Andi's mom, Janie, agreed to watch Tory and Aden for the first few days of our trip, so we kissed them good-bye Tuesday afternoon and headed to the airport. We flew direct from Minneapolis to Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport overnight and arrived in Paris around 7:00am local time on December 7. I slept for a bit on the plane (well, as much as one can rest seated upright in an uncomfortable airline seat) but Andi wasn't able to fall asleep at all. We were both jet-lagged and exhausted by the time we arrived in Paris, but the hustle and bustle around us indicated everyone here was starting their day. It's mind-boggling really, how you can hop on an airplane in one place and wake up a few hours later in a place that's completely new and different.
Shortly after departing the airplane, Andi discovered his iPhone had reset at some point. He tried to reboot it, but it wouldn't register in a new network. So, our first order of business in Paris was to activate an international service plan on my cell phone so we'd have access to GPS maps and communication during our trip.
We quickly learned the city of Paris had issued an extreme smog alert given the current atmospheric conditions (basically, the dense cloud cover during the winter forces the smog to hang close to the ground) so all public transportation was free to use. Paris' mayor had also placed a ban on all automobiles with an odd-numbered license plate to limit the number of vehicle pollutants. I didn't find the air particularly difficult to breathe, but I did notice all the "smoke attacks" (aka: what Tory calls cigarettes) everywhere. Everyone in Paris seems to smoke cigarettes and Andi and I both found it hard to miss when walking around the city streets.
In an unrelated event, one of the main trains traveling to/from Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport had broken down the morning of our arrival, so there were reports of many travel delays. Fortunately, we didn't have any trouble in navigating our way to the city center. We rode the RER B train from the airport to the Saint Paul metro station in the Marais neighborhood of Paris, then walked to a neighboring cafe to refuel with coffee and a croissant. I could tell Andi was exhausted when he politely responded "gracias" to the server as he brought us our order - ha! A shower and a quick nap would've done wonders to pull ourselves together, but we couldn't check into the Airbnb apartment we'd rented until 3:00pm. Instead, we walked a few blocks through the neighborhood to Notre Dame.
One of the things I remember most about our trip to Paris five years ago was being wet and cold: two feelings I hate more than anything. We had a lovely time, of course, but I vividly remember laying my only pair of warm socks on a radiator vent to dry and being chilled to the bone the entire visit.
This trip, I was determined to be prepared. I'm sure I stick out like a sore thumb in my warm ski jacket, stocking hat, and waterproof boots but I don't care. I'm warm and ready to explore the city of Paris.
Our rented apartment was walking distance from Hotel de Ville - such a big and beautiful building!
Andi reached out to our Airbnb host and asked if we'd be able to drop our backpacks at the apartment, and fortunately it was ready for check-in. The apartment we'd rented was conveniently located on Rue des Rosiers, at the center of the Jewish quarter in the Marais district. The neighborhood felt very Parisian as we walked alongside people rushing off to work, or families walking their kids off to school. Our small studio apartment was on the second floor above the street-level restaurants and shops, and offered the perfect amount of space for the two of us. Andi and I collapsed on the bed and were asleep minutes after our heads hit the pillow. Fortunately, Andi set an alarm to wake us because 45 minutes later, we were up and on the move to meet our hired tour guide for the afternoon.
Andi arranged for a tour guide named Raphael to give us a "behind the scenes" view of Parisian neighborhoods. We'd toured Notre Dame, the Lourve, Arc de Thiomphe and the Eiffel Tower during our visit to Paris five years ago, so this time we were interested in seeing more local flavor. I know Paris is famous for its many museums, but honestly that's not our thing. We'd much rather wander through shops and markets, eat great food and people-watch from quaint cafes.
Raphael was unable to meet us, so she enlisted her friend and colleague named Michel who met us at our apartment. Michel was a 64-year-old Parisian with much pride for his city. He briskly walked us through neighboring streets as he filled our ears with information about the history and culture of the area. What an awesomely efficient way to get the lay of the land as we weaved through busy city Paris streets! Scheduling a walking tour on our first afternoon in Paris was the perfect timing, as it forced us to push through the jet lag and get out to explore the city.
Michel took us through many "passages" throughout the city - a covered alley connecting two busy streets with shops and restaurants inside. Some were nicer than others - like this one with beautiful wood exteriors and fancy home and clothing boutiques.
Four hours later, we said good-bye to Michel near Champs-Elysees, then ventured off on our own. It was truly a "pinch me I'm in Paris!" moment as the sunlight faded to dark and city lights glowed all around us. Andi and I stopped in the center of it all to send the kids a quick video detailing our day.
We walked a bit further to find a Christmas market along the famous Champs-Elysees. Andi and I strolled through the various shops for a while, then decided we wanted a little snack to tide us over dinner. There were so many wonderful sights and smells to choose from - chocolates, cheese, baguettes, meat, and more. Andi decided he wanted a raclette sandwich, and we watched as the lady stuffed ham into a baguette and then poured heaping piles of hot, melted raclette cheese over the bread. Oh my goodness, how in the world would we eat all that? Surprisingly, it was the perfect amount of deliciousness.
We walked through the Christmas Market a bit more, then navigated our way back to our rented apartment via the Metro. Andi and I had each walked 30,000 steps by 8 o'clock that evening, and were absolutely exhausted. We grabbed a quick dinner at Camille's, a typical French cafe, on the walk back to our apartment. Andi ordered steak frites and I had beef tartare with salad. My dinner looked (and tasted) like raw ground beef on a plate which was most definitely not what I'd envisioned when I selected it. No matter, all I really wanted was a glass of red wine and to go to bed.