Paris, France - The 11th Arrondissement
The airport shuttle arrived at the waiting plane and we extricated ourselves and our carry-on bags (two backpacks, our only luggage) like perfectly packed sardines from a can. Boarding the plane, Kathy and I were happy to see that we had the entire middle row of four seats to ourselves, a rarity since I’d been travelling on completely packed planes a lot for work lately.
After an interminable time taxiing, and yet another trying-to-be-entertaining-but-still-boring safety video (at least it was different than the Air Canada one I’ve seen a hundred times), we were leaving Montreal behind us, on a Corsair flight to Paris.
The flight left at 5 pm, and landed at the Orly airport at 6am, or around 1am our time; leaving us sleepless in a city just waking up.
I had read my entire book, barring only ten pages of the exciting conclusion, so I was in the unique position of begrudgingly leaving the plane, rather than wanting to get the hell off of it right away.
We made our way by taxi to our hotel in the 11th arrondissement, le Grand Hôtel Nouvel Opéra, in the hopes of scoring a very early check in so we could get a bit of sleep.
Lucky for us, the woman working the concierge counter was exceedingly friendly and sympathetic to our baggy eyes and she let us check in 8 hours early for free!
The Grand Hôtel was actually quite small and cozy despite its name, but was clean and just what we needed. Despite the noise of the breakfast room above us and the cleaners in outside our door, Kathy was able to grab 4 hours of sleep. I on the other hand, seemed unable to doze off, and only managed to catch an hour or so.
Still, we didn’t want to waste any more of the day, since we were only spending one day and night in Paris before catching a train to Italy to continue our trip.
In an effort to save some money and see some beautiful countryside, we’d opted to fly into Paris, then take the train all the way to Venice to start our two-week European adventure. We had plans to see friends in Northern Italy after Venice, then hoped to move on to explore Croatia and Slovenia as well.
My alarm went off at noon, and we pried ourselves out of the comfy bed to check out Paris for the first time.
We’d chosen the 11th arrondissement neighbourhood for its laid back local vibe, lack of tourists, and for the good food and drink to be found there.
Since we were only spending the day, we’d decided against any of the touristy stuff deeper in the city. We’d caught an eyeful of the Eiffel Tower on the way in from the airport, and figured that was enough. Honestly, after seeing images of these places my entire life, I really didn’t feel like I was missing out.
Instead, we set out for some breakfast/lunch, having not had any food for the last 8 hours. Our first stop was Chez Aline, a popular sandwich shop selling interesting combinations of toppings, but also apparently amazing versions of traditional standards. I wanted to try a simple jamon et beurre on baguette, a classic Parisian specialty of ham and butter, but was disappointed to find the shop closed.
This was ironic, because on so many of our trips, Kathy and I end up in a city on a Monday or Tuesday, finding many of the bars and restaurants I’d researched closed. This time, we were there on a damn Saturday, and the place I was excited to try was closed on weekends!
Trying not to let my disappointment and lack of sleep turn into frustration, we decided to just stop in at a random café and grab a pain de chocolate and a cafe latte.
Nothing else I’d researched was going to open for the next few hours, and our map showed we were near the Cimitière de Père Lachaise, so we decided to take a stroll around and maybe check out Jim Morrison’s notorious grave.
A 20 minute walk with a few longing looks into the boulangeries, boucheries, and fromagers along the way brought us into the shady and beautiful cemetery.
The windy lanes brought us past grand family crypts and sepulchres, some replete with statues and ornamentation, others with stoved in doorways and cracked walls. Some had collapsed altogether, leaving us to wonder who was responsible for maintaining the crypts – probably the families we decided.
Walking through the various structures, enjoying the gothic beauty of it all, I got to thinking about the hubris of spending so much on a tomb; burying yourself with your riches instead of leaving it behind to those in need in an effort to never be forgotten.
The older crypts that had collapsed or had been weathered to the point of illegibility showed the folly of that. No one knew and no one cared who these people were in the end.
“Bury me in an unmarked grave,” I said to Kathy, “To hell with all of this nonsense.”
Despite my morbid musings, I did very much enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the place.
Figuring we shouldn’t leave without seeing what everyone goes there to see, we made a stop at Jim Morrison’s grave. Despite the fence surrounding it, the grave was decorated with plenty of flowers, pictures, candles, and memorials. Several tourists surrounded the site, taking pictures, and one small group of tattooed teens earnestly held out a phone towards the grave, playing music from the Doors.
I couldn’t help but snidely mention out of earshot that Jim Morrison would be about 80 years old if he had lived and it seemed a little silly to still be mourning his death. Maybe that’s just because I was never a big fan, despite enjoying most of what I’ve heard of the Doors, or maybe I’m just cynical!
We strolled from the cemetery on towards the Folie-Mericourt neighbourhood, winding our way through the smaller streets to see the Passage Rochebrun, a cute alley lined with flower festooned apartments built in a classic Parisian style.
Our next stop was at Aux Deux Amis, a lively tapas bar with natural wines, but due to the time of our arrival, it wasn’t lively at all. In fact, we were the only ones there!
That wasn’t a terrible thing though, since the place was small and the staff was very friendly. We had a glass each of pet-nat (or Pétillant Naturel, a fresh and bubbly bottle-fermented natural wine) and an orange wine (a skin fermented wine).
These wines are just making their way into Canada now, despite quite a few years of a revived popularity in France (they’re actually very old methods of making wine), so it was nice to get to try them. Like most I’ve tried, they were bright, lively, and delicious.
They served meats and cheeses, but we didn’t get any despite our growing hunger as they were closing their doors soon, due to an injured employee.
We moved on to a bar named Martin, which opened up just as we arrived. There were more people here, but they weren’t going to be serving food for another couple of hours.
We repeated our order, getting another pet-nat, then another orange, these ones being wildly different than those at the last place. Both were incredible!
Feeling our hunger becoming an issue, especially with four glasses of wine in us, we decided we’d better grab some food, despite the fact that none of the places I’d researched were serving it yet.
I quickly found a place down the street on google maps selling French staples at good prices, Bouillon Republique, so we headed there.
The place was busy, but seemed quite touristy. We bit the bullet anyways and got a seat. We were forced to order everything at once, leaving us flustered, but the food came out quick: escargot, terrine de campagne, and two large servings of beouf tartare, despite only ordering one to share (I blame it on my insufficient French skills). We didn’t have enough room for both tartares, but felt too timid (or overly polite) to send one back.
Everything was okay, and definitely worked to fill our bellies and sober us up a bit. I lamented the fact that our timing seemed to be way off for everything, but I tried not to dwell on it.
We ordered a good looking dessert that we saw the next table get, something we almost never do, and got something completely different, a salted caramel rice pudding instead. It was still good though, and reminded me of the rice pudding we used to eat often as children.
After dinner, we strolled down boulevard Richard-Lenoire to the Place de la Bastille and checked out the towering July Column monument commemorating the revolution of 1830. I wondered at how many monuments, fountains, and statues I’d be seeing on this trip.
We made our way to the next stop on our list, growing worried at how clubby and touristy the streets became. Despite that, Au Leche Vin was anything but clubby. This dive bar served simple beer and wine and was completely plastered in religious paraphernalia, including pictures of popes, lenticular prints of a painfully white Jesus turning into Mary, and images of the last supper. In contrast, the bathrooms were plastered in pornography, a poignantly funny commentary on the Church and the overly zealous.
Down the way, we found the bar Street Art, an attempt at a graffitied dive, but more of an annoying comic art hole in the wall, with none of the drinks they had on their signs available. We downed our warmish beers and left quickly.
We moved over to another spot on my list, Septime la Cave, but found it too packed to enter. Instead we went next door to a place called Oplato, where we had a glass of wine and ordered some charcuterie; roblochon, comté, and truffled Brie cheeses, as well as a plain saucisson sec, one with piment d’espellette, and one with porcini mushrooms. The sausage was insanely good, and I savoured it slowly as the thin slices melted in my mouth.
Feeling pretty fatigued due to lack of sleep and a fair amount of walking, we decided on one more stop before heading back to the hotel, which was now just around the corner.
A quick search found us Cave Bar Incognito, where we enjoyed another pet-nat outside amongst a lively get-together. Perfect!
Despite our timing woes, I’d absolutely loved my first sight of Paris, especially the 11th arrondissement. I could definitely see ourselves coming back, since we’d barely scratched the surface in the few hours we had allotted for ourselves there.
We made it back to the hotel around 11:30pm and quickly went to bed. 2 hours later, we were awoken by the television randomly switching on with the volume at full blast.
Confusedly punching my phone thinking it was my alarm didn’t seem to help much, so we got up and attempted to turn off the television. We laid back down and the damn thing popped back on again at full blast!
We turned it off and laid back down, our hearts beating and adrenaline pumping.
Kathy was able to make it back to sleep, but I spent the rest of the night looking at the back of my eyelids, frustrated by my inability to sleep and knowing I was going to pay for it as the trip progressed.
I was finally able to fall asleep about an hour before my alarm, but spent it in a terrifying nightmare where I was trapped in a crypt. Damn late night cheese.
The alarm rang, and I sighed as I rolled out of bed with a whopping 3 hours of interrupted sleep (after a week of little sleep and no sleep the night before!). Time to catch the train to Venice!
Sitting in the train station breakfast spot enjoying a coffee (and the ham and butter sandwich I’d been denied the day before) before our departure, Kathy noticed they were playing a weird techno version of the X-Files theme through the speakers in the café; fitting for my strange and scary Euro-dreams!