I was never one of those people who wanted to go to Paris. In fact, before I met my husband, the idea of going to France was never even on my radar. I took a few weeks of French in high school before deciding to switch to Spanish (a language that was much easier for me to learn at the time). I thought people who were obsessed with Eiffel Tower-decorated items were…tacky. And the people who couldn’t shut up about Paris? I couldn’t roll my eyes far enough back into my head.
So when my French husband suggested we stay in Paris for a three days on our annual visit to France, I hesitated. The horror stories I’d heard over the years about rude waiters, impossibly chic model-thin French girls, and their general disdain for Americans had me thinking, What’s the big deal about Paris?
Despite my prejudice against Les Parisians, off to Paris we went – he had booked us at a very tiny hotel on the Rue de Rivoli, just around the corner from the Louvre (apparently, a very desirable and well situated quartier). In the weeks leading up to our trip, I’d succumbed to my growing excitement to explore the City of Light (but not in a touristy way, bien sur) – I’d actually created a list and loose timeline of where we could go. Our RER train was to arrive near our hotel by 2pm, we’d get settled, change, head out for the Louvre, then to a late lunch/apero in St Germain-des-Prés. Afterwards, we had time to hit the Musee d’Orsay (they were supposed to be open later than usual), then we’d scoot over to the Eiffel Tower before having a late dinner. I was quite proud of myself for being so efficient with planning and trying to maximize our time.
We got to our hotel, realized we were exhausted from having just gotten off of an international flight, and took a 15-minute nap before heading out to walk across the Seine to the restaurant I wanted to get to. We walked half a block from our hotel before the sky opened up and it started to pour, drenching my feet (I had changed from boots to ballet flats for comfort) and messing up my hair. My husband asked if we should turn back to the hotel and I said no, walking quickly towards some scaffolding where a crowd of people had begun to gather for shelter from the downpour.
When it pours like this, locals would head into a cafe, sit down for a beer or and espresso, and wait until the rain eased up a little. But like a crazy American, I trudged forward through the rain until we found ourselves across the river near Odeon, the area ruled by Yves Cambdebord.
We had arrived at L’Avant Comptoir.
The sun came up again right after we wedged our way into the restaurant and found some space at the bar. The menu at L’Avant Comptoir hangs from the ceiling, you pick a bunch of small plates to share, have some of the communal butter on your (delicious and amazing) bread, enjoy a glass of wine. The restaurant next door, named Le Comptoir du Relais, is a less casual bistro which often requires reservations, but at L’Avant Comptoir, you get in when you can fit in!
After our absolutely delicious experience at L’Avant Comptoir, the itinerary I had jotted down weeks before promptly went out the window and we spent the rest of the day being a couple of flaneurs – aimlessly wandering the city with no agenda, and just existing. The city was still a little soggy from the earlier downpour, but we strolled through the Jardin des Tuilieries back towards the Louvre (we never ended up going). We did, however, make it to the Tour Eiffel and took the elevator to the top, taking photos as tourists do, but I also magically witnessed a proposal that no one else saw (the gentleman did it quietly and with zero fanfare, but it was enough to bring his bride-to-be to tears).
The remaining couple of days were spent in a similar fashion – my pre-planned timeline of visiting this store or that boulangerie or this landmark completely evaporated. We walked and walked, so much that our legs ached for days after our trip. The only stop that we made that was planned was a visit to Angelina for their famous chocolat chaud and Mont Blanc dessert – entirely decadent and completely unnecessary, but my husband’s face was priceless, he was like a kid again.
Paris has this way about it, it’s very old yet still modern, beautifully kept yet somehow a bit messy, and for me, unknown yet in a way, very familiar. My husband has a theory that maybe I was Parisian in a past lifetime, and that’s why I can navigate it with ease. My initial trepidation towards this gorgeous city has faded, and I honestly can say this is one of my favorite places in the entire world. I didn’t want to like you Paris, but I do.
Paris, my friends, is always a good idea.