It doesn’t take long before you too will have joined the ranks of billions of people around the world who have traveled to Paris, only to find themselves surprised at their willingness to agree that it is indeed the most romantic city on earth. This being the case for everyone except one…and that’s the poor schmuck who got stuck behind me on our Notre Dame Cathedral tour. Yep, that’s right. Somewhere around step 277 of 400 in that cramped and musty spiral staircase to the top, I lost control of my clench and let one rip. HARUMPH! It just flew out of me like a musician uncontrollably sneezing into a trombone. Since “gazunt heit,” was his initial reaction I figured he was German (or Dutch), and then it smacked him in the face WHAM!, because he stopped dead in his tracks and put some distance between us. If I wasn’t so tired from all the climbing I would have been able to keep it in until we got to the open air up top, but maybe subconsciously I thought it would help rocket me to the top. Needless to say, I learned a lesson and put some distance between myself and the Asian grandma in front of me when we climbed the Arc de Triomphe.
Earlier that morning, we had breakfast with my cousin Michel in his flat. The night before he’d shown us his favorite bakery so I dashed out at 7am to get there soon after opening (we were still jetlagged and already up). I passed trendy children in skinny jeans and uniformed polo shirts on what I assumed was their way to school and adults dressed in the latest designer fashions on their way to work. All of them with cigarettes hanging out the corner of their mouths. Again, I stood out as the obnoxious American wearing plaid pajama pants, running shoes, a navy blue peacoat with horn buttons, and a scarf.
The woman in the bakery read the word “sucker” in big lights stretched across my forehead and as I tried in my worst French to order a variety of pastries and breakfast breads. It didn’t matter what I wanted and she just started shoving various things in our bag. The good news is, pastries are much cheaper in Paris than in the US. The regular croissants, chocolate croissants, and almond croissants were no better than anything we’d had before, but there were some other pastries with chocolate and cream that were delish!
After our morning nosh, Jonathan and I headed to the FNAC (which is like a Barnes & Noble or Borders Bookstore) just behind the Pompidou Modern Art Museum. Our guide book said they sell the museum passes which would save us money and time skipping the lines if we were going to go to a bunch of museums in Paris. They didn’t have the two-day passes we wanted (they only had four-day passes left) and so we walked across our first Seine River bridge to the tabac store in front of the Sainte Chapelle Church on Ile De La Cite. They had the passes we needed and we went to Notre Dame.
If you’re going to walk to the top and take in some of the most breathtaking views of the city, then get in line as soon as you get there. They only let a certain number of people up and require people to come down before they let up more, so the lines can get long, and besides you’ll need to give your legs a break and just shuffle slowly through the interior of the church for a little bit before trekking off to your next destination. The line is on the left side of the cathedral (if you’re facing it) and be prepared for a climb hike.
With our legs feeling like Jell-O after coming down, we walked around inside, and warmed our hands over some of the votive prayer candles, before heading on.
We walked along the side and to the back of the Cathedral where it was less crowded and we could get a better view of the needle-like spires and flying buttresses.
Berthillon’s ice cream
We crossed a small bridge (bridge 2 for the day) and headed in to Ile Saint-Louis. The tiny island of upscale homes, shops, restaurants and cafes is small enough that we figured we’d walk down the main street and take it all in while we were there. I’d read in Rick Steve’s that the ice cream on Ile Saint-Louis was some of the best in Paris, so I stopped for a scoop even though it was 10:30am. Berthillon’s ice cream is sold all over the city, but one of their shops is here on the island. I got an amaretto praline scoop (since they were out of my goto pistachio) and it was fantastic. A cross between gelato and regular ice cream, it was creamy and had a strong almond extract flavor like good marzipan. And there were these smooth swirls of chocolate hazelnut pralines running throughout it. Needless to say, Jonathan did NOT get a bite.
We crossed another little bridge (3rd of the day), this one covered in padlocks. We later learned that each of these were left by lovers who’d professed their love to one another and placed a lock on the bridge only to come back and find it years later when they’re still in love. Turns out a lot of bridges in Paris have locks on them and it’s not that big of a deal. But here’s a picture anyways. When couple breakup does someone come and take the lock off?
Walking along the left bank (south side of the river) is nice in the fall. The leaves are changing and the cathedral and Louvre museums are off in the distance. We moved one block in and made our way through the Latin Quarter and took note of the more cramped residential structures that seem slightly more haphazard in placement almost as if Haussman focused all his city designing on the right bank (north side of the river).
From Place Saint-Michel we walked across another bridge (4th for the day) and went to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Once you’re there, you can tell it really is one of the largest buildings in the world, and like most people recommended, we just picked a wing or two to focus on and called it a day. We went for a utilitarian lunch and grabbed sandwiches at one of the small stands in the mall underneath the Louvre, which is not worth it if you ask me, but it was sustenance. But what is worth it is the caramel éclair from La Maison Du Chocolat, and there’s a store in the mall beneath the Louvre.
La Maison Du Chocolat
They have some wonderful chocolates, truffles, and pastries at La Maison Du Chocolat, but the éclairs really caught my eye. They had dark chocolate, mocha, pistachio, vanilla and caramel. I went with the caramel, although from the taste of this beautifully delicate and rich pastry I’m sure any of them would have been good. FYI, this is one of those bougy places where they place your éclair on it’s own board and in it’s own box….so don’t plan on going crazy and buying all your chocolates here.
From the Louvre we walked slowly through the right bank back towards the Marais. We grabbed an outside table at a little café called Open Café and had some wine and did some amazing people watching. The woman next to me smoked nearly an entire pack of cigarettes in the 45 mins we were there, and it sort of made me want to smoke again, but taking one look at the color of her fingers she held her cigs with reminded me of how good it is that I’ve kicked that habit.
After some wine we walked to Chez Omar for a Moroccan dinner. I wasn’t too keen on the idea at first since we were in France and I wanted to eat nothing but butter, cream, and pate, but Jonathan reminded me of France’s occupation of Morocco at the beginning of the century and we assumed there would be plenty of French influences for us to enjoy.
This place is great. It’s French style but traditional Moroccan food. You pretty much order a couscous and select your meat type, and they bring you a hot metal platter of couscous, a pot of vegetable stew with garbanzo beans, potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, and squash zucchini, etc. And whatever meats you select come on their own metal trays. The stew is not traditionally spicy so we asked for harissa, which they had. But the merguez sausages were full of Arabic spices and flavors. We also ordered the grilled salmon, which was cooked to perfection with just a little bit of lemon.
A Mediterranean salad and a carafe of a house red wine, oh and some fries to soak everything up, and we were all set.
I highly recommend Chez Omar if you’re looking for a break from the heavy meals you’ll probably have the majority of the time you’re in Paris. The staff was super friendly, the desserts looked amazing (we were too full to get some) and it’s in a great location on the north side of the Marais for an evening stroll either before or after dinner.