Thanks to mom and Bill for an amazing two weeks in Paris, and for putting us in the most wonderful apartment in the 12th arrondissement (near the Bastille). Below, the beginning of our Paris experience and details about the apartment.
Rental details about the apartment, here.
“`A la Bastille, s’il vous plait,” is what the slip of paper my mom typed out had said, so that I could hand it to a taxi driver once my husband Ian and I arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport. Before my brain became numb by jet lag, I planned on saying the french phrase myself. Instead, I handed the paper to a taxi driver and mumbled.
The driver sped off, sliding from lane to lane and riding the bumpers of tiny European cars along the highway, taking us to our destination: Café Français in Paris. There, my mom, Bill (mom’s husband & my father part deux, aka stepfather), my sister Denise, her husband Mick and our daughter Lauren would be waiting. The café is just steps away from where Mom and Bill’s beautiful boat is docked in the Bastilles’ Port de l’Arsenal.
Paris! We arrived.
As the taxi swerved and darted through the narrow streets, I tried to take it all in – a blur of boulangeries, outdoor cafes, and a stunning amount of pharmacies… My brain, jostled from the taxi’s driving and slowed by jet lag, took it all in. Suddenly, we lurched to a stop.
Doors flung open. The smell! Paris – diesel, warm bread, coffee, and cigarette smoke tangled with that familiar mist of expensive perfume. Standing there at the curb, Mom, Bill, and my daughter (who arrived a week before us), walked quickly toward us, and behind her, my sister and Mick – smiling, arms open.
In minutes our group walked down the stairs to their boat. Mom fed us brie, baguettes and other Parisian goodies out on their boat’s deck. I ate and tried to digest that we were really there, as the sun bounced off the water surrounding us. There we sat with my sister and her husband, whom I hadn’t seen in years… in Paris. I tried to remember every moment, knowing these two weeks would slide by too quickly. (Photo: Mom's boat deck in the evening)
Then, mom and Bill walked our group over to the apartment, just down the street on Boulevard de la Bastille. All I knew is that Ian and I would share it with Denise and Mick. Would each couple have our own rooms? I hoped. Would it be dark? I hoped not. Would it be small and cramped? I didn’t know. None of us knew what to expect. I was just happy to be in Paris with my family.
After some jet lagged hyperventilating, on my part, due to the claustrophobic rectangular box, otherwise known as a Paris elevator, we’d need to squeeze (two by two) into to arrive at our sixth floor, we walked into the apartment my mother and Bill had chosen and rented for us.
Sun poured across the warm-hued hardwood floors, and two living room windows, draped as if from a Madeline storybook in pink and brown, revealed a stunning view: the Eiffel tower and Notredame straight ahead, out in the distance, with the Seine to the left and the sparking canal of the Port de l’Arsenal, dotted with boats, just below. Each one of us ran to the windows and gasped.
As my sister would later say, we were like those twenty-somethings on MTV’s “Real World” who scurry around their glamorous new pad in awe. We walked around the apartment, picking out our bedrooms, giddy that there were not only two bathrooms, but a third just outside the front door. The main bathroom had sun pouring through a skylight. Our bedrooms had views of beautiful buildings and a clock tower.
Below our bedroom window, just to the left, is the outdoor plaza of an art gallery, La Maison Rouge. Mom told Ian and me weeks before that the gallery had an exhibit of artists from Winnipeg, Canada, called “My Winnipeg.” Ian’s from Winnipeg. We would later go there and see a photo of our friend, singer Burton Cummings of The Guess Who from Winnipeg, on the gallery's wall. I saw Burton's smiling face staring at me, did a double-take, and elbowed Ian. He gasped, "What?! You mean we've been sleeping, in Paris, right above Burton's face?" Weird.
Wow… If our apartment seemed perfect then, the following days would reveal, even more, that Mom and Bill couldn’t have found a better place. The location and view (At night, on the hour, the Eiffel Tower sparkles) could not have been better.
The apartment is walking distance from literary haunts of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, to name just a few late writers who lived, wrote and played along with artists like Picasso on the Left Bank. Also within walking distance: Ile Saint-Louis, Notre Dame, ancient Roman road Rue Mouffetard (now alive with cafes and shops) and Place de la Contrescarpe (in Hemingway’s old Neighborhood); medieval Roman ruins of the Cluny and Arenes de Lutece; lush and colorful Jardin des Plantes; the plethora of cafes in the less touristy Marais; clubs and cafés on Rue de la Roquette and Rue de Lappe in the Bastille; the haunting and ancient cemetery Pere la Chaise; outdoor markets (Bastille and Aligre), and the summer Plages along the Seine (Yes, a beach on the Seine: sand castles, boule, lawn chairs, music, a swimming pool, food and drinks).
When we wanted to explore beyond this incredible area, we simply hopped on the Metro (Bastille Metro line 1, not many blocks away to our right, and Quai de la Rapée Metro line 5, just across from the apartment’s entrance).
Now that I'm home, there's so much I miss. I miss walking across the bridge to visit my mom and Bill on their beautiful boat; buying quiche Lorraine at the boulangerie around the corner; watching children run through the flowers and sprinklers at the Jardin des Plantes; ogling a stunning red gown in a boutique window in the Montparnasse, and then, looking over my shoulder to catch a nun stop to see what I was gasping at, only to watch a wide smile light her face in pleasure at the dress' beauty.
I miss walking out the apartment door, never knowing what we would discover: the home where French philosopher René Descartes died, near Place de la Contrescarpe; the building where the principles of gas and lighting were discovered (theorized, yes - though never actually put into reality); Gertrude Stein's former apartment where Hemingway and Picasso liked to visit; rich hot chocolate, quiche with caraway seeds, grilled toast with leeks and bubbling cantral cheese... and discovering that saying "bonjour" instead of thank you or goodbye makes even the most straight-faced Parisian laugh - with pity? Maybe. Probably...
But those two weeks in Paris went by in a blur, just as I knew they would.
*Next, I’ll write about all that we discovered and experiences that can not be missed, i.e. one of the most memorable dinners of my life; literary walks, favorite museums, neighborhoods I enjoyed most and why.