“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman
It’s not every day you turn 35. And definitely not every day you turn 35 in Paris, watching the reflection of the sunset behind the Eiffel tower, as the light shifts and fades, and a range of colours are revealed in the metal of the tower before it eventually lights up in soft tones of gold. Unless you’re from Paris, of course, and then maybe that’s how you’ve spent every birthday of your life!
Alright, let me back up a little. About a week before my birthday, Troy asked where I’d want to spend it. Despite all of the beautiful European countries at our fingertips, I didn’t even have to think. I knew I wanted to spend my birthday in Paris. We booked our flights, and found a lovely boutique hotel in Montmartre, in the 9th Arrondissement (which is how the neighbourhoods are identified).
When we got off the plane, we took a train into Paris from the airport. We ended up within a kilometre or two of the hotel, so we decided to wander to the hotel so that we could enjoy the architecture and get a feel for the area. En route, we stopped to pick up a baguette, and took in the greenery of the boulevard. The main road was divided by a wide, tree-lined boulevard, and the shade was a welcome reprieve from the hot afternoon sun. We got checked in to our hotel and relaxed for a bit before heading out in search of food.
Our room at Hotel Sacha was small, but full of character with theatre decor, brought to life with a red velvet sitting chair at an antique table, black and white wallpaper (you can see the trees here; the wall behind the bed looks like a theatre), gingham checked curtains, French drawings, and accents in bright blue for a modern pop. I don’t feel that I’m doing it justice- check out the link and look for the double room with the royal blue accents. Most importantly, the bed was comfortable and the bedding was soft, so we had all we needed.
Enough about the hotel (though it WAS really cute!). Unintentionally keeping with our theme, we found Causses, a lovely boutique market where we bought olives, and a pesto mozzarella salad with pesto, tomato, and cantaloupe. We went in search of a shady spot to sit and eat, and found one just a few blocks up the hill, looking onto Le Mur des Je t’aime (the wall of love). Troy is not usually a cantaloupe lover, so when he declared that he finally understood its purpose in the world, it was no small thing! It was such a surprising combination. We savoured our food, walked through the garden and looked at the wall (with I love you’s in every language, even braille), and then kept wandering.
We came upon a small and shaded market space full of portrait artists, food stands, and a couple of restaurants. Then came Saint-Pierre. It is one of the oldest surviving churches in Paris though it’s not as well known as its neighbour, Sacré Coeur. Saint-Pierre was a stop for pilgrims in the ninth century, and was rebuilt in the nineteenth century. Disclaimer here: this was my first time entering a massive, hundreds of years old European church and I was completely overwhelmed. I honestly don’t know how to describe it. Everything I write sounds underwhelming and pathetic, and doesn’t convey the serenity I felt when I stood there. And the height! If you’ve been in a European church, you likely know exactly what I felt; if you haven’t, think of the Jolly Green Giant and looking up, waaaaaaay up. Pictures were not allowed, so you’ll have to go visit!
I was amazed as I stood in that church; it was the biggest I had ever seen, and when Troy commented “not for long,” I had no concept of what was in store for us. We walked around the corner to Saint-Pierre’s neighbour, Sacré Coeur. It is a massive Basilica that was built in the late 1800s and looms large over the city of Paris. We had arrived during a church service, and as we reached the back of the church, the nuns began to sing, their voices rising harmoniously together. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard or experienced. I gripped Troy’s hand as we stopped at each nave, staring up at the detailed mosaics, the master carving work, the brilliant architecture. I was moved to tears. The thing is, it was so beautiful that it felt wrong to think of taking pictures. We wanted to be present, and let every moment imprint in our memories. I took just this one on our way out, to try to give you a hint of what we beheld:
We had approached from the back of the church from the back (this seems to be our thing; remember Greenwich Park?) and so only after we left did we have a chance to fully appreciate the view. Over the course of the weekend, we would often be wandering down a beautiful street and would look back to see Sacré Coeur looking over us.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering until we picked up some food for dinner, went back to our room to rest for a bit (where I had a birthday video call from my amazing niece, nephew and sister in law) and then to the Eiffel tower to enjoy our picnic dinner.
What a way to wrap up such a beautiful sunshiny day! The Eiffel Tower is MUCH larger in person than we ever imagined, and we found the perfect spot to take it in. Across the Seine from the tower is the Trocadéro. Just over a short wall there were massive crowds, but as usual we found a quiet space of our own. And we were ready. In our picnic basket, we had a blanket, baguette, prosciutto, cheese, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a bottle of wine with a couple of glasses. (Side note: we may or may not have thought about how to open said bottle of wine, but eventually we spotted another couple sporting a bottle of wine, and my brave knight asked to borrow theirs. Which was awesome, except that the wine was terrible!) We learned not to buy things from a grocery store in Paris, except for the fresh-squeezed orange juice. We could live off that orange juice. Really though, the wine didn’t matter at all because look at the view! Troy took some lovely photos of the Eiffel Tower in the changing light, and it was magnificent to watch:
Fun fact: in the evening, the Eiffel Tower does something amazing at the start of each hour, but I won’t say what it is because it was a surprise to me and it totally made my day… spoilers (for my fellow Dr. Who fans)!
Nothing could break the spell of our magical first day in Paris. We wandered, we ate, we appreciated beautiful architecture. We watched the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle like the biggest Christmas tree on the planet. We walked back across the city in the quiet of the evening and fell happily in to bed. And it was only day one.