5-8 February 2019.
I’d returned from a solo seven-week journey to Japan and China in early June 2018. The summer and fall that followed was pretty normal for us. We went out with friends or had them over for dinner. Friends from out of town came to visit. Family visited from Montreal. We did a five-day trip to visit a friend on Vancouver Island, and another five-day trip down to Washington State for our annual Long Dance. We had picnics at the beach and down by the river, and went to Reifel Bird Sanctuary. We went to Nikkei Matsuri, a local Japanese festival, and most days hiked the four-kilometre forest trail around the golf course close to home. The summer and fall were a lovely balance of good friends and activities, alone time, exercise, and lazing at home. And so the days gently rolled on by.
Inevitably talk of travel would arise from time to time. Are you ready to go again? Do you want to go at all or do you feel done? Where would you put at the top of the list? We asked each other these kinds of questions back and forth over a period of weeks. Truth be told it was mainly me asking the questions since I’m the more adventurous one, and it was starting to feel like it might be time to begin planning something for 2019. Or at least putting out some ideas, planting some seeds and seeing which ones sprouted.
I had Africa, Portugal, and Eastern Europe on my list. Don didn’t have anywhere on his list really though he did agree that he’d love to do an African Safari but felt we couldn’t afford it. Or more truthfully, felt we couldn’t afford the kind of luxury trip he’d really like to do. And so the next time I mentioned Africa there was some reluctance there and I sensed a turn around, mixed messages. We’d have little snippets of conversation. Sometimes our communication was clear, sometimes not so much. Don was also interested in Portugal, but not Eastern Europe.
And then the day came. We hadn’t talked about it for a while. He was sitting on the couch and suddenly I was prompted to ask him again if he had any clarity about where to go, when to go, or if to go. I was completely let go at this point. I had no investment in the outcome. I love traveling. Always. But I was also content at home.
Don is an avid follower of the spiritual teachings of Mooji, and had recently discovered that Mooji would be giving satsang five mornings a week for four weeks in Rishikesh, India. Where he really wanted to go was India! I knew nothing about it. Apparently he’d been sitting on the information for a few days not sure that I’d want to go, but my immediate reaction was yes! This is it! It instantly felt right. We do all this talking around in circles over a period of weeks, but then when the true answer emerges it’s so clear. Now we had the beginnings of a plan and very little time to make it real.
So we start looking at flights, and since we’re leaving the country and going all that way where else can we go? What about stopovers on the way there and on the way back?
There’s a direct flight to Delhi but at that time Don felt he didn’t want to face a 14-hour flight, and I’m more than happy to stop somewhere. The over-the-pole hubs for flights from Vancouver to Delhi are Frankfurt, Amsterdam, or Paris. Well this is a no brainer. I love Paris, and have been saying since forever that I would go back in a heartbeat even though I’ve been there six or seven times already for anywhere from two days to three weeks. We have the beginning of a plan. The return flights got more complicated with a stopover in Kyoto, and I’ll go into that later, but I just want to share that we approached a travel agent who quoted us $11,000 for the flights. I actually laughed out loud when I read his email. We booked them ourselves for just over $6,000.
So this is how we ended up in Paris for five days in February.
I watch three movies flying above the world: Bohemian Rhapsody and Collette, both of which I enjoy a lot, and La La Land, which I mostly find boring. I don’t get the hype. At all.
All goes smoothly on arrival. We buy Metro passes, and then take the metro to République. Easily enough we find our Airbnb, a ten-minute walk away, and take turns helping each other to carry our luggage up the narrow stairs to the fourth floor. We start with our backpacks that contain everything of any importance – passports, cash, ID and credit cards, laptops, my camera, phones, backup drives, power cords, medications. All the precious stuff you want with you if your checked luggage gets lost.
We leave them on the bed and close the door a little but not fully and go back down to get our cases. When we get back up again the door is closed and locked and the key we have doesn’t fit the lock. WTF! We try and try but nope, the key won’t work. It’s as if we’ve suddenly entered an alternate universe. Our packs with ALL the important and valuable stuff are on the other side of the locked door and the key we have, the same key Don used to initially get in, is obviously not the key for this door. We have no idea what to do. Even the information to contact the owner is locked in the room.
It doesn’t make any logical sense, but the key looks like it might fit the door opposite so I try that, but still nope. A woman comes to the door and in a mix of English and French we explain our bizarre situation, but she can’t help us.
Sudden inspiration! I quickly run down one flight to discover that we’re on the wrong floor! So surreal. For a few moments there we felt as if we’d fallen down the rabbit hole and emerged in a different reality where nothing made any sense. And suddenly I’m vaguely remembering some stories I’ve heard, both true and fictional, of driving people quite literally insane by constantly shifting their reality in small subtle ways until they start to doubt themselves and think they’re losing their mind, and eventually they lose all connection with reality.
I imagine everyone knows Paris is expensive. Even in February it’s expensive. We’ve rented what’s called an apartment, but it’s really an 8×10 room with a twin bed, a bunk bed way high above it with a terrifying swinging ladder, and a broken pull out bed pushed beneath it. It takes up almost half the space. There’s a tiny kitchen alcove with an under-the-counter fridge. The counter top is filled with a sink and stove, so no counter space. Also no table or chairs because there’s nowhere to put a table or chairs. There’s an alcove bathroom that’s so small it’s a challenge to use the toilet without connecting with the (mouldy) shower curtain. Ah yes but the good points – functioning plumbing, excellent heating, lots of hot water, safe, great location, and beds that are comfortable enough. Its $90 a night.
In a no-sleep jet-lag daze we wander out into the immediate neighbourhood and find a supermarket. It’s hard to figure out what we want. I meander up and down the aisles staring at the shelves with no clue what I want or need. Brain dead. What day is it again? Eventually we buy eggs, tomatoes, butter, milk, bread, and a couple of roast chicken thighs with roast potatoes.
After depositing our groceries we go next door to Le Petit Cambodge, an Asian fusion restaurant, for lunch. Certainly not typical Parisian food, but typical of the multi-cultural flavour of the neighbourhood, and really good. We go back again to Le Petit Cambodge a second time. And then we discover Tien Hiang. Dying! Some of the best food ever! More about that in a bit.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Bar Le Carillon, directly across the street from Le Petit Cambodge,
was the site of one of the coordinated series of terrorist attacks in Paris back in 2015 that left 129 dead. A man with a semi-automatic weapon opened fire on the bar and then turned to the diners at the sidewalk tables outside of Le Petit Cambodge. Just over four years later I’m in the same place and there is nothing to show of it. Nothing to tell me this was one of the places that was hit that tragic November day. It’s just ordinary wintery suburban Paris. All outward signs have been repaired; probably not so much the hearts of the people who were there.
After our lunch at the now tranquil Le Petit Cambodge it’s time to explore Paris. There’s not much on our list, since we’ve both been here before, so we amble back along Rue du Faubourg du Temple. We walk this street every day since it takes us to the nearest Metro station. It feels alive. It’s always busy. The sidewalks, and the street itself, are narrow and much negotiation is needed to get by. There are cafes and bars and restaurants and patisseries to make my mouth water. It’s February and cold. We have enough layers, but only just. No matter. I’m in Paris and its unique flavour of ageless history and dynamic contemporary life grabs me right away.
At the end of the street is the huge Place de la République founded in 1792 following the revolution and symbolising the free French Republic. The central statue, Marianne, represents the revolutionary values of liberty, equality, and fraternity
It is always busy, with pedestrians, skate-boarders, and cyclists, but never crowded. Except when the people of Paris decide to protest. Place de la République is frequently the site of concerts, festivals, and dancing. It is equally the gathering place and focal point of demonstrations and movements of unity, especially in the aftermath of the 2015 attacks.
From the Place de la République we continue on into the Marais.
Le Marais with its narrow winding medieval streets
is one of the oldest parts of the city. Once the neighbourhood of aristocrats many of the old buildings remain.
We walk past the metal and glass beauty of the newly restored Le Carreau du Temple, a classic example of 19th century French construction. Originally a covered market, today it hosts events, fairs and short exhibitions.
We pass a charcuterie festooned with dried tomatoes,
and a fromagerie – a slice of cheese heaven with so many choices I don’t know where to start.
Once shabby and neglected
today Le Marais is fashionable and hip with many trendy bars, art galleries, restaurants,
hotels, fashion boutiques,
and curiosities (what is this?)
all packed into one small area.
Eventually we come to the Hôtel de Sens, a private mansion that today houses the Forney art library. It was built between 1475 and 1519, and is typical of the buildings of Le Marais.
From there it is a short walk to the river.
We walk along beside the river to Pont Louis Philippe, which leads across to Île Sainte-Louis, one of two small islands in the Seine, and from there look back down the river to Pont Marie as the lovely glow of a rose-coloured sunset descends on The City of Light.
After a brief scout around Île Sainte-Louis absorbing the urban landscape and evening life of the city
it’s time to head home and back to more mundane realities. We make a dinner of the roasted chicken and potatoes we’d bought earlier with some stewed tomatoes on the side and vow that it is the last dinner we will make in this tiny non-kitchen of a kitchen.
There’s a café/bar/restaurant on the corner of Rue du Faubourg du Temple and Rue de la Fontaine au Roi that we pass on the way from our apartment to the nearest metro at République. We end up there almost every day sitting in the awning-covered outside seating area drinking coffee and watching the world go by.
The first time we sit at the table nearest the wall of the café. Along comes a man who, with obvious anger, pulls out a chair at a table in front of us. We are sitting in his seat! I stepped out to take a photo of a couple of old dudes drinking coffee. The hat, the scarf arranged just so, the coat, the cigarette! French style at its finest!
On other days he’s sitting at the back of course. It the best seat in the house for people watching.
This is enough for now. In the next post I’ll write more about the food (some of the best meals we’ve ever had, and one of the worst), and some of the places we visited – Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Palais Garnier, and Galeries Lafayette.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2020.