We’ve really missed traveling, and especially our annual trips to Europe. It’s been entirely too long. 2 years, 6 months, and 19 days to be exact. Covid turned the world upside down in a million different ways. Besides the loss of lives and the countless illnesses the pandemic caused, everyone’s plans, life events and routines were hijacked. What was formerly taken for granted, like travel, went from being outright banned to allowable but highly risky and ill-advised. And no matter what, traveling amidst Covid is/was always fraught with unsurety, testing, proof of vaccination and other restrictions.
In the Fall of 2021, when things seemed to be in the new normal, we finally made plans for a trip to Paris in February 2022. But we had no idea that in the weeks to follow, the Omicron variant would surge in the US and Europe and the odds of us being able to travel dwindled with every new Covid chart.
But things did turn around, cases went down, we got our boosters, travel restrictions were loosened and thankfully, we were able to take off for Paris in mid February, as planned.
** Travel Alert for TSA Pre-Check & Global Entry holders: Don’t do what I did and let your TSA or Global Entry pass expire! The Department of Homeland Security is woefully delayed in renewing existing passes, so they have extended the expiration dates on Global Entry/TSA passes by 24 months…but ONLY if you submit the renewal application and pay the fee prior to the expiration date. I failed to do so, and my passes were not accepted and are now essentially null and void now until they are renewed.
This trip to Paris would be a bit different for us. Besides being a one week trip rather than our usual two week vacations, we were traveling in winter in the “off season” rather than in summer. We weren’t sure what to expect, and before this trip, we really didn’t know much about winter weather in Paris. Turns out winters in Paris are usually milder than the nasty winter weather we have in New York City, although I guess in these days of climate change, nothing is predictable. They don’t get a lot of snow and it rarely gets super cold. It can be gray, rainy and gloomy…but overall, not so bad. We were also curious about the crowds at this time of year and because of Covid? NYC is gradually getting back to our pre-Covid tourist levels, but it’s only a recent change and we’ve only had international visitors back for a few months.
We’ve visited Paris several times, and we’ve stayed in different parts of the most touristy (I use that word in a good way) arrondissements. We’ve stayed in hotels in the Marais, and apartments in the Bastille and St. Germaine. I don’t think you can really go wrong wherever you choose to stay, but Im sure you can probably stay in really crappy locations. For this trip, we settled on a little apartment on Île Saint-Louis, which, if you’ve never been to Paris, is a little island in the middle of the City, and in the middle of the Seine River. It’s right beside the other island that is the home to Notre Dame. It’s a great, central location for a tourist and we settled on this place because we (me) are fairly picky about the aesthetics of where we stay and it has to be comfortable enough to accommodate 3 people. It doesn’t hurt to have some historic charm.
Once we decided on a place to stay, we started making a list of things we wanted to see. We have visited a LOT of the major tourists sights in Paris. When we travel, we make the most of every day, we plan out the day and we are ambitious–so we’ve seen a lot! We decided that on this trip, we would skip revisiting places we’ve already been and visit some of the lesser known and less popular sights. The plans for each day started filling up, but this time, we were smart enough to leave the day of arriving open, with no plans. No matter how smooth the trip is, or whether or not you slept fully reclined in business class, that first day is always rough.
The flight was great, we left on time, made it to Paris in under 7 hours and arrived at Charles De Gaulle safely and in one piece. None of us slept much…so we were running off of caffeine and excitement. We need to find a pharmacy in the airport to get our French vaccine card. It is possible to find pharmacies that are open on Sundays in Paris, but many are closed. A little pre-trip research suggested going to one of the airport pharmacies as they are open every day. Charles De Gaulle is a big airport, but we eventually found a pharmacy and paid €30 (each) to have our CDC vaccine card transferred to the French version. You then downloaded a French app on your smartphone that holds a QR code of your vaccination record. This was February 2022, and I think that Paris (like NYC) has stopped requiring proof of vaccination to enter restaurants and museums, but if there is another surge and such requirements are re-established, it is very easy to do. A short Uber ride took us to our apartment where an employee of the rental agency was waiting for us to show us around and give us the keys.
I guess everyone is different, but our first priority was to go across the street to the little grocery store and get some milk, snacks, bread and wine. And like NYC, one of the many of things I love about Paris is that you don’t have to walk far to find almost anything you need. And I’m still always shocked at how cheap wine is in France and also how easy it is to find really good bread everywhere. In blogs past, I’ve shown literal baguette vending machines in car parking lots in France! It’s pretty amazing.
Once we grabbed the groceries and unpacked, we decided to head out for what remained of the day. As I mentioned earlier, it was a Sunday, and in Paris, as in many parts of Europe, stores are closed on Sundays (I think this is becoming less of a thing…but it is still true). But there are certain parts of Paris that are more lively on Sundays. In particular, the Marais tends to be “open” on Sundays, and getting there was just a walk across the Pont Marie over the Siene. I could be making this fact up (I’m not going to bother researching it now) but the Marias is/was the Jewish part of Paris, so maybe the reason things are open on Sunday is because Saturday is Shabbat. Sounds reasonable to me. Anyway, it was particularly important to find some open stores on this outing because my wife somehow lost her coat in the airport while we were wheeling around looking for the pharmacy. Weather wise, Paris wasn’t that cold, mid 50’s, but knowing that we would be walking around all day for a week–she needed a new coat.
