very very busy. More relaxing was our wander in Musée Jacquemart-André, a public museum on Rue Hausmann, it's free to enter and well worth a visit. The building itself is beautiful and the exhibition Florence Portraits at the Court of the Medics (on until 25th January, 2016) was fascinating and an unexpected surprise.
Jim and I aren't really big foodies but as we were in the area we headed for Cafe Angélina in Galleries Lafayette, Boulevard Hausmann. It's a classy place and we enjoyed both the surroundings and some very decadent chocolate cake. We were equally delighted by the amazing ceiling in this department store.
We had a very extravagant picnic when we picked up our lunch to go from Dalloyau, 2 Place Edmond Rostand. Not surprisingly the patisserie is described as the French House of Gastronomy. The Luxembourg Gardens was the perfect spot to enjoy the delicious food.
We spent hours at Père Lachaise Cemetery – mainly looking for Jim Morrison's grave. Who would have thought that graveyards could be so much fun. 🙂 Our meandering around the city also took us to Ile St Louis, a great place for window shopping, and we lapped up the street life in the Latin Quarter, Republique, Pantheon and Le Marais. It was pleasant sitting in cafes and watching the street entertainers at Centre Pompidou and Notre Dame – when we noticed the queue to enter the magnificent church was particularly short so we took the opportunity to go inside.
We were rewarded by one unforgettable experience as we listened to the solo voice of a female vocalist reverberating around the huge walls of the cathedral.
Yes, Paris was wonderful.
Pat Byrne, December, 2015