Autumn in Paris. It feels strange to be writing about Paris now after all these months. However, here I am on the cusp of summer remembering about my trip last autumn. Sometimes you need time to get a perspective on things.
Actually. I lie a little. I visited Paris during the dying embers of autumn. It was the 2nd week of November. The streets of Paris were a wet, sad red. Slippery as hell, thanks to the layers of dead autumn leaves. It had been a week since the attacks.
Paris seemed a little quieter than usual. Even for the grumpy Parisians, I found them to be quite sombre in my brief conversations with them in cafes or the coworking space I had been working from. The city of love was in mourning. Plus on top of that it had rained pretty for a week straight since I arrived. My heart sank as I checked the weather forecast. I hadn’t really thought about what the weather would be like in November. It had been a long and busy year of travel. Given all the happy memories I have of Paris from trips past, it initially seemed like a no brainer. A warm blanket to drape over my fuzzy, confused soul. Plus a short hop on the Eurostar from London where I had been spending a few weeks for work. One thing I had forgotten to factor in is that most of those trips to Paris had been with my ex with whom I had split just a month before. In fact I hadn’t visited Paris solo since I was 21.
The one thing I was optimistic about was my choice of apartment. I had found a small but cosy Airbnb apartment in the Belleville district just a stone’s throw away from Quai de Valmy. At just €26 a night, it seemed like a steal. You could easily pay that amount for staying in a dorm room in a hostel in Paris. The flat was perfect except for the fact that the wifi had stopped working. It is one thing to be alone in a city where you practically know no one. It is another thing to be alone in a city and have no working wifi. After leaving the coworking space, my evenings were spent in the humble wifi free solitude of my Airbnb. I spent a lot of the time reading. A lot of time cooking food I loved which gave me great comfort. With all the time spent on the road, it sounds strange but having a kitchen to cook is a real luxury for me to have. After stuffing my face, I would usually settle down to reading a book on the sofa, glass of wine in hand as I would hear the droplets of rain pelting against the window. More than often I’d wake up in the middle of the night, crick in my neck from falling sleeping on the sofa at an awkward angle.
On the rare morning it did not rain, I would have coffee on the terrace at the nearby La Fontaine de Belleville. Coffee here is lovely plus they served a mean baguette jambon-beurre. Even if was for 2 weeks, I would take great joy in the simple almost daily routine of going to this cafe and having a few moments to myself. Watching the ebb and flow of locals flowing past.
At some point I would drag myself away from this happy flow of nothingness and casually stalking locals…and head to my coworking cafe of choice in Paris, Cafe Craft. Most of the coworking spaces in Paris run on hourly rate or day rate basis. I tried initially Coworkshop down the road where for €5 an hour you get unlimited free tea or coffee and cereals. In the end I preferred Cafe Craft next door where you pay €4 an hour and depending on how long you stay, you can use the money you spend as credit on food and drinks. The coffee here is fab, roasted by Lomi. They also offered both espresso based coffee and hand brew using the V60. The staff were super friendly and always greeted me with a hi and hello. Sometimes the simplest and most human conversations are what you need to get through a day.
The space was on the small side if I was to pick out any faults. Otherwise, the place was great if though albeit expensive.
After a week of catching up with work and the endless days of rain, one fine Tuesday, came a rare day of sunshine. I had managed to catch up with some of my work so I decided to treat myself. Take the day off and make the most of the good weather.
So there I was on a cold clear blue November morning, walking down the Champs Elysee towards the majestic Arc De Triumph. At 8am in the morning, the iconic landmark is happily devoid of tourists. I suddenly feel a million dollars standing there having this whole landmark to myself practically. A spring in my step, I saunter through the 16th arrondissement.
I come to a bridge crossing on the Seine. Suddenly standing there on the bridge a gloriously wide expanse of blue opens upto me. There she was. The towering beautiful Eiffel glimmering in the sunshine. I started feeling that warm fuzzy you feel spread over your body when you know everything in your life suddenly makes some sense. The city suddenly had spread its arms wide open to finally embrace me. I received her embrace silently in silent awe. People on passing canal boats wave at me with wild abandoned glee. I wave back.
I walk past streets where the Eiffel Tower keeps peeking at me between curtains of blue. I keep walking straight with not much clue of where I was heading. I then find myself in the glorious Parc du Champ De Mars. Through the almost bare branches I have another very clear view of the Eiffel Tower.
I then turn my back on Lady Eiffel and walk down this impossibly beautiful grand boulevard of trees. As I stroll through this golden carpet of fallen leaves, the autumn light sparkles through the bare branches. Couples walk by, arm in arm. There’s definitely something about Paris that melts the heart.
I keep walking and soon find myself in the grand surroundings of Les Invalides. I admire the grand dome of the church which was inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The chapel is the resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte.
I keep walking aimlessly, letting my instinct guide me. I pass by the glorious Elise Saint Francois Xavier.
I pass 110 Rue du Bac and see a plaque on the wall which states that American painter James McNeill Whistler lived in the ground floor of this house from 1892 to 1901. One of the joys of walking the streets of Paris is discovering these hidden little plaques and finding out the stories behind them.
It is almost 10am now and I am feeling a little hungry. I decide to head to the classic Parisian bakery, Secco. The brightly painted pink storefront ushers you into this wonderful temple of freshly baked goodness where you can sample breads, desserts, pizza, quiches, salads, and sandwiches.
Fortified by a delicious butter croissants my next stop on my aimless stroll is an old favourite: Hôtel d’Angleterre on 44 rue Jacob. In December 1921 Ernest Hemingway and Hadley spent their first night in Paris at the hotel in room 14.
Soon I find myself in Saint–Germain-des-Prés, Paris’s Left Bank neighbourhood. The pavements cafes are packed with Parisians drinking noisettes or maybe a petit noir, soaking in the mellow afternoon sunshine.
Cafe Flore , a favourite hangout for intellectuals Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir is bursting at the seams as usual. I walk past a few of the sidewalk cafes and feel the urge to grab a chair at one of them. Still, my weary feet urge me keep moving forward so after a brief pause, I keep walking.
Floating past a cheerful brass brand in front of Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés ( burial place of philosopher René Descartes ) I find myself in the ancient streets of Rue de l’Abbaye and Passage Petite Boucherie. The pink building catches my attention briefly.
Finally I arrive at one of my favourite bookshops in the world, Shakespeare and Company. I am greeted by the unusual sight of a huge queue outside the bookstore. Another symptom of the overcrowding of tourists in Paris. I ease through the crowd and wind my way up the narrow creaking staircase to the second floor.
I come here for many things. One of them is the view. For me the view from the second floor windows of the Seine and the cathedral remains one of the most iconic views of the city. The piano is still there. A guy sits down and tries to play a tune. The piano is horribly out of tune.
‘They never f**** tune the piano. I’ve told them so many times to fix this. They’re more concerned about selling books and profit rather than preserving the soul of this place.’ he rants in a waspish voice and then storms off leaving the piano, sad and lonely.
Moments like this that elevate Paris above the norm. I walk across the Seine swallowed by the deepening Autumn gloom with a smile on my face. Days like this, are definitely one for the history books.
The dead leaves of Autumn that year rested heavily on a stormy bed of tears and blood. However, digging deep beneath the leaves , it was clear that there were still a few green shoots and signs of life. Paris is a plucky, spirited soul. Coming back to Paris personally was life reaffirming. I thought I had make a huge mistake coming back. The truth was that I was sad to leave by the end of that fortnight in Paris, just as the wind turned icy and you could feel winter was in the air.
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