I lived in Paris 5 years ago as a student. One glorious semester of wandering the tirelessly fascinating streets, frequenting the array of wonderful museums, munching on a rainbow of macarons, and generally soaking up the sights of the beautiful grey and blue city. I left the US for Paris as an anxious, semi-depressed bundle of uncertainty, and I emerged 4 months later: calmer, worldlier, relaxed and healthier. It sounds silly to say, but in a lot of ways Paris fixed me, and because of that it will always be one of my favorite corners of the world. So, why is it that I have been living in France for 8 months and have yet to go back to Paris? I’m the last person that could tell you. I’ve been wanting to go back for ages, but life intervened. And then, my good friend from high school (who is living in Brazil) announced she would be doing a bit of a European tour on her way to a wedding in England. Finally! After far too long I was able to see 2 old friends, Melina and Paris.
I arrived in Paris a few hours before my friend, so I headed straight from my train to the covered organic market on Boulevard Raspail in the 6th arrondissement. I spent almost 2 hours wandering up and down the stalls, trying to decide what exactly I was in the mood for. This is a difficult feat when everything looks so delicious! I was apparently in the mood for chickpea galettes, honey, homemade jam, and a whole array of cheese, all at once. After much deliberation I finally decided to keep it simple (and cheap) with bread, goat cheese, tomatoes and apricots. I headed to the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg to enjoy my finds. The sun was out, but the cool breeze prevented any sticky discomfort. Amidst a swirl of huffing and puffing runners, intense tennis duels, lazy Sunday strollers, and families sailing boats in the massive fountain, I found an empty bench, busted out my swiss army knife and got to work devouring my treasures.
Afterwards, I strolled from the 6th to the 13th arrondissement and found myself in the Butte-aux-Cailles, a hip and trendy quarter that feels distinctly different from the rest of Paris as it was only incorporated into the city in the late 1800’s. It was great to explore this area because it had somehow escaped my notice when I was living there. This was just the beginning of a day that was to be full of surprises and new discoveries.
Later that afternoon, I met up with my friend Melina and her friend Priya and we strolled through some of my favorite old stomping grounds: Saint-Germain and Saint-Michel (also known as the Latin Quarter). These quarters are both full of adorable cafes, quaint store-fronts, and narrow, winding cobblestone streets. One alleyway leads to a centuries-old Cathedral, while the next is clamoring with shoppers frequenting some of the oldest and most renowned shops in the world, such as Shakespeare and Company bookstore and Mariage Frères tea house.
You can actually feel the history emanating from the stone walls and streets. But most importantly, the Latin Quarter is home to Amorino, one of the most amazing gelato shops I’ve ever encountered. While Paris is chock-full of delicious gelato, Rennes is depressingly void of it, and I’ve been having serious withdrawals! I ordered pistachio and salted butter caramel (my all-time favorite!). It was worth the wait.
Next, we hopped on the metro to head over to the Northern part of the city. Another area where I hadn’t spent much time, this part of town is mostly residential and is split in two by the Saint-Martin canal. It was on the canal that we passed our night: invited last-minute by yet another friend of my friend to join in on an Armenian feast hosted on one of the many barges parked along the canal. These barges, called péniches in French, are house boats of a sort that often function not only as homes, but also as cultural center, restaurants and bars. Our hosts welcomed us, even though we were strangers, and proved to be so kind and generous that it left me buoyed with faith in the human race. After a feast of dolmas, hummus, guacamole, baba ganoush and many other delightful treats, we danced our food bellies off and then headed to the deck to enjoy the warm breeze and the view of the lights reflected on the canal. It was such an amazing night, one which none of us could have envisioned or predicted. But, eventually the call of the closing metro lulled us back to our hostel and into bed.
The next day we lazily strolled along the Champs Elysée (if that’s possible with the swarms of people buzzing around) and then headed to my favorite part of the city: the Marais. The Marais is a well-preserved quarter that has gone through some drastic cultural makeovers throughout the centuries. The ancient place des Vosges was where the Parisien nobility dwelled during the 17th century, then it became a predominantly Jewish quarter during the 19th century and today is known as the gay neighborhood. The result is a melange of Yiddish bakeries and falafel houses, crammed and musty thrift stores, haute-courture shopping and chic bars and cafes. I was more than content to pass the rest of my last day perusing the sights of the Marais with 2 friends who were seeing it through fresh eyes.
And guess what else is in the Marais? Amorino gelato. We sat on a planter in a beautiful courtyard and enjoyed yet another cone (this time I chose hazelnut, walnut and dark chocolate). Sadly, I finished my last bit of gelato, bid my friend adieu, and headed down the stairs to the metro station. For one reason or another, the line I needed to take to get to the train station was blocked, so I had to sprint to a different line, then connect to another, arriving 5 minutes before my train was to depart, suffering from a wicked gelato-induced stitch. I took my seat, sweaty and red, glanced at my neighbor and we both chuckled. “Ligne 4?” she asked, also sweaty and out of breath. “Oui” I nodded. “C’est Paris, n’est-ce pas?” She smiled and did one of those infamous French shrugs. Yes, that’s Paris. Crowded, stressful, but so living and steeped in culture, history and vibrance. It can be cranky, it can be confusing and absolutely infuriating. Mostly though, it’s just completely wonderful. I’m going back the next chance I get!