I arrived in Paris in late March and was greeted by delightful weather -- warm days and lots of sun, accompanied by an extra hour of light at day's end. This was my second visit this year, but the bitter cold and snow of February had been replaced by balmy breezes. My son Jason had just finished a two month stint at a local art studio in Paris and was still in the area, so we met near my hotel by the Porte Maillot metro stop. We quickly agreed to head for the green fields and trees of Paris's largest park. We walked through a tunnel, followed several paths and crossed a few streets until we'd reached the Bois de Boulogne. It was midday and lots of people were out walking, but the park is so large that we found several paths that were relatively unoccupied. Eventually we reached a large pond, where many people were lolling about. We kept on walking and circumnavigated the pond, then cut over to a wood area which had paths which were mostly empty. During the walk, Jason regaled me with tales of his prior weeks and I interspersed his words with stories from some of my previous visits. Thus we began a process which we continued through the week -- comparing experiences and swapping ideas on places to go and things to do.
We had begun to loop back after seeing the pond, but the park seemed to go on and on. Signs did confirm we were indeed heading back toward Porte Maillot, so we took our time. By now, I'd taken off my leather jacket and we'd both worked up a sweat. From here, we decided to take the metro to the the St. Germaine des Pres area on the Left Bank for a late lunch. We surfaced right by one of my favorite cafes, Les Deux Magots, but kept walking. We soon reached Rue de Buci, which is crammed with outdoor markets, cafes and bistros. We found a spot in a small restaurant which we both liked and perused the menu. Jason is vegetarian and I love seafood, so we had to be careful all week long in choosing restaurants which would work for both of us. At this place, he ordered an all vegetable salad and I settled on an old favorite, Salade Nicoise. We watched the passersby, listened to a mix of eclectic rock music blaring from loudspeakers and basked in the sunlight. My son's casual conversational French worked well for him as he chatted briefly with our waitress; by contrast, my own French felt rusty from lack of use. My meal was everything I'd hoped for; the salty anchovies anchored a diverse mix of crunchy field greens and my son happily accepted the eggs that I didn't want. His dish was also fine. Paris is not known for vegetarian cuisine, but the French love of food comes through in most of the dishes.
From here, we meandered in the direction of Jardin de Luxembourg, which has become a favorite spot for me on recent visits. On this day, the park was gorgeous, but people were jammed into every nook and cranny where they were allowed. The only exceptions were for a few spots where no sitting on grass was permitted. We enjoyed our walk through the park, but didn't mind leaving the crowds behind. We continued our walk -- my pedometer had recorded 31,000 steps by the end of the day -- looping in the direction of St. Michel. For me, the walk tripped numerous memories, since I'd stayed in this part of Paris both on my first visit in 1982 and seven years later when I returned with my wife during our honeymoon.
Jason had developed a penchant for bookstores in Paris, so he took me to one which is among the most famous, Shakespeare and Company. Here is what it looked like late on this busy Sunday afternoon.
By now, my legs were exhausted, so I found a chair outside the shop and relaxed while Jason browsed the books inside.
From here was crossed over to Ile St. Louis and walked upon the cobblestones of narrow streets, occasionally sticking our heads into galleries. We weren't too far from the Bastille area, home to one of my favorite brasseries, Bofingers. We continued our walking tour, passing the Rue de Rivoli and finding the little side street which housed the restaurant. Alas, the menu, while replete with several different types of choucroute which appealed to me, really had nothing that would suffice as a main course for Jason.
We walked on, heading toward the side streets of Le Marais. Here we found a delightful Italian restaurant called Le Caruso and found pasta dishes met our needs. We spoke French with our Italian waiter and accepted his recommendation of a carafe of Chianti Classico to accompany dinner. The food was delicious and nicely complemented by the dry red wine. After dinner, we hopped onto the metro and went our separate ways. Truly an auspicious beginning for a week in Paris.
I'll offer more thoughts and glimpses about the trip on my next post.