It was an express trip. Arriving early afternoon on the Monday, a meeting at the Hachette publishing house to present the new travel guides format to bloggers (I worked on the London 2017 one), coming back to London on the Tuesday morning. No suitcase, just a tote bag. Hello, Paris, it’s been a while. I had abandoned you for new adventures – Iceland, Helsinki, Tallinn, Brussels. I have missed you. Really missed you.
Going from Saint Pancras to Gare du Nord, though, is always quite a shock. On one side, a Victorian Gothic architecture, sculpted bricks, luxury stores, contemporary art, even a champagne bar. On the other, a dusty, tired stations, no touch of colour. I often wonder what travellers coming to Paris for the first time think at that point…
I usually do not stay in the area – it simply doesn’t seem worth it. I love the Marais, the Panthéon, the walking path along the Seine, the Sunday market on Boulevard Raspail. I was staying, however at Hôtel Paradis, a sweet boutique hotel a mere 12 minutes’ walk from the station. A vintage vibe, details inspired by clouds in the decoration, a place to read and dream away.
Rue des Petites Ecuries, rue d’Hauteville, rue Paradis… The Paris of a forgotten time, very 70ies, with independent shops that simply warm your heart, cafés that make you want for the waiter to know your name because you go there every day. Covered galleries the tourists do not know so much – passage des panoramas, passage Jouffroy, passage Verdeau. The light there is different, a shade even Pantone could not quite capture, a mix of Grey and honey, of yesterday and today. Tiny restaurants and boutiques side by side – antique books, embroidery kits, sweet little toys. The Christmas garlands are still on. Later that evening, I would go to the XXth arrondissement, to the Edith Piaf café, so small the French would describe it as “no bigger than a handkerchief. But oh, it’s the best place to reinvent the world around a beer or a glass of wine, even dance on Pink Floyd hits. This is where all the locals meet. It is so vibrant with how could I say…? Pure happiness.
That is the Paris I fell in love with a long time ago. And fell in love with all over again. Not the hype one, not the one you see in glossy magazines. No concept store, no trendy tearoom. A more discreet one, half faded away, with a village side, little courtyards and gardens that remind you of the countryside. In a way, knowing that side of Paris is what should make you VIP.
Paris, we’re going to meet a lot more in 2017.