In his famous song, Cole Porter writes: “I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles.” Well, it wasn’t drizzling a couple of weekends ago (Feb. 23-26), when my wife Jan and I were in that wonderful city: it was absolutely freezing cold.
On the plus side, we had bright sunshine every day of our four-day get-away (to celebrate my birthday); we were accompanied by Jan’s witty and warm cousin David and his lovely and lively wife Christine; and our stay was, well, swell!
If you haven’t been to Paris, maybe a few of the following thoughts will inspire you to go. (You really should, you know.) If you’ve been, maybe you’ll recognize at least some of the reasons I love it so much, and perhaps even agree with them.
So here goes.
I love the views. Just about everywhere you look in the heart of Paris, there are wonderful views — gracious apartment buildings, lovely trees and lawns and parks, monuments and more. Because the city is laid out so well and organized so sensibly and beautifully, you are often looking at vistas along wide boulevards. Here is a view you’ll probably recognize — it’s a relatively famous tower — taken from the street-level café in our hotel, as night began to fall.
I love arriving by train. On the Friday of our four-day journey, we left Daglan and travelled by train from Gourdon, as usual, and the train was (a) on time and (b) clean. As a bonus, the young couple across the aisle from us (I suspect they were university students) were well-dressed, with no visible tattoos, pleasant, and quiet spoken. So Jan and I were quite happy for several stops. Unfortunately, a young woman came aboard at a later station and sat next to Jan; the unfortunate part is that she brought a somewhat strange scent to our area — I’d say a mix of body odour and boiled turnips. But one adjusts, and in any case, we still had a pleasant trip; we drank wine and ate our picnic lunches; read our books; enjoyed the French scenery for five hours; and arrived at the increasingly bustling Gare d’Austerlitz more or less on time.
I love the intersections. This may sound goofy to anyone who has complained about traffic chaos in Paris, but I actually find the complicated intersections, with vehicles coming and going and stopping and turning and sliding past each other with bare centimetres to spare, rather amazing. Typically, we are in a taxi, so I don’t have to worry much, but traffic does make a certain amount of sense. So does the parking. (And if you’ve ever been to Rome, you’ll think that traffic in Paris is like a quiet day in a country village.)
I love the Seine. One of my favourite travel events is leaving our Paris hotel early on a Sunday morning by taxi, and heading either for the airport or the train station by starting with a drive along the Seine. I can’t think of another city that takes such glorious advantage of a river running through it.
I love the people-watching. We like staying in the 7th — the arrondissement that contains, among other things, the Tour Eiffel, the Musée Rodin, and the Musée d’Orsay — and in the evenings we will sit for hours sipping wine and munching nibblies at a café right on la place de l’École-Militaire. On cold winter evenings the terrace of the café is heated, the service is efficient, and the people-watching is just about perfect. Lots of passers-by, but not crowded up against you.
I love the food. This probably goes without saying, but the food in Paris is a major draw. At a simple level, I’ve never had better croissants than in Paris hotels and cafés. At a Michelin-starred level, well — it’s hard to beat. On this latest trip, we had a wonderful Saturday lunch at one of my favourite restaurants, but I’ll save that for a later blog posting. I’ll just highlight our Sunday lunch at one of the largest and most famous of Paris brasseries, Bofinger. Here’s a look inside:
Bofinger is known for both seafood and Alsatian cuisine. I’m one of those people who loves choucroute garnie — sauerkraut and boiled potatoes with a variety of sausages and other pork products — so I had to order the restaurant’s own Choucroute Bofinger. The sauerkraut was probably the best I’ve ever had — perfect texture, and pleasantly mild. Here’s my plate (but showing only a few of the meats):
This may not be fine dining, but it’s certainly dining well. We’ll save the fine dining for my next posting.