Last year for Spring Break, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the whole holiday (9 days total) in Paris, with my mom. It was a ‘mother daughter’ trip, made special by the fact that it was just the two of us being able to share in museum visits and fancy French pastry shops to our hearts content, as well as just the mere fact that it was Paris…in the Spring.
Audrey Hepburn famously once said that ‘Paris is always a good idea’ and of course she was absolutely right, but Paris in the Spring might be an even better idea. I had planned on writing it up as soon as I got back from the trip but it proved to be quite a daunting task. I mean, exactly how do you do justice to writing about 9 days of complete perfection? It’s been over a year now and the sun is finally out in full force here in Istanbul, my mother and I (along with my little brother this time) have had yet another Spring Break (to Santorini, blog post in the works), and yet I have days where all I can do is sit and dream about Paris. I dream about walking around St. Germain and everything being a blur of pink because of the cherry trees in bloom. I dream about stopping and listening to the man play the piano on the bridge of the Illes St. Louis. Of sitting in the Tuileries Gardens with my feet up, then strolling over to have coffee at Angelina’s. Mostly I just dream of being with mom walking the streets of Paris, listening to the sounds of city life and stopping to drink wine and people watch all day long.
When I told my mom I thought we should spend the whole 9 days in Paris, she was a bit unsure. It would be her first time to Paris and France in general and the idea of spending over a week in just one city wasn’t too appealing. But…there’s so much to do in Paris. There are the museums, the monuments, the shops, the gardens, the cafes…and there’s the experience of being able to have the time to stop and soak in the culture. We planned to do half of the trip on the Left Bank, in St. Germain des Pres, as it was my favorite part of Paris from previous trips, and spend the other half in Montmartre. While I can say that out entire trip was perfect, and Montmartre is charming, I will admit that mom and I found ourselves trekking back down to St. Germain as we fell in love with it and later missed it when we “moved” up the hill. For me, that area is the best part of Paris. Hemingway and Picasso weren’t wrong.
Of course our days were spent with visits to The Louvre and to The Eiffel Tower, The Orangier (my favorite museum) and The Orsay. But, the best parts were the small surprises— the things we hadn’t planned or expected.
One of these was our first meal together. Coordinating flights to meet mom as she arrived from the States and myself from Istanbul proved harder than initially thought which resulted in mom arriving in the morning and myself not until dinner time. My mother is not one to be phased as she checked into the hotel and took herself out to spend the afternoon at the Luxembourg Gardens, with only the French she learned on the plane. She also found her entire way around the neighborhood. Although I had been to Paris a few times before, it was my mom who memorized the ways of the winding alleyways. When I finally arrived we were both hungry but didn’t really know where to eat. Paris is kind of hard for food because the food is phenomenal, but there are so many places. We wandered around and then followed a line of people who were eating what looked like some kind of meat and french fries and decided to try it. We realized later it was an old institution, the Relais d’Entrecote, famed for steak frites. It was delicious! We weren’t given a menu, just the waitress asked us if we wanted our meat blue or pink. We had no idea what to tell her so she chose for us and wrote it down on the paper tablecloth on our table. We were served delicious pieces of perfectly medium-rare steak with some kind of green sauce on top and a mound of crispy fries. As we were finishing and exclaiming at how full we were, the waitress came around and gave us a full second portion. We were shocked…and left stuffed and feeling very happy about our first dinner. I think it was in that moment, all our prior travel fears of “what if it’s too crowded? Too expensive? Too difficult?” evaporated into the moonlight. It was Paris. It was perfect.
The next few days were spent near the Tuileries, touring the museums with an extra goal of mine to finally buy my favorite scent from the Serge Lutens store in the Palais Royal which required getting turned around near lots of vintage stores. Those days are filled with memories of again, the quiet moments when we stopped to soak in the ambiance. Wanting to get away from the Louvre crowds, we stopped and sat for long period of time in the Tuileries. Then we had many afternoon coffees at Angelina’s. I had read about Angelina’s Tea Room and the famed hot chocolate in one of the many guidebooks and at first I wasn’t sure. I thought it might be gimmicky or have over priced service with sub par desserts. I have to say, it exceeded my expectations and quickly became our favorite cafe to get away from the crowds when near the Tuileries. We never had to wait in line and always got right in, and the waiters never made any kind of face when all we would order were a cafe au lait and a pastry to share. The atmosphere was warm, friendly, and beautiful. The pastry shop is right out of an old hollywood set featuring ‘Paris’ as the backdrop.
The best day from start to finish was the first Sunday that we were in Paris. We woke up and grabbed pastries and coffee somewhere near our hotel and headed straight for Notre Dame Cathedral. As I write this, I have a hard time not getting emotional. That is my favorite building in Paris and one that now I also associate with such fond memories of this perfect day. The cherry trees that line the walkway to the entrance of Notre Dame were bursting open, so much so that even the ground under our feet was pink.
We were early enough that was missed all the crowds and caught some of mass. As we walked inside we heard a woman singing from the choir and she was lit angelically and almost surreal with sunlight that was streaming in from the rose windows—breathtaking.
