Spring Break in Paris: Part 1
Spending spring break in Paris seems like the sort of thing that I would only fantasize about doing with my friends. However, with one suitemate spending a semester studying at Sciences Po, four of us decided to actually visit! Cue montage of months of Yelp/TripAdvisor scouring and thematic movie nights (Funny Face, Midnight in Paris, Les Misérables, Amélie, Ratatouille, etc.).
Luckily my friends are slightly obsessive planners. With a preponderance of spreadsheets, schedules, & reservations, we set off well-equipped to make the most of our short visit. Tip: pre-buying tickets for as many things as possible lightened (or at least spread out) the financial blow a bit and allowed us to enjoy ourselves once we were there.
After a looong day of travel we arrived at our fabulous Airbnb in the 10th arrondissement. It was my first Airbnb experience and it could not have been more ideal. The apartment was lovely and in a great location. Our friendly host was waiting to greet us when we arrived.
I settled in and then proceeded to take a nap until dinner. We decided to explore the neighborhood a bit and to learn the walk to our nearest metro station. While there, I bought my 5-day metro pass so I would be ready to go the next morning. To continue getting to know our neighborhood, we decided to eat our first meal near the Airbnb. Just around the corner was an incredible restaurant called La Marine alongside the Canal Saint-Martin. This may have actually been my favorite meal of the entire trip! I enjoyed a Moscow Mule (my go-to cocktail), poulpe et roquette (a citrusy octopus & arugula salad), and petites ravioles du Royans à la crème et parmesan. I had only been to Paris once before this trip and these tiny, herb-filled ravioli were my favorite dish. I was thrilled to find them on the menu our first night!
The next morning we persevered through jet lag to be at the “Les Puces” flea market at Saint-Ouen bright and early… except, it was slightly drizzly rather than bright. Unfortunately, the merchants seemed to take the dreary weather as an excuse to delay opening to later than the 10 am start time our online research had led us to expect. Despite getting off to a slow start, the various markets, stalls, and warehouses finally did open and by late morning we had had our fill of perusing fabulous antiques and modern treasures. At the market I purchased my (very affordable) souvenir for the trip, an illustrated 1930s book filled with instructions for child-friendly science experiments.
After Les Puces, we hopped on the metro and made the long climb up to Sacré-Cœur. We admired the view overlooking Paris and toured the gorgeous basilica.
Next we joined the line to be seated at the nearby Hardware Société. It took some time to get a table, but after a busy morning of traveling all over the city I was more than happy to stand still and people watch for a while. The wait was well worth it for a scrumptious brunch of fried eggs and pork belly (although the croquettes were the real stars of the dish). The restaurant had a funky vibe with knitted warmers on the teapots and graphic butterfly wallpaper.
When we left the cafe we were happy to find that the weather was much nicer. In fact, despite Paris getting snow before & after our visit, we had very comfortable weather while we were in the city (see Part 2 for bad weather in Belgium). We strolled around Montmartre and explored the art market in Place du Tertre.
Next we made our way to the Latin Quarter where I fell in love with the bookstore Shakespeare and Company. Pros: book collection, mishmash of rooms, quirky nooks, old typewriters & pianos to mess with. Con: a line of people waiting to get in. Tip: most of the obnoxious tourists (except for me) did not come upstairs. In Le Marais I experienced what may be the greatest triumph of my life. I managed to independently & effectively navigate through the maze of streets directly to my favorite crêperie from my previous time in Paris. Do I have remarkably advanced skills in urban European navigation? Did I perhaps frequent the place a few times too often? Who can say? All I know is that the beurre-sucre crepe is still piping hot & scrumptious.
After a quick trip back to the Airbnb to freshen up we reemerged for dinner, pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, and a play. We saw Victor Hugo’s Ruy Blas at Théâtre du Ranelagh. We bought our tickets through Theatre in Paris which was a very english-friendly experience (someone from the company was waiting to greet us & show us to our seats, we had english playbills, and there were subtitles). While I would absolutely recommend the ticket company, the play was a snooze (although to be fair we all probably needed a nap by that point). In hindsight we should have opted for a less authentic/intellectual theatrical experience.
Our next day started with a visit to the Catacombs of Paris. This might not be ideal for anyone who is exceptionally squeamish, but it is an interesting, off the beaten track attraction. The sheer number of skeletons is astounding and an audio guide provides historical & scientific context. Buying tickets in advance for the catacombs is a must because it allows you to skip a very lengthy line.
Following the walk through “l’empire de la mort” we emerged back into the sunshine and made our way to the Tuileries area where we found a place to get takeaway sandwiches and enjoy a picnic in the gardens.
After lunch it was time for a high-end window shopping stroll around the Place Vendôme area. This was particularly fun because everything was still bedecked from Paris Fashion Week.
Our next activity was probably the high point of the trip for me, a bike tour. We went on the Paris Charms and Secrets four-hour electric bike tour. Our guide Xavier was wonderful. He is a history graduate student & his unabashed excitement for the stories he told was contagious. Although it took a few minutes to get accustomed to the power boost of the electric bike, I was quickly hooked on its speed & ease. Zooming around the Louvre Pyramid and other beautiful Paris places was truly delightful and a bit surreal.
After the bike tour, it was time for dinner at Breizh Café. We serendipitously missed our dinner reservations and we were seated in the épicerie (“a welcoming store with a large table and shelves overflowing with an abundance of Breton treats”) which made for a fabulous private dining experience with lots of visual interest. Their buckwheat galettes are crunchy and delicious. I had a savory one with egg, chorizo, and cheese and for dessert I had one with homemade salted caramel.