Our days in Paris featured a number of unforgettable moments and wonderful surprises. We never knew what we had in store for us and every site and every experience was new. But there was one constant. There was one thing that became a beautiful ritual for us. Well, as much of a ritual as a one week stay can provide. Every evening we would arrive at out hotel, freshen up, and stroll to a new restaurant for a nice, halcyon, and unquestionably French meal. It was the perfect way to end each day – by nestling in among the Parisien locals and soaking up the atmosphere while enjoying cuisine that would forever be considered high points of our trip.
On one such evening we found ourselves walking down a beautifully lit cobblestone backstreet in the 7th Arrondissement. Armed with a Trip Advisor map and a make-believe sense of direction, we found our target – Le P’tit Troquet. The facade was small and it would be easy to miss if not for the script scrolled across the door and picture windows. But there was something incredibly alluring and undeniably attractive about it. It resembled a lovely place snatched from another era. The lights from the inside shot out through the windows cutting through the late evening shadows and giving the building an inviting personality.
So in we walk, already smitten by the place’s charm but without a reservation. We were greeted by a lovely young man who welcomed us and led us to a table in a beautifully decorated back room. He was warm and authentic and we genuinely felt that he was thrilled to have us there. He spoke good English which was a blessing to these two French language novices. He told us about his visits to Florida where he did humanitarian work. He asked about our thoughts of his city. He then helped us navigate the small but appealing menu for that day.
My wife and I both started with a wonderful shrimp entrée. It was delicious and a perfect lead in to the even better beef bourguignon main dish. I ended with a cheese plate, my first real indulgence in the country’s exquisite variety of fromage. It was a lesson in French gastronomic tradition and an eye-opening expose of my very basic and inexperienced palate. It was also a fabulous way to end our meal.
By dinner’s end we weren’t ready to leave our corner table. We had fallen for the quaint and cozy atmosphere. We felt welcomed and appreciated by our sincere host. The food was delightful to the point of being a high point of our trip. We walked out of the restaurant sharing smiles and full stomachs. Night had fully fallen and the soft lights seemed a little brighter. We made our routine Paris night stroll recounting the satisfaction from our meal and the experience. We left Le P’tit Troquet behind nestled on its hidden little side street. But it left with us impressions that have stuck with us well after our trip ended.
Nestled in Paris’ 1st arrondissement, right between the Louvre Museum and Place de la Concorde, is the Tuileries Gardens. During our first afternoon in Paris we had to take a stroll through this beautiful historic location.
With origins dating back the 1564, the Tuileries Gardens were first created as the garden for the Tuileries Palace. The palace would house some of France’s greatest monarchs including Napoleon Bonaparte until it was destroyed in 1871.
The gardens survived and eventually were opened to the public. Now they are a popular place for Parisians to relax and unwind. Young people, parents with children, and elderly couples all find enjoyment in this bustling park located right in the center of Paris.
There’s much to enjoy in the Tuileries Gardens. You can pull up a chair and sit around one of the garden’s three pools. You can walk down the garden’s main artery, grab a snack from the food vender, and do some great people watching. You can walk through beautifully manicured flower gardens. Or you could slip down one of the side paths for a quieter and more intimate garden experience.
We loved the Tuileries Gardens. In fact, we made a point to visit it again before we left the city. Loaded with history and brimming with life, the Tuileries Gardens may not be the most intimate gardens in Paris but it certainly features the heartbeat of this amazing city.
Have you visited the Tuileries Gardens? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the park. Also, please share any experiences you may have had.
For a novice international traveler an overseas trip can be intimidating. I’m definitely a novice international traveler but I didn’t feel intimidated during our first adventure to Paris. I tend to be overly thorough and prepared when it comes to vacation. Whether it be 100 miles away or the other side of the world, I put an inordinate amount of time in planning and researching a destination. Since my wife and I had never been overseas, even more time went into preparing for our Paris journey. It was certainly time well spent.
Yet, after all of the study of maps, evaluations of the culture, and familiarizing of details, I still wasn’t beyond the initial shock of such a phenomenal city. After arriving at Charles de Gaulle International Airport I quickly led my wife through a pre-scripted routine that I had practiced a hundred times before in my mind. Like a well-oiled machine we made our way through the terminal and soon we were in a cab heading into the city. Sure we had a few minor hiccups and people had to wait on us as we had our first encounter with the ATM and as we tried to define the end of the taxi line. But overall we were like pros (at least in our own minds).
The trip from Charles de Gaulle International Airport to the city of Paris is pretty underwhelming. As you make your way through the outskirts of the city there’s just not much to see. There are vacant lots and rundown buildings galore. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was a little concerned. But it’s amazing how things can change in a snap. The glorious landmarks of the city of Paris began to appear in the distance. The Eiffel Tower and the Sacré-Coeur Basilica stood as welcoming beacons and my concerns eased a bit. Then our cab driver got off the freeway, made four or five quick turns, and in a blink of an eye I felt the embrace of Paris.
