Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
Paris has always been one of my favorite cities in the world, since I first visited with my father at age 15. Preparing for travel, however, becomes more problematic when the U.S. State Department posts a warning on its France travel page, “Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation.”
I felt very strange riding the Metro in from Charles De Gaulle Airport this time, wondering how any city keeps miles of rail lines safe, much less major airports. I expected to find a city under siege, streets deserted, doors firmly closed with shades pulled down.
Instead I found the Paris of my memory – people filling the streets, bars overflowing and a strong sense that this is not a country that will give in to a bully. And neither should any American planning a visit.
I did notice the armed military presence in the subway stations and soldiers walking the streets in groups of two to four. Fully armed with automatic weapons and in camouflage with jaunty berets, these men and women had not been part of the Paris I remembered, but were very comforting to see.
We chose a lovely hotel, Relais des Halles, with 19 rooms. Moderate in price for Paris (less than $150 a night), the room was typically small, but very nicely furnished with an extremely comfortable queen-sized bed. What size rooms can you expect in a 17th century building?
No visit to Paris is complete without a trip to one of the many open-air markets and shopping streets. Nearby, the Rue Montorgueil had the advantage of being open every day with lots of bakeries, gourmet stores and fish stands as well as restaurants and bars. Another favorite, not too far away, was the Marché des Enfant Rouges, named after a 16th century orphanage. This market had all the wonderful fresh fruit, cheese and bread one expects in Paris and also a terrific selection of “foreign” food – Lebanese, African and even Japanese.
We happened upon the Brasserie Le Petit Marcel on Rue Rambuteau. A hearty bowl of onion soup and an open-faced toasted cheese sandwich were perfect. The place was very busy, but the waiter didn’t rush us.
Our favorite splurge meal was a prix fixe lunch ($45 each) at Benoit, a restaurant owned by the famous French chef Alain Ducasse. It has a rich history, first opening its doors in 1912. One family had owned it for 93 years until they sold to Ducasse in 2005. Benoit had a very classic bistro feel with red velvet seats and shiny brass railings. The meal had three courses, with a crispy leek tart to start, followed by Guinea fowl fricassee and an Armagnac savarin with lightly whipped cream. Heaven!
A visit to the Louvre Museum, one of the world’s finest, took up the better part of a day. There is now a great shopping mall underground next to the museum, the Carousel de Louvre. Our favorite nearby museum is the Musée D’Orsay, which features the most incredible collection of the French Impressionist painters.
On a whim, we decided to visit the famous flea market, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. We wandered for hours through the stalls with antique jewelry, furniture, old books, records and vintage clothes, looking for that perfect something. Luckily, our suitcases were already too stuffed to bring home anything but one small vase.
Eating, drinking, great art and culture, Paris remains a world-class tourist destination, always welcoming any traveler. As I learned on this visit, it is also a city of strength and determination against any threat. Vive la France.