Relish in the romance of Paris and Versaille
My heart raced as we made our way through the winding streets and narrow back alleyways of the Montmartre art district, passing patrons who were leisurely sipping espresso from tiny cups at outdoor cafés. We’d just arrived in Paris — newlyweds on a weeklong honeymoon-dream-come-true — and I couldn’t wait to catch my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.
“Hurry up!” I teased my better half as he stopped to admire a street artist’s handiwork. Suddenly, we’d found ourselves lost among easels and canvases in Place du Tertre, the famous square said to have inspired masterpieces from the brushes of Renoir and Picasso. As a peddler approached me, extending an offer to sketch our portraits, my husband’s hand wrapped around mine, and he pulled me away in the knick of time.
Just then, the stunning, sugar-white dome of the Sacré-Coeur came into view. “There it is!” I shouted, and we made a run for it. As we sprinted toward the landmark, I found myself distracted by the intricate details of the grim-faced gargoyles that peered down at us. Then, there we were, catching our breath on the steps of the basilica with the City of Love and Light at our feet. The familiar A-shaped spire jutted out from the rooftops, and I swooned. It was love at first sight.
City of Love: Daytime delights
It was cold and rainy the week we were in Paris, but we didn’t mind it much. We were too busy cuddling in crowded metro stations, walking hand-in-hand through the Louvre, tasting French wines and sharing foamy cappuccinos in artsy cafés. The few times we found ourselves caught in a sudden downpour, we ducked into the nearest restaurant or museum. We stumbled upon Monet’s wall-size water lilies and Degas’ ballerinas when we took refuge in the galleries of Musée de l’Orangerie and Musée d’Orsay, respectively. The glistening cobblestoned streets and chic umbrellas added to the dreaminess of it all; it often felt as though we were walking through an impressionistic painting.
When the sun managed to break through the clouds, we took walks along the Seine River to pick out our favorites of Paris’ many ornate bridges — mine is Pont Neuf — and searched for souvenirs at an open-air flea market on our way to visit Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle.
One afternoon, my husband guided me into a tiny grocery store where he purchased a crusty baguette, smoked ham and fromage for a picnic. We picked a park with an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower and sat down to dine like vagabonds; a simple sandwich had never tasted so good.
Each day, we traipsed around the city, taking in as many of the must-see sites as our schedule would allow. Then, after lunch, we headed back to our hotel room to rest up for the evening’s activities … when the City of Love transformed into the City of Light.
City of Light: Paris after dark
Twilight quickly became my favorite time of day in Paris. As the sun slipped below the horizon, the sites appeared even more fantastic as they were bathed in golden light. One of my most cherished memories of our trip was sneaking into the deserted main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) of the Louvre Palace for a glimpse of the glass pyramid at night. Our first evening in the city, we sipped champagne and sampled gourmet French cuisine on a dimly lit riverboat as we floated down the Seine.
Every now and then, the dinner cruise boat slowed down so we could admire the glowing sights and historic monuments along the riverbank through the glass ceiling. The next night, we made our way up the spiral staircase to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for a panoramic view of the city. It was bitter cold, and the wind blew my hair in all directions, but the sight of the glittering Eiffel Tower shooting up from an ocean of twinkling lights took my breath away.
On our last day in Paris, we hopped on the early-morning train to Versailles. I rested my head on my husband’s shoulder as the metropolitan scenery morphed into tree-covered hills and captivating villages outside our window. When we arrived at our destination, we simply followed the throngs of travelers up the hill to the gilded gates of Château de Versailles.
We spent the entire day wandering through the extravagant palace rooms, talking in whispers and marveling at the flamboyance of it all, often stealing glimpses of the swirling patterns in Louis XIV’s treasured gardens. Even though many of the sculptures were wrapped up and the fountains had been turned off for the season, the grounds were even more extravagant than I’d imagined. We wrapped our scarves a little tighter and headed into the maze of shrubbery with our arms linked together.
We were still making our way around the gardens when the time came for the palace to close its doors for the day. Before making our way back to the train station that evening, we warmed up with cappuccinos, then lingered at the Grand Canal to watch sleepy swans drift across its glassy surface. If we did it again, we would spend two days at Versailles.
Our cheeks still flushed from the cold and the day’s excitement, we had one last meal — a simple croque monsieur with crispy pommes frites and curried ketchup — in a little restaurant across the street from the train station. Then we made the trek back to our hotel room.
As we rode the train to the airport the next morning, we were both sad to say goodbye to the city that brought so much love, light and romance to our honeymoon, but we were looking forward to starting the next chapter of our lives together. In the words of the French writer, Antoine de St-Exupéry: “Love doesn’t mean gazing at each other, but looking, together, in the same direction.”