By Elloise Bennett
Paris has always been one of my favorite destinations. For a weekend. For a week. For a vacation. For a romantic retreat. With the food, the museums, the fashion, the beautiful streets – you really can’t go wrong.
So you can imagine that I was one of the first in line to see the new Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris.” In his ‘Woody Allen way,’ the film is a visual feast for the Paris fan. The lush sets and the beautiful cinematography had me checking airfare via my travel app on my phone before I even got home from the movie!
The film is heavily based on historical details of 1920s Paris life from Ernest Hemingway’s autobiographical book “ A Moveable Feast.” I am not a big Hemingway fan - he is too much a MAN from the first half of the 20th century for me. But this autobiographical collection of sketches about his time living in Paris in the 1920s was a reading of pure pleasure.
I could SEE the Paris he was describing, I could SMELL it. I could HEAR the conversations in the cafés where he sat with Ezra Pounds and crazy-as-a-loon F. Scott Fitzgerald. I laughed out loud at the retelling of their antics and experiences. And despite my current push for traveling to NEW places and seeing NEW things, between Woody Allen and reading Hemingway, Paris suddenly became an immediate MUST.
And how glad I am that I gave in to my urge!
I invited a friend to join me for a long weekend in Paris. For a slightly different angle and to be budget conscious, I decided to rent an apartment. After letting my fingers do the talking on my keyboards I found the perfect sleeps - two spot close to the heart of Montmartre. (For Paris-neophytes, Montmartre was a village known at the end of the 19th century for its community of artistic residents such as Toulouse Lautrec. Today, a part of the city of Paris, and made famous by the film Moulin Rouge, it still has a charm of its own, has one art gallery and shop after another, and a beautiful square filled to the brim with bistro and brasserie tables.)
“Location, location, location” is the by-word of all realtors the world wide, and so typically you would want an apartment in the heart of the historical center on your visit to a city. But my friend and I were intrigued by the idea of being out of the crowds, and it turned out to be the perfect choice!
The apartment description indicated that it had a terrace (huge bonus!) and was a 15-minute walk from the heart of Montmartre. On arrival we found that we loved the location since it meant that we were out of the heaviest of the tourist crowds and could be among actual Parisians and Parisian shops instead of another place selling a copy of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”
For breakfast every morning, I went only a few steps from the building entrance to one of four boulangeries (bakeries) located within a two-block radius of the apartment. There I had my pick of decadent fresh croissants, steamy pain-au-chocolats, crunchy baguettes, and fluffy white loaves.
For less than $5 I would return to the apartment, victorious with a breakfast of champions. Coupled with some soft and creamy cheese from the fromagerie (cheese shop), also on the corner, it was pure Parisian heaven.
Granted, the average California gal would have to be resuscitated after all those carbs and white flour (and butter! Don’t forget the butter!), but how can you not indulge and enjoy the pleasure of fresh bread and pastries - in Paris of all places! After all, the French have made the idea of revolution around the price of flour (and therefore the price of a loaf of bread) a standard against which to measure all ‘les misérables.’ And in France, you can actually find historians who study bread as both a cultural, social, and economic force.
Besides - a few uphill walks to the Butte (hilltop) of Montmartre and you have excised all that bread and are ready for a crêpe! Don’t miss the crêperie just off the north side of the Place du Tetre. They make delicious crêpes that you can take to-go as fortification for the downhill walk into the heart of Paris.
The fact that we had a kitchen and a fantastic terrace with views of the Paris rooftops and the dome of the Church of Sacre-Coeur, colored the nature of our entire trip. We would bravely leave the apartment every morning to face the tourist throngs of Ile de la Cité, the shops along the Rue St. Honore, and the crowds around the Louvre. But after the quiet of our terrace and the serenity of the rooftops, the press of bodies and the noise of cars would be too much, and we’d go for emergency fortification (also known as coffee and cake) in one of the charming cafés lining the Place Dauphine; a hidden treasure of a square located behind the Conciergerie.
We would lazily lunch in the Jardin du Palais Royale on a tarine of chicken baked in curry, apricots, raisons and dates along with a glass of crisp Sancerre. That would bolster us enough to make it back via the metro to our ‘home’ neighborhood to pick up a bottle of sun-scented rosé wine and for dinner, some cheeses, cold meats, and, of course, a loaf. If we felt wild, we’d head out for dinner at one of ‘our’ neighborhood cafés to be surrounded by the sound of French and the allure of Parisians.
This was an unforgettable way to experience Paris. Even Hemingway would be proud. (Don’t forget to make time to visit the lush gardens of the Jardin du Luxembourg to gaze in wonder where he had loved to wander while he waited for inspiration to strike!)
If you feel like a trip to Paris, apartment rental is definitely the way to go! (Check out user-friendly sites like www.all-paris-apartments.com or www.airbnb.com) To find a boulangerie for your own local experience with the loaves: walk out your door, turn left or right, and go a few feet. You’ll find it! (And if you are lucky, Hemingway is sitting in the back bent double over a Café au Lait.)
Elloise Bennett is a San Diego educator and traveler. Formerly a European history teacher and school administrator at Torrey Pines High School and Canyon Crest Academy, she now teaches online classes at her alma mater, University of San Diego, School of Education and has an educational services business in Carmel Valley. Her flexible schedule allows her to travel, explore, and share those experiences with others. She has lived in San Diego, London, Johannesburg, and now splits her time between San Diego and Amsterdam. You can follow more of Elloise’s travels on https://foundtravel.wordpress.com