I was originally planning on writing 4 installments for this Return to France adventure but for a number of factors this will be the final one. I’ll be covering a lot of ground, almost a 8 days worth.
Missing the Crowds
It’s now Sunday on our Paris trip, our 4th day here. I made another early morning run to the boulangerie today to get more croissants for breakfast. I passed by some people who I think are in the apartment next door and of course, gave a customary bonjour. I got a good morning in return, which just didn’t seem right.
Last night we wanted to eat in and brought some food back to the apartment for dinner, buying some paella and a selection of astoundingly good cheese from the local cheese shop. Barb and I spent most of their day walking around and ended up by the Arc de Triomph and afterwards walked down the Champs-Élysées, which was completely insane. This entire street was completely filled with crowds and just walking down the sidewalk was a real effort. It being a Saturday probably had a lot to do with it but we’re planning to avoid that part for the rest of our trip here. Perhaps one of the things we like about the neighbourhood where we’re staying is that even on Saturday, there wasn’t a huge, oppressive crowd on the streets. My personal opinion is that the Champs-Élysées, perhaps the most well-known street in Paris or even in all of France, is to be completely avoided if at all possible. It’s perhaps the most touristy place in the city. On one end of this street is the Arc de Triomph which of course is a must-see, especially at night, but the vast majority of the Champs-Élysées should be avoided at all costs.
As you could gather from a number of my photos, I like getting out in the night in any place that we’ve visited and Paris is no exception. Over the past 8 of so days, Barb and I have been going out for dinner further and further away from our apartment, normally relying on the Metro and walking to get to our destinations. With the weather in the mid-teens at night, it’s been perfect temperatures for walking around everywhere we’ve gone. Of course, we’re always aware of our surroundings, but we’ve never felt unsafe anywhere in Paris we’ve been, even at night.
When planning for any trip, like most people we look at the weather in the destination we’re planning to travel to and try to pack appropriately. In hindsight, I probably overestimated the temperature here and really should have packed differently. We expected temperatures from the low teens to the low 20s with some rain and that’s pretty much what occurred. Despite this, for the past 4-5 days I’ve been walking around in just a short sleeve shirt and was constantly sweating while wearing the rain jacket I brought from home. What’s going on?
First, we have been doing a lot of walking, often going up and down the stairs to countless Metro stations. Inside the Metro, the temperatures are normally much warmer than street level, at least 5 degrees warmer and inside the actual subway cars, even warmer with many cars fully crowded. But mostly it’s just been really nice sunny weather outside the vast majority of the time and not yet cold enough for me to wear the jacket.
Interestingly enough, many Parisians, in those same Metro stations were often wearing heavier coats and many fashionably wearing a scarf. As a general rule, the people of Paris are much better dressed almost all the time. I theorize that if the choice is between comfort and style, the people of Paris will definitely lean toward style.
In case you were unfamiliar with the French term prêt-à-porter, it means ready to wear or off the rack, This is the opposite of the other term, haute couture meaning made to measure or bespoke.
Regular readers will know that I’ve written about the local food on just about every trip that we’ve been on. Food and travel go hand in hand.
I’ve already mentioned a few times that I’ve made early morning runs to the local boulangerie to pick up croissants and a baguette for breakfast. While it’s always fun to indulge when travelling and they’re impossibly delicious, there’s just no possible way that we could eat croissants for breakfast all the time, even if we lived in Paris where there’s practically a bakery on every corner. It never was mentioned before but our early grocery store trip added yogurt, fresh berries and granola to our kitchen which I had for breakfast many times this past week which is normally what I’d eat for breakfast at home. I’ve had croissants at least 5 times in the past 10 days and honestly, I just can’t eat anymore.
While we had one or two dinners at the apartment, in the past 10 or so days we’ve mostly eaten out for lunch and dinners, sampling about 12-15 different restaurants and cafes. I’d be lying if I said that every single dining experience was fantastic, but the vast majority of them were. We had many surprises, for example going to a small cafe and having a delicious lentil soup and last night being the only ones in the entire restaurant but having a wonderful boeuf bourguignon.