In one quick turn Paris became alive to me. Standing tall in front of us was the Arc de Triomphe. My jaw dropped and my heart raced. It was at that point it really set in. I was in Paris, one of the most celebrated cities in the entire world, and before me stood one of the world’s grandest monuments. And everything else changed as well. The sidewalks were buzzing with life. Beautiful buildings showing off their gorgeous architecture lined each street. The rush of awe and excitement that I felt is hard to capture with words. But I knew I was experiencing something special and this first taste blossomed into a love for the city that I never expected.
We would go on to have a spectacular first day. It was filled with new experiences and memorable moments – things that my wife and I will never forget. But it all started with that first impression. It was a day filled with excitement and nervousness. But Paris put our minds at ease and invited us in. It blew us away and showed us why it’s one of the greatest cities in the world. It left me with feelings that would forever change me, and my love for the city found it’s genesis with that first impression.
Sitting on a park bench in Parc Monceau on a sunny weekday morning conjures up sentiments that by now have become redundant in my writing about Paris. But please forgive my blatant romanticism and child-like euphoria when I ask, could it get any better? On one particular morning we were greeted by rare crystal blue skies and bright sunshine – two things we had yet to see during our previous days in Paris. I had heard about these days and had seen photos showing Paris basked in sunlight – photos that my suspicious nature had led me to believe were doctored or frauds. But now I know these days really do exist in the city. Fortunately that was the day we had planned a morning visit to Parc Monceau, a beautiful public garden nestled in the 8th arrondissement with roots dating back to the 18th century. It was also the first park to get a make-over during Haussmann’s renovation of Paris on behalf of Napoleon III. Again I ask, could it get any better?
After arriving at the Monceau station we ascended from the subterranean world of the Paris metro onto Boulevard de Courcelles, a lovely street lined with trees and Haussmannian architecture, and right next to the main entrance of Parc Monceau. While not as well-known as the Luxembourg or Tuileries gardens, inside Parc Monceau’s stylish, black iron fencing with fancy gold trim lies the essence of the Paris garden culture. Now don’t get me wrong I love our time at the Luxembourg and Tuileries gardens. But this was one of the parks that gave us the feeling that we were observing and experiencing true Parisian life.
Parc Monceau features such a unique layout. One huge walkway lined with benches cuts the park in half and reminded me of a huge freeway connecting two of Parc Monceau’s main gates. But its true treasures lie in the smaller pathways which wind throughout the park giving lovebirds, joggers, and mothers with children a chance to admire the different beauties it has to offer. This is where we truly fell in love with Parc Monceau.
I think we could have stayed there forever. The stroll we took through the park’s soothing, well-manicured landscapes was almost otherworldly. It was quiet and relaxing yet full of energy and vibrancy, something that only increased as lunch time approached. After a quick stop at a lovely and quaint little deli/patisserie, we followed the lead of so many other Parisians filing into the park. Like them we searched for the perfect park bench and sat down for a picnic.
The view from our bench was stunning. There was a beautiful pond wrapped around a huge, lush willow tree and semi-surrounded by a set of Corinthian pillars. The sun broke through the tall oaks shading the park benches which heightened the spectacular greens and blues that were laid out before us. But surprisingly it wasn’t only the natural beauty that captivated us.
Like most parks or gardens, this was the neighborhood’s backyard. As we sat and ate we also experienced some prime people watching. It may sound empty but people watching is actually a wonderful part of a Paris experience. Whether you’re sitting at a cafe or spending time in a garden like us, watching people offers an amazing glimpse into the city and culture. So we watched. We watched a young child no more than two years old chase the horde of pigeons who were searching for crumbs of bread. We watched as two French mothers talked intently while their young children played in the sand. We watched as a short but content elderly gentleman strolled through the park only stopping to offer us a friendly “Bon appétit”.
It’s here that I understood how slowing down and soaking in the city would allow for a Paris experience that’s far different from the strictly touristy trip. In Parc Monceau I gained a fascination with Paris that went past the usual awe of a new traveller. I felt the pulse of Paris and I began to understand it. I’ll always have fond memories of that time in Parc Monceau, memories that are still incredibly vivid almost a year later. That’s why I know I’ll go back. I must go back. I can’t wait to go back.
This may surprise you, but there is no extensive subway system in the small south Arkansas town of 4,500 people where I live. And even though I have visited a few bigger places, I’ve never tasted the big city subway experience. That may shed some light as to why I was a bit nervous when it came to using the Paris Metro. Through all of my preplanning and research, there were a few things that made me a little nervous – navigating the Charles de Gaulle airport, successfully transferring dollars to euros, avoiding pickpockets, and of course surviving the Paris Metro. Yet I consider myself a capable man able to adapt and learn once I put my mind to it.
Now most of you know how men are. There’s a bullheaded, puffy-chested sense of being knowledgeable that often times drives us. I don’t pretend to be immune to that. I studied more for our Paris metro excursion than I did any test during my years in high school. I watched YouTube videos, I studied the metro map, and I read guidebooks all to prepare me for Paris’s immense subway system. But there’s always that inherent male stubbornness – that stubbornness that our wives know all too well. And there were a few moments where my male stubbornness kicked in, making our Paris Metro experience a little more adventurous than it had to be.
To be honest, I am overplaying that a little bit. Our troubles in Paris’ amazing metro system were minor and in the grand scheme of things were more funny than problematic. In fact, as I reflect back on our trip to Paris, our ventures into the Paris Metro offered us an amazing look at a different side of the Paris culture. It’s like a subterranean cardiovascular system that flows underneath all of Paris. The arteries and veins spread out into every arrondissement and the steady flow of people give it its own vibrant life.
The very first time we followed the flow of people down into the metro I was unnecessarily nervous. Not at riding the train or getting mugged or getting lost. No I was worried about buying a ticket. It’s the simplest things that get us males! I let my research kick in and instantly walked up to the kiosk where I was to purchase my ticket. I’m sure I look like an old pro to all the Parisians walking by. I’m sure I fit right in as someone who knew exactly what they were doing. Actually I’m sure no one paid me any attention but there’s not much drama in that is it? Well they certainly pay attention when I clogged up the kiosk line. I scrolled the little roller bar that resembled the controller on a Centipede arcade game from the early 1980s and could never find “English”. Suddenly my “You’re in the Way” complex kicked in after seeing a line form behind us and we abandoned our mission. Ticket via kiosk – Mission aborted!
Fortunately we were at one of the stations that had a ticket window and we were able to get some there. And later I would go back to the kiosk and figure out what I’ve done wrong. Chalk it up to a Paris learning curve. Other than a couple of wrong turns that was the biggest issue we had the entire time. The Metro was efficient and prompt. I was also impressed by impeccable cleanliness. Regardless of what station we were at, and we visited a lot of them, they were all spotless. That was certainly not what I expected.
We did struggle with an apparent Metro law that we were totally unaware of. It was quite obvious that it was against the law to smile or show any sign that you may be happy while on the Metro in Paris. Now this is something that every guidebook should tell. Obviously it’s of the utmost importance because everyone we saw obeyed this law, everyone but us. The emotionless blank stares reminded me of something you would see out of “The Matrix”. And then there was us, right in the middle of it, blatant lawbreakers who were constantly smiling and talking about what we had seen that day. If we had only known. Thankfully we were never reported and never taken in.
By the last couple of days of our trip we were experts. We could slide in and get a couple of tickets from the kiosk, file right through the gate, navigate our way to the right train, and head to our destination just like real Parisians. We were a part of the assembly line of people who knew exactly what they were doing. We also found the Paris Metro to fun. It was new and different to us and it was a part of this culture that we grew to appreciate. It was great for people watching and whenever we would emerge at a new destination on a Paris street, we never knew what was waiting above. Was the Metro intimidating and scary? Yes a little bit. But it was also an amazing part of our Paris experience, one that I would never trade.
What is it about Paris and the rain? You may have heard that Paris and rain go together like peanut butter and chocolate. One of the best paintings from the great Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte depicted a rainy day in Paris. In the movie “Midnight in Paris” the main character Gil Pender has an attraction to walking in Paris in the rain. In “Sabrina” Audrey Hepburn said Paris smells its sweetest when it rains. There’s just something about this city, already magical in every way, that changes when it rains.
During our week-long stay in Paris we became well acquainted with the rain. I think every day we encountered a shower or two. And while it was unusually wet, it didn’t affect the Parisians one bit. Unlike here in the States where many people run for cover at the first few drops of moisture, Parisians keep walking – carrying on their day without ever missing a step. A colorful array of umbrellas pop up and move along the busy sidewalks bumping together like colorful strokes from an Impressionist’s paint brush. They move along unhindered and impervious to the falling rain.
“Do what the Parisians do”. That was a bit of wisdom I took to heart. So when the locals carried on in the rain, my wife and I carried on too. We popped both of our umbrellas during the two or three heavier showers and shared one during the lighter stuff. It was such a contrast to how things were done back home. When it starts to rain here we dash for our vehicles. In Paris, you just keep walking all while looking at the nice new shiny gloss that the rain gives the city.
There’s also a genuinely romantic vibe that Paris in the rain puts out. Seeing the sidewalks reflect the light from the streetlights. Watching the cobblestones dance as the water between each rock shines bright under the daylight. Paris has a distinct and undeniable look and feel in the rain. But the true romance comes under the umbrella. Walking arm-in-arm, huddled closer than necessary to avoid the light rain, in Paris is an experience that simple words can’t describe.
The rain gives life to the trees, the flowers, the grass, and the animals of the land. But it also gives a new life to the city of Paris. Not a better life, but a new one. The city takes on a different character in the rain and you can’t help but be captivated by it. Whether it’s the city or the person sharing the dry shelter of your umbrella, you’re bound to connect with something brought out by one of Paris’ most romantic events – the beautiful rain.