Monday, 7 November 2011

Trois jolies filles et un weekend dans Paris

I can't believe its already a week since my petit sojourn in Paris with my two dear friends from London. How time flies. How unrelenting is the routine of daily life: school, laundry, cooking, cleaning, ferrying, playing, shopping, hosting visitors - there isn't a hour goes by that we don't have to be somewhere, doing something. This was exactly the reason that my friends and I planned a weekend together - we wanted some time out to catch up and without the distractions of our busy lives clawing at our clothes for attention....
And so, we chose Paris as a halfway point between Copenhagen and London and where better to indulge in some serious family-free shopping, eating and exploring with a continuous uninterrupted dialogue of chit-chat as we caught up on each others' lives?
There are lots of little coincidences that brought the three of us together many years ago so that our lives have become intertwined like the threads of a rich tapestry. They are both Canadian and I was working in Canada when I met one of them, the other I met in London and then got to know on a fabulous holiday in Portugal. One introduced me to my husband and it turned out that I knew the man whom she later married from my university days. We're all lawyers and our outlooks on life are similar though there's a spectrum of opinion that keeps discussions interesting. After I introduced these two girls to each other, there was a time when they were both working at the same law firm. We've gone through lots of life's 'stuff' together; relationships, parenting, health scares, redundancies. We would meet up with our families but for me the best times were when we had 'girl' time together, its like tonic for the soul.
Of course, I miss them here in Copenhagen, but the reality is that as we've acquired husbands and children and the miles have grown between our homes, we didn't actually see each that often. We lived in different parts of the city, had busy lives and so most of our contact was by email, telephone, Facebook and the occasional (cherished) dinner out. For our 48 hours in Paris, we got to 'hang out' and be girls together again. It was wonderful. So, what did we get up to....?
We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel on the edge of the Marais called Jardins du Marais. I love the Marais and my husband and I used to go to Paris a couple of times a year and staying in the gay, edgy arrondisement always meant good shopping and a great street vibe.  It has, over the years, become somewhat gentrified, even the cobble stones along the Rue de Rosiers look like they've been re-laid but it is still wonderful to wander the streets and there is always lots to see.
Maybe it was because cycling is such a huge part of my life now since we moved to Copenhagen and in comparison to the Danish capital, Paris felt like a mega-metropolis, we decided that the best way to get around was by bike. The city has a public cycling scheme called Vélib and it is incredibly easy to use. With just a credit card and sufficient short term memory to store a 4-digit pin code, you can purchase a vélib pass for 1 or 7 days and then the first 30 minutes of cycling are free. In the city centre, there are vélib rental locations on nearly every street corner and so we simply paid 1,57 Euros for a daily pass and then cycled from sight to sight returning and re-renting bikes as we went along. If you ensure that each rental is less than 30 mins then you basically use the bikes for a pittance. We cycled from the Marais to the Eiffel Tower, to the Musee Rodin to Notre Dame and to St-Germain des Pres.
Shopping was my priority and given that I rarely have a chance to enter a clothes shop without a buggy or toddler in tow, it was a real treat to head out on Saturday morning as the shops were opening and to be free to stop and browse and, I had forgotten that you could still do this, try things on before buying!!! Of course, the fact that I was spending Euros rather than Danish Kroner also helped. And I had a very successful day of it. Thanks to my friends who I know were not so starved of their retail therapy for their patience and when my appetite was satiated, we jumped on the bikes and were happy to move on...
The thing about Paris is that you can set off with a destination in mind but getting there is always a challenge. We made plans to go to the Musée Rodin and to see the beautiful garden of sculptures and we got there, but we'd been so distracted en route that with only 30 mins left until closing time, we turned around and headed back. It'll always be there, I guess...
And it didn't take much to distract me: a beautiful wrought iron knocker on an old wooden door, a skull made of feathers, a hole cast into a wall, Banksy style graffiti at the Musée d'Orsay or the cover girls of a bygone era smiling from the newsstands on the banks of the Seine. I couldn't help myself.
The decision about where to go for dinner on Saturday night would not have been misplaced amongst the tasks of Hercules. We wanted to go somewhere fun, with good food and an 'atmosphere'. In the weeks leading up to the trip we scoured the internet, asked friends for recommendations and read Trip Advisor reviews in our quest for the right place. There's a long story behind how we finally ended up having a fabulous meal at Café Charlot - its not one for this particular blog - but suffice it to say... how many lawyers does it take to choose a restaurant for dinner?!!

It might not seem obvious why we voted for burgers and fries when in Paris but those who have been to Café Charlot will understand. In those few hours spent in the retro decor, with its corner aspect looking onto the streets of the Marais, it wasn't just the great food and wine that made it an enjoyable experience. There was a wonderful buzz from its eclectic mix of clientele from the glamourous and the beautiful (apparently its a good place for celebrity spotting) to the three generations of a French family protectively gathered around an elderly matriarch at the table next to us.
On Sunday morning we headed out on the bikes again. Our best intentions had been to rise early and cover some serious miles on the bikes: sunrise over the Seine etc. Alas, it was all we could do to make the best possible use of the extra hour as the clocks went back to get more sleep.

We may not have made it to one of the big galleries but strolling through Village St Paul, which is a neighbourhood of the Marais cluttered with small boutiques and galleries, an American foodstore (called 'Thanksgiving') and an English bookshop, we stumbled upon Galerie Federic Got (66 rue Saint Louie en L'île, 75004). These fabulous paintings were my favourites; the Klimt-esque figures in rich colours were by an artist called Brulet and the single figure below with the sunshine picking out the detail on the loose strands of hair by Andre Zadorane.
It was by chance that when we crossed the Pont St Louis, overlooked by the Notre Dame, and saw the padlocks, thousands of them, locked to the sides of the bridge, the people we turned to for an explanation were Italians. If you've read Tre metri supra il cielo or 'Three metres above the sky', you'll know that in the teenage love story (written by Italian author Federico Moccia) a lover is locked to a bridge in Rome and the key thrown into the river. Apparently on bridges all over the world there are now padlocks in imitation of the famous Italian original of teenage melodrama .... (its not entirely clear to me, either!)

As we headed back to the hotel, our weekend nearly done, gigantic bubbles blew in front of the Hôtel de Ville. Floating past they made me think of my children, almost instinctively I turned to point them out - they would have loved the bubbles and probably burst them in their enthusiasm.

Yes, dare I say it, I missed my family. It was my first time away from my daughter and complain though I might about the routine and the mundane that fills so much of my days, in a very short time I had had my fill of freedom and distraction. The highlight was, of course, the time with my friends, but when I had said goodbye and braved the train ride out to Charles de Gaulle (Oh, how I wish the Eurostar went to Copenhagen), I couldn't get home soon enough. And so, au revoir Paris, à bientôt...

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