My New Rating System.
For this trip,I thought it would be helpful to give a rating for the places we visit and the restaurants we eat at. Especially since we are visiting places that we have never been to before and are not covered under previous posts. My rating scale will be 1 to 5 stars, as follows:
There are tons of wonderful little shops and boutiques all throughout the Marias, but if you need to buy a few things all under one roof, I would suggest the BHV Marais, which is a big department store with everything from clothing to make-up to decorative items to luggage to a full scale Home Depot-like floor. They quality of their merchandise is along the lines of a Bloomingdales/Nordstrom in the US. And it was the perfect place for my wife to find a coat (which was on sale) as well as some US to European power adapters, which we forgot to bring and which were not in our apartment (that’s was a big disappointment that the apartment had no adapters, especially knowing that American expats owned/managed the apartment).
With a new coat and a few items for my teenage daughter in hand, we continued to walk through the Marais which was packed with locals, strolling, shopping and hanging out at cafes. We decided it was the perfect time to grab something sweet at one of my wife’s favorite patisseries, Yann Couvreur. This is not an old school, historic or tourist spot kind of patisserie…it’s more a foodie find. Unfortunately, it happens to be located diagonally across from one of the most famous and busiest spots in the Marias, the L’As du Fallafel–the very popular hole in the wall that sells falafels. I think I’m just validating my recent Sunday closure theory because the falafel place is closed on Saturday (Shabbat!!!) so on this Sunday afternoon, they were packed, with lines stretching down the street. We weaved through the crowd and went to get our treats.
It was later in the afternoon…around 3:30PM, so they didn’t have a full selection of everything they make at Yann Couvreur, but we were lucky to get some of their best: a Paris brest, a lime and coconut tart and an Isatis pie which in particular, deserves a description. It has almond, vanilla and fleur de sel sweet pastry, almond cream with roasted pecans, vanilla whipped ganache, pecan praline, vanilla caramel and is topped with vanilla powder and pieces of roasted pecan. Just up the block, through a nondescript arched opening, is the entrance to the Jardin des Rosiers Joseph Migneret, a lovely little community garden that we’ve visited in the past and is a great spot to sit and enjoy the desserts.
We shared the three deserts (except the previously mentioned lime coconut tart which I loathe) because they are entirely too rich and decadent to be eaten by one person.
My Rating for Yann Couvreur:
For this trip, I’m going to give a rating for the places we visit and the restaurants we eat at. I will rate on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, as follows:
After leaving the garden, we realized that we were close to one of our favorite spots, so we walked over to the Place des Vosges. I’m sure I made a post about this place on this travel blog where I go into excruciating detail about the history of the Place des Vosges (please scroll back to read it) but I will just keep it simple for now and say that we just love to stroll around here. It’s just very French….very Parisian, has stately architecture, those cool pollarded trees around the permitter, and a lovely arcaded passage with quaint little restaurants and shops. We didn’t do much more than take a stroll, but one day on this trip we are coming back to have lunch.
At this point, we were starting to crash from the jet lag. We decided to go back to the apartment and rest for a bit and finish unpacking before going out for dinner. In this part of Paris, no matter which route you take, you will always be surrounded by beautiful buildings and interesting sights.
One thing about the building that our apartment is located in…it is old. Built in the late 17th century, it definitely has historic character. But it also has a lovely, yet torturous circular, pie-shaped stair that is not easy to climb…especially with heavy suitcases. But….you don’t get stairs like this in America…and that is part of the charm of visiting Paris.
We were not going to be too ambitious with our dinner plans. We probably could have just settled for some of the bread we bought at the grocery store with some good butter…but we voted to go out. In Paris, much like in New York, you should make a reservation for dinner. Places get crowded and you can’t always expect to get a table, and in France this is especially true when you are in smaller towns–I would go as far as to say that a reservation is almost required for dinner–it’s simply good French manners to call the restaurant to let them know you will be coming for dinner (almost like RSVPing to a dinner invitation). There are obviously exceptions to this rule, as was the case for us on this Sunday evening. We decided to take the short walk down to the end of Île Saint-Louis and try Le Saint Regis. My wife called to see if they had a table (all in French) and they said that they didn’t take reservations, to just come in.
When we arrived there were several large groups finishing up…only tables for two were available…but the owner told us to wait at the bar and less than 10 minutes later, we were offered a table. Le St. Regis is a very French bistro kind of spot. Very simple, basic French food, but in a cool atmosphere and a very nice waitstaff. As the night went on, we all three were so sleepy and getting loopy with the jet lag. I’m not entirely sure I remember everything that we ordered, but I think I had duck, my wife had the salmon, my daughter had the lemon chicken and we shared a charcuterie board that was massive and probably unnecessary, but was delicious. All of the food was good and I liked the atmosphere of the restaurant, and if you are Île St. Louis, I would recommend.
My Rating for Le Saint Regis:
It was back home for us, and up the the crazy, old spiral steps where we all three literally collapsed into bed and slept like bricks before day two of our week long adventure. It was good to be back in Paris.