I was really nervous getting off of the train at Paris. I’m not sure why. We got off the train and … well, it was a train station. There were special grooved edges embedded in the walkway at the train station for blind people using canes which I thought was neat.
N and I walked out of the train station to the street. N smoked a cigarette and I eyed all of the buildings and traffic and people zooming by. It’s a city! Exciting!
We caught a taxi from the train station to our hotel in the Marais, even though it was many hours before we could check in. Our cabbie did not speak English and he did not understand our butchered pronunciation of the hotel address, so I wrote it down on a page in my Moleskine Paris and he said, “Ah! Rue du Plâtre!” His pronunciation of “Plâtre” had this really guttural sound to it that I don’t think I can make– I have been trying to make it since.
We climbed into the taxi and HELD ON. The traffic was amazing — busses, taxis, cars, trucks, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, special ‘city’ motor tri-cycles (two in front) all sharing the same road, and somehow no one dying a horrible death. I saw a lot of Parisians using the Vélib’ rental bicycles (wikipedia) — way more than I expected!
We got stuck in traffic near the Marais — it was just before 10am on Monday — and our cabbie tried to cut down a couple of skinny alleys with no luck. He still got us to the hotel quickly and directly given the traffic and all. We overtipped the taxi driver (of course) and walked into the hotel, exhausted. We knew it was too early to check in, but the hotelier offered to let us leave our luggage in the lobby and said our room should be ready by 2pm. Great!
While in the lobby, an American family was checking out, waiting for their taxi to the airport. The woman came to me and said, “you have to get a lock and go to Pont des Artes and put a lock on it, then bury the key in the sand below or throw into the Seine! You have to do it!” I smiled and nodded, actually knowing of the romantic tradition. It’s not my style but I was looking forward to seeing it. It was fun to have someone SO excited suggesting we do it.
We stashed our luggage in the hotel lobby and headed out from the hotel to wander.
We walked down the street and went to our first café to get some coffee since we had not had enough on the train. N walked into the café and I became completely and totally distraught because N didn’t really greet the guy when he walked in and then he ordered two cafés and sat down. All I could remember was that Rick Steves/David Lebovitz/Clotilde Dusoulier everyone said to “always greet people when entering a shop or café” and that Rick Steves said to order at the counter of a café. In retrospect, it was totally fine because the guy asked N if he would be sitting and N said yes, so he charged him the higher price. I was SO embarrassed though, “we’re doing this ALL WRONG! We are SO stupid American tourists! NOOOOOOOO!”
After the coffee, we started walking through the Marais. I was struck not with the skinny streets but with the doors! Colorful, ornate and every building seemed to have one. It was fantastic. I wanted to take a photo of every one (but I was still photography-shy, as I am the first day or so in a new place).
After a while we realized that we were not headed in the direction we thought we were and we consulted my Molkskine map. We had walked all the way up to Place de la République — the complete opposite direction of where we’d meant to go. Oops! We turned around and went back, stopping for a well-deserved lunch near the hotel.
We ate lunch at Le Bouquet des Archives on Rue des Archives. I was happy to sit in the sun outside! We ordered a pichet of wine — N asked for a rosé but when the waiter asked N what size he pointed to the column header and the waiter brought the white wine that was under N’s finger on pointing. Oops! It was still tasty.
The entire menu looked great, but N and I each opted for a sandwich. N ordered the French “fast food” croque madame. I ordered an open faced sandwich of goat cheese, walnuts, proscuitto and something green I can’t recall now. I was surprised to see that both sandwiches came with “une salade verte” after reading David Lebovitz noting how to order a green salad in Paris but I was very thankful (we like greens and there wasn’t much vegetable matter in Munich). Both sandwiches were open-faced on thin-cut crispy bread with a tasty topping. This café also brought everyone carafes of water. Shocked I was! (for the record, I liked Paris water taste). Lunch was delicious! And our waitperson was friendly and accommodating.
