After a couple of days in Paris our magnificent vacation has reached its end. My impression of Paris this go-round was definitely colored by the fact that we had just spent the previous 4+ weeks exploring the much less frenetic and incredibly picturesque countryside.
That said, Paris was quiet, too – the annual August vacation exodus from the metropolis made our peripatetic exploration of the city quite pleasurable. We found new places to visit and rediscovered some old favorites. Yet despite all the stars aligning in our favor for the Paris leg of the trip, we have seen so many other amazing sights that Paris didn’t shine quite as brightly for me this time. Still wonderful, but in some ways so familiar that it simply felt like home (and boy, do I realize how fortunate we are to be able to say that).
We stayed in a lovely little hotel called the Apollon Montparnasse. Though the rooms were small, it was reasonably priced and clean, the staff was incredibly helpful, and we were able to get two adjoining rooms for the same price as one room in a more centrally located hotel. Although a bit off the beaten path in the 14th arrondissement, there was a Métro station just down the street and the area was not without charm.
What I adore about Paris is that, even though it didn’t hold quite the same allure as in the past, it still found ways to surprise us. We avoided museums this time because we only had 2 1/2 days to enjoy the city and mostly because the weather was lovely. We spent all of our waking hours outside and walked for miles (if you were to ask Sophie, we tortured her with way too much walking). Some of the highlights of our Parisian adventure this year involved visiting places we would have never chosen to visit had we been experiencing the City of Light for the first time.
(1) The surprising Parc de Bercy, at the outer edges of the 12th arrondissement near the vibrant Cour Saint-Emilion and across the Seine from the national library. We stumbled upon it yesterday and it’s a lovely place full of architectural and sculptural elements that enhance park’s variety of flora.
(2) One of the best-kept secrets in Paris for spectacular views of the city is the Institut du Monde Arabe in the 5th arrondissement. Unlike the Eiffel Tower and the Tour Montparnasse, you can access the rooftop of the museum without paying a single euro (you can also opt to enjoy a drink at the rooftop café, but it’s outrageously expensive). Even better, there are no crowds, because it’s such a great secret.
(3) We ventured to the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen this morning, which probably qualifies as the largest antique and flea market in the country. Chloe and Sophie loved exploring the alleyways filled with stalls selling everything from 18th century furniture to Belle Epoque magazine ads to old promotional keychains. Taking a quick inventory of some of the crap people were trying to sell made me realize that there’s something to be said for hoarding garbage.
(4) And then there’s the aimless wandering, which is always rewarding when walking the streets of Paris and even more rewarding when the streets are almost empty.