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Sunday, 01 May 2016

Paris After the Attacks

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When we told friends and family of our plans to visit Paris, 2 ½ months after November's terrorist attacks, we received some strange looks and concerned questions – like “Why go now?” and “Is it safe?” So I thought I'd remind people of the amazing allures of the City of Light and reflect on the things I saw.


When we arrived, local and military police were everywhere! The first time I went to Paris was a few days after the US bombing of Libya in 1986 and now – with the travel warnings and the ubiquitous presence of soldiers – it was 1986 all over again. But now there were security checks going into just about every building as well: churches, museums, concert halls. Thankfully not restaurants or shops, but those were on alert in a different way.


One night in the Bastille we were sitting in a small restaurant with a glass front, not far from where several of the attacks took place. Suddenly, outside, the traffic came to a halt. Eventually motorists started beeping at a car that was not moving and people in the restaurant were beginning to become concerned; what had been a lively crowd became hushed and almost silent as the chef/owner came out of the kitchen and went to see what was going on. Body language changed and there was definitely a tension in the air – these days, someone stopping in the road could be more than just car trouble. In this case, all was fine and went back to normal, but not until drawing a crowd with their cell phones ready.


Paris is not used to this level of caution. There were big tents with metal detectors and security lines set up in an impromptu way at the entrance to the Opera among other places – where there used to be nothing. I don't know if the tents will eventually disappear and things will go back to normal, or if this is the new normal and they'll end up building permanent structures to house them, but the times are such that we will find out shortly.


Mostly, we felt very safe everywhere. Though personally I feel nervous walking by a guy with a machine gun, like the ones in front of government buildings, synagogues and mosques, even if he is supposed to be protecting me.

We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the Bastille, a short walk from both the Bataclan Theatre and the Marais, one of Paris' most fashionable (and expensive) areas. Loaded with shops, cafes and nightlife, the Marais' picturesque squares and avenues buzz with activity. From there, we continued walking in a different direction each day. Once, we took a short stroll across the bridge in front of Hotel de Ville to Notre-Dame and Saint-Chapelle with its amazing stained glass (not to be missed).



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Another day we walked a bit further down the Seine to the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay. The following day we hopped on the metro to get across town to the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees, but Paris is such a beautiful and walkable city that we came back by foot. Sacre-Coeur was also a one way metro ride – strolling down Rue des Martyrs and hopping into the great bakeries and cheese shops along the way (Sebastien Gaudard and Maison Landemaine are the best!).

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I could write a book about all to see and do in Paris – but there are so many guides already to choose from, so I'll just focus on a few highlights you must do:


  1. See Art! You have your pick of a multitude of museums – from the Renaissance to decorative arts to modern. The Louvre is a good place to start, but there are about 130 others so depending on your interests you have many choices. Remember, the city museums are all free and some of those house great artwork, so you might as well stop in (try Petit Palais or Musee Carnavalet). I'd say my favorite museum is Musee d'Orsay, which houses many impressionist and pre-impressionist masterpieces. Its a little easier to manage if you're the type to be overwhelmed by the Louvre's 35,000 pieces, but like everything in Paris, its very hard to choose.                       Painting


  1. Stroll down the Seine! Yes, its nice during the day, but its better at night. The bridges and sculptures are lit to perfection and the lovers are out arm in arm. You can also hop on a boat for a romantic ride if you like. I don't know who was originally in charge of lighting up Paris, but they were a magnificent artist as well!             Seine

  2. Eat! Sure, you should stop into as many patisseries and boulangeries as you can handle. Yes, you should try the macaroons at Laduree and Pierre Herme. Yes, you should eat a warm baguette straight from the oven after either the morning or afternoon baking (after all, who eats morning bread in the afternoon?). But most of all you should save time for at least one very special meal.


    Paris has its fair share of Michelin starred restaurants and some of them you can get into without signing up for the waiting list a year in advance or paying 1,000 euros for two. Ours was Le Chiberta ( near the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysees which is one of the restaurants associated with the famous chef Guy Savoy. We had the fabulous chef's tasting menu with wines paired by the sommelier – and this is the way to experience Paris – eating little bites of perfection!


    To give you an idea of our meal, we had an amuse-bouche (a small pre-appetizer sent out by the chef to stimulate the appetite), then a homemade duck fois gras with cognac-quince marmalade – the creamy indulgent richness of the duck liver pate pairing perfectly with the sweet-tart jam and Malabar pepper. The pasta was a delicious crayfish and mushroom ravioli in a flavorful cream sauce. The meat course was a perfectly cooked veal with sage, citrus and carrots in all kinds of textures, even a carrot foam. This was followed by Selle sur Cher goat cheese with greens and olive-rosemary tapenade, a sorbet to cleanse the palate, and a finale of dense chocolate cake with peanuts. The wines – from a Vouvray to a Haut-Medoc were a perfect accompaniment to an unforgettable meal.


                         Le Chiberta's crayfish & mushroom ravioli


Don't write Paris off as a place of concern. Be smart and aware, but don't be stopped by fear. Live life to the fullest and enjoy your trip (and a few extra hotel vacancies) now!




©Christina Bolton


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Love locks on Paris' bridges

Last modified on Sunday, 01 May 2016
Christina Bolton

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