Recently, a friend asked if I wanted to take the train to Paris for a weekend before Christmas. I have to pinch myself in these moments, because I can’t believe I’m back in Europe where a train ride to Paris is possible! Of course, I said “yes!”
On the day of our departure, we both started to hear rumblings that there would be protests and that we should steer clear of Champs-Elysées. Since I live under a rock, I hadn’t heard about the protests, but after four or five warnings, we planned to avoid the area.
We stayed at a cute hotel called Maison Nabis. After dropping our bags, we headed to a late dinner at Le Bon Georges – an adorable neighborhood bistro that had the friendliest wait staff! The ambience was great – cozy and festive – and our meal was good!
We tried a new-to-me dessert that was delicious. I know it had pears, but I don’t know what else.
We crashed after dinner. I don’t know about you, but I am tired on Friday nights!
On Saturday morning, we confirmed with the hotel front desk that we should avoid Champs-Elysées. We asked her if it was okay to go to an art exhibit at Palais de Tokyo, since we had tickets. She looked at a map and hemmed and hawed a bit. What we took away is that it was near Champs-Elysées, but not on Champs-Elysées. She thought it should be okay to go.
First, we went to breakfast at Braun Notes. Yum!
Then, we went to see the Christmas decorations at Galleries Lafayette, which are always AMAZING! Last year, I learned that they change the decorations every year!
Then we headed to Palais de Tokyo for the exhibit, stopping in some shops along the way. Throughout the morning, we started to see more and more people wearing the fluorescent yellow vests you wear when working along the highway. (In Europe, they come standard in every car to wear in case you have to change a tire on the side of the road.) This was the “uniform” of the protestors – partly because they’re protesting the tax increases on petrol.
Fewer and fewer stores were open on our way until virtually no stores were open. Then, we had to go through a police check point. Then we noticed stores boarded up (assuming as a defense against vandalism). And then, we realized we had to cross the Champs-Elysées to get where we were going. So much for the advice of the woman at the hotel front desk!
We kept noticing things we didn’t think to pack for a weekend in Paris – obviously, a yellow vest, but also ski goggles and gas masks. You may think I’m joking, but people were wearing these!
We saw some of the pretty exterior Christmas decorations at stores like Dior, but the store itself was boarded up. It was so strange to be in a beautiful city at such a festive time of year with so few people in the part of town that is usually very lively.
We never felt in danger, but there were moments that felt very post-apocalyptic.
At Palais de Tokyo, we saw an exhibit called “On Air.” I don’t really know how to explain it except to say that the artist was inspired by spider webs. He was interested in the sounds that come from even a spider web blowing in the wind. We walked through a number of dark rooms featuring lit up spider webs. I’m still unclear if they artist made them or if spiders did.
In a couple of places, the artist had individual strands of spider webs stretched out to showcase the sound they make when they move in the wind. There’s some crowd noise in this video, but you can hear the sound. Pretty cool, but I’ll never understand how artists come up with these ideas!
There was only one of the exhibits that featured a big spider making a web. I’m fine that there was only one.
At one point, we moved from spider webs to balloons attached to pens that were drawing as they were blown around.
The pièce de résistance was a life-size “web.” Maybe it was even bigger than life-size. A few people at a time could go in and climb under and over it. They could also “play” the strings as each one made a different sound.
My friend heard that the museum restaurant was good, but they were done serving when we were finished with the exhibit. Due to the protests, almost every restaurant in the neighborhood was closed. We found one, but they didn’t have their full menu, because normal deliveries were interrupted. We also saw a flipped over car in the middle of a road, shattered bus stops, and a burned out vehicle. Yikes! I’ll never understand why peaceful protests always seem to become destructive in the end.
We did get a peak at the Eiffel Tower while walking to lunch, which is always the goal in Paris.
After lunch, we decided to take the Metro to Le Marais neighborhood. We had to go two stops and change trains. The announcements were speaking about closed Metro stations in the city centre (again, due to the protests), but I was listening for “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” the name of our stop, and I didn’t hear it. So, we got on the train. It stopped at the first stop, and then it proceeded to skip the next six or seven stops! WHAT?! We jumped off at the next available stop and looked at a map to figure out how to get where we wanted to go. Thankfully, we made it to without too much of a detour.
We walked around the neighborhood, popping into shops, stopping for a coffee to warm up, and taking in the Christmas lights.
On our way to dinner, we walked past Notre Dame, which is one of my favorite sites in Paris.
We went to dinner at L’Epigramme, which was small. One man waited on the whole restaurant, and he was so nice. They had a fixed menu, so we enjoyed butternut soup, filet de boeuf, and dessert.
We took an Uber back to our hotel and got the inside scoop (in French) about what the Yellow Vests are protesting. He is among them (and is very passionate). I was happy to finally get an explanation, but some of his anger seemed to be tainting his understanding about the difference in raising taxes on petrol, cigarettes, etc. and basic income tax. He didn’t think he should have to pay the French government any tax on his Uber income, since Uber is an American company. Not how it works, mon ami.
The next morning, we walked to Café Smörgås for a Scandinavian breakfast.
The cafe was attached to an adorable shop. We meandered through a few different neighborhoods popping into shops along the way. We ultimately ended up at Tuileries Garden to check out the Christmas Market. It so crowded! It was also very kid-focused with lots of rides, including this one:
We escaped the market pretty quickly and stumbled upon a Ladurée shop without a line (unheard of in my previous visits to Paris). We bought a few macrons (which I promptly ate on the train ride home) and admired the exterior Christmas decorations at Louis Vuitton before taking an Uber back to our hotel.
Another friend was in Paris a week or so ago, and she posted a photo from a beautiful restaurant. It turns out, it’s Le Train Bleu, and it’s located in Le Gare de Lyon. The crazy thing about this is that I’ve taken the train in and out of Gare de Lyon MANY times and didn’t know this existed! (I need to learn to look up more often!) I wondered if it’s new, but learned it was built in the early 1900’s for the World’s Fair! They were finished serving lunch, so we had to sit in the lounge instead of the main dining room, but I will be back in the future. It’s beautiful!
A rich cup of hot chocolate seemed like the perfect thing to enjoy at the end of a Paris visit, even if the Yellow Vests tried to put a damper on our weekend plans. Looking forward to future visits without quite so many detours and closures.