Barb and I each have had boeuf tartare several times. In the past when I’ve described tartare to friends, tartare is essentially uncooked ground beef eaten raw, and the reaction is mostly disbelief. It’s a general belief at home that eating raw ground beef will certainly result in an ambulance ride to the hospital. Similarly to eating raw oysters, proper handling and preparation is critical. Tartare is not the ground beef you’d generally buy in a grocery store, it’s specially prepared and handled and I can say with certainty it’s delicious for the years we’ve been having tartare, abroad and at home, we haven’t had any hospital trips.
Long before arriving in Paris last week, Barb and I had talked about doing a side trip within France and earlier this week we took a train from Paris, ultimately renting a car and spent two days in the Normandy region.
Of course, Normandy is well known for the World War 2 D-Day beach landings by allied forces and one of the places we visited was the Juno Beach Centre, located in the small town of Courseulles-sur-Mer. The Centre is a museum to the Canadian involvement in the D-Day landings but it goes into a lot of what life was like in Canada at the start of WW2 in addition to examples of the military equipment used by the Canadian soldiers. While the Juno Beach Centre was well worth the visit, it was a few kilometres away at the Canadian War Cemetery at Bény-sur-Mer that had a bigger impact. We walked around the over 2000 gravestones, a sobering reminder not just of the number of those killed in action, but how many of the soldiers were killed at such a young age, many in their late teens. I’ve read that this was just one of several such war cemeteries scattered around the Normandy area for the 10’s thousands of soldiers who lost their lives on D-Day.
Although we planned to visit the D-Day-related sites for part of our short stay in Normandy, we didn’t want to make it the exclusive reason for being here. After having lunch in Courseulles-sur-Mer, we made the decision to go to the town of Honfleur, which was about a 75Km drive away where we would spend the night. We had been given the recommendation to go to Honfleur by our neighbour and it turned out to be a great choice. In fact, we wished we could have stayed in Honfleur for more than just one night.
Honfleur was one of those mid-size towns that not only has a multitude of art galleries, restaurants and shops but still retains an authentic charm and the number of tourist-oriented stores are at a minimum.
I had to get up at sunrise to take the photograph (below) of the narrow buildings in front of the harbour. I assumed I was the only one dedicated enough to getting this sunrise shot but found there were at least 6 other people, sporting their cameras, in the same place I was.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we left Honfluer, driving back to Caen to pick up our trains back to Paris. Interestingly, while we felt that we made the right decision to travel to Normandy, I was somewhat relieved to be back in Paris again, not needing to drive any further on the rest of this trip.
Why No Love for Paris?
In the weeks and months leading up to our leaving for Paris, as is often the case we had some discussions with people about our upcoming trip. We were asked outright why anyone would even want to go to Paris? Honestly, this came as a surprise.
I’m well aware that not everyone wants to visit the largest city in any country and there’s probably a number of reasons why someone doesn’t like going somewhere else that other people may like. I know that the people of Paris have a reputation for being snooty and there may be some truth to this but honestly, Barb and I hardly ever see this. We generally always approach any interactions with people in foreign countries with a smile. We’ve found being pleasant to someone in their country instead of demanding is the key to all positive interactions. Of course, we’ve found that being able to speak at least a little of the local language really helps. Barb and I speak more than a few words of French and I think that this and the positive attitude support why we keep coming back here and we have no need to convince people. We both love Paris.
Today is our second Saturday here which means that we’ll be flying home tomorrow morning. Having rented this apartment instead of a hotel, I can say that there’s no going back and all future trips to Paris will be apartment rentals.
In hindsight, 2 nights in Normandy would have been preferred, possibly a 3rd night. We were limited by a number of days on this trip but more time exploring Normandy and a few other regions of France will have to wait for the future. The cost of the apartment rental was not cheap but the apartment is huge by Paris standards and was quiet at night and just steps from many, many stores and restaurants.
It took 12 years since our previous trip to France and we know for sure that it definitely won’t be anywhere near that long before we return.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed following along with us. All the best and we’ll return again in 2023. Barb and I have several trips in the early planning stages which I will be writing about as those unfold.
By now I’ve posted all of my photos from our Return to France Adventure on my photo website here.