Overseas travel is such a strange contrast of freedom and necessary confinement, terror and jetlag mixed with sheer beauty and the touching kindness of those you meet. I wrote you a short post about the contrasts involved in our first night in Paris a few weeks ago.
The photo above was taken in the apartment that the beautiful and generous Marie let us stay in for the night before we caught the train to Morlaix in Brittany for Margaux and Loic’s wedding. It’s in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, and had my dream shutter windows, and of course, a perfect Paris skyline looking out over the chimney tops. As the growing full moon came into view, i felt so at home looking out the window, it was as if i’d just come back from a trip away to Australia, even though i’d never stepped foot inside that apartment in my life…
After Anne generously came to meet us at Gare Du Nord and glide us through the complicated Metro trip (it was 36 degrees when we got to Paris, and Anne had one of those lovely antique fans which I noticed many Parisians fluttering for the rest of the month in the hot days and nights!) to Rome Metro station, Marie handed us her key so we could settle into her apartment for some much-needed rest, and process the giant expanse of space we had travelled to get to France.
Aren’t all travel tales more interesting when things go wrong?
The first thing to go wrong is that my giant suitcase broke almost as soon as we boarded the Eurostar to Paris, so that the handle was snapped in half and i could no longer roll it, so all 25 kilos had to be carried up and down metro stairs and gingerly lugged across cobblestones that threatened to break it even more. But broken suitcases can be replaced, and I was lucky because it was ‘soldes’ time in Paris. Still, it was a long and slow trip across the cobblestones to the promised land of Marie’s apartment! The Metro is all about stairs, and Paris cobblestones are pretty hard on even the sturdiest of suitcases.
After gazing out this window in a sort of beauty-filled daze, we ventured out to the Monoprix.
Yes, my first outing in Paris was to a Monoprix. If you’ve never been to a French supermarket, you won’t understand the delight this held for me. The Monoprix is something to behold.
Foie gras or duck pâté for a few euros, anyone?
If we’d had more time and been less jet-lagged we would have gone to a fresh food market, but by the time we had set down our bags it was 7pm, and anyway, the Monoprix in the 17th arrondissement is something else. Of the 256 types of cheese the French proudly produce, I feel like that Monoprix had about 148 of them! Or maybe I was a bit delirious and it was just 45. Regardless, there was a whole section filled with the kinds of cheeses you’d have to know someone in French imports to taste all the way back in Australia.
We settled on an ash goats cheese, some saucisson, some salad (because it was too hot for anything else) and of course, rosé, for our first meal in France. See below! (No, i never pretended to be a food photographer… but i had to record my reunion with French cheese!)
I feel a little ashamed that we cut the saucisson so thick but my defense for everything is that we were jetlagged.
Aside from the heat in Paris, the other surprise was that every shop window displayed the sign “Soldes!” – which means sale.
Apparently the sales are only allowed twice a year in Paris, very strictly. The Summer sales were on until August 7 so we were very lucky, as, aside from having to replace my broken suitcase I also needed to buy a maillot de bain and some summer dresses because I’d packed three scarves and a number of jumpers, not being able to get my head around the fact that Paris could ever be so hot!
The kindest thing you can do for someone who has travelled internationally is what Marie did for us: sending the lovely Anne to collect us for the three Metro changes, handing us her (giant and ancient-looking) apartment key for that first night, and making us a breakfast tray. Hotels are all very special and nice, but the warmth of a loved one opening up their space for you is incredibly special.
On our last day in Paris, my beloved Birkenstocks both broke moments after I’d taken this photo of the Fountain Saint-Sulpice. Since it was about 6pm, we were leaving at 6am and I was worried about my luggage weight anyway, I didn’t go to any “Soldes” instead leaving them in a St Germain rubbish bin before walking three streets back to my hotel in my bare feet! I had back-up sandals anyway, I’m not sad. It was their time…
My sister did an equally kind thing to Marie’s welcoming gestures on our return: visiting to see the first, treasured copy of A Letter From Paris the day we landed, she gave us a home-made dinner delivery so we wouldn’t have to think about shopping before we got some sleep. Thank you so much, Ayala!
After three planes, four trains, and no sleep for almost two days (it’s a long story, but someone almost died on our flight from Dubai, so it was all a bit stressful and we didn’t get any sleep), the thought of shopping for dinner made me want to cry.
So here’s to kind gestures, perfect Parisian windows, fromage, family and France.
Paris and Melbourne, je t’aime.