I woke up this morning missing Paris. Maybe it’s the weather; it was cold this morning, almost unseasonably so, and sometimes when there are sharp changes in the weather my memories of past events flood in so strongly. The first time I was in Paris was at the end of October, 20 years ago. I was studying in a city in the south of France and the weather there must have been warmer, because when we got to Paris it felt like we’d stepped into fall.
So maybe it was the weather this morning, or maybe it’s the coronavirus and missing the things that I usually do. Every week it seems like I’m missing something different: the sounds of a baseball game, the stillness of an art museum, sitting around a table drinking a beer with my Camino group.
Today it was Paris. I’ve been there a lot, but this is the first year in a long stretch of years that I haven’t stepped foot in the city. I didn’t think about it so much during the summer, my thoughts were focused on the long walks I was supposed to be taking, not the two or three days I’d planned in Paris at the end of my trip.
But maybe it’s only now, now that the season is changing and we’re entering the long and slow march towards winter, that I can feel it so strongly: I didn’t get on a plane this year. I didn’t see Notre Dame, I didn’t eat a baguette by the Seine.
I have a long weekend coming up. I needed to use a few days of PTO and my school is off for Yom Kippur, so I have this little, extra pocket of time. I’m sticking close to home, going back to the local walks I did every day in the spring, taking a book out to that patch of sunlight on my porch. And yet, I couldn’t help but dream, dream about what it would be like to find a cheap flight to Paris and drive to the airport on Thursday evening and wake up in Paris on Friday morning.
I can’t get on a flight to France right now. But if I could, what would those three days in Paris be like?
I’ve often mentioned how much I love Paris on this blog, but I realize that I haven’t written much about it. There’s this post about my week there in 2017, and this post about Notre Dame, but not much more.
I probably have at least 3 or 4 partially written posts about Paris in the drafts folder on this blog. I always think that I should write about my favorite places, my favorite museums, my favorite walks, tips I have for solo travel and budget travel.
After all, I’m getting to know Paris. It’s the city I know best in the world, and I’m by no means an expert, but traveling there has now become easy. It’s almost mindless, that’s how frequently I seem to stop in. Often it’s just for an overnight at the very beginning of a long trip, or a day at the very end, but sometimes I squeeze in some extra time.
And so I know my way around my favorite areas. I know where I like to stay and where to pick up some groceries and somehow the French comes back to me and I can navigate and communicate. I stop by all of my favorite spots. I sit, sometimes, on the same benches. I can see the same views, over and over, and never get tired of them.
So if I had three days, a long weekend at the beginning of fall when the air is crisp and the leaves are red at their edges, what would I do?
I’d do all of my favorite things.
This post is by no means a comprehensive guide or itinerary to three days in Paris. To be sure, most people with three days in Paris would spend them very differently. You’ll note that some of the biggest attractions aren’t included here. There are many, many great posts and resources for planning a trip to Paris, and this isn’t necessarily one of them (though, for any first timers to Paris and anyone revisiting this city, I think there’s a lot here to take note of).
This is a dream, a fantasy. If I could close my eyes and be transported back to Paris, back to a city where the spire of Notre Dame still stands and people crowd inside virus-free spaces, this is how I would spend my days.
My Three Days in Paris
In no particular order.
I’ll exit the metro in St-Paul, a neighborhood in the Marais district, and when I reach the top of the stairs at the metro stop, the first thing I’ll see is a small carousel, the one that has always been there. I’lll walk down the narrow cobblestoned alley, a shortcut to my hostel. Sometime in the last few years they upgraded the pillows, but the squares of pink toilet paper- like the carousel- are the same as they’ve always been.
I’ll buy a baguette. (Paris on a budget tip: you don’t need to order an entire baguette unless, of course, you know you’ll eat all of it. I nearly always order a une demi-baguette instead, for the princely sum of about 40 cents. I like to buy bread from a different boulangerie every day (you can find a boulangerie on just about every corner in Paris, and nearly all have high quality baguettes, but this place is a favorite. So is this one.)
I’ll go to my favorite art museums. There are a lot in Paris, but because I only have three days and because the sun is shining, I’ll just stop by two (the two I go back to every time): Musée de l’Orangerie, and Musée Rodin. If I can, I’ll arrive at Musée de L’Orangerie just as they open (or, maybe, within the first hour of opening). This is a small museum about a five minute walk from the Louvre and through the Tuileries, famous for housing Monet’s water lilies. Monet picked this very spot and very museum for his masterpieces, intending visitors to experience a calm oasis when surrounded by his paintings. Because this is my fantasy, and because I arrived early, I manage to have the rooms to myself. The Musée Rodin is another gem, both the indoor museum and outdoor grounds are worth visiting. (Paris on a budget tip: for 4 euros, you can buy a ticket just to the outdoor sculpture garden).
I’ll walk the Promenade Plantée. If you’re familiar with the High Line in NYC, then you’ll understand what the Promenade Plantée is (but Paris did it first): a 4.7km elevated walkway/park, a magical green space above the city, stretching from the Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes. It’s my favorite walk in the city, one that is frequented largely by locals, rather than tourists.
I’ll visit Shakespeare and Company, the historic English language bookstore on the Left Bank. I’ll buy a book and then stop by the café next door for a coffee.
I’ll walk through Père Lachaise, Paris’ most famous cemetery, located in the 20th arrondissement. I try to go whenever I’m in Paris, and each time make sure to stop by to see Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. There’s now a plexiglass barrier around Wilde’s tomb (and Jim Morrison’s is heavily guarded as well), and it turns out those red lips were wearing away at the stone, so it’s best to keep your distance and pay your respects without doing any damage.
I’ll drink café crèmes and café noisettes (a shot of espresso cut with a little milk) to my heart’s content. A favorite place for coffee is in the charming Place Contrescarpe, just around the corner from the little apartment where Hemingway once lived (74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine).
I’ll have a picnic on the Seine. If the weather is cool I’ll put on a sweater and a scarf and call a friend, or maybe just go on my own: spread out a blanket and open a bottle of wine, break off a hunk of baguette and pair it with a good, soft cheese, a handful of raspberries, a ripe tomato (you can find good picnic food all over Paris, but La Grande Epicerie is an experience. Described as a food department store rather than a grocery store, it has anything and everything you could want for a Parisian picnic).
I’ll visit one or two of Paris’ many beautiful parks and gardens. My favorites are the Jardin de Luxembourg, and the Jardin des Plantes (both on the left bank). On a nice day it will seem like all of Paris is out in the gardens, and you’ll be lucky if you can nab one of the green chairs (bonus points if you get a ‘reclining’, or ‘low’ chair!).
I’ll walk around the city with my camera, looking for that beautiful light, for ornate architecture, winding and empty streets, the reflection of rain on the sidewalk. I’ll take a hundred photos, and then take a hundred more.
I’ll stop by Notre Dame. Actually, this will be the very first thing I do, because it’s the first thing I do every time. I’ll pretend that there was no fire, that the cathedral sits on the Île de la Cité untouched and perfect. I’ll climb its towers and look out over the city, I’ll circle around and sit beneath the flying buttresses, I’ll walk over a bridge so I can get a perfect view, so I can take it all in.
If I close my eyes and think, hard, about the how the light reflects on the Seine, quiet ripples, steady waves, I can imagine that I’m back there. I go for a long weekend of the imagination, filled with cafés and bookstores and cobblestoned streets, stone gargoyles and rose-colored light.
One day we’ll go back.