In March my lovely daughter and I went to Paris for a week. We stayed in a lovely old hotel on rue du Grand Prieure in the Marais district. We left on Saturday afternoon and arrived in Paris on Sunday morning. Simply checking in to the hotel and taking the tiny lift up to our third floor room was an experience. We were exhausted from the trip, but too excited to rest for long.
Our first outing was to the boulangerie on the corner and down the block to a money machine for euros. We loved walking the three or four blocks to the Place de la Republique, looking at the unfamiliar shops. My daughter translated the French signs for me as we progressed, teaching me the words for book store, supermarket, and bakery.
We leisurely strolled back to the hotel to meet up with the group, eating pain au chocolat from paper wrappers. The side streets were narrow and every where we looked there was a sense of age that cannot be experienced in America, especially here in the Bible belt where my state is just now 100 years old. The staid buildings were punctuated with color on signs, awnings, and doors.
There were about twenty of us traveling together, my lovely daughter's French and Geometry teachers (husband and wife), their college-age son and his fiance, along with a couple other moms and the students, mostly girls with a couple of very happy young men in the bunch. We moved in a group up the wide sidewalks of the Place de la Republique toward Oberkampf station to catch the Metro and travel to Montmartre.
I had been to London a couple of years before and became familiar with the Tube. The Metro is similar, but much simpler to navigate, even in French. I noted the stations where we changed lines and the direction we travelled, mostly out of curiosity. I would be grateful later that I paid a bit of attention to our travel.
We came up out of the Metro into the street and walked to Montmartre. The street was full of shops, some displaying kitschy, touristy wares beside others full of clothing, fabrics and foods. The street was full and abuzz, despite the rain earlier in the day. We walked up the hill, stopping to look at this, touch that, or read a sign in French. As we neared the top, the street opened up into lawn with a pair of staircases leading up (and up, and up) to the gorgeous white Basilique du Sacre Coeur, or Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Most of the group took the stairs, climbing up among the lovers, musicians, tourists and schoolchildren. But the other adults rode the tram up to the top to save their strength and their legs. My daughter and I walked up leisurely, stopping for a picture of flowers in full bloom or to turn and look back at the street. The climb to the basilica was more than worth the stunning panoramic view of Paris. Leaning on the stone railing and looking to the south, we got our first glimpse of the sights of Paris we'd visit during the week.
We went into the basilica and walked through the darkened aisles quietly, stopping to light candles and look at the beautiful mosaic in the apse. We walked out into the sunlight and wandered around the exterior, taking pictures of beautiful details. After a half hour we realized we were alone in the crowd and began to look for our group. When our search came up empty, we started our descent, stopping to look at each level until we reached the street below. There wasn't a familiar face in sight.
We decided to find a place to sit at the bottom of the hill and found a lovely cafe with bistro tables on the sidewalk. I ordered croque monsieur for both of us with a carafe of water, and my lovely daughter, with her sweet tooth, ordered a crepe filled with nutella and coconut. We sat in the street, the sun just beginning to set, and enjoyed our inexpensive meal. As time passed and the sky darkened, I became concerned that we would find ourselves alone on the streets of Montmartre after nightfall. It had been an hour since we found we were alone and I was sure we'd been missed and searched for. A decision had to be made to go or to stay. After much debate, we decided to make our way back to the hotel. I considered a taxi, even though I knew the fare would be high, but we didn't have the address, just the name of the hotel. My lovely daughter, being sixteen and well aware of the ways of the world, suggested we go back the way we came. We strolled back down the hill, searching for a glimpse of someone familiar all the while. We piddled in a fabric shop, laughed at garish tourist ware, purchased a hat and gloves for my daughter to wear against the chill of the March wind.
At the end of the street, we turned and walked toward Anvers station. After one last look around we descended underground and boarded the train. We changed lines at Stalingrad station, taking the number five toward Bobigny and stopping at Oberkampf. We came out of Oberkampf station on Place de la Republique, but at the opposite end of the station. We were disoriented, having just been there once, and turned the wrong way, but knew we were off track within a couple of blocks when we encountered our money machine from that morning. We turned around and headed for the hotel, almost delirious with joy when we rounded the corner and saw the familiar Hotel Plessis awnings.
We took the lift, just large enough for two (three if you know each other VERY well), up to our room and collapsed onto the double bed. After a couple of frantic phone calls all was well and we settled in for the night. My lovely daughter was asleep almost instantly, as she would be almost every night in Paris. I logged on the laptop to share our adventure with my husband, only to find out he already knew. The French teacher had called him in a panic, thinking she'd lost his family on the first night in Paris.