Sometimes you just need Paris. I’ve had a long-standing love affair with the city since 1997, which has outlasted all of my relationships, and I’m sure it will endure them all. After a two year absence, I was itching to get back. Being newly self-employed, travelling solo and on a budget, I decided to revisit St Christopher’s Inn at Crimee, which is located next to a canal. The area is a little rough, but I adore the canal. There’s a cafe I love nearby, an independent cinema and a great bookshop, which are all good reasons for me to stay somewhere. I’ll stay in Mama Shelter on my next trip, or maybe somewhere new, but this time I just wanted to go back to the canal.
I took the Eurostar and got a great deal with Eurostar Snap (just £50 return). You tell it which days you want to travel, and specify morning or afternoon (I recommend choosing afternoons as you might be allocated a 6am train). A couple of days before you travel they email you your train times, luckily both of mine were around 4pm. I even love being in St Pancras station, listening to someone play the piano whilst drifting in and out of Whistles and Oliver Bonas. I bought a carnet of metro tickets on the train (€15) – be prepared and all of that. I really rate the Eurostar magazine – Metropolitan – for some great tips on current exhibitions and the latest places to eat. From Gare du Nord I changed metros once to get to Crimee, and had a short five minute walk to get to the hostel. You can book private rooms, but because I like to meet new people I stayed in a 6 bed female dorm, which I probably won’t do again. In the past it’s been fine, but this time every day people seemed to be up at 5am to get to the airport, which woke me up and left me tired before I’d even started my day. Lesson learned!
|Canal area near St Christophers Inn Crimee|
St Christopher’s Inn is a chain (they’ve got hostels in London and all over Europe) which is fine if you’re planning on being out most of the day. They have good bars with great drinks deals, and lots of events which is handy if you’re travelling alone. I normally do the wine and cheese nights, but this time I wasn’t staying on the night it was scheduled for. The last time I was there, there were just three of us partaking and I got pretty drunk and ended up in Pigalle (I think they gave us five bottles between us)! But it’s free so I’m not complaining. They’ve improved their variety of tours available to book, you can get a shuttle bus to Versailles, and sample a number of walking tours all around the city. Even though I normally shy away from doing touristy things, I decided to do a Montmartre tour, as I love it and realised that I didn’t know as much about its history as I thought.
On my first full day I had a burning desire to go to Saint-Chapelle (Cite metro), a gothic chapel on the Ile de la Cite in the heart of Paris. I got a bit lost trying to find it but was lucky with nice Parisians pointing me in the right direction on this trip (not normally the case). It was built to house Louis IX’s collection of Christian relics and was completed in 1248. I love stained glass and was not disappointed by its amazing collection. It’s free to explore on a weekend, and luckily it wasn’t too packed with tourists. I was captivated by the glass and the light, and the sense of history. I stayed for a while as it was so peaceful and beautiful.
|The Ceiling of Saint Chapelle|
I was racking my brain to try and remember if I’d ever been to the Opera House (Palais Garnier) and was shocked to realise that I hadn’t. I’d read about a dance show that was starting that week, so I thought I would try and get a ticket too. As I entered this magnificent place (finished in 1875), I couldn’t believe I’d never been here before. I was bowled over by its opulence, and spent quite a bit of time just wandering up and down the Grand Foyer and the Grand Staircase, taking photos. I honestly believe this building should be up there with Notre Dame, even le Sacre Coeur. The main reason why I went was to catch a glimpse of the magnificent ceiling in the Auditorium by one of my favourite artists, Marc Chagall. As I entered, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. It’s so beautiful, so colourful and it just seems crazy that it was ever even allowed! He painted it in 1964; it depicts scenes from operas by fourteen composers including Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. To me it’s a spiritual experience, I can see God and the angels in it, as well as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. I stared and took pictures for a while until I got to the point where I could close my eyes and see it.
|The amazing Palais Garnier|
To top of the visit to the Palais Garnier, there was a free retrospective on Russian painter and set designer Leon Bakst, from the Ballets Russes to Haute Couture. It celebrated 150 years since his birth, and his stage designs and costumes blew my mind. This was a man who existed in fairytales, which was probably a good way of blocking out the hardships back then. He worked with the greatest composers and dancers of the time, and still continues to inspire fashion designers (I found an amazing book on fashion designers and the opera in the gift shop).
I avoided the usual tourist attractions during this trip, and decided to visit cool stores and cafes instead. I made a beeline to Merci, a concept and designer store with a two cafes and a restaurant. It opened in 2009, so I don’t know what I’ve been doing in the past! In the trendy neighbourhood of Le Haut Marais, I was amazed at the variety of things they sell, from homeware to fashion (I like their jewellery and stationery selection). I loved the floor to ceiling bookcases in the cafe.
|Cool car in the Merci Courtyard|
|Great ambience in the Merci cafe|
I also paid a visit to Colette, one of my favourite stores in Paris (I think I go there on every trip). It’s easy to find, on Rue Saint Honore not far from all of the designer shops. It has the latest fashion books/magazines and an exhibition space, and a cool cafe downstairs (this time it was decorated with care bears). On the first floor it has the latest collections from the coolest designers of the moment, as well as jewellery and a beauty section. It’s water bar sells over 100 brands of bottled water! My dream is to raid the place, I love most of the stuff in it!
|Care Bears staring at Colette
Before I left, I really wanted to visit the cafe at the Grand Mosque, in the 5th arrondissement. It’s a beautiful building and one of the largest mosques in France. The minaret tower is just stunning, and the garden with foundations is an oasis in the middle of the city It’s such a calm and peaceful place. I’d read that it was a great place to relax, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s home to a restaurant, spa, gift shop and the Salon du The. The tea house is charming, with lots of blue mosaic tiles and communal seating. I’m definitely going to go the Turkish Baths next time! As you enter the tea house, you’re served with hot peppermint tea, and encouraged to try the pastries. I ordered some baklava and Turkish Delight, it was delicious, and filling. Sit in the back terrace if you really want to relax.
|The Grand Mosque/Salon du The|
After breaking my ankle a year ago, I can’t do as much walking during the day as I used to, so I took it a lot easier and just did half days. I enjoyed my walks next to the canal and aimed to fit in a French film before I left, but I ran out of time. I left, in the firm realisation that Paris is always a good idea, and never fails to lift my spirits and inspire me creatively. Merci encore!