“This is what you do on your very first day in Paris. You get yourself, not a drizzle, but some honest-to-goodness rain, and you find yourself someone really nice and drive her through the Bois de Boulogne in a taxi. The rain’s very important. That’s when Paris smells its sweetest. It’s the damp chestnut trees.” – I can almost hear Audrey Hepburn saying those words in her 1954 film Sabrina.
No, it did not rain on our first day in Paris.
It did the very next day – some honest-to-goodness rain that was. We spent the day mostly indoors at Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris Expo Porte de Versailles. The limited time we were outside, it was cold and drafty.
After checking into our hotel, we went for a walk, starting with Place Saint-Michel – the public square where the colorful renaissance wall fountain is said to be the last monumental wall fountain built in Paris.
Crossing the Seine at Petit Pont to Île de la Cité.
We arrived at the island where the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral stands.
Instead of revisiting the cathedral – which was jam-packed on a Sunday afternoon – we decided to remain en plein air and find other objects to pique our interest, such as reading up upon the laundry barges in the history of Paris.
In the beginning, laundries were conducted on the banks of the River Seine, until the arrival of the first laundry boat fitted with a flat bottom and a thatched roof. Parked on the right bank of the river for better sun exposure, the business quickly expanded into a floating city, with laundry maids washing the linens on the first level and drying them upstairs. The largest of these barges is called L’Arche Marion. It is 200 meters long and consists of 12 barges, mooring between the bridges of Arcole and Notre-Dame, it had the capacity of employing a total of 250 workers.
From Île de la Cité, we crossed the Seine once again to reach the Right Bank.
Once there, we walked past the Paris City Hall
and emerged into one of the most bustling food scenes in Paris.
In the Marais, there are numerous Jewish restaurants and delis, particularly along Rue des Rosiers, serving delicious falafels on their menu. Given that it was already past two o’clock in the afternoon and our stomaches had been protesting, we picked the one with the least crowd. This is street food at its best! The falafels were so good that they almost made me cry.
After lunch, we had the option of venturing further into the 3rd arrondissment, with its hip cafes and various art museums, except that we bought tickets to a recital at the Palais Garnier later that evening, so we turned around and headed towards the hotel……
Not without picking up a scoop (or two) of the best ice cream in Paris.
And catching a lively performance on Pont Saint-Louis.
At the Berthillon, I ordered Marron glacé (candied chestnut) and Fraise des bois (wild strawberry).
The candied chestnut was rich and creamy – as you would expect from a country with high quality diary products – whereas the wild strawberry sorbet – bursting with pure and intense flavors of the priced summer fruit – was the crème de la crème.
Legend has it that when Raymond Berthillon brought back a case of fraise des bois from the market one day to make ice cream, his wife was outraged – calling it a waste of time and money – that is, until she had a taste of the ice cream.
Coming up next in the Travel section: A Night at Palais Garnier.