Why is it that you can feel perfectly calm about Christmas on November 30… “Why, there’s lots of time, no need to panic,” you tell yourself. You’ve committed to a scaled down holiday this year, with maybe only the two of you, like us, and there’s absolutely no need to feel stressed. And yet when the calendar flips, and December arrives, you begin to feel pressured. At least I do. By my own brain, I might add. So what with self-inflicted Christmas stress, on top of covid stress, not to mention all the other stuff that’s been weighing on us, we all need a break. Like a trip to Paris in December. Sigh. I wish. I guess we all wish.
So let’s do it. Let’s escape, shall we? For a whole weekend. Just us girls. For three whole days there will be no meal planning or lists or feverish card writing or house decorating. We will attempt to block out worries about the current pandemic situation or about the upcoming holidays. We will try to avoid thoughts of family or friends who may be ill, or at risk, or lonely. Let’s just relax, and enjoy Paris in December. Because, I’m told by reliable sources, Paris in December is magical.
So we’re off. Right now. I hope your bag is packed. With a little help from our imaginations, the internet, and my trusty magic wand, we will have that magical Paris weekend in December. With a wave of my wand, Paris is open again. But only for us. And only for three days. Three magical days.
Our flight leaves early on Friday morning. That’s my good buddy Liz above in those fantastic boots with her Prada bag. She’s waiting for me to pick her up in the limo. We are travelling in style, my friends. On the way to the airport Liz and I will plot our shopping. What do we need, what do we want? I will record all in my little book of lists. You know, after years of shopping with Liz at Holt Renfrew and at Nordstrom, it’s a dream come true to have her by my side when I shop in Paris. And for the very first time we’ll be shopping for her as well as for myself.
I see that Linsey and Wendy are all packed too. Linsey is my friend and walking partner. She looks terrific in pink, doesn’t she? Of course if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know Wendy from York. Love that corduroy Margaret Howell jacket, Wendy. See you in Paris, guys.
Miraculously all our flights, from all over the world, arrive at the same time. And our accommodation has kindly arranged for limos to pick us up at the airport and whisk us to our hotel in the heart of the Left Bank. Situated on Rue des Beaux Arts in St Germain-des-Prés, L’Hotel is luxurious and cosy at the same time. How do they do that? We’ve booked all of their rooms. You can go on-line and find your room here.
There’s laughter, shouts of greeting, and lots of hugs as we alight from the limos in front of the hotel. We haven’t seen each other since the summer book party. We check in, unpack quickly, maybe have a refreshing cup of tea, or a café crème, and meet in the foyer in a half hour.
We’re going somewhere close for an early lunch. Chatting in groups of two or three, we wander down the tiny Rue des Beaux Arts, until we turn a corner and someone spots a perfect little café. The white-aproned waiters are a bit nonplussed by the arrival of so many ladies all at once. But they rise to the occasion with only the mildest of admonishments, and soon we are all friends. We sink into our seats, sip a glass of something cold, and order.
Then we get down to business. The plan for this afternoon. I thought we’d explore the area. Maybe scout out shops or a gallery or a museum or two, so we can return tomorrow when we’ll have more time. I always do a bit of reconnaissance when I arrive in a new place. Several of our group are pretty expert on what to see in Paris. Not me. I’ve only been here once. But Dottoressa, Frances/Materfamilias, and Fiona have been many times. And Eveange lives only a few kilometres away. We are well sorted with guides, I think.
So we happily tuck into our salads or croque-monsieur and discuss our plans. We decide which gallery or shop we’ll visit today, and which should be saved for tomorrow. Some of us prefer to simply stroll the Left Bank and soak up the atmosphere.
I’m keen to visit Shakespeare and Company again. Just for a few minutes. I visited there in 2015. But once is not enough for this Hemingway shrine. Then I’d like to hike over to Montparnasse Cemetery. I know. But it’s another one of those literary shrines I’ve always wanted to see. Jean-Paul Sartre is buried there. I’ve convinced Susanne to join me. I know she wanted to wander in Bois de Boulogne, but maybe beautiful Montparnasse Cemetery will suffice for today.
Then I’ll wander back down Boulevard Saint-Germain to do some shopping reconnaissance. I plan to meet up with a couple of others who don’t want to walk over to Montparnasse but would like to check out Boulevard Saint-Germain. I’m sure many of us have one or two special places we’d hoped to visit. Some have memories of Paris trips long ago to relive. We won’t be bothered if you decide to strike out on your own. So as we leave the café, we decide who will go where with whom, and who just wants to wander. And then we set off.
