Travel Tales

Paris Part Sept (Marché Mouffetard, Jardin du Luxembourg and Home)

This is the final post in a seven-part series about my trip to Paris. Read the other posts here.

My last day in Paris had finally arrived, much as I willed it not to. I was still pretending like the cold I was coming down with didn’t exist, and I was determined to make the most of one last wonderful (and finally sunny!) day in the city.

As I’d poked around for ideas beyond galleries and museums, I stumbled onto a post about Hemingway’s Paris and flagged it for future reference. It highlights an area of the city I hadn’t otherwise covered, and included a chance to wander through one of the many open markets in the city where Parisians, you know, shop. One of my favorite aspects of the whole trip was this kind of everyday business, in between the touristy moments, just watching as folks went about their daily lives.

It was a quick train ride over to the 5th Arrondissement and Marché Mouffetard, a pedestrian street market open most mornings that starts at a small plaza with a fountain at the center of it and winds uphill towards the Latin Quarter.

I knew I was into something special as I approached, as this fountain, unlike every other one I’d seen all week, was actually flowing. The whole plaza was teeming with people out for Sunday errands or a mid-morning café and croissant. A line stretched out the door of the boulangerie, fresh baguettes ready for the taking. The café patio tables spilled across the narrow street into the church courtyard, and servers bounced between the couples and families who sat taking in the sun. Nearby, an accordion player was set up with small speakers and an older couple danced as he sang in French.

And I just stood there, willing the moment to never end.

Is this real life?

Eventually, I followed the flow of locals heading up into the market street, and the charm offensive only persisted. Small shops spilled out of their storefronts, open for business in whichever niche they specialized in – vibrant, colorful produce; golden brown and glistening pastries; dozens of chickens roasting on an open spit; bins of fresh scallops and mussels; and fromageries with every shape, size and color of stinky French cheese to indulge in.

Heading up Rue Mouffetard into the market

Once I’d enjoyed on more croissant for good measure and soaked up as much of the perfect Sunday morning as I could bear, I kept walking north towards Rue du Cardinal Lemoine until I found number 74 and the plaque noting that Hemingway had lived in the building. It was just a short walk from there to 39 Rue Descartes, the location of his other apartment in the neighborhood that’s now a quaint café on the ground floor. Generally, I just enjoyed the chance to stroll through a few side streets as I explored the rest of the neighborhood.

As I emerged, I found myself at the back end of the Pantheon, a vexing but extremely interesting landmark in the city. Originally planned as a church – so, you know, high ceilings and lots of pillars and stained-glass windows, it’s now a secular bastion to French history and the final resting place of many of the countries best minds. I don’t really understand what exactly happens there, but I headed in nonetheless. One, it was included in my Paris Pass, so I figured why not? And two, I really had to pee by that point.

And it turns out, it was pretty dang cool. Once I’d taken a quick bathroom break (necessities, people!), I made my way down to the crypts. I wandered the quiet halls to see the likes of Marie Curie and her husband, Louis Braille, Alexandre Dumas and, in one more literary coincidence, Victor Hugo. It was all more moving than I expected it to be, as I read the handwritten notes left for Marie Curie (“You inspire me. Merci.” said one).

From there, I walked towards Jardin du Luxembourg and, again, into something out of a postcard. Every chair in the lush public space was claimed; it seemed the whole city was out enjoying the much-longed-for sunny day. Like the plaza at Rue Mouffetard, if I could have lived in that moment forever – or at least, for a nice long time – I would have.

The whole city was outside on a sunny Sunday in the park.

I’d offered before the trip to take my aunt out to one great French dinner as a thank you for the chance to go on such a wonderful vacation. As I looked into options, a former intern of mine (who happens to be Parisienne herself) recommended La Closerie des Lilas as a spot to check out. The more I looked into it, the more enamored I became. Around since 1847, it’s been a standard for the likes of Picasso, Man Ray and more; apparently Hemingway wrote most of The Sun Also Rises at one of its tables. A full piano bar (and pricey restaurant!) inside, we opted for the still lovely but more affordable brasserie and a table outside, and it turned out to be the perfect last stop on what was a dreamy nine days.

Famous haunt for the likes of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway…and now me.

After our early dinner, I had to throw in the towel. Were I feeling better, I would’ve headed back up to Shakespeare & Co. or wandered a few hours through Musée d’Orsay. But to be honest, by that point I was so exhausted from the cold I couldn’t kick that it was all I could do to head back to the apartment and crash before 9p.m. I had done as much as I possibly could in this magnificent city, and with my flight just half a day away, I needed to sleep.

I had enough time in the morning to finish packing (including a few mementos I’d picked up along the way) and catch the bus back down to Paris Orly in plenty of time for my 1p.m. flight back to Chicago by way of Reykjavik (where I did remember to pick up a bit of their delish cucumber gin). As I ran for the bus in the cursed falling snow I’d come home to, it was like waking up from the dream that had been the last week-plus. Nothing had changed, and everything had changed. Here was my cat, my couch, my kitchen. All familiar, all just where I left them.

But here too were my aching feet from all the walking (and the cold I brought back with me), my hundreds of photos from so much I’d seen, and the thousands of words to tell the dozens of stories I won’t soon forget.

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