A melancholy mood began to set in both Jason and I as winter was falling in Sheffield. Thoughts of our first Christmas away from home, without our families and friends began to creep in along with shorter days and stooping temperatures. We arrived in England in mid October from British Columbia and had excitedly plotted all the travels we would be embarking on with our newfound access to shorter and cheaper flights.
Soon though, reality set in that it would be smarter to save our money and get back on our feet after moving across the world. Maybe we could start our own Christmas traditions here in our cozy apartment, cooking our hearts out to replicate the buttery goodness of mom’s stuffing and turkey and Patty’s soft chocolate drop cookies. Yet over a few beers on a sleepy Wednesday evening, we mischievously started surfing Google Flights to all the drool worthy European Christmas destinations, dreaming away an average night.
“How about Paris?”
A few more cheeky looks at hotel deals, flight and train times and 21,460 Pins later, we had a 5-night trip booked to the city of light. With spontaneity in our hearts and under a month to plan, we decided that we would stick to our usual travel style and not get overwhelmed by visiting such an iconic city. With only 6 days to enjoy our Christmas gift to each other, we chose a handful of “touristy” spots to hit and booked two activities; tickets to a pro rugby game for Jason and a reservation for Christmas Eve dinner at Palais L’Opera Garnier for moi. From there, we made a loose day plan and left the rest to the streets of Paris, ready for the smell of boulangeries and the winds of the Seine to guide us from Rue to Rue.
Travelling over an important holiday that holds infinite memories for us both was a bit intimidating. I wanted so fiercely to love our time there so it would magically cure our Christmas blues. I felt the weight of that pressure and dove a little too deep into blogs that cast a dark shadow over Paris, often reading horror stories of mean waiters and dramatically overpriced and overrated food. You hear about the crowds and the filthiness of the city streets. In the back of my mind, I worried that our choice of destination had been a mistake. So I shut the laptop and chose to make my own judgments. I couldn’t justify all this virtual planning if it was just going to put a bad taste in my mouth before I even touched down. Instead I brushed up on my basic French and packed my red silk dress and pointy toe black heels.
We touched down in Paris on a Friday afternoon. We decided that the metro system seemed pretty simple and took the train from Charles De Gaulle into Paris to save time and money. We were also aware that the Yellow Vest Protests had been escalating in the weeks leading up to our trip and were warned they had been taking to the streets, blocking main motorways. The train ride was quick and painless, with an attendant who spoke perfect English at the ticket booths to help us select the proper journey. We stepped off the train and onto the platform, my excitement spiking as I read the signs in French pointing us toward the appropriate exit. The reality of where I was hit with an unexpected impact as I stepped out of the underground and onto the magical streets of Paris. I drank in the sight of French Baroque style architecture, a bustling café of outdoor seating being enjoyed despite it being well into December and a towering gothic cathedral.
Yes, there were twinkling lights and people wearing berets walking little dogs. All the scrumptious stereotypes were right and the air was filled with a nonchalant confidence. Paris is effortless, as are true Parisians. A light rain started to mist down as we made our way to the hotel on cobbled streets. My curly hair sprang up and my toes were beginning to dampen as a woman floated by me. She was wearing a candy apple red coat that brushed the calves of her legs. They were adorned in delicate fishnet stockings and slipped into black pointy toe stilettos with tassels that danced on her heels with each long stride. She wore a matching red bowler hat and from beneath revealed a smooth bob haircut that seemed untouched by the rain. She swayed with remarkable ease on the tiny points of her heels across the uneven cobblestones to a covered café where she kissed the cheeks of an equally exquisite woman as they sat down for lunch. What I would learn about Paris was this; there is magic scattered within the city, and the longer you stay, the more it seeps into your veins.
By the evening of our arrival I was itching to get to the Louvre. We walked from our hotel on the northern end of the 2nd arrondissement. A long and leisurely stroll through the streets of Paris is a simple pleasure in life like no other. We realized we had made it to the Palais when we walked through the garden of trees trimmed into perfect rectangles. As we stepped around one last corner I was stopped in my tracks by the awe-inspiring beauty. The glass pyramid, glowing in the centre of the square, looked otherworldly. The Palais structures surrounding the Louvre are exquisitely intricate but next to her, they are clearly supporting roles. In the far distance, Tour Eiffel twinkled flirtatiously. A lump formed in my throat but a few deep breaths of crisp, Parisian winter air helped to soothe it. I knew then that our romantic first meeting was well worth the wait.
We woke up early to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time at dawn, enjoying her beauty at sunrise. There were a few dozen people within about a mile of the Tower and it was a blissful serenity that we were yearning for. We were allowed this time to be completely in awe of such iconic architecture while the birds sang and nearby cafés prepared for opening. As full daylight swept over the city and the tour buses pulled in, we made our timely exit. At a nearby café we indulged in croque madams and aromatic espressos. The waiter jested with us about our Elementary French, rather a shame being a Canadian (oops, I took Spanish in High School). We appreciated the lightness and warmth of Parisians. I now regret to admit that it was a surprise how welcome we felt in France. Whether it was brief exchanges with our servers in the restaurants we dined at, an elderly art dealer on the streets along the Seine or a fellow fan at the Racing 92 rugby game, we revelled in the quiet pride that Parisians had in their beloved city.
That pride was present in every bite we took in Paris. The food culture is something that I’ve been craving my whole life. A simple cuisine at its core, with an immediate focus on quality, leaves you racking your brain for what secrets they hold. The complexity on your palate is enormous in seemingly repetitive classic dishes, but you’ve never had them like this. Every aspect of enjoying a meal in Paris is better than usual; from the undeniably delectable food, ambient atmosphere, subtly attentive service (European style, of course), perfectly paired beverages, and the encouragement to take your sweet time socialising and savouring well into the night. Every meal made our trip more memorable, more delicious moment by moment.
We visited Tour Eiffel once more at night to watch her twinkle in all her glorious light on the Pont de Bir Hakeim. We bid farewell to Paris that final night with the winter winds kissing our cheeks and the Tower’s lights glinting in our eyes. I feel changed every time I travel and Paris is no exception. Parisians reminded me that art is important, not trivial. Art holds the tales of history when words fail. I learned how much value and joy an incredible meal could add to your day. Food isn’t just fuel, it’s an opportunity to nourish yourself, physically and mentally. Parisians taught me to put on the damn heels and walk through the rain, because today is beautiful and so are you.
Click the link for my top tips on eating, visiting the Louvre and being a first time tourist in Paris: