When we booked our little weekend trip to Paris back in November, my sister and I didn’t anticipate that we’d be staying in the city amid such sad and scary events. Knowing that one of the few ways – in our power, at least – that we could refute and oppose the act of terrorism that took place just before our departure would be to go on as normal, we set off regardless, determined to have, as the French say, un bon voyage.
Armed with the essentials – beret, GoGo City Guide and a thirst for seeing as much as possible in two short days – we boarded the Eurostar from St. Pancras, arriving in Paris’ Gare du Nord a few hours later. I have a habit of getting it all wrong when it comes to navigating the underground rail networks of foreign lands, but this time was different. I downloaded a map of the Metro and paid for a 2-day pass to make sure our traversing the city went as smoothly as possible, for the best value at that.
WHERE WE STAYED
Our first stop was Abbesses, in the achingly adorable neighbourhood of Montmartre. After a few wrong turns, we found our Airbnb apartment for the stay – a cute mezzanine studio in a building as secure as any fortress. Pastel blue shutters opened up onto a quiet courtyard, the rain-scented Parisian air breezing through thin white curtains.
The apartment stood just opposite two sets of steep steps up towards the Sacré-Cœur, their walls lined with street art. The stairs opened up onto a cobblestoned square where, despite the rain, artists sat, hunched over their canvasses, capturing the scene around them. Driven by our hunger, we chose the first restaurant we saw and ordered chips and salad, cokes and a croque madame.
After what was a disappointing first meal in Paris, we walked a short distance to see the Sacré-Cœur, and took in the spectacular view from its steps. Under a blanket of gloomy sky, Paris still looked inviting and beautiful.
WHAT WE ATE
As a vegetarian, I had pretty low expectations heading to the home of foie gras and snails. Though I could have tried harder to seek out the veggie hot spots that I’m sure Paris has to offer, I’m afraid to say my low standards were not exceeded. The majority of our meals were bland, dry and overpriced. Sloppy pizza, a carbonara that my sister will likely never forget (for all the wrong reasons) and goat’s cheese on toast which held promise but failed to impress punctuated our trip. The crepes and the coffee were great, though.
In fact, as with most of the vacations I take, coffee and cafes in general seemed to be at the epicentre of the journey. A trip to Montmartre is not complete without paying a visit to Cafe de deux Moulins, where Audrey Tautou famously portrayed the beautiful – and oh so French – Amelie. We stayed a little while, sipping soda and beer, after having explored nearby Pigalle.
Based on its literary credentials, Cafe de Flore in the 6th arrondissement was an important stop for us, too. Sitting in the shadows of de Beauvoir, Hemingway and Sartre, my sister enjoyed the best hot chocolate of her life while I cherished a refreshing cold Hoegaarden complemented by a slice of lemon. This was also where the unfortunate goat’s cheese on toast was consumed, but the overall experience was a pleasant one.
WHAT WE SAW
It is indeed possible, as we discovered, to have a feeling of fomo while you are in the act of experiencing that which you feel you’re missing out on. As we jumped on and off metro lines – missing connections and fluffing up routes – we became incredibly aware of how much we wanted to fit into the few remaining hours available to us. Would it be worth queueing to see the towers of Notre Dame? What about the Louvre?
In the end, the most typically touristy thing we did was take a trip down to the catacombs. Millions of human bones and skulls stacked upon each other lined the walls of the dark and dank walkways, frightening and fascinating us in equal measure. We explored the nearby cathedral of Notre Dame, too, taking in its sheer architectural beauty and learning about its construction over years.
The last stop on our checklist was a flea market near Porte de Clignancourt metro station. The walk up to the market was a slightly nerve-wracking one during which we clutched our phones in our pockets and did our best not to look like tourists. Men congregated in groups on the pavement, offering iPhones and watches and designer t-shirts, scattering at the sound of an approaching police van before quickly regrouping in its unaffected wake.
Marche Dauphine, housed in a high-ceilinged building with walls covered in murals, specialised in antique furniture, old books and records and vintage clothing. If I had a rustic converted barn in the French countryside to decorate, I would fill its rooms with the beautiful pieces I found there. A gorgeous armoire, a marble topped side table, an initialed Louis Vuitton luggage case. Despite my standpoint on silk, a mint-green Christian Dior robe caught my attention so fiercely I considered enquiring of its price. I came away with a turquoise ring and an old postcard of Montmartre, satisfying my yearning for vintage lingerie later on by purchasing an Etam slip.
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More often than not, I return home from a trip abroad feeling as though I’ll need to go back, to see everything else and to experience it all again. With such easily accessible transport links, there really is no excuse not to visit Paris again, and again, until I’m assured I’ve explored it all. For now, though, I’ll fondly look back on a trip full of quality sisterly time, creamy white coffees and the calm of a city refusing to stand down to terror and fear.
Check me out on Instagram for a few more snaps from our #sistersinparis trip!