Paris is synonymous with romance and passion, the ultimate destination to bump into a perfect stranger and fall madly in love with the moustache’d, well-coiffed man of your dreams. Supposedly. I’m not altogether convinced about that one, though, because I didn’t cross paths with my French soulmate while exploring the city, despite best efforts to appear chic and elegant and tres Parisian. Instead, as fate would have it, I did meet the macaron of my dreams.
Before leaving for Europe, I’d been told by numerous sources (well, two, but they both took French at high school and have visited France in the past and can therefore be considered credible and reliable) that I absolutely could not, under any circumstances, leave Paris without having a salted caramel macaron at Laduree. Laduree is a luxury French tearoom and Patisserie, famed for its delectable macarons that are so perfect the recipe hasn’t changed since the middle of the 20th century. It’s a Parisian institution, and I dragged my new-found and unsuspecting Aussie friends – that I’d met the day before as we crossed the English channel and embarked on our European Odyssey with Topdeck Travel – into the gold and emerald green gilded storefront, located on the iconic Champs-Elysées.
Thank goodness I’d had a particular macaron recommended to me, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to decide between the multitude of colours and flavours laid out before me behind a low screen of glass – it had to be salted caramel, or Caramel a la Fleur de Sel. With just the right balance of salty-sweet ganache and crunchy meringue, it was the perfect choice, and love at first bite.
But, because it’s Paris and because I had a bucketload of sightseeing to do and baked goods to devour (what’s a diet even?), there were plenty other moments Paris took my breath away and stole my heart. Here’s 9 of them…
- Waking up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds at the Eiffel Tower afforded me a glimpse of beautiful and peaceful mornings in Paris, before the city had properly woken up. As I dawdled through the still quiet streets with some new friends, I watched as waiters set out chairs facing frontwards for a morning of prime people watching, and bakeries opened their doors only to emit scents of coffee and freshly baked croissants and baguettes and other such drool-worthiness.
2. One of my travel companions started crying as soon as the lift that would take us to the top of the Eiffel Tower began its ascent. After 18 days spent exploring and discovering nine other countries, this is still one of my favourite moments, because her happy tears were not only so genuine and endearing, but they also reflected the sheer joy, combined with utter disbelief (a feeling I would have to become accustomed to during my time in Europe), that I was experiencing, too. Seeing one of the world’s most iconic symbols in the flesh can have that effect.
3. “Joyriding” at – what felt like – breakneck speed around the Arc de Triomphe during sunset, in a bus full of new friends and nervous laughter, amongst other crazy drivers is a moment I’m not likely to forget – mostly due to the fact that I basically saw my life flash before my eyes on more than one occasion (read: the entire 30 seconds of that whole ordeal).
4. I ate a snail before devouring a meal of classic French cuisine (think onion soup, salmon tartare and beef bourguignon) and it was delicious, but I still pulled a face and made a fuss ’cause #dramatic.
5. For our second night in Paris, we were treated to a picnic set up on the grass in front of Napolean’s Tomb. With the sun setting behind the golden dome that marks this tomb, and a plate piled with baguette, breadsticks, salami, an array of cheeses and the sweetest fruit balanced atop my knees, I sat and recounted the day’s adventures with my fellow travellers. We figured out that we’d walked 20 kilometres that day in our efforts to see as much of Paris as possible, so that meal was just a massive helping of yum, with a side of zero guilt. Bring on the brie!
6. Okay so at this point I’ll stop rambling about food for about five seconds to tell you about the time I almost fell off my bike I was so excited to hear a South African accent in the middle of Paris. We were about to embark on a bicycle tour of the city, and were being briefed about safety regulations, when I heard the unmistakeable drawl of a Durban accent. Quite a few of my nearest and dearest are from that lovely little coastal city, so it was a comforting reminder of home, especially considering I was the lone ranger South African within my Topdeck group.
7. While the rest of the crew dallied off to the cabaret after our picnic dinner, I took a personal moment and enjoyed a coffee date for one in the Spanish quarter of Paris. I ordered a cappuccino from a local restaurant, took out my travel journal and pretended to scribble while I listened in on other diners’ conversations. Since I embarked on my trip as a solo traveler, I figured I might as well experience some time with just lil ol’ me for company, to get some idea of what it’s actually like to be fully alone in a foreign country. After I got over the irrational fear of feeling like I was being watched and scrutinised by everyone, it wasn’t the worst evening ever and I quite enjoyed acting like I had some seriously important sh*t to write down in my journal, besides just rambling on about the croissants. That being said, at the end of the evening I was really relieved to be reunited with everyone else.
8. It’s such a simple thing, but when I arrived at our hotel room in Paris, pulled back the curtains and opened the window to look out over layers of Parisian apartments with corrugated roofs and window sills decorated with bunches of brightly coloured flowers, I couldn’t help but smile.
9. Finally, while one can revel in all the beauty, elegance and romance that is Paris, the city also has a dark underbelly, which I experienced when I encountered a creep on the metro. He was slumped over a few seats ahead, his eyes lifeless. Suddenly he got up at a stop, made like he was about to exit the doors, only to have said doors close with his hand stuck in them (WUT?!). Completely unperturbed, he just slumped, again, against the doors like all was just ladida and jolly hockey sticks and I watched in horror as I waited for a scene from some Final Destination film where his fingers get chopped off. Alas, at the next stop, when the doors opened he just got off the train at the same time as us and proceeded to make his way down the up escalator. At this time he just confirmed that he was tripping hard on some illegal substance and I could only laugh (vaguely nervously) at my first mad introduction to the Metro, and a slightly less glamorous version to the city.
And still, I loved it.
If you enjoyed this post, look out for the next instalment of my whirlwind Eurotrip, featuring some snowy mountain peaks and camera-related disasters as I yodel (not really) my way around Switzerland.
Until then. xx