This weekend’s New York Times travel section has a lengthy article about the Marais section of Paris. If you’ve been to Paris, you are probably aware of the Marais: the ancient section of the city just northeast of the center filled with enticing shops and enormous stone mansions built several centuries ago like the one shown above (called “hotels particulier” in French).
The article reminded me of my stay in France in January last year because I literally stayed across the boulevard from the edge of the Marais. Each morning I would rise early and go out with my camera, often before the sun rose. The light coming up on those golden stone buildings made everything shine. Often I saw fathers walking little children to school. (I have no memory of seeing mothers doing that.) I finally found the ancient market called Marché des Enfant Rouges which I’ve searched for on every visit to Paris. The market takes its name from the red clothing worn by children who lived in a nearby orphanage many years ago. The market is smaller than most. I was a bit disappointed.
All this caused me to look at the photos I shot on my first extended stay in Paris, in 2004. I enjoyed four tours of Paris with a small company called Paris Walks, two of them in the Marais. One of my favorite travel experiences began with one of those walking tours, led by an opera singer. Since it was 13 years ago I suppose it’s ok to tell you about it now.
Our tour guide was very knowledgeable but he was also a bit nervous. He came unprepared for the weather, which threatened rain. And the rain came down in buckets! The gentleman tried to continue with the tour in the deluge, standing there with no umbrella, becoming more and more disconcerted every minute. I offered to share my umbrella with him – only to have him grab it from my hands, leaving me to stand in the downpour!
The group was small, perhaps 12 people. Eventually the tour was a washout and four of us began to explore on our own. There was a young man who was an American doctor, a young woman from New York, a librarian close to my age and me, a totally naïve traveler. First we went to Place des Vosges, a giant square of homes completed in the year 1605. We sat at the crowded sidewalk café outside the famous restaurant, Ma Bourgogne, and drank hot chocolate. When it was decided that we were hungry we walked to a tiny restaurant on Ile Saint Louis where I first tasted paté de fois gras. (Excellent!) And drank plenty of good French wine. Fortunately for my budget, the young doctor picked up the check. The librarian happened to be staying the hotel in the Sorbonne area next to mine so she and I wandered back there when the day I’ll never forget ended.
It was the sort of experience that makes being a traveler so much fun!