Paris is for Wandering

Paris is a beautiful city to wander.  There are amazing sites and smells around (almost) every turn.  As a photographer, I love capturing the colours, the food, the architecture, and the vibe that comes with every day living in the city.  On our last day in Paris, it seemed we had finally transitioned from tourists, to travellers (and maybe even a little bit to locals?)

Ray, the chef, wanted to improve his French techniques, and had made arrangements to take a croissant making class.  We left our hotel early, and wandered off the beaten path together until we found a street lined with bakeries, just opening for the day.  We bought un pain viennoise – a baguette with chocolate chips baked throughout – ripped it in half, and enjoyed it for breakfast while wandering down the street towards the metro station.  That is where we parted ways for the morning.  As Ray went off to master croissants, I went off to just wander and explore.

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There wasn’t much of an itinerary to my wandering, but I was after some macarons for my sister-in-law.  After much research, I learned that Gerard Mulot was the best place in the city to get them.  While Lauderée and Hermé were the most famous, Mulot may be the best.  So I decided to start my day there, and just see what else I could find after that.  I definitly wasn’t disappointed.  The patisserie was like a studio, with each sweet a work of art.  I wanted to try them all, but my stomach and budget both had limitations.

After I obtained the macarons, I continued through the neighbourhoods, chasing lefts and rights at random.  I passed the most charming little used book store, filled to the brim on every side.  I tried to take a photograph, before my eye caught the sign asking me not to.  The owner came out and started yelling at my in French, and I quickly apologized, and speed-walked away.  I turned around 60 seconds later to see him standing in his door way, still shaking his fist at me.  Not sure why my photograph upset him so much – I guess I’ll never know (and the photo end up blurry – as taking a photo while being yelled at/beginning to run away doesn’t always turn out well…that or I need more practice?  Think I may pass on that).  As I hit the next street I was on the look out for a crepe.  There were two shops across from each other, one with only crepes, and another with crepes and kebabs.  I generally am a fan of a place that only focuses on one item.  I find they generally have a higher quality of food than those places trying to please everyone by having a little of everything.  The line was long though, and the owner wasn’t in a hurry to help me out, so I decided to go to Au Pt’it Snack anyway.  This turned out to be in my favour.  It was the BEST crepe I have ever had. For 2 euros I had a lovely chat with the chef, as he was just getting set for the day.  He had no problem with me taking his photo, and I was so happy with the result, I came back after lunch with Ray for another.  Absolutely amazing.  Then I crossed in front of Fontaine Saint-Michel, to visit Gilbert-Jeune – a book store spread out over all 4 sides of the intersection.  It is here I learned that “Where’s Waldo?” in France is “Ou est Charlie?” – Why they changed his name, I do not know.  After spending a fair amount of time wandering through this French book store (looking for similarities and differences between it and Chapters back here at home), I went to another book store – Shakespeare and Company – which is both rich in charm, history and tourists.  I was unable to find the book I wanted (a biography of Leonardo da Vinci), and was finding it difficult to keep my camera in my bag (they had “no photos” signs…and I had already learned that lesson earlier in the day), so I left the store in search of another.

I had read before my first trip about a store that sold paints to Van Gogh, Picasso and many others.  Gustav Sennelier was a supplier who not only owned the store, but made the paints.  If the artists wanted something that didn’t exist – he would find a way to make it for them.  This shop, first established in 1887, is across the road from the Seine, and it’s so rich in colours I felt like I was in heaven.  If there is a product, they manage to stock it, but more importantly, they still stock the oils and pigments for artists to buy and mix their own paints, opposed to only buying them pre-mixed.  So if you want the French artist experience, this is the place to go.  I wanted to bring back gifts for all my artists friends, but I had no idea where to start.  I couldn’t tell one linseed oil from another, or one paint brand from its neighbour.  Fortunately, they allowed me to take photos (and did I ever!), and I spent the better portion of an hour wandering the floors and looking at the pencils, papers and easels that an artist might by, should they have come to Paris to create.

I managed to leave Sennelier with my wallet in tact, but my next trial was to survive the rest of the west bank.  I began moving back towards Ile de la Cité, where I was set to meet Ray when his class was done.  This meant walking at lunch time on a Saturday past shop after shop of little green stalls full of books, and bright colour art works – original and replicas.  Once again, I wanted it all.  The colours were so bright and vibrant, and I wanted to take them home and hang them on the wall.  But Ray wasn’t there to help me pick one.  I also had to keep reminding myself that I had no where to hang it.  So I pushed forward and made it all the way to the Cathedral, euros still in my purse.

Ray finished up his class – inspired and ready to take the Parisian culinary world by storm, and this meant he needed some supplies.  We tried to go to E. Dehillerin – the be all and end of all of French cooking supplies in Paris, but of course this was the ONE day a year it closes for inventory.  Cue sad music.  So we went to a back up (Ray had a list from his cooking class to help guide the way), and grabbed what he needed.  We had some lunch (see previous paragraph about crepes), and then found this cool undercover passage (Passage du Grand Cerf), with adorable shops and a red carpet – one of a few remaining covered passage ways in the city.  When we emerged on the other side we started slowly making out way back to our hotel.  We had no concern with time, and were enjoying the wandering, so just navigated by feel in the general direction of our hotel, which led us down a rather questionable alley full of middle aged hookers.  I wish I knew where we were at the time, so I could ensure we avoid that route next time – but we were too busy speed walking back to the next major intersection to get out our phones and pinpoint our location (somewhere in the 9th I believe).

And then we wandered.  and wandered.  and eventually found our way home for packing and a short nap.  We awoke wanting one final excellent French dinner, only to realize quickly that a reservation for anywhere worth eating was necessary on a Saturday night.  So we ended up in a terrible smoke filled cafe with horrible service and mediocre food.  Not the way we wanted to end.  But we look forward to returning soon, restaurant reservations in hand, and taking the (moderately priced) Paris restaurant scene by storm.

Until we meet again.  Au revoir, Paris.

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