Paris, The City of Love (or Light) – it reminds me of the time I bought white bathroom mats for my apartment bathroom, envisioning sparkling white snow in the winter and pristine white sand beaches in the summer. Instead, within weeks they turned into snow splattered in black sludge or sand littered with debris (no amount of washing would change this). Before long, despite the agony I felt over my wasteful consumerism, I could no longer look at the darn things anymore; I returned to the store and bought dark blue ice/ocean instead. In recent years (or decades, remembering my French teacher’s assessment), Paris has gotten the reputation for being “dirty” and once you are in it, it is not hard to see why – the city’s white buildings make the graffiti all the more obvious and its romantic landmarks make the endless sea of tourists all the more annoying. In reality though, it is a beautiful city that has been romanticized in our imaginations to the point where it is almost better that we just keep it in our dreams, or go with the knowledge that we are visiting a city, not a movie set. Kyle and I almost skip Paris due to some of the less kind reviews, but we are glad we didn’t. Despite its flaws, Paris captured our hearts with its kind and friendly people, unique radial grid, gorgeous arcs, lovely architecture, breathtaking monuments and delicious gluten free goodies.
From Belgium, we take the high speed rail (making Kyle’s trip complete) to Paris. Our intention is to escape the cold, wind and rain, set us up more nicely for the rest of our trip, and not miss one of the great cities of the world. Once we arrive, we check into our hostel (5 minute walk from the train station), dump our awkward baggage (when it is not on our bikes) in our room, and then descend to the amazing bar that is at the hostel’s center. Six floors of rooms surround it in a square, the bar is in the middle with only a skylight up top. This hostel, part of the St. Christopher’s Inn chain, always offers a 2 for 1 drink special for hostel guests. We had taken advantage of this special in Bath, but here cider was not included as part of the special, so Kyle orders two beers for himself and I order a cider separate from the special. We are shocked when the guy at the bar asks for over 10 euros! Apparently, Kyle’s rather tame and ordinary bottles of Heineken cost 7 euros (with drink special). We look it up online, and sure enough, all blogs warn that beer is not cheap in Paris. After that fiasco, we decide to toast sandwiches in our room to cut down on the cost of dinner.
The next morning, Kyle and I take off on foot to explore the city. While I won’t bore you with a chronological rundown, instead preferring to highlight some of the places we visit, I will say that walking 10-15 miles on legs primarily used for cycling is no joke! However, there is no better way to experience Paris than by simply wandering through it (perhaps a boat ride down the Seine River for the less hearty). We do purchase a metro pass on our second day for logistical reasons as we chase down a new camp towel (first stolen item on the trip) for moi and new cycling shoes for Kyle. Here is some of what we do and see:
Le Tour de Paris – Sans Gluten
You might have been inclined to feel sorry for me, the poor girl with gluten issues trying to visit a city known for its wonderful bakeries – well don’t! Our first stop of the morning is Chambelland, a gluten free bakery with delightfully moist and squishy bread covered in a nice perfectly hard shell. We ask for a side of olive oil and head up to Parc des Buttes – Chaumont to check out a rather disappointing panoramic view (blocked by trees) to dive into our second round of breakfast. This park is on the opposite side of the city center from the main attractions, so the walk through some of the less touristy parts of Paris is rather nice. We do have to laugh though when we see an outdoor display of New York hats! Kyle is also delighted to discover that all of the public toilets are free. Anyway, this park is alive with locals engaging in dog walking, group fitness, running, cycling, and picnicking at the top like us.
For lunch, we stop at Helmut Newcake, the first gluten free bakery in Paris. We order some of the most fabulous quiche I have ever tasted and a disappointing pasta dish that Kyle kindly polishes off so I can enjoy more quiche. The server is rather nice, speaking English for us and not laughing at my sad attempts to speak in French. He also offers to bring us water after we awkwardly pour ourselves our own glasses out of our water bottles (we were afraid we’d have to pay for water like we did in Belgium). I order two chocolate eclairs, two caramel eclairs, and a baguette to go. The baguette was a little on the sweet side (best dipped in honey, Nutella or the like), but the eclairs were to die for! I almost make myself sick eating one per random spot visited in Paris – the Canal Saint-Martin, The Louvre, the River Seine, etc. Kyle tries one for himself after partaking in a disappointing and obviously frozen éclair at a normal bakery. He agrees – the eclairs from Helmut Newcake are amazing! The next day we are back for more quiche. The waiter recognizes us immediately, joking with us in English: “We have no pasta today, just the quiche. Water?” This time I do not order the eclairs (still on a sugar high), but the second round of quiche is worth the trip.
Our last spot on the gluten free tour is Lepice Assiette in Montmartre, a restaurant specializing in crepes, including naturally gluten free buckwheat crepes. We are the only ones silly enough to arrive right when the place opens at 6:30 PM (or rather, 18:30). When I tell the owner the crepes are “tres bien!” he cracks a broad smile at the compliment and enthusiastically serves us our second order of dessert crepes, caramel, pears and toffee and stewed apples with whipped cream (melted in our mouths). Needless to say, I feel like I got my taste of France! Thank you to Diane Keefe, Ray and Kate Keefe, Dee Dee and Bud Simpson, Jane McMeekin and Kyle’s Aunt Nancy – you made this incredibly tasty journey through the city possible.
Pedestrians in Paris – Day 1
The Eiffel Tower ends our lengthy tour on-foot. Rather than stand in 2 hour queues or trudge up the stairs to only a 2nd level view, we go into a local market and buy ourselves cheap wine (but the good stuff), cheese, an assortment of meats, grapes, etc. and have a picnic at the foot of it. Despite all the tourists (and the street vendors descending upon us like vultures with their expensive cheap wine every three minutes or so – do they not see we are fully stocked?!), the tower itself does not disappoint. It is truly a wonder!
At first, we are not certain we plan to stay another day – the whole of Europe awaits! However, I come back to our hostel to find my camp towel has been nicked. Kyle admits he has an errand to run, too; his Teva sandals are about a day away from being unwearable. We buy a subway pass to scout out all the camp stores we can find online, traveling to the outskirts of Paris even (Paris has palm trees?!), only to discover that Paris’s Go Sports store right beside the Place de Republique is where we want to go (basically two shakes from our hostel). We make our purchases, return to my favorite bakery for some quiche, and then head over to Montmartre for some traditional Parisian street life.
The next day on our way out of the city, Kyle is in a Lidl’s stocking up on lunch stuff when I am approached by a man who speaks to me in French. I try, but no success, so he switches to English. “Where are you from?” he asks me. “New York,” I respond. “New York?” the man shakes his head in awe. “A miracle!”