This is one of the beautiful things about living in Europe. (This is how we talk, we Brits – we talk about Europe as a completely separate place we are not part of). Luxembourg is like a little hub in easy driving distance of so many great cities and towns. Brussels? Two hours. Geneva? Five hours. Amsterdam? Four hours. Cologne? Two and a half hours.
And Paris? Just four hours.
So when my parents in law suggested that instead of another trip to visit us in Luxembourg, they instead meet us in Paris? We were definitely up for that.
Thursday last week was one of the many public holidays we get in May, so Rasmus took off Friday as well and we drove over to Paris for a four day weekend. I was overly optimistic because of all the sunshine we’d been getting so packed my loveliest lightest spring clothes, and then spent much of the weekend figuring out if I could layer any more of those light clothes to protect against the chilliest wind. But it didn’t rain on us. Count your blessings, right?!
I’ve been to Paris before. There was that one brilliant time with my friend Hannah during Uni. Rasmus surprised me with U2 concert tickets in Paris in our first year of marriage. And I used to travel there from Brussels for meetings occasionally (the wonderful thing about day meetings in Paris? Lunch is not just a few ordered-in sandwiches. No no no. It’s going out to a restaurant and having starters and wine and of course coffee to finish).
But can I tell you a secret? I didn’t really like Paris that much.
I know, I know. How can a person not like Paris?! The great city of love and poetry and baguettes! What’s not to like? Well, the tourists for one. And occasionally the Parisians themselves. I just never fell in love. I found the tourist sights impersonal and a bit soulless.
But this time, I think I started to get it. I’d still take Amsterdam or Geneva or Copenhagen over Paris any day. But I started to see the charm. This time, I got to wander the streets of the Marais, explore the shops and different corners. I know quite a bit of French now so I didn’t constantly feel like a floundering whale. I’d looked up a lovely cafe to head to for lunch, where I got a great Tunisian crepe stuffed full of egg and feta and spinach. I found out which was considered the best ice cream in town and loved my cerise flavour (although Rasmus picked better with the salted caramel).
We avoided queues like the plague (Eiffel Tower? Nope, we’ll see the free and less-crowded view from the top of the Galeries Lafayette. Notre Dame? Huh, not with that queue, Sacre Coeur is much nicer anyway). And we avoided the Metro too. We must have walked dozens of kilometers every day (it definitely felt like it), but we saw so much more. All the lonely corners that ne’er a tourist did see.
I got to visit the Louvre for the first time. And although the crowds drove me bonkers half the time, I put the headphones of the audio guide on and disappeared into my own little art history fantasy for two hours, before the others were officially done with artwork, and we headed off to find the ice cream instead.
We visited the Sacre Coeur during their evening mass. I stood at the back of the congregation and picked up with my just-ok French, the very familiar words: Our Father in Heaven… And suddenly I was trying my hardest not to cry over the beauty of it all, standing here with my back to an ancient pillar, watching the faithful go forward, even as the tourists bustled past down the side aisles.
And then there was the hour or so where we bought a bottle of wine (and borrowed a corkscrew from the shopkeeper) and found a sunny spot down on the over-full Seine, watching the boats go by and waving at the kid-tourists, laughing at the dog who was rather over-excited by the prospect of a swim in the river, seeing the couples and groups of friends find their own spot on the river bank to talk and laugh. And a saxophonist struck up a tune on the other side of the river.
That was the moment I thought, yes, I understand why people fall in love with Paris.