Special birthdays call for special celebrations, and I felt that my (sort of) milestone year qualified. A trip was definitely in order – the only question was where.
I considered two scenarios: either going back to one of my happy places (except I had just visited two of them: Krakow and San Francisco), or picking any city from my wish list.
Traveling somewhere new seemed the right choice, but I still hesitated. I even checked with the Jetting Around community on Facebook. They suggested anything from Morocco to New Zealand, then a couple of people said what I’d been thinking: Paris.
Three years had passed since my last time in France, and I wanted to finally see Paris in spring. Plus, I could use some language practice – my slight obsession with the city is the reason I’m learning French again. I may have briefly looked at other destinations, but deep down I knew that Paris was the answer.
Walking around without a check list and sipping wine in sidewalk cafés would have made for a very happy birthday. That was the plan when I booked flights. I didn’t realize how memorable the trip would be, starting with accommodations.
My go-to places for short trips are boutique hotels. If I’m doing an extended stay, I tend to rent apartments. They allow me to feel more like a resident – I can cook, do laundry, or invite friends over for coffee.
Paris, of all places, is where I wanted to feel at home. I make no secret of my desire to live there, even temporarily, and I wanted to test-drive being a Parisienne. An apartment was the only way to go.
After finding a great property in Berlin through FlipKey a few months earlier, I was excited to see what they had available in Paris. The perfect birthday pad, as it turns out.
I picked an apartment in the Marais, one of Paris’ oldest neighborhoods. It was right on the cozy Sainte-Catherine square and near the larger Place des Vosges. There were two metro lines within a 5-minute walk, shopping and dining around Rue Saint-Antoine, plus dozens of narrow streets to wander or get lost in. I couldn’t wait to do just that.
The studio itself was small, but modern and comfortable. It had a tranquil gray-purple color scheme (reminiscent of my bedroom back home), wood beams on the ceiling, flower pots in the window, a French cook book on the kitchen counter, and a round café-style table that doubled as my office.
For the next two weeks, I felt ‘local’ in the neighborhood. It was exactly where I wanted to spend most of my birthday weekend.
The only activity I booked before arriving in Paris was an outdoor photo shoot with Flytographer. I’m usually behind the camera and didn’t want to end up with poor-quality selfies as my souvenir.
After seeing vacation photos of several friends and following Flytographer’s work on social media, I knew I wanted them to capture my birthday fun in Paris. And what an afternoon it was!
Gonçalo, Flytographer’s original hire and a fashion photographer, took me to several spots in the Marais. We started off by the apartment, then shot around the Saint-Paul metro station, and finished by the Seine on Pont Marie.
Throughout the shoot, we talked about Paris and photography. It felt as if I was on a photo outing with a friend, not someone I met an hour earlier.
It wasn’t the only nice surprise that weekend.
A few days earlier, a friend introduced me to Pavillon de la Reine, a luxury boutique hotel on Place des Vosges. I had often wondered what was behind those 17th century buildings surrounding the square. Here was my chance to find out, as an invitation to petit déjeuner came in. This traditional French breakfast was already on my to-do list, so I gladly accepted.
The food was fresh, delicious, and beautifully-prepared. There was nothing ‘small’ about it. An all-you-can-eat selection of breads and pastries, quality cheeses, fruits, and beverages was served in an elegant library-dining room with courtyard views.
I was in a plush chair at a low table, enjoying gentle sunlight coming through the window and chatting with a Dutch couple seated next to me. As I looked around, I wanted to see more of the stylish property. Perhaps I could stay here next time? I was already planning a short visit.
One of Pavillon’s managers had arranged to show me around. We first toured several rooms (my favorite was the two-story deluxe suite, overlooking the main courtyard), then the gym and spa facilities in the basement.
I had a birthday treatment scheduled at home, but decided to try the hotel spa instead. It was my chance to use new products (the Parisian line Carita), look great for the photo shoot, and practice more French. Little did I know that it would be a birthday present from the staff… Merci!
My last stop that weekend was Montmartre. After dinner near the Abysses metro (the station of Amelie fame), I set out to walk around the hilly neighborhood sans map, with just the camera. No umbrella was needed, unlike last time, when I captured streets of Montmartre in the rain.
As it was close to midnight on a Sunday, not many people were out. I passed a few stores that were still open, heard conversations coming from late-night cafés, and chatted with a couple of locals who were curious about the shutterbug in a red hat. “C’est mon anniversaire,” I explained about my birthday. They wished me a happy one and asked how long I was staying.
“Not long enough,” I thought to myself on the way back to the metro.
The streets were almost completely quiet at that hour. I had been on an emotional high all weekend, but knew what was coming. My flight to Chicago was leaving in a few hours, yet I didn’t feel like sleeping. I wanted to be part of this city for as long as possible.
Back in the Marais, I stopped by my favorite corner café for a glass of Côtes du Rhône and street watching. A few more minutes, a few more sips, another brief conversation…
Leaving Paris has never been easy for me, but somehow it felt different this time. I was grateful for the weekend that I’ll always remember, especially the kindness of the people I met and feeling like a Parisienne for a while. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.
À bientôt, Paris! See you soon.
I received rental credit from FlipKey and was a guest of Flytographer and Pavillon de la Reine. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are mine.