This past weekend was perhaps my favorite trip of the semester. I have had the privilege of travelling to some amazing places this semester, places that I never thought I would go in general, and certainly not this semester – Slovenia, anyone? But there is something about returning to familiar territory and doing so with a familiar cast of characters, especially as my semester of constantly being on the move comes to a close, that makes for a wonderful weekend. Paris has always been a place that I associate with great memories – my sister reading all of her books in one night on our first trip to see our grandparents’ apartment, being incredibly sick and only making it to the clothing store down the street (I know, weird, but it still counts as a good memory), and spending a week running around the city with my grandmother after graduating high school. Each time I have returned, I have collected new memories, and this time was no different.
I arrived in Paris on Wednesday night, but my friends Hannah, who is in Stockholm, Aaron, who is in Edinburgh and Abbey, Aix-en-Provence, were not arriving until Friday (Hannah was getting there on Thursday afternoon but was staying with her aunt and uncle who live in Paris until Friday morning), so I had a full day to spend by myself. Oddly enough, in all of my travels, I have not spent a whole day by myself and therefore have never explored a new city totally alone (ok, Paris is not a new city, but I have never explored this part of the city). On Thursday morning, I got myself up nice and early and went and picked up the best croissant I have ever eaten – still warm from the oven, flakey, and with practically visible amounts of butter in it. Screw breakfast of champions. This so beats wheaties! Although my grandparents own an apartment in Paris, come here all the time, and my grandmother is French, they still own an impressive collection of guidebooks to Paris, so with the help of one of them, I created a walking tour of the Marais, a neighborhood that I have spent no time in at all.
The Marais is a pretty hip neighborhood which is home to the gay community, the Jewish Quarter, lots of galleries, and some really beautiful buildings. My first two stops were pretty much busts – I had intended to go to two old mansions which have been repurposed to now be a library and a museum. A little disappointed that my plans were falling apart, I was still proud of how well I was navigating with the map! Determined, I continued on!
Hôtel de Béthune-Sully hides directly off of rue Saint-Antoine, a pretty busy shopping street in the Marais. One ducks inside of an unmarked doorway and is then transported to this beautiful 17th Century architectural beauty. My own personal secret garden! Fine, so it’s in a guidebook and therefore not so secret… Through my various walking classes this semester, I have learned a lot about the meanings behind statues and learning to deduce what the mean based on when they were built, what they depict, and what kind of building they decorate. On the archway that leads into this courtyard, there are statues depicting the different seasons. While I was there, there was a woman giving a tour to a family and was having the 8 year old daughter guess which season was which, and I was pretty proud of myself for guessing correctly.
The next stop along my walking tour was a street that runs through the middle of the Jewish Quarter, Rue de Rosiers. What was once a beautiful, typical Parisian street is now filled with kitschy Jewish trinkets. But its saving grace is the most delicious falafel stand outside of Israel. Unwilling to pay the 2 Euro sitting fee (seriously, Paris?!), I took mine to-go and enjoyed the beautiful weather as I made my way to my next stop, Musée Carnavalet, which, similarly to Hôtel de Béthune-Sully, used to be two personal homes, but is now a museum. A lot of this museum was completely lost on me because they translated none of the placards, but I still enjoyed walking through the building and looking at the furniture, statues, and the architecture, none of which requires any translation.
One of the things that I loved most about being able to wander around by myself was that I could go wherever I wanted to, stop whenever I wanted to, and change my plans completely autonomously. There was none of that “Do you guys want to stop?” “I’ll stop if you want to stop” and then you stand around awkwardly. I paused inside of a few different jewelry shops, a bunch of really neat art galleries, and lopped off stops from my walking tour when they didn’t look interesting enough.
My last stop before meeting up with Hannah at the Centre Pompidou was Le Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme. This museum was filled with religious objects, works of art, and stories of Jews that one normally does not get to see because they were destroyed by the Nazis. Old Judaica objects are truly breathtaking. Have you ever seen a really old menorah? The craftsmanship alone is stunning.
After Jewish museum, I headed to the Pompidou to meet up with Hannah. The Pompidou is a modern art museum that I just love. The building had to be rebuilt 20 years after it was built because it had so much foot traffic that it fell apart! The building itself is a funky as its art collection – its escalators are on the outside of the building!
For dinner Thursday, I had the pleasure of eating with my grandparents’ friends, Henri and Clotilde. Clotilde made turkey and mashed potatoes, which was so sweet of her! Both of them are truly fascinating individuals, and to be welcomed into their home, especially on a day meant to be spent with family (even if Thanksgiving has zero relevance in Paris) was incredibly touching.
Friday morning, Hannah met me at the apartment and then we headed off to Musée d’Orsay, which used to be the train station and is a beautiful building formed by a cast iron structure with a glass ceiling, to see their collection of impressionist works. Students of the EU get in for free, and being the brilliant individual that I am, I left my passport with my visa in the apartment, but somehow I managed to convince them that I was studying in Prague with my metro pass, Haverford ID, and US driver’s license. Currently, they have an exhibit up about impressionism and the fashion of the time. The paintings appeared to come to life when the dress that the woman was wearing was on display next to the painting. d’Orsay has an impressive collection and it is always exciting to see paintings that I have studied and written papers about in person. Degas’ dancers are even more etherial and delicate in person (misogynist and anti-feminist comments be damned).
Around 2 pm Abbey showed up and after a french lunch of baguette and cheese and the most delicious tapenade from Provence ever consumed, the three of us went to go and pick up Henri at his apartment because he had so generously offered to take us through the Academy of Sciences, a building which is not open to the public. Even though there was an important meeting taking place, Henri managed to get us inside and gave us a tour. Buildings are just not built like the Academy any more. Have you ever been inside of a building that just looks like it would be used for its designated purpose? The Academy just looks like it would be the home to a building dedicated to intellect, innovation, and brilliance.
For dinner we were supposed to go to a place that serves fondue and wine out of baby bottles (yeah, you read that right), but after waiting outside of the restaurant for a bit, I quickly got over the “coolness” of this place and instead we found another restaurant where other than our table, everyone else was speaking French. Definitely a more authentic experience. And the food was amazing.
Saturday was Aaron’s only full day in Paris and we decided to take him to see the sights of Paris. Naturally, the first stop was the Eiffel Tower.
Recently, there was an exhibit of massive bears painted with icons from different countries near the Eiffel Tower and I was obsessed with finding them. I dragged these poor kids with me all over the park near the Eiffel Tower and made fluent Abbey ask people about the bears but they were no where to be found. It turns out, they were taken away a week before we got there. Big bummer.
Next, we headed off to a Christmas Market along the Champs-Elysee. And then off to the Pantheon. I had no idea that Paris had a pantheon, so it was cool to get to see a somewhat unknown tourist sight. In the crypt below the pantheon, the Curies are buried along with Rousseau Voltaire, and other great intellectuals.
At this point, we were in desperate need of some macaroons, so we walked over to Pierre Hermé, the greatest of all macaroon makers!
The remainder of our trip was comprised solely of food and drink! We ate our macaroons with some rosé that Abbey brought from Provence, and then headed off to a delicious dinner. While there, Abbey made us try Kir which is Crème de cassis mixed with wine and is a typical French apéritif. And then on Sunday morning before parting ways, we had brunch at the place on the corner. Typical French brunch is 2 fried eggs, a croissant, a cup of coffee, half a baguette with butter and jelly, and a glass of orange juice. American brunch has nothing on this!
Simply put, this weekend was filled with laughter, amazing food, and great company!