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It was almost 25 years ago and while I traveled to many places almost yearly since then, I have special reasons for my warm memories. Now, as I flip through the pages of my travel log, the memories come screaming back.
The day I was married, we headed for the airport to fly overseas together for the first time. It was an obvious choice as Paris was always the magnet for me and my new wife felt the same way. Since she was French-Canadian and I understood French, it made the choice even more obvious.
It’s amazing how much I remember. We flew to Brussels and took a bus to Paris the same day. But, as luck would have it, the bus broke down. It meant little to us except that we met a man on the bus who was going to Paris to attend his grandfather’s funeral. The delay cost him dearly. For us, it only meant that we would arrive later and experience more fatigue after so many hours without sleep. We took a taxi to our chosen three star Hotel Bersoly’s Saint-Germain.
(According to my bill, the room was about 500 francs for a double room with telephone, TV, shower and toilet. That is less than $100 today, taxes included).
Bersoly’s is a small, quiet hotel on the Rue de Lille in the 7th Arrondissement. We were given the ‘Gauguin’ room No. 103, adorned with that painter’s art, with beamed ceiling, a street view and flower boxed filled with flowers which turned out to be plastic. The room was tiny but clean, over-furnished and nicely decorated with a bright yellow bedspread and curtains. We sat listening to birds chirping, while the maid dispensed clean towels. We were invited to the basement stone breakfast room for coffee and orange juice while the room was readied.
The location was perfect for our needs, within walking distance from the Quai d’Orsay museum, Brasserie Lipp and Deux Magots. Without a car, it was easy to get the full feel of Paris in the warm June sun. It was also a short walk to the Luxemburg gardens and the Pompidou Centre on the right bank.
Next to the centre we walked around the pool that showed off the statues of the Nikki de St Phalle display where abstract items seemed to frolic across the water.
Nearby at the old site of the Marche, we ate in a busy restaurant near a pedestrian walk. At one point we were taken aback by a hand that reached in through the open window and watched a man lift the tip money from the vacant table. It was over in a split second. So much for romantic, scenic Paris.
Eiffel Tower & Nicholas II Bridge
But we had no time for being personally affected and began touring the great sights. The Eiffel Tower was worth the wait but once on top I realised that vertigo means you can’t stand close to the edge. But what a sight with the white Sacre-Coeur on Montmartre and the Bois de Boulogne in the distance. We could even see La Defense which was on our list as well as the domed site where Napoleon is resting.
The next day we walked to the Louvre over the ornate Alexander III Bridge that connects the Champs Elysees with the Esplanade des Invalides. The museum’s maze of corridors was daunting but we eventually found de Vinci’s Mona Lisa. True it is a work of art but seeing it under bullet-proof glass at a distance over a sea of tourist heads was hardly what I expected. But there is more to this museum than we thought. One has to take the time to see this ancient collection.
The next museum we selected was the Picasso Museum at the Hotel Sale. This grand old mansion has become the home of hundreds of Picasso works of art. It literally blew us away as we walked from floor to floor gawking at the many pictures we had seen in books. Yes, there may have been many people who were heir to some of the master’s work but the City of Paris chose first and wisely since it was in lieu of taxes.
On a walk to see where Gertrude Stein once lived, we passed the statue of Alfred Dreyfus in torn uniform holding a broken sword. A lady watched us take photographs. The remarked that my wife had beautiful eyes. It made my day. And that night on the Bateau Mouch made my evening.
Over the next 4 days we visited the Pere Lachaise cemetery where some of the great names of France are interred. The beautifully imposing, decorative Garnier Opera House built around the time of the Franco Prussian War, Shakespeare and Co. near the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Pantheon and rue Moufetard with its shops, restaurants and market stalls. We enjoyed the Place de ertre atop monmartre with the artists selling their creations and the homes of people like Picasso himself at the Bateau Lavoire.
In the city below, we took time to walk through the Notre Dame Cathedral and Sainte-chapelle, not realizing that twenty years later we would rent an apartment just on the riverbank facing that great cathedral near the tiny plaque that marks ‘kilometer zero.’
Yes, for us it was a walk through the centre of our world but we had another month ahead of us and all of France beckoned so we opted for a achat-rechat Renault automobile rental and headed south to Chartres and beyond.
Hotel Bersoly’s is located at 12 rue de Lille in the 7th (near the Musee d’Orsay)
Tel; 33 1 42 60 73 99
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