Saturday, August 3, 2019

24 Hours in Paris: The Most Romantic City in the World

On our way home to the United States from Kenya, we got to spend a little over 24 hours in Paris, France - the most romantic city in the world! It was fun to revisit some of my old Paris haunts from when I lived there for an internship over four years ago. It was M's first time in the city, and I was determined to make sure we took full advantage of our short time there. It was also a nice refresher for trying to get around with my high school French. My funniest can't-remember-French moment was probably when a woman at a bakery asked me if a wanted sparkling or still water, but I forgot how to say "still" and didn't hear the exact word she used so I just said "the one that's not sparkling" (or more literally, "the one without gas").

We decided to stay in an airport hotel, which we don't regret for a minute. We had four very heavy suitcases and three very heavy carry-on bags that it was nice to immediately drop off instead of trying to take them into town. We also had the best - and I mean the best - potatoes M or I had ever had in our lives in that overpriced breakfast buffet. They were perfectly roasted with olive oil, thyme, and garlic and had a thin crispy skin perfectly married to a creamy interior. It's one of those foods we'll really remember, and we kept going back for more!

Once we made it into town, we grabbed pastries at top boulangerie (bread bakery) and pâtisserie (pastry bakery) Pain Pain (literally translated to the extremely literal "bread bread"). I ordered their famous roulé pistache-chocolat (chocolate-pistachio roll) and M got a fancy pastry version of a Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolate treat. Both were delicious, and I enjoyed the authentic pastry dough I remembered from my time in Paris that has mostly disappointed me elsewhere: perfectly flaky, golden crust with a buttery, layered, soft interior. My mouth is watering just writing about it!

We also checked out Paris's two most famous church buildings: Sacré-Coeur* (translation: "Sacred Heart") and Notre Dame (translation: "Our Lady"). After a vigorous walk to the top of Montmartre ("Mount of the Martyr" named in large part for the decapitation of Paris's first Bishop, Saint Denis, that happened there), we were rewarded with a beautiful view of gleaming, white Sacré-Coeur. Then we headed over to the other side of town to see the even more famous, Gothic Notre Dame. Because Notre Dame is currently undergoing extensive reconstruction after sustaining fire damage earlier this year, we couldn't get very close to the building. It's still my favorite cathedral, anyway.

We then checked out the expat/bookworm hangout of Paris: Shakespeare & Company. When I lived in Paris, it was a bookstore only, but it has since added on a café with a healthy, environmentally conscious selection. The bookstore itself is the real star of the show, though, even for people like us who don't have many physical books. The layout is exactly what one would picture for a well-loved, traditional bookstore, and the spaces for sitting and reading are lovely. (They even have literary events if you're an artsy type.)

We also walked by some gardens and the Institut du Monde Arabe ("Arab World Institute), a beautiful building, but we decided to pass on the current exhibits. If you ever find yourself in Paris with more time than we had, I highly recommend it - I've been multiple times, and they also have a nice café with an Arabic flair. With all that walking we worked up quite an appetite and made our way to the Jewish quarter of the city just so I could order a particular sandwich I remember eating four years ago. Yes, it was that good.

The most well-known shops of the Jewish quarter are the dueling falafel joints - they invite you to try them all and decide which is truly king. Yet given our short timeframe and the fact that M isn't falafel's hugest fan, we settled on the sandwich shop from my memory instead: Miznon. The fast-casual restaurant is Israeli, but I had been taken there by a Palestinian back in the day - it really seemed to bring people together over objectively good food. So I did order the exact same sandwich I had four years ago (lamb-stuffed cabbage roll), and it was exactly as delicious as I remembered! The pita was soft, fresh, and warm; the meat was juicy and well-seasoned; and the vegetables all just worked together perfectly. I highly recommend it! (M's kebab sandwich wasn't bad, either.)

After our meal, we took a City of Lights evening walking tour to help us walk off all the YOLO food we'd eaten throughout the day. I've taken day tours in Paris, but it was different to take a tour as the sun was setting. My favorite informational stop on the tour was the Flamme de la Liberté ("Liberty Flame", an exact replica of the flame on the Statue of Liberty in New York gifted to the United States by France. The flame was given to Paris by the International Herald Tribune (seemed a little random) as a symbol of the friendship between the United States and France in 1987, but it became a monument to Princess Diana when she died in 1997 in a car crash under the bridge where the monument is placed. There were tributes to the "People's Princess" all around the flame.

Once the tour was over, we grabbed a snack (popcorn for me, Nutella crêpe for M) and grabbed a bench in the park to enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower where we had conveniently ended. The orange-illuminated landmark against the dark-blue sky was stunning, and then became even more so as the clock struck 10p.m. and the whole tower glittered for five minutes. (It does this for five minutes every hour on the hour after dark.) I've been dreaming of sharing that exact moment with M for years, and it was just as wonderful as I'd imagined.

So I do believe Paris's reputation as a city of lights and as a city of love is well-deserved. Even after all these years, it still feels like the most romantic city on Earth!

*I intentionally did not combine the "oe" because in my desktop blog view it comes out as a very misshapen special character: œ.

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