I cannot pinpoint when I first fell in love with France. But it has been a love affair that had risen up to the surface many years ago.
Over the years I have collected a number of books about Paris along with countless CDs containing songs from the 40’s to present day and the years in between. I’ve acquired dishware, clothing, jewelry, you name it. I admit I am addicted to the French lifestyle. Deep down I know I must have a tiny bit of French DNA in my being.
My love of France created another obsession… cycling. Each year as Le Tour de France rolled around, I would spend my Saturday and Sunday mornings glued to the television. My eyes devoured the beautiful French scenery. I would sip my coffee and just soak in the stunning visuals of the green lush grass, stone buildings, quaint towns and villages, and gorgeous floral fields.
And then I noticed the riders. I became enamored with their skill and tenacity. As a result Le Tour became much more to me than the striking beauty of France, it became the admiration of these powerful men all vying for the yellow jersey. Personally though, I cheered for the rider who would land the green jersey. It’s all a matter of preference you see. And one particular rider caught my attention…Mr. Green Jersey himself Peter Sagan.
Late last year I decided that standing at the finish line at the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Élysées would be added to what I call my Life List. For some reason the term “Bucket List” is just too grim for me. I prefer to call it my Life List because it means I am living. I began devising a way to visit Paris and see Le Tour as soon as possible.
The notion of travelling to Paris was just that… a dream, an idea, a simple notion. But now that I had Le Tour on my list, I needed this thought to transcend from being an inkling to becoming a reality.
I brought the idea up to my sister Margaret one day. Why not go to London for a while then take the train to Paris? It seemed like a nice plan and she was game. So we put the plans in motion. After designing the perfect schedule, I contacted Mary Catherine, a friend of mine who’d posted photos of Paris on Facebook and inquired about a place to stay.
Mary Catherine recommended Hotel Muguet, a quaint boutique hotel that is a brief walk to the Eiffel Tower. I quickly booked our room for fear they might be sold out due to it being July and Le Tour weekend. Margaret took care of reserving a room for us in London. Our airline tickets were purchased and our plans were coming together.
Sadly on July 4th, my rider Sagan was unfairly disqualified from Le Tour. I will refrain from a barrage of commentary on how I deemed this disqualification wrong on so many levels. For I do not wish to start arguments on who was wrong and who was right. As human beings we can agree to disagree. For a fleeting moment I thought about abandoning my mission to see the finale of Le Tour, but maybe in some schoolgirl kind of way I thought Peter might have wanted me to go. Silly I know but I refused to let the organizers rob me of my dream. I would still attend Le Tour and I would wear a Sagan shirt in solidarity.
Our departure date arrived very rapidly and we were off on our adventure. Our first stop was London, and as always London did not disappoint. We had decided to spend a few days there, then journey to Paris and return back to London. We had only 1 ½ days allotted to our Paris excursion but we decided this would be our “trial run” since neither of us had ever stepped foot in wonderful France.
The train ride was scenic, fast and fun. If you’ve never experienced the Eurostar consider this an endorsement. We emerged from the train and queued for a taxi. The wait was a bit lengthy but eventually we were in a cab and on our way to the hotel.
At first I was a bit disappointed or maybe it was more of apprehension as we wound our way through the streets. To me it looked like just another city. Then a short while later Margaret tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out the window next. There in all its glory appeared the Eiffel Tower. I’m pretty sure I allowed a gasp to escape my mouth. It was official. I was in Paris!
Our driver deposited us on the doorstep of the hotel that was situated on a very quiet street. After we went through the check-in ritual, we ventured to our room. While the room was very small, it was absolutely lovely. We were greeted by a box of macarons (an add-on I opted for when I received the hotel’s pre-arrival questionnaire). We didn’t take too long to get ourselves situated before we ventured out to see the Eiffel Tower up close and in person.
Margaret and I wound our way through the Parisian streets and voila we arrived! For those of you who’ve never been to the Eiffel Tower be warned, it’s MASSIVE! I could not fathom how tall it was. We debated on whether we would ride to the top or just skip the long queues. In the end we decided we would wait until our next trip to go to the top and we would bring our sister Judy along for the ride.
After we walked around the Tower, we went to this little festival type set up of tents across the street. We studied what the vendors had to offer and suddenly my stomach started to talk to me. I swear it said, “Feed me.” So we began our walk to our hotel and searched for a café or restaurant along the way. Paris does not lack in cafes, bistros, brasseries, and patisseries. I swore I would gain many pounds just looking in the windows. Is that really possible?
We chose a corner café called Café le Dome. Our waiter began to speak to us in French and soon learned neither of us could speak the language. Please note, learning French is on my to-do list. Next time sir.
Allow me to interject here. Prior to our arrival in Paris, we decided we must drink wine, and eat cheese and bread. These were our requirements. So we ordered a carafe of wine and the cheese plate with bread. Then we began to study the menu. I spied one of the cooks who appeared to be on his break eating the pesto pasta and it looked very appetizing. I tried to order that and our waiter snapped “No more pesto! No!” Okay then. I attempted to order some type of veggie sandwich that caused our waiter to snap again “None of this here!” as he waved his hand over the bottom portion of the menu.
So I ordered a simple cheese and tomato sandwich that was accompanied by a light salad. I will say that I am elated they did not have the pesto pasta or the other sandwich I tried to order because what I was presented was pure heaven. Two slices of bread enveloped melted cheese and tomato slices and were topped with gooey cheese. It was a true cheese-lovers dream. The food was quite delicious. The service not so much. Funny that I just stumbled upon the Google reviews and Café Le Dome received only 1.8 stars. Would I return there? Why not? If only for that sandwich!