By six we’re all back at the hotel. Some of us have had a short rest and a shower, and maybe a cup of tea. We gather in the lobby, dressed warmly and casually for our evening. I see that Marina and Liz B. are sporting lovely, warm plaid scarves. Good idea. We’re off to the Christmas Markets and, now that the sun has gone down, it’s downright chilly.
The Paris Christmas Markets. Could anything be more iconic for a trip to Paris in December? We will be spoiled for choice. Some are right on our doorstep or a short walk away, like the one on Champs de Mars, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, recommended by Paris Insiders Guide. We’ll start here.
But I kind of have my heart set on seeing the Abbesses Christmas Market in Monmartre as well. The view of the rest of the city below is worth the longer walk, I think. We stroll, browse the artisans stalls, grab a cup of vin chaud, or two. Strictly for warmth, of course. And maybe a beignet, eh? Maybe we should buy a dozen to take back to the hotel for a late night snack?
Then, tired and footsore, with cheeks flushed from the cold, we head to a small but highly recommended bistro for a late supper. Carol has an in with chef Stephen Jego at L’Ami Jean, so we have no trouble about our large party in his very small restaurant. Somehow we all fit. And soon we’re unwinding scarves, surreptitiously slipping boots off under the table, comparing purchases, and holding out our glasses to be refreshed by the lovely waiter.
Gad, it feels good to sit down. But what an amazing evening we’ve had so far. I wouldn’t have missed the Paris Christmas Markets for anything, blisters or no blisters. Our meal is fabulous. My beef melts in my mouth. And I haven’t had Châteauneuf-du-Pape since Hubby and I were in Provence in 2015. Tasting that wine makes me miss him a little. But only a little. Ha. Stephen has even laid on a few vegetarian options for those non-meat-eaters in our company. Over coffee and herbal tea we begin to plot our Saturday.
Saturday is shopping day, at least for Liz and me. I was in Paris for six days in 2015 with Hubby and never shopped once. Except to try a jacket on in an Armani boutique on the Champs Elysées, just to experience an Armani jacket you understand. But I didn’t really shop. Today I will make up for that.
Lots of you will choose to do other activities. For those who are here for the first time, the hotel concierge has arranged for a half-day tour. I mean, you can’t come to Paris for the first time and not see the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower. There are just so many iconic and historical sights, so many famous and beautiful buildings, and a tour really helps, I think. Then you can decide if you want to go back in the afternoon to have a second look at a particular museum or park. Or go shopping.
We eat breakfast early. We want to make sure we have a full day in Paris. And it will be a very full day. Ha. At breakfast we table hop to find out what others want to do. My friend Frances S. of the blog Materfamilias Writes makes recommendations about galleries that she knows and loves. Others who are familiar with the city proffer advice, on this museum or that exhibit, several people agree to act as guides for others. “What a generous bunch of wonderful women,” I think as I sip my café crème.
I see that Rosie and Elaine are all ready to hit the tourist trail. They both look casual, comfortable, and polished. I may have to buy a beret today. Rosie, Linsey, and Liz B. have inspired me. Now, are you guys up for galleries, tours, museums, or shops? I know that Robin will be shopping with us, and I’m guessing that Rosie and Marina will too.
First stop for Team Shopping is, of course, Le Bon Marché. We decide to split up; some of us prefer to shop alone. I understand that. I love to shop with others when we are shopping for them. Or if we’re just browsing. But I don’t shop well with others, except for Liz, when I am on a mission, looking for something specific for myself. My list includes a classic wool coat or a winter dress. Maybe boots. Liz and I head off. We agree to meet the others for coffee in two hours. Then if someone wants a second opinion one of us can accompany them back to the relevant store.
Later, over coffee we all talk at once, displaying our purchases, enthusing over the plethora of styles, moaning about the dearth of sizes. Twas ever thus, right? After coffee we spend the rest of the morning just browsing along the streets around Le Bon Marché.
We meet the rest of the group for lunch. It’s sunny so we sit outside. Frances T reports that she has finally visited the Musée Marmottan Monet. A few others accompanied her on her trip over to the 16th arrondissement. Of course, Robin was shopping with us. I think I see a purchase or two in that bag, Robin. Diane B has made a few purchases too. She loves the French Pharmacies for skin care products we can’t get at home. Me too, Diane. Before I forget again, I thank Carol for the wonderful dinner we had last night. How kind the wait staff and the chef were to us. No wonder she loves that restaurant.
