Paris with my mother (part 1: arrival)

I like Paris, quite a lot. It’s distinctive from other major cities I’ve visited, mostly because the best thing to do when you arrive is STOP. Life happens at a completely different pace because the point is to observe and enjoy, not rush from place to place, task to task. (Credit to Anthony Bourdain for showing us this in the very first episode of No Reservations.) Unfortunately, Paris also has so many things to see that it can be challenging to reconcile the impulse to rush around with the need to slow down.

I kept thinking about this on my most recent trip there, taking my mother for her birthday. I had a number of thoughts about how we should spend our precious time and what we should make sure to see or do. In my head, it would have been a vigorous three days to see everything, so I figured that would make for a reasonable six-day visit where we can also be people hanging out in Paris.

Because it was a special trip, I was determined to make it as comfortable as possible. We cashed in a truckload of miles for business class seats in both directions, which meant better service and the ability to lie down and sleep, especially on the way there. I found an Airbnb in the 5th Arrondissement, in view of the Pantheon, with an elevator and separate bedrooms and bathrooms for each of us. It was also near a train station for ease of transport, which turned out to be important over the course of the trip. And having the apartment meant it was more comfortable at the beginning and end of the day — we didn’t feel like we had to rush out of a hotel room; rather, we could ease into the day and lie down at the end. Also, I like to cook in Paris because of the wealth of great ingredients, so having an apartment meant being able to cook dinner whenever we wanted.

Thursday

So with all that in mind, we left Thursday afternoon for Chicago O’Hare airport, taking a Lyft car to accommodate our luggage. Unfortunately, we ended up getting off to a rocky start with airport security, as they closed a TSA Pre-Check line right in front of us and directed us to one clear across the terminal. We ended up in a smaller line where we could still retain some of the Pre-Check privileges. After that, it got a lot easier as we made our way to the airport lounge to wait for our flight, which ended up leaving on time (always a good thing and something for which I’ve become both too jaded and too grateful).

The flight itself was fine. We were treated well and tried to get to sleep as quickly as possible. I can’t say it was remarkable, but at least we were off to a more or less decent start.

Friday

We arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport around 9am and after clearing passport control, made our way to the SNCF train station. (As a side note: why is this walk so long? I always feel like I’ve gone a mile or more by the time I’m sitting down on a train). After playing the usual game of “which ticket machine will take my credit card?” we boarded the RER B heading out. Thankfully, we missed rush hour and never got overly crowded.

We got to the Airbnb and retrieved the keys from where our host had left them, letting ourselves into the apartment. We almost immediately fell asleep for a couple of hours to shake off the jet lag before venturing out for lunch at Au Port du Salut. Mom stuck to bread while I had the plat du jour, pan-fried fish with mashed potatoes (always excellent in Paris due to the amount of butter used).

We then walked over to the Pantheon to both look around and pick up our Paris Museum Passes. These are essential if you’re going to visit museums, both for the possibility of saving money and (more importantly) for the ability to get into priority lines in many of those museums, including the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. After taking a look around, we walked out into the unexpected sun and spent a little time just sitting on the steps, taking in the sun and chatting aimlessly — a great way to both see the sights and enjoy the Parisian life.

Dinner that night was simple. I made a quick shopping trip for sundries for the week, as well as cheese, meat, butter, and bread to go with the bottle of wine our host had graciously given us. Having eaten, we headed to bed ready for the rest of the trip.

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