Paris: Ten Things I Learned from My Autumn in the City of Light

Paris seems sort of like a dream now.

Every day for three months, I woke up in a lovely Parisian apartment and walked through the streets of the first arrondissement to get to work, stopping here and there along the way to pick up breakfast and coffee. At the time, I enjoyed my morning walks, but it’s only now, nearly two months later, that I’m realizing just how much I miss them, just how lucky I was. My morning commute now – an often-cramped ride on the 2/3, followed by weaving my way through Times Square en route to my office – is decidedly less glamourous. I am well and truly back to the grind.

I had visited Paris several times before last fall, but never had I quite realized how much I adore the city, never had I gone about living a normal(ish) daily life there, never had it quite felt like home. It does now. I got to know the city so much better, soaking up the rhythm of the day-to-day in a way I just hadn’t before. The biggest lesson, of course, was that I could see myself living there one day on a more permanent basis. But along the way, there were many other, smaller discoveries about Paris.

One: Paris is resilient

Fluctuat Nec Mergitur

I watched the news reports of the Paris shootings in horror, shocked that something so terrible was happening in the city I had made my temporary home. At work that Monday morning, everything felt eerily quiet and on edge – of course it did. But I was surprised by how quickly Parisians rebounded. Little displays of spirit were everywhere around the city: from the city’s motto, Fluctuat nec mergitur (“tossed but not sunk”), popping up all over, to the bleu, blanc, rouge projected onto buildings, to the fact that people got back to eating outdoors, en terrasse, almost immediately. It was something I’ll never forget.

Two: Paris does Christmas like nobody else

Paris Christmas

I am a little bit Christmas crazy, but luckily for me, Paris is too. Christmas spirit was everywhere: from the gigantic tree in Galeries Lafayette to the ornament emporium at Le Bon Marché to twinkling lights that seemed to adorn most every storefront. No matter where I went in December, Christmas seemed to follow, and I loved it.

Three: Palais-Royal is so much more than the black & white columns

Palais-Royal

Anyone who has ever followed a fashion blogger who traveled to Paris has no doubt glimpsed Palais-Royal: its courtyard with black and white columns that seem made for posing atop, clad in the trendiest outfit. What I didn’t realize, however, was how much else there is at Palais-Royal. In fact, it became one of “my” Paris spots; there was little better than making the ten minute walk from work, grabbing a coffee from Café Kitsuné, and then strolling through the gardens, which are beautiful. I could not have asked for a better afternoon coffee break.

Four: No space is too small for a restaurant (or a restaurant bathroom)

Boot Café

I’ve eaten in some pretty tiny spaces in New York, but nothing compares to the teeny-tiny restaurants and cafes in Paris. From coffee shops that seat maybe four people (like the itty bitty Boot Café, above) to restaurant bathrooms where you practically have to stand on the toilet to get the door shut, no space is to small to put to use in Paris. You have to admire that French ingenuity.

Five: Working inside Place Vendôme is not a bad gig

Place Vendôme

My office was located inside the vast Place Vendôme complex, and I initially arrived in Paris wishing I’d be working and living in a more charming neighborhood (and one a bit further from the tourist hordes at the Louvre). I wound up loving Place Vendôme, though. It’s beautiful in any season (but especially Christmas), and it’s so, so elegant (in the cab after landing, my driver kept exclaiming, “Bijoux! Bijoux!,” a nod to all the ultra expensive jewelers lining the square). I miss it so much.

Six: The frequency with which the Paris metro runs puts New York to shame

Paris Metro Ceiling

Maybe I’m looking at it through the rose-colored lenses of a temporary resident (and one who lived close enough to her workplace to walk, rather than take public transportation each morning), but I continually marveled over how much I loved the Paris metro compared to New York’s. Not having to wait forever for a train on the weekend? The best.

Seven: I don’t actually like macarons (unless they’re salted caramel)

Pierre Hermé Salted Caramel

I, like seemingly everyone else, got caught up in macaron mania at one point in time. They’re so cute and colorful and Instagrammable! But upon reflection, I …. don’t actually like them. They’re overly sweet and rarely ever taste like anything to me, except sugar. The one notable exception? A good salted caramel macaron, preferably from Pierre Hermé. Now that is serious perfection.

Eight: Paris loves Japan (and Brooklyn, too)

Kunitoraya

One thing we quickly learned on lunch breaks: the area around our office was filled with Japanese restaurants (and tea shops, and cheese shops, and grocery stores). And once I started paying attention, I realized that Japanese cuisine and culture was everywhere in Paris – they really love it! Likewise for Brooklyn; much to my amusement, the French seemed quite taken with the hipster aesthetic: think flannel, dorky eyeglasses, and beards. Who knew?

Nine: Paris’s passageways are not to be missed

Le Village Royal

My new rule of thumb in Paris? If you see a little alleyway or sidestreet you can cut through, do it. There are covered passageways scattered throughout the city, and almost all of them are worth a peek. My favorite? Le Village Royal, a cute little shopping street filled with high-end boutiques (Dior! Dior! Dior!). I was lucky enough to get to cut through this every day on my walk to work, which is….not a bad way to start the morning.

Ten: The view from atop Galeries Lafayette is awesome

Galeries Lafayette Sunset

I had visited Galeries Lafayette, one of Paris’s grand department stores, before, but I hadn’t ever made it all the way to the top. Huge oversight, it turns out. The views from here are pretty spectacular, and particularly if you time your visit to sunset. I dashed here on impulse one evening after work and was richly rewarded. It was Paris magic, pure and simple.


 

Nearly two months after leaving, I’m already itching to return to Paris (and, luckily, I’ll get that chance this spring). I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what this most fabulous of cities has to offer.

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