After lunch several people are keen to return to places seen this morning on their tour, or to small shops and galleries that they scouted yesterday. I know there is so much scope around me, so much that I haven’t seen yet. But despite that, I want to linger for a while over my coffee. Wendy, Frances of Materfamilias Writes, Dottoressa, and Debra from Daily Plate of Crazy join me. We order more coffee, and soon a few others drift back and join us. We talk about books and travel and what life will be like after covid. We make imaginary plans for a walking trip in Derbyshire, for visiting the Croatian seaside and swimming in the Adriatic, or for cycling and dining our way around Vancouver. Ha. Maybe one day, eh?
Then we decide we shouldn’t waste any more of a beautiful afternoon in December in Paris.
Eventually we all straggle back to the hotel. I have a shower and dry my hair. I make a pot of tea in my room and, carrying my cup, I wander around the beautiful building that was once home to Oscar Wilde. Since we are the only guests in the hotel, I pass many rooms with open doors. If I hear chatter, I poke my head inside and maybe join the conversation. I feel as if I’m in high school staying at a girlfriend’s house, getting ready together for a big night out. And just like in high school, I want to see what everyone is wearing to dinner tonight. Noreen is in red, which looks fabulous on her. Ann will be in black. All the better to show off one of her latest creations, a lovely red coral and freshwater pearl necklace.
Dottoressa will be wearing a purple cashmere sweater dress under her baby blue wool coat. That coat really suits your colouring Dottoressa. Debra says she will be in black cashmere and silver jewellry. While Eveange will be in cashmere too, but not black. Heather is elegant in black pants and cashmere sweater. I guess we all love our cashmere, ladies. By the way, I love that bit of bling on your shoes, Heather. Frances S. will be chic and totally on trend in her new sweater dress. What a wonderful shape that dress is Frances. Such a find. I should know; I’ve been looking for a dress for ages. Now, sated by my discussion of clothes and outfits and accessories, I decide I’d better get back to my room and get dressed myself.
For dinner tonight I’ll be in cashmere too, my lilac cashmere sweater from Vince, under my raspberry tweed Max Mara coat. And on the bottom? My old favourite black leather pants and black Chelsea boots. I’ll be drinking red wine tonight. It matches my earrings and bracelet. Ha.
We’re an elegant bunch as we stream out of the hotel and into the waiting taxis. It appears that we clean up pretty good. We are going somewhere special tonight. Somewhere magical. Where the food will be amazing. So many courses, each one perfection in its own way: tiny melt in your mouth appetisers, soup flavoured so delicately that we all say we’ve never tasted anything quite like it, salad greens with orange vinaigrette, succulent seafood, braised vegetables with a hint of honey and something else I can’t quite describe, slices of a crispy potato galette, smoked duck, morsels of rare roast beef, a twist of pasta with cream and black truffle. Then cheeses, and finally a desert trolley that beggars belief. I can’t choose. Lemon or chocolate? Lemon or chocolate? Okay, lemon and chocolate.
And throughout it all, the wonderful food, the wine, the crackling fire, the lights glittering in the Paris night just outside the restaurant windows, throughout all this there is the conversation. The kind of conversation that friends, good friends, have. The sharing of stories, hilarious stories, fascinating stories, sad stories, embarrassing stories. Stories of joy and adventures, of loss or pain, and of hopes for the future. This is what makes the night truly magical.
But eventually the fire burns down, the conversation wanes, and we realize that we should call it a night. Regretful as we are that the evening is almost over, we pull on our coats and leave. We walk back to the hotel along quiet streets. The crisp air feels wonderful. Tomorrow we will have to say goodbye to Paris. But for now we have this walk, and Paris at night.
In the morning we’ll rise early. We want to have time for one more walk around St Germaine-des-Pres, maybe over to the Jardin du Luxembourg, before brunch. Then we’ll pile back into the limos. Each of us carrying an extra package or two, gifts for loved ones, a special treat for ourselves that can’t be bought for love nor money at home, a perfect dress finally found in a small boutique in the Marais, handcrafted toys for grandchildren, books, books, and more books. And then with a final wave to friends in other cars, we are off to the airport, or the train station. And home.
Sigh. I wish, I guess we all wish, that we could have that magical weekend in Paris, for real. But dreaming of it will have to suffice for now. Besides, if we’re all dreaming of Paris at the same time, it’s almost like going, isn’t it?
Except of course I didn’t get that dress. I mean I did, but only in my imagination. And I can’t wear an imaginary dress. Too bad. Think of the wardrobes we’d all have if we only had to dream them up.
Now it’s your turn, my friends. I’ve spent most of the day in Paris writing this. What do you have to add to my story? Any special sights that you saw while we were there? Any imaginary purchases that you made you can tell us about? We really want to know.
I’m joining Catherine for her #IWillWearWhatILike link-up.