After the cathedral, we continued wandering and found ourselves on the Illes St. Louis. We stopped and had brunch at the St. Regis…eggs benedict…perfect. Afterwards we slowly strolled more, stopping in all the little shops. We found a spot on the Pont Neuf and sat looking at the city. Afterwards we wandered around and found Odettes for cream puffs but decided to come back another day as we mainly were getting our bearings. There was a pause for a selfie then we continued on .
We hiked all the way over to the Marais, stopping at the Pompidou Center, and ending up at the touristy but delicious L’as du Falafel. The falafel sandwich at L’as du Falafel, with spicy harissa and hummus and cabbage piled on top, is up there on my list of the best street food I’ve ever eaten. It’s crunchy and creamy, and totally messy and drippy…as all good street food should be. We walked all the way back to the Illes St. Louis just in time to watch the sunset over Paris and see the city turn golden orange. There was a man playing the piano on the bridge and we sat in one of the many cafes that line the streets and drank a glass of wine while listening to the music. Something happens to Paris at the time of day. It’s as if the whole city decides to stop and take in life. The city is quiet and sleepy and romantic. It was truly a perfect day.
During those first days, we also made it back to Odette’s to try a trio of their Instagram famous cream puffs. They were good, but the setting was better. Odette’s is however not far from St. Severin Cathedral, a cathedral that doesn’t get much attention in a city with much bigger rivals, but one that inspired me and is one I still think of as having the best interior I’ve experienced. The stained glass there is modern and looks like an impressionist painting. When the light shines through, the walls are either on fire in a magenta sunset or filled with violet and blue soft light.
Nearly every afternoon, after wandering all over, we would wind back around to Cafe de Flore in St. Germain and sit and people watch. Again, Cafe de Flore is one of the most famous cafes in Paris because it is supposedly the very cafe that Picasso and Hemingway loved. You will see tourists stop and take posed photos as if they were in fact eating there (although they weren’t) but you will also see locals who the waiters know by name who will be served their favorite glass of red without needing to order it. Again, i was worried we might be rushed out the door and that the menu might be outrageously overpriced. Again, I was very surprised when we were instead greeted with such warmth and friendliness and it was a welcome extra treat to find that a double cafe au lait (big enough for two coffees and with your own pot of milk) was only 5 euro. Sitting at those so very french tables where your chairs sit side by side so that you are forced to people watch, drinking cafe au lait and listening to the ‘hellos’ called out from waiters to neighborhood locals, was one of the best moments of the whole trip.
On one of our nights on the Left Bank, we stumbled across a teeny tiny restaurant that had good ratings online and was right near our hotel, Le Bistrot d’Henri. We had no idea what to expect but the hostess was very kind and told us to please sit down, helping us with our broken French and explaining lots of things to us. We ordered the house salad, an appetizer of the bone marrow toasts, and the Bœuf Bourguignon for our entree. Everything was incredible. The portions were gigantic, much too big for two people to share. The salad had chicory in it as well as this mustard vinaigrette dressing that was was sweet and spicy and sour all at once. When the bone marrow arrived we couldn’t keep ourselves from laughing at the size of it! We didn’t know what to expect, only that we had read about it being on many French menus, but we hadn’t eaten it before. So what’s it like? I can’t really describe it only to say that as I was eating it, I could only think of this: meat butter. It’s rich and salty and decadent. Maybe one of the best things I’ve eaten in my entire life. The Boeuf Bourguignon was so good that we don’t have any photos. We only have photos of the empty bowls, which is proof in itself I guess. It was rich and smooth and the meat melted in your mouth like jelly. My mother was practicially drinking the liquid from the bowl. The place was small, at one point we were literally sitting in between the door and the coat rack, with the coats actually hanging on top of us. But we loved it, and it may have been the best dinner of the whole trip.
We also found our favorite neighborhood bakery. We struggled a bit to find exactly what we were looking for. Did we want just a baguette or a fancy pastry? Boulangerie Pain Noir Pain Blanc had both, offering sandwiches made of a baguette and butter and ham or croissants and chocolate pastries. Our favorite was the ‘escargot pain’ which is croissant dough filled either with raisins or chocolate chips and wrapped, as its name suggests, in a circle to resemble a snail shell. It was buttery and melted in your mouth but also flaky and crispy and chewy…all things perfect and a mixture of savory and sweet. We grabbed one on our day that we headed out to the Eiffel Tower. We decided actually to book the lunch at the Eiffel Tower in order to skip the crowds and get an elevator ticket at the same time. It was really worth the extra 10 euros to book the lunch ticket and the lunch was really good…duck confit on top of mashed potatoes and gravy, pictured on the right below. After the Eiffel Tower we walked across the bridge and over to the Ysl Museum…a dream come true. It’s a small museum but his actual studio is inside.
After 4 and a half days, we headed over up the hill to Montmartre, with hearts already aching to remain on the Left Bank but also wanting to explore a completely different side of the city. Montmartre is like a complete other world. The backstreets and tiny alleys behind Sacre Coeur are like a little village, with markets and street art and cobblestone streets. The giant Haussmann architecture disappears and there are even open green areas and walls covered in flowers and vines. It was truly as if we had left the big city and gone to a country town. Those days were filled with new adventures and areas to explore, as well as the hunt for the best baguette. It’s an adventure left for another time, another part of the story still to tell. Here’s to you mom, for Mother’s Day, and every day. Thank you for exploring this amazing place with me. We will always have Paris (and Santorini, and Italy, and Istanbul).