Paris Part Un (Arrival and Montmartre)

This is the first post in a seven-part (!) series on my trip to Paris. Subscribe in the field on this page to be notified when a new post is published.

After weeks of anticipation, I finally boarded a plane for Paris on the evening of Friday, March 3. Well, I boarded a plane for Reykjavik, which would get me to the plane to Paris.

Between the red-eye flight and traveling into a time-change (it would be mid-day Saturday when I arrived in France), the smart thing to do would’ve been to sleep as much as I could. I was prepared with comfy plane socks and a nip of white wine, but without a decent pillow or eye mask (poor planning!), sleep was all but lost on me.

On a wing and a prayer

Instead, I dozed in and out while I watched David Fincher’s Zodiac (one hell of a film, let’s be honest, but not exactly one to nod off to) and waited for that tell-tale drop in your stomach as the plane begins its descent. With just an hour and a half connection, I managed to make it through customs and to my connecting plane in time (making a mental note to pick up some fab Icelandic gin on my return trip) only to be disembarked and transferred to a new plane due to mechanical issues.

That put me landing in Paris a few hours later than expected, and combined with a bit of a navigation hiccup in finding my way from Orly to Montmartre, I didn’t really get to my Airbnb until late afternoon on Saturday.

Lugging my admittedly over-packed suitcase up the hills of Montmartre (on the north side of the city, in the 18th arrondissement), it began to sink in that I’d found myself in the City of Lights. Home to Sacre Coeur and some of the oldest buildings in the city, Montmartre itself is a picturesque residential neighborhood of winding cobblestone streets, centuries-old apartments and just enough of the tourist touch to keep it safe and welcoming.

My little corner of Montmartre

Having arrived a couple days before my aunt, I settled into my small studio and took myself out for dinner nearby. Saturday night in Paris. What dream is this?

I found my way to a bistro at the end of my little street (Rue Chappe) and enjoyed a charcuterie plate and draft beer while I watched the city go by in front of me. I hadn’t noticed it last time I was there, but all the bistros set up their outside seating to face the street rather than each other. Seems the whole city likes to see and be seen.

Despite a lovely dinner and the adrenaline that comes with, you know, being in Paris, I was exhausted by about 9pm; lack of sleep and trans-continental travel will do that to a girl. So I settled in for a good night’s sleep. Except not. Turns out the Airbnb I’d rented included only a futon-as-bed, and boy could my back feel it, particularly the bar going down the middle of the damn thing.

My view at dinner on Saturday evening.

No matter. Paris! Any sleep is good sleep, and I have a city to explore! The plan was to head across town to explore the 5th, the Latin Quarter and a storied neighborhood where Hemingway lived and Fitzgerald frequented.

The plan, as happens, was not to be, as mother nature had other things in mind. Namely lots of rain and wind. Not exactly ideal for a Sunday stroll through the city, particularly one quite a ways away from home base.

No matter. Paris! I’m flexible! I’ve got a whole week ahead of me and I’ll be able to do and see it all. Just a block from Sacre Coeur, I made my way there with the intention of enjoying a brief tour inside this storied basilica only to discover I’d arrived in time for 11a.m. mass. So there I was, sitting through service in French, replete with a choir of nuns and tourists milling about the fringes of the church. Not gonna lie, it was a moving and spiritual hour for me as my trip kicked off.

When I emerged, it was still raining, successfully dampening my plans for a day spent exploring. I quickly reworked my day to keep me closer to home, and thanks to a generous international data plan, I found this handy walking tour to lend a bit of structure to my wanderings. Following its detailed route, I discovered all the highlights of the neighborhood while enjoying the scenery as I made my way from one to the next. I took in Moulin Rouge; Café de Deux Moulins (aka the cafe in Amélie); Van Gogh’s house; Le Moulin de la Galette; La Maison Rose; Au Lapin Agile; Sacre Coeur from every angle and much more. Like Williamsburg or Lincoln Park, it’s just one neighborhood in a much larger city, but one could understand why residents might never want to leave their little neck of the woods.

(Trying something new here; click on a photo to see a larger version. Please be kind; these are entirely unedited phone photos!)

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With soaked feet and cold hands at the end of my self-guided tour, much as I would’ve liked to keep going into the evening, I knew it’d be smarter to pace myself. I popped into a local bodega and picked up a few ingredients for a simple homemade pasta dinner (wine included, obvs). Did you know that when you travel internationally, your Netflix account updates to stream the various content available in those territories? That’s a jargon-y way of saying that I enjoyed some classic Downton Abbey over a lovely dinner for one.

To recap: days one and two in Paris included delayed flight, a crappy bed, lots of rain and wind. But also quintessential winding streets, bistro dinners and iconic sights. Overall, a win.