Nearly every week, especially now, I have the same recurring dream: I am sitting alone in a beautiful European cafe, savoring a perpetually hot cup of coffee, watching elegant passersby begin their day. While their faces remain unmemorable, this dream is such a pleasure that I suspect Michelle and Barack Obama make frequent appearances, holding hands and smiling to acknowledge my contented gaze.
That’s it. That’s the dream. I am alone, in a cafe in a European City, slowly drinking a cup of coffee, watching beautiful people walk by. If you don’t get why this dream is such a joy, I recommend you stop reading now because the remainder of this “guide” to Paris will leave you utterly disappointed.
Before I became a parent, I visited Europe almost every year and sometimes twice a year. My NYC apartment, once referred to as Saddam’s Spiderhole by my roommate’s “gentleman caller”, was simply a placeholder so she and I could travel as often as possible. In my early twenties, a tradition was born, and Paris became a cherished destination with my inaugural visit, a reunion with dear friends I’d met while studying abroad in Dublin. While it was a blast to be together, I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious and unsophisticated. Looking back, I can see that I was just young, and if there is one thing I now understand and love about Paris, it’s that being young is not enough to make someone interesting.
Ten years later, Paris collectively resuscitated me, my sister, and my father (temporarily) after the death of my mother. My dad had never been anywhere in Europe and the three of us had never traveled together before. That trip was blip of joy during an incredibly difficult time and I was a little worried that returning would somehow contradict my fond memories. I should have known better.
Now, with nearly another decade gone, there is this recurring dream to contemplate. I can interpret it superficially as a brief respite for a busy person, or I can look at it honestly for what it is, an inescapable urge to do what I have always loved, even in the midst of motherhood.
My sister and I took this journey together and thank god for that. There are few people who can travel with me and not want to kill me, the aforementioned spiderhole roommate is one of them, as is my sister Kathy. While I haven't traveled alone with my husband in over four years, he still knows to pack extra necessities for me, because while I will absolutely know what restaurant we cannot miss, I will not remember to pack any pants to wear there.
And Kathy knows that too. She knew to pack enough funds to float the both of us, because I somehow managed to leave my purse and wallet at a cafe back home before starting the two hour drive to the airport. If you are a former colleague of mine, you may be having PTSD reading this, because on the rare occasion I’d leave our NYC office for lunch, I almost always failed to return with my purse, and because you are a nice person, you felt obligated to offer to get it for me, which I’d probably take you up on. Fear not, though, because I did have my passport, and miraculously, that was enough. My purse spent a glorious week at Fire Dog Breads, while my sister had to pay for literally every meal, every gift, every drink, and every hour of Karaoke purchased on the trip (I paid her back, don't worry!) Kathy rolled with this challenge, not once indicating even the slightest bit of concern, and embraced my travel motto: It all works out in the end. Which it did, and thensome.
Hôtel Square Louvois
I absolutely loved this hotel and would stay here again anytime. It's such a great location, near the main tourist sites like the Louvre and the river bank but it's also surrounded by Japanese restaurants and it's across the street from a hilariously fun Karaoke bar (that you will not hear from your room). It's also incredibly stylish and the warmest staff possibly in all of Paris. They even have connecting rooms if you are bringing the kids (although it's not a "family" hotel, definitely great for couples too).
Airbnb in Le Marais
I always like to try different lodging options while traveling and this was a really cute and affordable property in a truly special neighborhood. Le Marais is like the West Village of Paris, and this airbnb is right in the heart of it. It had all the amenities you could want and it was nice to have a little more space for a few days.
Hôtel du Petit Moulin Paris
On the higher end of our budget and also located in Le Marais was this truly unique boutique hotel. We booked it using Tablet Plus and enjoyed every special perk!
If it's listed here, it's awesome. Go.
Frenchie (Wine Bar, Restaurant, To go)
We ate at the Wine Bar no less than three times on this trip and also at Frenchie To Go. On our trip to Paris ten years ago we ate at Frenchie Restaurant with my dad and it was nothing short of magical.
You absolutely need a reservation to dine here but if you show up two hours early because you don't understand military time they might still be able to give you a table. Order the steak - it's incredible.
Chez Alain Miam Miam
We ate here twice....it was our fist and last meal in Paris.
Located in the Marches Des Enfants Rouges (a market), Chef Alain makes what can only be described as the greatest sandwiches in the entire wold. You will wait on line for this sandwich (unless you arrive at 10am like we did) and you will be very glad you did.
Recommended by Fred, the bartender at Frenchie Wine Bar, Chez Haki offers some of the best Asian noodles you'll ever have (all noodles are handmade). I ate more here than I care to admit, including two kinds of dumplings and noodles with beef. As someone who lives in area of the world that doesn't offer a lot of diverse food, this spot satisfied a deep craving.
Another great recommendation from bartender Fred is this Israeli restaurant serving the most delicious cauliflower and pita sandwiches. Be a true Parisian and enjoy your meal while enjoying a tiny coca-cola.
La Maison du Chocolat
There are a number of La Maison du Chocolat shops throughout Paris. We got our treats at the Carrousel du Louvre and then ate them on the Louvre grounds while watching pigeons frolic in a bird bath. It was as good as it gets.
This is a beautiful restaurant filled with beautiful people. I was skeptical at first because it was a little "cool" and I don't feel all that cool these days but they were lovely and the Napoleon was a delicious work of art.
Le Café Mollien
The food here is overpriced but the view and ambience make it all worth it. We ate outside which is the ideal way to experience this restaurant located at The Louvre.
Musée National Picasso-Paris
Located in Le Marais, this museum is worthy of an entire afternoon. Skip the long lines at The Louvre and go here, you'll be glad you did.
Beautiful, chic, and understated home decor and textiles that are part of an initiative in Nepal.
High end clothing and home goods. Very French.
Fun stuff - great for gifts for kids and grown-ups.
Des Petits Hauts
Beautiful, elegant clothing that is more affordable than you would expect.
It's like Chicos and Anthropologie had a baby.