How I loved the direction this next trip was taking, a Rhine cruise by way of Paris. Illogical, you say? Pas de tout! Paris is like dessert before dinner, indulge often and generously! Ultimately, the river cruise was as enlightening as it was spectacular, with cultural and culinary experiences aplenty meriting its own story line. Next time. With Parisian bistros to sample and gardens yet to stroll, this romantic, artistic, historically rich, bustling metropolis is easily included in any trip across “ the pond”. ( Getting ahead of myself, next month: London). Paris is calling. Allons-y!
As the song goes, I love Paris in the Springtime, I love Paris in the Fall…when it drizzles, sizzles…even in December when my toes froze (apologies, Cole Porter). Drizzle, it did. From flight arrival until rail departure 3 days later, rain was our constant companion, with sunshine making cameo appearances. Given the multiple transfer options from CDG airport to city Centre – RER rail, bus ( best, least expensive), taxi (most expensive) – this time we opted for a prepaid car service. At $65, more than public transport, less than a taxi. It was a most welcome sight for a weary, bleary eyed body, spotting a distinguished gentleman holding a sign bearing my name outside Passport Control.
Arriving at our urban oasis, Hotel Shangri-La Paris, we escaped the downpour. Delightfully tucked into the quiet Iena neighborhood yet steps from the Eiffel Tower, this hotel is not to be missed, particularly for any special celebratory stays. Our early flight arrival and checkin predictably meant awaiting our room. Surprisingly, we were escorted to a late breakfast, then down to cushy spa beds by an enticing indoor pool with painted ceiling clouds. Softly falling raindrops cascaded over window walls. Such a magically Zen spot. Nap time. We were gently awakened by Marie, our lovely personal host, who led us up to the 6th floor. While cheerfully conversing and showing us around, she mentioned our room had a view. And the view? La Tour Eiffel, in full splendor, outside our window. Magnifique! Ours was a mammoth king room, adjoining expansive bathroom (also with ET view!). Winding steps from the hallway led to a breathtaking rooftop terrace, outfitted with lounge chairs, dining space and heater. Unquestionably, it was simply the most comfortably luxurious Parisian abode ever experienced.
Rain poured down. Undaunted, we set out to explore, hopping a metro over to Notre Dame. The historic fire had occurred two weeks earlier; Parisians and tourists alike were still communally grieving. The clouds parted obligingly as we emerged from below. Gazing at the seemingly strong facade and witnessing the charred, flattened roof edges behind the stone steeples where its majestic spire once spiked toward the heavens left me gasping. The surroundings were widely cordoned off with a hearty police presence, all of whom were genuinely friendly in answering questions and guiding errant visitors.
Such a heartbreak to see ND from the bridge, so close yet not able to enter. She will be restored. Strolling the square adjacent to the bridge, we found an ideal spot with a front row table for prime people watching at a nearby brasserie, Le Depart St Michel. Service was as friendly as the wine was flavorsome.
Next day, Versailles, the legendary chateau. We splurged in advance for a prepaid guided tour to maximize enjoyment for our first visit. Leaving Trocadéro two hours ahead of the appointed meeting time, we settled in, sun shining, spirits high. Checking stops against the map, we quickly realized we’d been turned around on the nefarious RER C line, heading toward Versailles Chantiers instead of Versailles Chateau. Our printed map read simply “Versailles “. Time evaporated as it took multiple trains with a 25 minute wait for one of them, arriving at Versailles exactly at 230pm. Our tour guide was gone, as were our tickets. Quel dommage! It can happen to anyone.
After walking the palatial grounds, we consoled ourselves with a tasty upscale lunch and fine wine at Ore, the Ducasse on site restaurant. The premium lunch tab was redeemed by a remarkable Beaujolais. With spotty sunshine leading the way, we headed back to the city, browsing a few book shops and boutiques. Later, we stepped into Le Bistro St Germain for a light bite. When hungrily scoping high traffic tourist areas, we’ve discovered it’s best to partake in local favorites, keeping it simple. While the server was a bit grumpy (until he delivered the bill), we stuck to light fare, quiche Lorraine with greens, quite good. I feel obliged to comment that stuffy waiters are no longer the norm, as many Americans think. Personally, we encounter very friendly servers throughout France, often quite chatty, who are genuinely committed to delivering premium service with a smile. Walking back to the metro, we followed a sweet fragrance emanating from a corner boulangerie. Within minutes, the warm chocolate croissants were sweetly melting in our mouths. Divinely delicieux!
