We henceforth declare that whenever we visit Paris, we shall stay in Montmartre.
We used to have another travel rule that every time we visited Europe we’d spend at least a few days in Paris. But after 3 visits in a row we started skipping stopovers in Paris. Eight years have passed and we now question the wisdom of our absence. We love Paris as much now and we did on our first visit. Paris is, in fact, a principle reason we are full time nomads now: on our first visit, we mused what it would be like to spend an entire year in Paris. That pipe dream evolved into our current location-independent life.
The Basilica of Sacre Couer, Montmartre, Paris
We’ve never understood Americans who have characterized Parisians as rude. Parisians are rightly proud of their culture, and if visitors take some time to understand them they’ll find Paris as welcoming and hospitable as any city. It’s not hyperbole to say that the principle source of rudeness we’ve encountered in Paris has been (quite sadly) from fellow Americans. Here’s an observation that we like to share with fellow travelers: for an idea of how you can expect to be treated in any place, Paris included, hold up a mirror.
Still, having been to Paris so many times before, why go back? And why this time? Until 2 weeks before we went we had been planning to spend our spare 5 days in Luxembourg. We’ve read that Luxembourg is an unexpectedly lovely city (from Bill Bryson, if you’re wondering). Unfortunately it’s also an expensive city, rivaling London’s hotel rates. Add to that the fact that it’s a bit challenging to get to (despite its prime location between Paris and Amsterdam) and we were left looking for an alternative city on our way to Rotterdam where we had a business meeting scheduled.
The best (and only, really) way to explain why we went to Paris is to describe our reaction once booked. Staring at Google Maps for the umpteenth time, I offhandedly suggested Paris to Lori. She said, “Ok”. A half hour later we were booked, and even though we spend months at a time in Europe visiting great places like Prague and Poland and Budapest and Vienna and Croatia, we were practically giddy over the prospects of a few days in Paris. Few spots in the world evoke such pleasure in traveling as Paris. So that is “why Paris”.
Scenes from Montmartre
It’s also pretty fair to say that the Paris terrorist attacks in the fall of last year influenced our travel plans. We’ve seen the flowers and memorials at the French embassies throughout Europe, and though we weren’t planning to visit the actual sites of the attacks, we felt good about going to Paris and spending some time and money. And in return we were warmly welcomed. Everywhere we went, at all the cafes and museums, we were greeted with smiles. Maybe we imagined it, but Paris seemed as glad to see us as we were to see Paris.
Sadly, terrorists attacked Brussels while we were in Paris. We were glued to the television that morning and soon realized that, with rail lines through Brussels shut down, our business plans for Rotterdam were going to be impacted. Owing to a strange, fortuitous coincidence, we had not booked our train tickets to Rotterdam even though it was to be the next day. We looked into renting a car, but at north of $1000 for a 2-day one-way rental, it wasn’t a good option (it would have been cheaper to fly by showing up at the airport and buying our plane tickets on the same day as the flight). After an hour or so of trying to figure out how to get to Rotterdam without going through Brussels, we gave up. If travel has taught us anything, it’s to be flexible and roll with the punches. From Rotterdam we had planned to fly on to London by EasyJet. Explaining our situation to EasyJet, they changed our Friday Amsterdam-to-London flight to a Wednesday Paris-to-London flight and we just returned to London a couple of days earlier. EasyJet deserves a plug here: they easily could have charged us change fees, and we would have paid, but they didn’t. You don’t often get such empathy from an airline. EasyJet rocks.
So what did we do in Paris? We’ve already seen most of the big things to see, though we did put a first-ever visit to the Orangery Museum on our to-do list. The Orangery is just adjacent to the Tuileries gardens and is the home of Monet’s “Water Lillies”, a must-see for impressionist fans. We also planned to spend a lot more time in Montmartre. We’ve been to this bohemian neighborhood of Paris before, but haven’t spent a great deal of time there. Not only did we visit Montmartre, we stayed there. And as we declared at the start of this blog, we’ve found “our neighborhood” in Paris. With cafes and bistros and squares nestled all around the basilica of Sacra Couer, not to mention the seedy but (somehow) Parisian-classy row of adult entertainment between the Moulin Rouge and Pigalle, Montmartre is a fundamental Parisian experience that we’ve largely missed on prior visits.
Previously we’ve also largely missed the Ile St. Louis, one of the two islands in the River Seine that define the center of Paris. A visit to Paris is hardly possible without seeing the other island, Ile De La Cite (where the cathedral of Notre Dame is located), but after an enjoyable 3-hour encounter with a group of Brits from Devon at a bistro with a most excellent vin rouge house special, we thoroughly explored the Ile St. Louis in search of a dinner to help soak up and dampen the hazy effects of more wine that should have been consumed in one sitting.
We also managed plenty of choice re-dos while in Paris, but with as much new flavor as possible. For example, we went again to Notre Dame, but not as tourists; instead we attended Palm Sunday mass. We had hoped also to climb the tower at Notre Dame, something we’ve never managed to do, but yet again we were foiled by long lines. Ah well, it’s good to still have something our our wish list for Paris.
And of course we went back to the Louvre, which never offers the exact same experience twice. The Louvre, of course, is the home of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. If you’ve never seen the Mona Lisa, this is what it looks like: