My first experience with Paris was in dead of winter. I don’t remember it as a sunny, grand, open city as I was expecting, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I arrived there in February, by train. Studying in London at the time, I decided to take a weekend holiday, meeting an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. I highly recommend arriving in Paris by train. Emerging from the Channel Tunnel, hints of French countryside come into view; villages and natural, ancient beauty soon grow into the landscape of the approaching city.
My friend had arrived earlier that day. After meeting up with her and getting settled into our hotel rooms in the neighborhood of Montparnasse, the sun was setting and it was time to venture out into the cold, damp, Parisian evening.
The dim orange glow from the streetlights felt calming and comforting on the rainy winter night. As the rain began to fall harder, we quickly made our way into La Rotonde; a local watering hole enjoyed by greats like Hemmingway and Fitzgerald, and the brasserie still has the perfect old world Parisian charm.
Located on a busy street in central Paris, La Rotonde feels so cut off from the city outside, with the mid-window curtains blocking the car lights and passers-by; the red walls were lined with red velvet curtains, oil paintings and warm lighting. After two glasses of red wine, the smell of beef and butter stood out more and made the Onglet de bœuf sauce aux 2 poivres et frites all the better when it arrived.
We sat in silence as we ate our meals, and as the plates were cleared began to catch one another up on our lives. I ordered another glass of wine.
My cheeks felt warm and my stomach content.We paid the bill, gathered our coats and made for the door.
The rain had calmed to a mist as we strolled down the Boulevard du Montparnasse, taking a left onto Boulevard Saint-Michel. The walk in the cold night was ideal after the wine and such a rich meal. We passed restaurants new and old, all buzzing with locals and tourists alike.
We finally came to the river. Notre Dame, across the river Sienne, dominated the landscape.
Crossing the busy street, alive with night owls, we walked down the old stone stairs onto the walkways along the river. I looked out on the water, the old city and Notre Dame with the busy streets up above. Down there, it was easy to imagine Hugo’s Paris. Ancient sewer pipes that had been sealed long ago, scenes from Les Miserables and Hunchback of Notre Dame came into clear view in my mind.
Making our way along the walkway and up another set of stairs, we crossed the street, now further away from the imposing cathedral. We wandered up to a covered cafe as the rain was starting to fall again. We sat against the old building, at a small table under the awning. Sipping wine, we watched the river flow through the rain. People rushed by to get out of the rain, and we spoke about who knows what anymore. I remember feeling warm in the cold night. Old friends, wonderful wine, a lovely city, and simple pleasures like this that i’ll never forget.
Paris’ bewitching reputation truly does hold true.
“To err is human. To loaf is Parisian.” -Victor Hugo