After a visit to the local market to pick up some cheese, snacks and local vintage, we found complete solace later on our rooftop terrace, soaking in the divinely illuminated Eiffel Tower. A perfect end to an unexpectedly savory, adventurous day.
Our last day, post-breakfast, we walked a block away to the Marche Alma Saturday market, dodging puddles, brellys in hand.
Many Parisian neighborhoods feature these markets, most famously, Rue Cler, which operates almost daily. Others are smaller yet quite abundant, such as Marche Alma (16e, 16th arrondissement), and open only Wednesdays and Saturdays. Even if you’re not shopping for fresh fish, meats and vegetables – or not shopping at all – it’s worth a browse for the visual feast. Steaming takeaway food and fresh cut flowers overspilling their bins perfume the air. Shiny red, yellow, green peppers, aubergine eggplant, bright, juicy oranges, and rosy apples supply colorful garden bounties. Mixed between are craft jewelers, leathersmiths, hat vendors, clothing and shoe sellers, quite the smorgasbord of merchants!
Alas, checkout time. The cherry on top of this sumptuous three day, two night, go-go glorious indulgence at Hotel Shangri-la was the staff. Every single person we encountered, however brief or involved the conversation, was delightfully engaging, insightful, and curious about our visit, intent on knowing how they could enhance our stay. They live to please. Any of the 101 rooms are comfortably spacious, most of which feature a direct ET view. Henceforth, this will be where we drop our bags for a full Parisian immersion.
Midday, time to bid adieu. Given the months-long gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protests disrupting transit services, we arranged a prepaid car and driver to Gare de Lyon. This time, more strategic than a splurge. The usual 17 minute ride from hotel to this station ultimately took over an hour that Saturday due to closed streets and clogged traffic. For $52, it was money well spent. A taxi would normally have been around $30 direct / no traffic, but with meter running, would have greatly exceeded our prepaid service.
The knowledgeable hotel concierge wisely recommended we await our train at Gare de Lyon in the upstairs restaurant, Le Train Bleu. Stepping inside, we were whisked back to the Golden Age of rail travel. The cavernous dining room, adorned with ornate, arched wood beams and columns crowned by soaring frescoed ceilings, was alive with banter. Servers, outfitted in brass buttoned crimson attire complete with bell caps and draped napkins, buzzed around each other, tray tables filled with drinks and food skillfully swaying over each other’s heads. Seated at facing high back leather chairs, we comfortably awaited our Basel bound train while savoring a step back in time.
Travel tips~ Getting around – traveling within Paris is relatively easy, especially if used to big city metro systems like NY or Boston. The RER serves longer distances through and around the city. The Metropolitan, aka Metro, serves the city well with multiple lines in every direction, each a distinguishing color. Be sure to obtain current maps detailing all stops; check for station closures with hotel or Metro staff. Paris (and Europe in general ) is not exactly ADA friendly. There are countless steps in/out of metro stations and hotels. Most museums have been retrofitted with ramps and elevators but inquire ahead with concerns.
Staying there – every budget can be accommodated. With the advent of Air BnB, there are low cost cozy rentals as well as mid range to more upscale options with creature comforts. As with any destination, price alone should not be a deciding factor. Be informed about services, proximity to attractions, neighborhood character and crime rates. Reviews help, but must also be vetted. Trust a travel advisor to navigate the labyrinth of options.
Despite the clouds and rain which soaked up much of our visit, the City of Lights remains a sure stop enroute to, well, almost anywhere. Next time, a culinary immersion with French cooking classes.
Adieu, Paris, we’ll meet again soon!