Did I mention that the hotel was quiet? Well permit me to restate that again. When my head hit the pillow I do not recall anything after. I slept soundly which was much needed, for the next day would be busy but fun.
We rose at a decent hour, enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and journeyed out to find the Champs-Élysées. Once again we passed the Eiffel Tower and stopped for a few more photo opportunities. The grounds were buzzing with visitors from all walks of life. We continued our adventure and quickly learned that the maps that are randomly placed around the city are a bit misleading. Or perhaps it was a case of reader error. I caved and stopped a local to ask for directions. Yes, we were definitely headed in the wrong direction. Terrible maps!
We followed his instructions and were well on our way. But this did provide us the chance to gaze around the city. I grew fond of the apartments boasting varieties of flowers in boxes. The architecture of the buildings was absolutely stunning. Ah Paris!
I think we were only a few blocks away when we spotted the Arc de Triomphe. We were nearly there. And in plenty of time as we would soon learn. I was under the impression the event began around 1:00 according to what I’d read. But I knew that could not be possible as we approached the Champs-Élysées and saw a smattering of people milling about. Vendor tents stood proudly on display and barricades were erected to keep the spectators from entering the road.
After strolling about and visiting tents, we decided to grab a bite to eat. We spotted a small café and got fabulous baguettes containing mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. Luckily we got the last two seats at the outdoor tables and I stared intently at the road while savoring my sandwich and beer. Once our lunch was done I stopped outside a souvenir shop. I asked the man when would the cyclists arrive. He told me 4:00. What? That was more than 3 hours away. My dream of seeing the riders’ arrival was coming to a screeching halt.
Sadly we trekked back to hour hotel. Deep in my heart I knew that somehow I would still have a chance to see at least some of the race. There had to be a chance.
We’d reached our hotel exhausted but not ready to call it quits. After changing clothes we planned a trip to find Shakespeare and Company, a well-known bookstore in Paris. Bravely we approached the Metro. This certainly could not be difficult. The man behind the glass window told us which train to take and off we went. As we emerged from the Metro station we checked the map and began our “5 minute walk” to the bookstore. Please note, five minutes in Europe does not really calculate to a true five minutes unless you are walking at a sprinters pace. The further we walked the more we realized we would never find the store. But we did see some very beautiful cafes locate the bookstore.
We decided that we would attempt to return to the Champs-Élysées and see some of the race. But the question was how? Should we find a taxi or try to navigate the Metro? Earlier I had seen a Metro station pretty close to the Arc de Triomphe on Avenue Kléber. Surely we could find our way there. We learned it would not be too long of a journey and eventually we made it.
As we approached the Champs-Élysées we noticed the crowd had filled in. I stopped a man and asked if the race had finished. He laughed and said it hadn’t even started yet. I looked at my watch and it was well after 4:00. Wasn’t that when the man at the souvenir told me the riders would start arriving?
We weaved our way through the crow and found a spot a few rows deep off the street and close to the Arc. As fate would have it, the race did, in fact, only START at 4:00. At one point I slipped from the crowd and managed to get a beer for each of us. After I returned, beers in hand, the excitement began to mount. There was a parade of sponsor cars and then nothing. I think we must have stood there for well over 2 ½ hours before the planes soared overhead announcing the arrival of the cyclists.
Finally, in the distance I would hear the burst of cheers and applause from the spectators down the road. They were here! They had arrived. Standing on my toes I craned my head and saw the first group of riders. My heart raced as if I was on one of those bikes. The first lap zipped by and then we patiently waited for them to begin the second lap at which point drops of water began to tap the top of my head. Yes, it was beginning to rain.
The riders sped by again and then I looked at my sister and contently informed her we could leave. I didn’t need to see the winner because we already knew who it was. Froome you did it again. Now had Sagan still been part of this race my story would have ended differently. Next time.
We popped up our umbrellas after we left the crowd and headed toward the Metro. One small snafu occurred when I mistook the name of the line for the station we needed to exit. But no worries. We got off the train, went up the stairs and came down to the proper platform. And in no time we were back at the École Militaire station conveniently located a short walk to our hotel.
We stopped by Marcel et Compagnie for dinner. Once again we ordered a cheese plate and carafe of wine. While the service was far from stellar, the food was amazing. We both selected the zucchini risotto and were not at all disappointed. I was surprised at the serving size. I was lucky if I ate a quarter of what was spooned into my bowl. And this establishment received 2.9 stars so we were moving up on the scale. Would I return to this restaurant? Absolutely.
We sadly walked back to our hotel. I was going to miss Paris. It was a short visit but probably one of the best experiences of my life thus far.
We accomplished a lot from navigating the Metro and street maps, to seeing wonderful landmarks, to crossing an item off my Life List. In hindsight, I do wish we had planned for one more day and road to the top of the Eiffel Tower. But as I mentioned earlier, this was our trial run for Paris. The next time we would bring our sister Judy along with us. We would ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visit The Louvre, successfully find Shakespeare and Company, perhaps take a boat ride down the Seine, drink lots of wine, consume cheese and eat pastries.
As we boarded the train back to London, I collapsed in my seat. Paris did not disenchant. While it was a whirlwind, this visit only increased my love for the city and its people.
In the immortal words of Edith Piaf, non, je ne regrette rien. Okay, maybe one tiny regret, I should have had eaten more pastries. Next time Paris, next time.
For your reference:
Hotel Muguet – 11 Rue Chevert – 75007 Paris, France
Café le Dome – 149 Rue Saint-Dominique
Marcel et Compagnie – 39 Avenue de la Motte-Picquet
Eiffel Tower – Champ de Mars, 5 Avenue Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe – Place Charles de Gaulle, 75008 Paris, France