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Spending a day in Paris: boats, books and baking

Conciergerie building Paris at dusk

The anticipation of warm, thick, hot chocolate in little expresso sized cups was alluring. Indulgent pastries and a huge array of chocolate and candy to choose, persuaded me to rise from my slumberous bed and cross the river Seine to the South Bank with my friend. I wanted a spirit of Paris without all the legwork nor the long list of “to see today”. A leisurely stroll along the quay, to find the perfect spot opposite Notre Dame and watch Paris float by was calling. We had arrived the night before from London by Eurostar and celebrated with a bottle of rose in the hotel bar.

We were staying at the gorgeous Hotel Castille, on the Rue De Cambon next to Chanel’s flagship head office. I didn’t have the nerve to say hello to Karl (Largerfeld, Chanel’s creative director), but I did lust after the clothes in the window. In the meantime the hotel room was found to have a double bed – and we two girls had ordered twin beds, but not wanting to be a nuisance and the bed being huge, we decided to stay put. The bathroom though, had one luxurious towelling robe – not two. I buzzed down for another, which was duly sent.  Later on passing reception, one member of staff gave me a curious smile and wished all three of us a wonderful time. All three – what on earth did he mean?

On the left bank of the river a few Peniche [houseboat conversions to restaurants] were doing a roaring trade in early morning strong hot chocolate. We breathed in the sights and enjoyed the moment. The view across the Seine to Notre-Dame is as Paris as you can get.

We mooched along the quay enjoying the Bouquinistes, famous for their green timber book-boxes. There is something wonderful about finding an author you love, in my case Emile Zola, tucked away in their depths. With this find – an English translation too, my day was perfect.

Second hand book stalls along the Seine River ParisThe back streets, full of second hand book sellers, art supply shops, galleries and jewellers led us further west in search of candy and cakes. Paris is full of pastries and we stumbled, literally, into a small café that also sold tea. We chose six mini pastries and a few chocolates, along with tea au lait and lots of sugar. Delicious, scrumptious, taste tingling. We paused between each one to savour the layered flavours of mint, orange, marzipan, bitter chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, coffee and honey. Little candy coloured paper cases held each one, and soon they were gone and we were grinning like Cheshire cats.

From here we ventured deep into the South Bank looking at craft shops, jewellers and book binders. There is a very thin house here, so thin you can almost miss it, snuggled behind other facades. For me, the workmanship of the ateliers here is what Paris is all about. In London, my home town, it is disappearing to investing oligarchs, but in Paris they are still thriving. We shopped at the huge music/book store Boulinier which has an amazing collection of comic books for sale. The French adore animation, including Japanese anime and the whole floor was heaving with hundreds upon hundreds of illustrated books.

We stopped for a crepe and a glass of wine and in the cool of the evening strolled back via la Louvre.  A group of students were looking through a basement window, and we joined them to watch a couple rehearsing a play. The director was waving his arms about and the actors looked bemused. I couldn’t resist dubbing what I thought they were saying and making the students laugh. I think this is the essence of Paris. You feel light hearted and confident here. It is full of creatives and being spontaneous.

My final wish was to head to a jazz club in Marais before heading back to London next day.

And what of the bath robe in the hotel? Apparently, the hotel staff thought my friend and I were a couple and we wanted a third bathrobe as we were bringing back a friend. We later found the second bathrobe in the back of our clothing closet, so our order for another, could only be for a third person. We didn’t let on, but savoured the joke as being appropriate for Paris and just a little risqué!

Judi Castille is a freelance writer, illustrator and landscape/farm photographer with a passion for gardening and cheese. She lives permanently in Creuse, Limousine in the heart of cow country and blogs at: judicastille.com

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