Tarun and I are in Paris for a few days. No not the one in Kentucky, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee or Montana. I mean the real deal in France.
This time we did not repeat our typical Paris pattern - we didn't stay in the heart of town. Teeny tiny hotel rooms on noisy streets and lugging suitcases up spiral staircases or narrow lifts aren't for the old(er) and faint(er)-hearted avatars of our younger selves.
We chose a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport. This meant a short taxi ride with our luggage in tow and connecting to the metro line via a free shuttle to enjoy the sights, sounds and gastronomy of the city.
For us, this was très bien.
On day one, we checked into our hotel and caught up on work. Around 1pm we took the shuttle and then the RER-B to Châtelet–Les Halles, one of the largest underground metro stations in the world. We walked in the neighborhoods around the station and made our way to Quai du Louvre along the Seine. The chill in the air, the Seine, the Eiffel Tower looming in the background, the vibrant flower shops, the cafes with the red awnings serving drinks and moules-frite brought back delightful memories of prior visits to the city with my in-laws and Neil and Josh.
It's impossible to meander in Paris without inexplicably finding yourself in a patisserie or boulangerie chowing down on a delicacy or two or three even when you are full. So we have no idea how we ended up in the restaurant of the Samaritaine shop for an apple tart and an almond muffin. C'était excellent, for sure!
The pastry and muffin went down like a ton of bricks and propelled us to goodnight ...at 7pm!! Gotta love the combination of jet lag and 10,000 calories.
On day two, we wanted to do a day trip from Paris (motivation: don't lug suitcases). After much pondering we picked Reims on the east of Paris. Reims is pronounced "Raance" - I cannot even begin to explain that.
Sixty miles from Paris, the city sits in the heart of the Champagne region (er...there's the real motivation). We missed the fast train from Gare de l'Est by two minutes so we took the slow train and got to Reims in 2 hours instead of 49 minutes. This isn't the slow and lumbering metro of back home. This was a ride through gorgeous French countryside, past cute little villages, stations with intriguing names like Rosa Parks, Noisy le Sec and Ay and miles and miles of champagne vines.
What slow route?! 49 minutes on the way back left us feeling entirely shortchanged.
After reaching Gare de Reims, we proceeded on a walking tour that yours truly had diligently mapped out with kind consideration of our aging knees. Our tour took us to La Porte de Mars, a monument representing the Roman conquest of Reims in the 3rd century. From there we made our way to Place Royale, the city's main square with a giant statue of Louis XV in Roman garb. Adjacent to Place Royale is the Reims Cathedral also known as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims.
The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and redefined "jaw dropping" for us.
Dating to the early 5th century, it is a Roman Catholic cathedral built in the French Gothic style. The early incarnations of the church predate its namesake in Paris by 700 years. The nave is an astonishing 377 feet high compared to 115 feet in Norte Dame Paris. The stained glass windows are hard to stop admiring even when your neck screams bloody murder. The windows have been renovated carefully after war-related catastrophes and each pane remains a stunning masterpiece.
The cathedral boasts of the largest number of sculptures in any church in the world - 2,303 statues to be precise! Unlike the Romanesque style, the statues are not attached to the interior and exterior walls. It is no wonder that 33 French sovereigns in 1,000 years have been coronated in this cathedral - the most in any venue in the history of the world.
Tarun and I simultaneously said that the Reims Cathedral is the most impressive cathedral we have ever seen. It was a true joy to light candles here for the kids and Mina.
We finished our tour by visiting the Plaise du Tau and Musée des Beaux Arts - both museums were closed for renovations which was a tad disappointing, but then we heard champagne calling.
After a delicious avocado toast accompanied with a glass of exquisite Brut champagne, we went in search of a boulangerie that Tarun had seen a couple of hours before. When we located it, Tarun chose to study each pastry through the window, reading the descriptions before committing to a couple. You'd not be wrong if you thought he was taking a life altering test! Not wanting to make a mistake with his choices meant lingering for a long time at the window. When we finally walked into the shop, he thought he was sure and then he wanted to buy more. Sense prevailed and we picked up just three things and carried the box back as if it was the most precious cargo.
Back in our room, we thoroughly enjoyed the pastries - we savored them in sloooow motion, we licked the spoons until they were devoid of the delicate remnants and we lingered on each whiff to fill our senses. We are certainly not done with Reims in this lifetime. Sylvain Gugglielmi's boulangerie will be beckoning us for decades to come.
Day three is up next and we plan to visit Sorbonne to get a taste of the university life. We've been to this part of Paris several decades ago when the kids were little. It's time to go back and load up of the ethos of this historic institution.
Several memories of Paris will remain tightly etched in my heart - falling off the curb on to oncoming traffic at Place Vendôme while I was carrying toddler Neil; Josh loving his visits and the very long walks; four-year old Neil expectantly visiting the Louvre and being crushed that Donatello, Michaelangelo, Rafaelle and Leonardo were artists and not Ninja turtles; and sending dozens of postcards to Ma from our travels, several from Paris.
I hope Neil doesn't remember me dropping him in traffic and I pray he will eventually recover from the turtle episode. I know Josh loved walking for delicious food. About the postcards, not having Ma made me sad but I chose to carry on the tradition by sending a postcard to Boudi. Tarun chronicled this so I won't forget.
As I dozed off in the train to the hotel, I felt a distinct pat on my head. Startled, I reached up to see if something had fallen on me and nothing had. I'll believe that was Ma patting me to say, "Good job kiddo for sending the postcard!" or it was Sandeep giving me kudos for wearing the N95 he stuffed in my backpack last year or it was Tarun's parents fondly remembering our trip here or it was Baba reminiscing about staying with Ma in a hotel next to the Madeleine church in 1958. I smiled knowing they will always be with me.
Every visit to Paris opens my eyes in new ways, gives me an experience I haven't had before and reinforces why coming back here is wonderful for my curiosity and astonishment.
If you are planning a trip here, remember the RER-B and that it may be easier to absorb the city's energy by staying slightly away from the madding crowds. On your next visit, add Raance to your itinerary. Don't pass up on cobblestone streets, Sylvain Guglielmi, the cathedral and the most colorful trams you will ever see.