*DISCLAIMER* If you’re viewing this on a desktop, the formatting might be a little… erratic. It would appear to be a WordPress bug and I can’t do anything about it. Sorry. On to the blog post.
There is a genuine possibility that I have just had the most enjoyable Monday that anyone, anywhere has ever experienced. Deadly serious.
It does have to be said that Mondays in general are distinctly more palatable when they don’t feature an office. Or, you know, any kind of work at all. But still, this particular one really knocked the ball out of the park.
(As if the Universe was seeking to emphasise this point, as I was writing the above, an extremely attractive, half-naked* man wandered past the bench I’m writing from, by the fountain in front of Saint Sulpice. Thanks, Universe. Appreciate it.)
The day started out unusually early for someone who doesn’t actually have to be anywhere at any particular time. It was a bit of a struggle, but I forced myself out of bed, knowing I’d be glad I had by the time I came around properly – I really enjoy being out and about first thing in the morning, when I manage it. The air smells cleaner and feels fresher; if you get out early enough, you have the streets almost to yourself for a little while; and I love watching a city wake up, slowly coming to life as chairs are unstacked in front of cafes and restaurants, and shop owners unroll their shutters and prop open their doors.
The idea was really just to go for a long walk and generally profit from Paris on a summer’s day, but I also like to set some kind of “goal” on these outings, so I decided I was going to check out one of the boulangeries on a list I compiled a couple of years ago, citing the alleged best croissants in the city (according to various blogs, articles and other misc. online sources). I checked the map last night; it was an 80-minute walk from my apartment. A bit far on foot normally, but I had nowhere else to be and it WAS kind of the point, so that’s where I headed when I left my apartment early this morning.
It was (and still is, at the time of writing) an absolutely stunning day – cloudless blue sky, bright sunshine, hot but pleasantly breezy. The temperature in the shade achieved that rare feat of being so perfect, you almost couldn’t feel the air. Perhaps that sounds odd, I’m not sure if it’s something everyone appreciates – but personally, I am annoyingly sensitive to both heat and coldness (I have Reynaud’s disease, okay, I swear I’m not just whiny) and it’s actually rather unusual for me to be perfectly comfortable, temperature-wise.
Weather aside, I can honestly say that every single part of my route was at the very least pretty, and more often, outright beautiful. Of course, the glorious summer backdrop was helpful, but it can only claim so much credit. How many cities can you walk through for a straight hour-and-twenty-minutes without once straying from indisputable loveliness? And that’s without even trying. It’s kind of absurd, actually. (Know what else is absurd? The number of photographs I took on said route.)
So after 80 minutes of doing an excellent impression of a first-time tourist, I arrived at my destination – the aforementioned boulangerie – and procured one of their much-lauded croissants. Now, unusually, I’m not actually going to share the name of the place with you because, frankly, I don’t think it deserves the acclaim it has been given by certain internet sources – although my croissant was perfectly okay and they certainly don’t deserve to be publicly denounced, either. However, “best croissant in Paris” is a pretty lofty accolade and certainly not one to be bestowed flippantly. Which it seems to have been, in this case.
Anyway, clutching a crinkled brown paper bag in hand, I set off back the way I’d come, losing myself again in the narrow, winding streets of Le Marais, with their chic boutiques and shaded terrasses. It was on one of these streets I was accosted (in a polite, respectful way, I should add) by a (rather good-looking) guy on a bike and we stood and chatted for a good few minutes before he sheepishly admitted that he wasn’t actually sure what to say now – but perhaps we could go for a coffee sometime? I took his “details” and went on my way with a smile. Well, it’s always a nice ego boost, isn’t it?
My second destination of the day was the breath-taking Place des Vosges, an enclosed square in the heart of Le Marais – and the oldest planned square in Paris (amongst other notable names, Victor Hugo used to be a resident). It has a very “university” feel, I decided today – although that opinion might be biased by the fact that I’m an alumna of the University of Birmingham, the campus of which, much like Place des Vosges, features lots of lovely redbrick buildings and attractive archways, with a green space in the middle.** Unlike in England, though, the redbrick aesthetic is an unusual sight in Paris, where the majority of the buildings are some variation on the Haussmannien golden/light/cream colouring. The whole square exudes elegance and affluence – to give you an idea, an espresso (usually priced at around 2,50€ in most Parisian cafes/brasseries/restaurants), will set you back something in the region of 5€ on one of the (admittedly gorgeous) terrasses beneath the arches of the stately redbricks.
Occupying most of the square, though, is the aforementioned “green space” – really, a small and very pretty park. Large lindens line the perimeter, forming a continuous leafy canopy over the tactfully-spaced lines of benches. Beyond the trees, the park is split into identical quarters; four squares of grass are divided by paths of that white, dusty gravel so synonymous with Paris (you’d think I’d have learned to stop wearing black shoes to these places by now) and each one features a multi-tiered water fountain. A symmetrical scattering of topiaried (is that a word? I’m making it a word. #ArtisticLicense) trees, decorative borders and subtly ornate, old-fashioned lampposts set the whole thing off very nicely indeed. The overall effect is tastefully simple, yet somehow breathtaking – and very parisian. In short, a bloody lovely place for breakfast.
After finishing my (slightly underwhelming) croissant, I read for an hour or so in the shade of the trees (compulsively looking up from the pages every few minutes to admire my surroundings), and then I set off again, this time in search of a caffeine hit. As I mentioned before, the options in the immediate vicinity weren’t really options at all (I genuinely nearly choked when I consulted the menu at the first place), so I left Place des Vosges via an almost-hidden doorway in one of the corners of the square. On the other side, I found myself in a tiny, perfect courtyard; it felt as if I’d stumbled across a secret garden, an impression compounded by the fact that I was the only person in there.
Exiting via a second little doorway (and another, smaller courtyard), it didn’t take me long to find a more reasonably priced cafe/bar/restaurant (they’re almost always the same thing here, I never know what to call them) on a particularly quiet side street. I installed myself on their terrasse, ordered a café noisette, and pulled out my book again. Bliss.
As usual, the length of this post is starting to run away with me a bit, so I won’t walk you through my roundabout return journey. However, I will tell you that it featured a pleasing combination of famous monuments, lesser-known (but also very impressive – and beautiful) historical buildings, and plenty of very charming rues and ruelles.
And, just to ramp up the indulgence factor of a day spent soaking up a spectacularly sunny Paris, I stopped at a Lindt boutique on my way through the Latin Quarter and got myself THE most decadent ice cream I have ever tasted. I mean, really, it was just chocolate soft serve stuff in a cone. One flavour, no elaborate toppings, nothing like that. But it was flipping Lindt. And the bottom of the cone was filled with a generous quantity of pure (obviously also Lindt) chocolate, initially hardened from the ice cream, but once exposed, very rapidly melting into molten, (messy,) edible heaven. Not quite in keeping with the otherwise unfettered french-ness of the day, but so. Damn. Good. And hey, I walked 12km today. I earned a bit of decadence, okay?
*Shirtless. Just to clarify.
**Said green space at Birmingham was a lot more enclosed when I was a student there than it is now, thanks to some, er, renovations (which I absolutely refuse to call “improvements”).