Pulling into the train station the TGV journey sets the mood for Paris — exciting, fun, sparkling. Like a thrilling amusement park ride you can feel the speed of the TGV at over 300 kilometers an hour. The bar car is packed and we slid in to order sparkling wine. It’s my birthday and the bubblyfest is on. Little groups chatter and laugh while snapping selfies on their iPhones. We all seem to enjoy the rail ride. All is merry and bright!
Paris’ main station Gare de L’Est itself a work of art begins the visual feast as we pass through in search of a taxi. The vibe of Paris is cosmopolitan and lively. Roller bags and walking boots move us swiftly to our taxi and we brace for the wild zig-zag ride through the streets of Paris to our hotel in the Latin Quarter. Located in the 5th Arrondissement the Latin Quarter is home to bookstores and art galleries, the Sorbonne and other universities. Its ebullience and college town feel has long been our preferred home base in Paris. My sister is the perfect traveling companion in France. She has lived here and knows Paris well. She’s fluent in French and is very comfortable in this city . She wastes no time managing the hotel check-in. We drop our bags in our top floor room with its French doors and balcony overlooking the street. We can rest later. We hit Rue Mouffetard to find a cafe for a late lunch and a glass of wine. I love the Paris cafes with their small bistro tables and cane chairs lined side by side. Everyone sits shoulder to shoulder. It’s all about the allure of people watching and whispering secrets about life. The small tables keep eating light and the wine center stage. My birthday lunch — an entree we split — is a crisp salad with a tangy dressing, baguette slices and succulent roasted chicken served with what else, golden French fries. The wine is a cool rose. Many happy returns!
Holiday decorations and lights adorn the City of Light. This early winter visit invites a glimpse of the city extra decked out for this enchanting season. The wow factor of the Christmas tree in front of the Pantheon is its enormity, yet it is simply adorned with ribbons and bows. We walk among the Sunday strollers at the Luxembourg Garden. In the gardens it is okay to mosey. Some enjoy a coffee at tables around a gazebo kiosk. Children play a game of Freeze around a small amphitheater. The air is chilly and down jackets, wool gloves and scarfs feel nice. Avoir envie de faire la féte!
The spell of Paris casts us on a wanderlust whirlwind in the days ahead. At the busy St. Germain Boulevard in the morning we cross the Seine and find no line at Notre Dame. We marvel the beauty of the cathedral and its unique Nativity hand crafted by artisans from Provence. We stop at Angelina’s for its famous decedent hot chocolate. At Le Carousel located below the Louvre Pyramid we purchase tickets to the newly opened Picasso Museum and the Centre Georges Pompidou where the work of American sculptor Jeff Koons is on exhibition. No waiting in long lines for us!
The old world feel of Le Marais in the 3rd Arrondissement is ideal for the work of Picasso. After a 5-year closure for renovation the just reopened Picasso Museum housed in the baroque mansion Hotel Sàte is elegant and Picasso shows off. He did it all in a sensual, prolific way. Absorbed in Pablo we lunch at the light-filled museum restaurant and sip on a very nice bordeaux. At the Pompidou the next day Jeff Koons’ fun and whimsical sculpture complement Picasso’s follies. At the restaurant atop the Pompidou with its breathtaking views, we indulge in salad nicoise and sip a French pinot noir while feasting our eyes on the glorious Eiffel Tower. Another day we venture out to the Bois de Boulogne Park on the Paris western edge to visit the new Louis Vuitton Foundation. So new it is, there are yet no exhibitions, but no need, the architecture of Frank Gehry would steal the show anyway. It’s like nothing one has ever seen. A lover of the Los Angeles Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, I’m blown away at his latest creation. Pièce de rèsistance!
Our Paris sojourn is in part to shine a light on our beloved brother whose recent passing has left us longing to celebrate his life and that which he loved. Paris had a hold on him. He visited many times. Like a Parisian, he enjoyed its sophisticated lifestyle — the stage, the art, the wine, the parks. We grab tickets at Fnac and take in an evening at the Théâtre Mogador to see Le Bal Des Vampires, a musical of show dancing and the rock ballads of composer Jim Steinman including the showstopper Total Eclipse of the Heart (in French, of course). We emerge from the Metro at the Champs-Elysees just as the holiday lights magically take the sky. We find a favorite cafe, The Strada, run by enterprising young French and American kids and frequent every day for our coffee and croissant. By our last morning we’re old friends and promise to come back soon. We happy hour Parisian style (it starts at 7:00 pm., dinner comes much later) at our neighborhood cafe/bar for a glass of Sancerre and drink to brother James. Salut!
We embrace the Metro, the busy sidewalks, the beautiful mix of people and cultures. We breathe in the seductive air of Paris that smells like an exotic spicy floral French perfume. The gas lamps, the lacy yellow trees, the Seine lined with bookstalls, the well healed and the backpacker….. The love affair with Paris flourishes! We begin to pick out the hotel we’ll book next time. For now, merci and au revoir!