Paris is beautiful, especially in the rain. Six weeks after my arrival in the South of France, I hopped the TGV out of Aix for the Gare de Lyon. Simultaneously, my boys hopped on a direct flight out of JFK, destination Charles De Gaulle Airport. We met at the hotel in the 14th arondissement. It was raining. They arrived first, well-rested despite their red-eye out of the New York. I arrived second, with red eyes, despite my waking hour commute through the French countryside.
The classic Parisian hotel had an elevator that only fit three out of the four of us, or one of us with two suitcases. The stairs to the fourth floor were narrow, winding, and lined with thick burgundy carpeting. Despite the padding, the stairs creaked and sunk a bit under foot. Below the hotel, a bar with outdoor seating overflowed with lunching Parisians who huddled below glowing stainless-steel heaters around their bistro dishes of planche saumon and souris d’agneau, their dogs sleeping underfoot. Our window, with the ornate cast iron guard rail, looked over a narrow street with another bar and a boulangerie, and a boucherie, and a patisserie. And a bit further down was a cafe tabac and small convenience store. Had the children not been with us, Mr. Cool and I may not have ventured further than Rue D’Odessa, or at least not out of Montraparnasse —everything one might need was right downstairs, across the narrow road. That, and my husband and I had not seen each other in six weeks, which is quite some time, and we had not been in Paris together in seventeen years, which is really quite some time.
But this was a family affair. So we changed out of our travel clothes and pulled our umbrellas out of our still-packed suitcases. The sleepy city, covered in a shroud of fog and drizzle, was waiting to be explored. Fortified with raincoats and steaming Nutella crepes, two rambunctious boys, accompanied by two sleepy parents, splashed their way down the sidewalk towards the Luxembourg Gardens. Or so we thought. After wandering in semicircles for a little while, we pulled out the map and turned it over a few times to get our bearings. An older gentleman noticed our confusion and led us half way to our destination. Along the way, he told us about the best way to see the gardens, which direction to come at it from, peppered with historical anecdotes. Of course, it was tout en français, so I made out about half. Still, I nodded like I understood everything.
When we got to the gardens, the first thing that we came across was a gated playground with a rather varied assortment of fantastic, moderately dangerous, equipment. If you find yourself in Paris with school-age children, this is a worthwhile stop. We payed the few Euros for the boys to play and sat our weary selves onto a bench to watch them while we caught up. The plan had been to walk through the Luxembourg Gardens on our way to Ile de la Cité, but the playground was as far as we made it on that first day.
Lost again, on our way back to the hotel, I mused: Now we really only have one day to see it all, and opened my arms wide for emphasis. Well, maybe not all of it, said Mr.Cool skeptically, slowly sipping on his espresso. We should skip the Eiffel Tower then, I suggested. We can’t do that, he responded, it’s the Instigator’s first time in Paris. He had a point.
You see, we met in Paris on a Friday afternoon and by Sunday morning, the TGV would whisk us all (me back) down to Aix, fresh for work on Monday. Not ideal, but better than missing Paris altogether.
Even with the time constraints, we ended up having a fabulous time in Paris, even in the rain, and even for only one full day and two short nights.
Below are some of the highlights of our whirlwind tour.
As a side note: The Instigator’s favorite memory of Paris is still the playground in the Luxembourg Gardens. The next day, he kept asking to go back…please…as we whisked him around the architecturally stunning, art-filled, grand, historical, classic, Parisian sites. I am not telling you this because I am surprised. When he was much younger, we made a special trek —which included a five hour drive and traversing at least one mountain pass— to the Seattle zoo, where he spent the entire visit chasing the cage-free ducks and squirrels, squealing with delight. Look! we would point out: tiger, bear, seal, boar. Duck, duck, duuuuck! he yelled, his chubby finger and arm outstretched in the direction of a mallard, zooming passed us, and bypassing the exotic but unfamiliar caged beasts.
We did make it to the Louvre, along with every other tourist in Paris that day. It was raining. At the Louvre, we did manage to see the Mona Lisa, and as Mr. Cool held the Instigator up on his shoulder to view it through the swarms of people, he remarked, she kind of looks like a thumb and it looks like Da Vinci messed up and painted her over something else that he didn’t like, which prompted me to spend the rest of the visit and some time on the train back to Aix telling Mr. Cool that we may have a budding art historian in the family.
We did get serenaded by a man and his karaoke machine on the metro, which reminded us of being in the subways back home, but this time in French.
We did drink café at a tabac and rosé at a bar. We ate steak and fries one night, right off of Rue Mouffetard, and pizza in Montmartre the next. Neither meal was anything to write home about, both places stumbled upon after wandering for far too long with hungry children.
We saw Paris in the evening from the steps of Sacre Coeur, the street lights conspiring with the fog to render the sky a deep violet
We ran to the wrong side of the metro tracks and missed our train only once. We crossed over Pont Neuf in the wrong direction more than once.
We talked our way onto the last boat ride of the night, with less than the fare, after running to catch it. We sat out in the rain for most of the ride along the foggy Seine, listening attentively as the guide pointed out the shrouded sites first in French, then in English.
The hotel had a bar downstairs and to share some semi-romantic moments, Mr.Cool and I finished our later evenings up with a half-carafe of rosé and a cigarette, once the boys were firmly planted in front of a French television program, of course.
Then we climbed the creaky stairs into the small room with the two double beds. Two to a bed, side by side, and went to sleep.
On Sunday morning, we almost missed the TGV back to Aix because the tickets would not print from the kiosk. Running late, I forgot to “compost” the tickets but I used the word “lost” instead of “forgot” when explaining it to the ticket checker, while waving the tickets in his face. He smiled at me, punched the ticket, amused by my American panic. When I made it to my seat, Mr. Cool asked sarcastically, where do they use the compost? I said, never mind, I’ll explain later and watched a woman run for the departing train, cursing up a storm.
I leaned my head back into the seat, relieved.
And while this may not sound like the most authentic, romantic, fanciful, artful or even organized trip to Paris, it was all of those things … except the organized part. And sometimes not being organized is for the best, especially when you really love the company of your traveling companions, and two of them are your children.
Paris, you are just as lovely and confounding as I remembered.
Stay the same!
Yours intermittently, J.