Paris – A Short Trip
Four days just isn’t long enough to see everything that Paris has to offer but I was thrilled to have a short break there with my sister, Catherine and friend Frances. Both Frances and I had visited Paris before but it was Catherine’s first time in the French capital –she lives in Canada so most of her European holidays are centered round visiting relatives in Scotland. This time her heart was set on fitting in a trip to this wonderful city and we were happy to join her.
Hotel Port Royal
In order to make the most of our time I asked friends for advice about places to visit and where to stay. Val, who has visited Paris often, recommended Port Royale Hotel and it was every bit as good as she said. Quiet, clean and comfortable with very helpful staff. It has an interesting history; it was built in 1840 and converted to a hotel in 1913. The executioner and priest stayed at the hotel – to be handy for executions by guillotine, which took place nearby.
It was just a short walk from Les Gobelins, Metro, and only a stroll away from the atmospheric Rue Mouffetard – this ancient street with its lively, colourful market – is a great place to wander and people watch. Our mornings were very enjoyable sitting in the late summer sunshine dining on croissants and drinking cafe creme – just watching the world go by at Place Saint Médard.
Strolling in Paris
We were also very handy for Rue Monge, where we could hop onto a No 47 bus and take a ride all the way up to the Seine. On our first day in Paris we were feeling decidedly sprightly and walked all the way from Boulevard Port Royal to Notre Dame. It was quite a trek, although Mark Quinn, the young Irishman I asked for directions indicated that it was a mere hop and a skip. I won’t hold it against him as we enjoyed a wee chat with him – he’d studied at Strathclyde University and stayed in the West End, next door to Tom Shields.
Strolling in Paris is no hardship and we were lucky with the weather, somewhere in the mid 20s. We weren’t too organised and stumbled upon some of our recommended destinations, including, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont located on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, near the Panthéon. I had been told that this was one of the most beautiful churches in Paris and it is truly astonishing, spacious and ornate with beautiful stained glass windows.
The Latin Quarter
The Panthéon is also very impressive but what particularly caught our attention as we wandered round the square were the wedding parties at Mairie du Vème Arrondissement, the Town Hall of the 5th Arrondissement. We were fascinated by the guests’ stylish outifits, the lovely brides and the smart military guards.
The 5th Arrondissement, or Latin Quarter, is an interesting area with its numerous schools and colleges, bustling side streets and many cafes. We stopped for some lunch on the Boulevard St Michel before heading to Notre Dame. Catherine stood in the long queue to gain entry and Frances and I opted for a seat in the sunshine and a stroll along the river. When we hooked up with Catherine we had a walk on the Left Bank and bought some arty postcards from one of the stalls. We also checked out the amazing Shakespeare & Company , a zany warren of a book shop, choc a bloc with books and browsers.
In the evening we had a leisurely meal in Le Café Parisien, 111 Rue Monge – adjacent to Censier-Daubenton Metro. The waiters were handsome, pleasant and also patient as we struggled to identify something we fancied on the menu.
The best meal we had by far was at Petit Bofinger, part of the legendary Bofinger Restaurant at Bastille. Catherine had discovered the restaurant through a Scottish friend, and she treated us to a wonderful night out there. The food was delightful and our waitress, Sandrine, was an absolute charmer. I had delicious artichoke salad followed by trout and ratatouille in a piquant sauce and creme brulee for dessert. Frances also had the fish and Catherine had duck and chocolate mousse. It’s a really great restaurant, which lives up to its reputation.
Jardin de Plantes
We spent a lot of time investigating the area around the hotel including a visit to Val de Grac church, in Rue Saint Jacques, which dates back to the 17th century. It’s a beautiful church and well worth a visit. We walked from there to the Central Mosque, where I had he best pepperint tea ever, and then we went to investigate the Jardin de Plantes, right beside the mosque. Afterwards we aimed to have an easy afternoon and take a boat trip on the Seine but his simple plan proved to be quite a challenge as we couldn’t find a metro and lost our bearings a bit – we crossed Pont de Sully more than once.
A Cruise on the Seine
Eventually we found a boat and I settled myself down on what turned out to be a static restaurant boat before we figured out our way onto the tour less fancy boat. It’s a lovely way to see some of the magnificient buildings on the banks of the Seine, with Notre Dame particularly impressive. Some of the passengers were also very interesting, and glamorous. I’ve been laughing ever since at Catherine asking one very dapper and congenial gentleman if he was the captain.
After disembarking we stopped for some ice cream then walked along the banks of the river, where throngs of people were relaxing in the sunshine, running or riding bicycles. All sorts going on – there were even some young people in costume making a film.
On our last day we, quite by mistake, ended up in the Opera district, I went off and had a look in Gallerie Lafayette, and had a wander up into Pigalle, and Frances and Catherine caught the tour bus so that Catherine could see the Eiffel Tower and some of the other big attractions.
I enjoyed hanging out in the gardens around Église de la Sainte-Trinité for a wee while before hiking up Rue Blanche to Boulevard de Clichy and round past the Moulin Rouge. This was the area where Jim and I stayed when we were in Paris last time; the area felt familiar but I couldn’t remember the name of the street where we stayed.
I walked back down towards Opera and had a lovely lunch in Théâtre Petit de Paris then met up with Catherine and Frances for coffee in the Parisian institution, Le Café de la Paix. Very posh and beautiful.
We did other stuff touristy stuff and had the essential walk along the Champs Elysees, which didn’t seem nearly as swanky as I remembered, although, there are still all the up market shops and the Arc de Triumph is always a hit. Last time I was in Paris we were there for hours watching the final of the Tour de France. Delgado won that year.
We got lost a few times and seemed to gravitate towards the metro Maubert Mutualité. We made great use of the Metro but should have bought tickets to last a few days as you can’t buy tickets at some of the metros. We also didn’t figure out until very late in the day that you have to validate your bus tickets. On the flight home I managed to lose part of my boarding pass, which caused no end of hassle, but we managed to laugh off any little upsets.
There were some places I would like to have seen but you can’t fit everything in when you’ve only on a short break. Frances was the only one of us who managed to go to the Jardin du Luxembourg, although, we passed it a few times on the bus. We didn’t make it to Le Marais and Catherine would have liked to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. I’d also had a notion to visit The Closerie des Lilas Boulevard du Montparnasse, the cafe where Hemingway wrote Fiesta and, apparently, where Scott Fitzgerald showed him The Great Gatsby. I didn’t manage that but we did cross Place Contrescarpe, the setting for the opening of ‘A Moveable Feast’.
We had great fun, lovely weather and saw many memorable sites. Paris is amazing and time there would always be too short. I think what I enjoyed most was just hanging out in Rue Mouffetard and next time I return I’ll be going back once again to the Hotel Port Royal.
Pat Byrne, September, 2013
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