After lunch we wandered a couple of blocks to our hotel to see if our room was ready. I really wanted to shower but it wasn’t quite 1400 yet. We walked in and the hotelier said that yes, our room was ready and handed N the single room key to room #17. 17 is one of our lucky numbers, so I took this as a good omen. The hotelier told us that when we entered the room, our key was to be placed in the slot by the door to turn on the lights and air conditioner and that when we left the hotel, they kept our key at the front desk.
We shuffled our luggage into the elevator and went up one floor to the first floor (Europe, I love you- 0th floor, as it should be!).
hotel room in paris
We opened our room and I was expecting a tiny room like the one we had in Munich. Oh no. This room was absolutely huge! Places for each of us to hang clothes and stash our bags, a reasonable sized bed (it was short, N’s feet hung off the end, but it WAS comfortable otherwise), a lcd tv (just 5 channels, but I wasn’t there to watch French tv), and a big bathroom with a shower that had ACTUAL DECENT WATER PRESSURE. If you get the idea I was pleased about that after the shower on the train, you’re spot on.
N changed clothes — we were a little grimy after the train and the walk, even with a train shower — and went down to talk to the hotel people while I showered. When N left the room, he took the key with him, removing it from the slot by the door. A second later, the air conditioning turned off. No big deal, as the room was pretty cool. A fourth second later, the lights all turned off. Oops! That was a little more challenging. I still got my shower done and N returned with directions to a department store, BHV.
We walked a couple of blocks to the 14 Rue du Temple BHV location and went in to look for a razor for N and some shaving cream. We paid way too much for some disposable razors and left BHV without really looking at it too closely. I did see some really cute stuff in the stationery section! (I did not see any yarn in the store, though I know that many French department stores carry yarn).
It started pouring as we left BHV– us without an umbrella, of course! We popped into the drugstore across the street to pick up some band-aids and escape the rain for a minute. Afterwards we stood under an awning. It was amazing how in the downpour, everyone just stopped moving and ducked under an awning and (generally) started smoking a cigarette.
N and I took off as the rain began to let up and paused at a cafe for some coffee. Two cafes, standing at the counter, 2.5€. It was tasty– I don’t care how people complain about Parisian coffee!
We decided to walk down to Notre Dame as the sun came back out. We walked down and crossed the Seine at Pont d’Arcole, walking down Rue d’Arcole. It was amazing how many tourist shops and Americans we came across on this walk after crossing the Seine. Everywhere else we had been was a fairly good mix of locals and tourists-who-just-wanted-to-be-perceived-as-local — this area was just SWIMMING with tourists.
I am not sure why, but I expected Notre Dame to be larger than it is. It is a completely fascinating piece of architecture and engineering. I enjoyed walking around the inside — so intricate and detailed. I didn’t take any photos inside.
As I walked out of Notre Dame, a short young woman came up to me, “Do you speak English?” For some reason I immediately went into my city-mode-self and shook my head and kept walking. She did the same thing to N, who was a bit behind me (and he reacted the same way). I realized shortly thereafter that there were 2-3 young women working together and as one person distracted someone by asking questions, someone else would pickpocket or follow people, asking for money.
Leaving Notre Dame, we walked down further and crossed back across the Seine at Pont au Change (I think — it may have been Pont Notre Dame) and started walking towards Les Halles. There were a ton of us all waiting to cross a big street and at one point we all made like to cross (against the light) and then saw some cars ZOOMING towards us, so the whole group of us stepped back. When that happened, I stepped on the foot of the girl next to me. She started ranting in French about stupid tourists stepping on her foot — I understood a few words thanks to my years of Spanish. I had apologized (in French) but it was a silly clumsy thing!
traffic! (Eiffel Tower in the background)
We walked for a while longer and I started to feel cranky so we looked for somewhere to eat. We seemed to be in a food-free zone so when we finally came across a place, we stopped. We ordered panini and coffee. It was mediocre but stopped the crankies and gave me the energy to walk back to the hotel. Of course just a block or two from this place we came across a pedestrian street with tons and tons of different street vendors and cafes. Dammit!
We got back to the hotel and I passed out quite early, exhausted from the train travel and all the walking, I guess. N hung out in the hotel lobby using the wifi and uploading photos before coming back to bed.