I fly into Charles de Gaulle early on a Wednesday morning and take the RER B into Gare Du Nord station. Stowing my luggage in a locker since I won’t be able to get into my apartment till evening, I set out to have my first experiences as a stranger in a foreign land. Immediately, Paris strikes me as being everything I thought it would be and so much more. At the same time, my Paris is nothing like I expected. I discover first and foremost, that contrary to what most Americans tell you – not everyone speaks English. Yet I’m glad for it, nothing convinces me I am in Paris more than the fact that all around me music flows from the mouth of every French citizen and studied traveler.
I get many chances to flex my language muscle and find that though they appreciate my trying and what little knowledge I do have, it’s an uphill battle for me to partake in a full conversation. I’m grateful I know enough to get around.
Making my way to Chatelet Les Halles, I decide to try and memorize the neighborhood that will be mine for the duration of my stay. I walk and walk – seeing every side of L’église Saint-Eustache, watching the children play in Place René-Cassin, discovering the parts of the market still untouched by progress and enjoying my very first crepe … with nutella of course.
Les Halles was one of the original outdoor markets in Paris and the entire area is now under construction, pending a sort of modernization and re-imagining. I find out this is the second time, following a large remodel in the 70s that created what is now Forum des Halles – a shopping mall, food court and several cinemas. The construction has its own charm and over the course of my trip I find a certain affection developing for the signs of change in shades of green, yellow and gray. Better than the orange we use in America, no? It seems just like the French to use colors which aren’t garish and instead, almost calming.
My apartment is just a few hundred feet off Rue Montorgueil, in a bustling area mostly frequented by residents but popular with tourists in the know. In fact, Rue Montorgueil was featured in a book I read before going to Paris, one I highly recommend for those seeking an authentic experience in France’s capital city. Everything one really needs can be found on the Rue or one of its side streets, even in the outdoor market that sets up next door Thursdays and Sundays on Rue Montmartre, between Rue Rambuteau and Rue du Jour.
After settling myself in my little apartment nearly 48 hours after I began my journey back in Charlotte, North Carolina I wake up in search of the best croissants in Paris. I try more than a dozen boulangeries and pâtisseries during my two weeks, but settle on Eric Kayser as being the best. At EK, no matter the time of day – the croissants and pain au chocolat always taste fresh out of the oven, they melt in my mouth, they make me grateful for my taste buds as I have never been before in my life!
Notre Dame de Paris becomes my church because a decade before my best friend became engaged to her now-husband when he proposed on the roof there and a statue of Sainte Jeanne d’Arc inside reminds me of my god-mother. Joan is her idol, in the same way some teenagers worship Justin Bieber, minus the haircut copying. When I sit in Notre Dame, staring at the rose window, or listening to an A cappella recital, I feel close to my family even though I am alone.
I cross Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, at least once a day to get to what becomes my most visited neighborhood in the city, outside Les Halles – Saint Germain. This left bank area full of art galleries, boutiques and bistros is home to me for so many reasons and I’m happy to share that love with other travelers who give me tips and advice via twitter even as I am here wandering the streets. Jen tells me the best macaron can be found at Ladurée and I’m happy to discover she isn’t exaggerating. When I pass the Ralph Lauren store on the actual Boulevard Saint-Germain, I feel the presence of ma mère who passed her RL obsession on to me at a very young age.
The simple act of sitting on the banks of the River Seine, soaking up what little sun breaks through the clouds which constantly seem to suffocate the city, that is the activity I most indulge in during my stay. From the curve of the river by Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis, to further down on the right bank where the trees are carved with lover’s initials – sitting on the banks of the Seine and writing, croissant and café avec crème next to me, this is the thing I love most. This is my Paris.