We begin our Paris sojourn at 46 Rue de Clery (2nd Arrondissement) – home for the next 9 days. The 2nd arrondissement (district) is a bustling commercial district with snaking roads and pathways that are filled with business activity. Particular to our neighborhood, many garment stores line the streets and make up the Sentier [M], or textile district. The lively neighborhood also boasts several famous residents, including Jamie Oliver’s Frenchie restaurant (which is so hugely popular that it is booked until mid May!).
I personally think that the best way to enjoy Paris is to live like a Parisian – complete with tiny Paris studio in a 5-story walk-up with thin Parisian walls, and cooking with small Parisian hot plates. It’s an experience to bump elbows with the locals at the nearby boulangerie, or shop for produce at the outdoor market using hand signals and broken French, and dine at the local bistros together. Just remember to ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci’ everyone, and your (my) awkward Americaness is waived off as just naïve cuteness.
We had our very first Parisian lunch at the quaint La P’tite Louise in the 10th district. True to French bistros, the red awning, outdoor seating area, and chalkboard menu welcome the hungry patron. The typical bistro trifecta is prominently displayed on every tabletop – 3 white porcelain jars of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup. Viv and I immediately immerse ourselves in French cuisine and order steak tartare with our café crème (what Americans incorrectly call café au lait). Steak tartare is a dish of high quality minced raw beef (can be made with tuna too) that is folded into a variety of flavorings and aromatics, including Dijon mustard, raw egg, brunoise onions, shallots, salt, pepper, and maybe a splash of lemon. It’s usually severed with some bread, a side of frites and perhaps a salad. I can’t wait to replicate (then improvise) this at home! The staff here is friendly, patient, and not in the least snobby or rude (totally a stereotype, btw). Lunch is a celebrated meal in France (actually, all means are), and it isn’t uncommon for lunch to last several hours. We took our sweet time talking over frites and gossiping over café. This was the perfect way to cure me of my airplane doldrums.
This first day, we leave the Right Bank to explore the more bohemian Left Bank, beginning on Rue de Bonaparte off St-Germaine-des-Prés [M]. The street is crowded with brand name labels (Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Armani, etc.), and most importantly (to me), home to 2 competing confectioneries. Stationed on the north end is Ladurée (which will have its own separate review soon!) – a traditional French patisserie that does a wonderful job recreating the classics. Meanwhile, Pierre Hermé, the more modern and innovative of French pastry, is just a few blocks south and across from Église (Church) St. Sulpice. So while Ladurée may be more Chanel via Karl Lagerfeld, Pierre Hermé is the (former) John Galliano of Dior or the Christian Lacroix of pastry. And being in such close proximity, of course Viv and I did a macaron cross comparison – we concluded we like Pierre Hermé better – more interesting desserts, flakier croissant, and definitely more creative and delicious macarons. We appreciate PH’s cream and ganache fillings over L’s fruit jam ones. We also happily agree to disagree with anyone who says otherwise. Either way, we contentedly devoured our goods at the St. Sulpice square right along rue Bonaparte before heading off for more sightseeing.
Continuing south along Bonaparte, we ran right into the Luxembourg Garden, the 2nd largest park in Paris and home of the Luxembourg Palace, now the French Senate office building. The park is filled with runners and joggers, and happily encourages relaxing on the grounds. It is still a bit chilly, but some of the trees have started to peek little green shoots on the bare branches, in anticipation of the spring. Groups of Sorbonne students gather around the park benches to chitchat, and hoards of happy mothers push their baby strollers along the lanes. We also enjoy the park and stop to catch a picnic lunch nearby the mini statue of Lady Liberty.
Not too far from the lush green Luxembourg, are several religious and iconic architectural behemoths. The Pantheon and the Church of St. Etienne du Mont both celebrate Paris’s patron saint. The relics of St. Genevieve and remains of other famous Frenchmen/women (Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, etc) are contained at the Pantheon, a gorgeous neoclassical monument that mimics the original in Rome. Saint Etienne du Mont Church is one of many beautiful churches in Paris, but is remarkable in that the tombs of Pascal (the mathematician) and Jean Racine (playwright) are here. Also, the stained glass window displays in this church are technically unique from typical stained glass art in that the broken glass was painted on then assembled, rather than the assemblage of colored glass pieces.
And of course, I cannot forget to mention, THE most famous church in all of Paris – Our Lady of Paris, or the Notre Dame. The focal point of many great French movies and novels, Notre Dame is the largest cathedral in Paris and located on a tiny isle that floats on the Seine. Quintessentially French Gothic with its gargoyles, rose windows, and flying buttresses, not only is the Notre Dame a magnificent artistic feat, but the art that it holds within is no less awesome.
Our first day in Paris was relaxing as we only explored the 5th and 6th districts. And now we follow the cobblestone paths back to rue Clery for respite and a new day of adventure.