I cannot remember how many times that we have visited Paris in the past. We love Paris and every time we arrive it is like coming home, we feel so comfortable. Our trip in December was to be a very special extended one. Plans were to stay in Bailly- Romainvilliers for a short while to decompress before tackling frenetic Paris proper. Then
we had booked accommodations in a number of arrondissements so that we could explore areas that we had not visited before and completely immerse ourselves in the Parisian culture. The highlight was to be a Uniworld Parisian Holiday river cruise on the Seine down to Rouen and Les Andelys. On board we would dine on gourmet French cuisine at every meal and sip on excellent French wines while our every whim would be pampered to day and night.
Three weeks prior to our departure, the tragic attack of the evening of Friday, 13th November occurred. This obviously weighed heavily on our minds, but we refused to let these misguided terrorists dictate our travel plans to visit Paris over Christmas that we had been planning for so long. Many thought this was not the time to go to France, while others thought it was the best time to visit. I completely agree with the latter since, right after a tragedy, a destination is usually much safer due to heightened security.
Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport we expected to see much more of a police and military presence, but, on the arrivals level, there was not a trace. It was not until the following day at Val d’Europe Shopping Centre we first encountered security at the main entrance examining bags, and, while having coffee and croissants at Paul’s, that we saw soldiers, in full camouflage gear carrying weapons, patrolling the mall.
Paris was another story. Security was very noticeably beefed up. Paris was being patrolled by unprecedented numbers of security, police and military personnel, especially in crowded areas, public transport, and places frequented by tourists, including monuments, museums, markets and large shopping centers, stores and and religious sites. We often passed squads of six or eight soldiers with semi-automatic weapons. Sights like this are more the norm than not. At major stores, malls and public buildings, security guards and police examining every bag, scanning our bodies and asking us to open our coats. A minor inconvenience, but one we quickly grew to accept and expect.
A visit to the impromptu memorial at Place de la Republique, under the watchful eye of the statue of Marianne, was very emotionally moving. It was hard not to tear up thinking of the tragedy of the events and what it means to all of us. However, Parisians are pulling together to try to put their lives on track. The French flag flies proudly from windows and balconies, the cafes and their terraces are full. The department stores were all so busy – but why do they all have the heat turned up to the maximum? The Christmas markets were all doing a booming business, especially the the largest on the Champs Elysees where it was the survival of the fittest just to get through the crowds of people. The Christmas concerts at Saint-Sulpice and Sainte-Chapelle and the ballet at the Opera Garnier that we attended were all sold out. Those we spoke to emphasized that they were proud to be Parisian and would not let the terrorists win.
While we went about becoming flaneurs, roaming the arrondissements we had chosen, we discovered many hidden streets of Paris overlooked by tourists.
In the 16th. Rue Saint Didier with its family shops and small local shopping complex; Rue Mesnil with delightful family run restaurants like Le Coincidence – you must try the potatoes au gratin; and Avenue Victor Hugo with elegant fashion boutiques, antique, jewelry, cigar, gourmet shops and patisseries, bars and restaurants.
In the 7th., Rue Saint Dominique with cafes, patisseries and boutiques, and Rue Cler, a pedestrian market street boasting everything from fresh produce, cheese shops, bakeries and fine wine. Try the Café du Marche for a good, reasonably price menu.
In the 6th., Cour du Commerce St Andre, a historic passage between Boulevard Saint Germain and Rue St. Andre des Arts, contains rustic restaurants, bars and tea rooms, a charming shop selling olive oils and tapenades from Provence, and a wonderful artisan perfume shop.
In the 5th., winding its way from The Pantheon to Rue des Ecoles, Rue de la Montagne has many small restaurants and bars tightly snugged together – try The Bombardier, a cozy English-style establishment serving reasonably priced pub grub.
In the 1st., there are so many fascinating streets hidden from the tourist routes. Just behind The Palais Royal is the elegant Passage Vivienne with its tea shops. Rue Montorgueil lined with restaurants, cafes, bakeries, fish stores, cheese shops, wine shops, produce stands and flower shops has a village-like appeal that caters to Parisians while they socialize and do their daily shopping. Try L’Escargot with its huge golden snail over the entrance. The restaurant was established in 1832 and I don’t think that it has been updated since! It was purely Parisian from La Belle Époque. Red velvet banquettes, dark woodwork, and a painted ceiling with cherubs watching us. There was even a spiral staircase in the middle of the dining room. Their specialty, escargots, are really worth the visit.
We had many memorable moments, but on Christmas morning we were walking across
Pont d’Arcole toward Notre Dame Cathedral; the streets were unusually quiet as there was hardly any traffic around. At 10:00am all the bells of the cathedral started to peel out and continued for about fifteen minutes. The closer we came, the louder the bells became and the cacophony of sound absolutely surrounded us. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world. Above all, the city needs to heal and rebound from the terrible tragedy, and it is my opinion that it is extremely important for visitors to support and stand behind Paris and keep its spirit alive.
I’m so happy I listened to my inner feelings and not the negative thinkers telling me not to travel to Paris. It was a magical trip just like every past trip to this beautiful city has been. For the most part, the weather was gorgeous, sunny and around 15 degrees during the day but chilly at night – unusual for Paris in December. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I can’t wait to go back.