Sometimes all it takes to turn a work trip into a fun trip is a free weekend and some coworkers who are up for an adventure.
In November I spent 10 days in London and Paris with 10 people from my team at work, setting up our new product for internationalization. Our time in Paris overlapped a weekend, so I took advantage of both (very rainy) days to explore as much of the city as I could.
I began Saturday morning by standing out on the balcony of my hotel room to survey the neighborhood. Hotel Republique, located just north of the Bastille neighborhood, features tiny but impeccably designed and modern rooms, and my sixth floor room came with a matching narrow balcony looking out over the other narrow balconies across the alley. It was cold – very cold. Like in the mid-thirties. So I wrapped a blanket-sized scarf around my neck and ventured out to explore on foot. My adventure partners were Suyash, an engineer on my team, and his friend who was studying abroad in Barcelona. We started off in a teeny café on the banks of the channel near our hotel, watching pedestrians walk by and drinking lattes with beautiful designs drawn in the foam.
We wandered through the crooked streets of the old Jewish quarter, which were lined with trendy clothes stores and pastry shops. I found it particularly difficult to tear myself away from a window where a chef was squeezing frosting out of a pastry bag onto some amazing fluffy looking pillows. My favorite thing about wandering the streets, though, was the hand-painted typography on the storefronts. Cafés, patisseries, bistros, all had one-of-a-kind lettering painted on their windows.
After walking across the city through the sporadic showers we came across a street market all along the Champs Elysees, beginning under the giant wheel, where we met up with another group of our coworkers. The market was lit by strings of Christmas lights and filled with holiday shoppers. We stopped for some much needed hot mulled wine in a Bavarian-themed hall along the avenue. The men behind the counter were melting enormous wheels of Raclette cheese onto dishes of hot wedged potatoes, which we were much too cold and hungry to refuse.
Upon reaching the end of the Champs Elysees, we stood before the majestic Arc de Triomphe, lit from below and sparkling in the rain. When we finally figured out how to get to the center of the roundabout (with six lanes of vehicular traffic furiously circling) by way of a Metro tunnel, we climbed the stairs and emerged right underneath the monument. The day happened to be the one-year anniversary of the devastating 2015 terror attacks, so there was a memorial fire burning next to a large display of flowers.
We met up with all 10 of our team members at a fancy restaurant for dinner that night, where we took over a private cellar room in an ancient castle-like building on the Ile de la Cité (the island in the river right in the heart of the city). Dinner was superb - six courses including an incredible creme brulee finalé.
I began the next day with mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was about as awe-inspiring as it sounds. Even with the constant foot traffic of tourists circling the main area of the nave, it was still a very calm and spiritual experience. The next stop was to show a few of my friends the Cathedral of Sainte Chapelle, one of my favorite cathedrals from my Gothic architecture class in college. You start by walking into a very dark, cellar-like space void of windows, and follow a tight spiral staircase up from the back corner. All of a sudden you emerge into a blinding room, completely surrounded by 40-foot-tall stained glass windows. It's seriously enough to make your mouth drop open in awe. The windows depict scenes from the old and new testaments, progressing as you circle from the back to the front, and ending with the enormous rose window in the rear. Even on a cloudy day, the multi-colored light streaming in through the stained glass windows made the space feel warm and magical.
I split up from my friends at this point for our museum time. They wanted to see the Louvre, which I had seen a few years before, and I wanted to go to the Musee d'Orsay... and I was not disappointed. I saw famous works by Monet, Manet, and Cezanne, and they were even more stunning in person. The building itself was almost as lovely as the works housed inside. After I finished, I took myself out to lunch in a little bistro down the street where I ordered a French cheese plate and a cup of true French onion soup. It was my favorite meal in all of France.
The next stop was the one we'd all been most looking forward to: the Eiffel Tower. I had visited the site when I'd been there in 2012, but I was a very poor college student and couldn't afford a ticket to the top. This time, however, my friends and I decided it was an absolute must.
We took the first elevator to a mid-level stop, vectoring in an unnatural direction that aimed up and to the right. The view from this first stop was already stunning, so we couldn't imagine just how incredible the next stop would be. We hopped on an even longer elevator ride, and watched the ground drop farther away from us through the lattice work of the metal structure. When we got out at the top, the wind was howling and so icy that we could only stay outside for 5 minutes at a time. Which we did over and over and over again because of that unforgettable view.... yeah, it was THAT good. Advice for younger me: should have splurged on the ticket.
For dinner my manager, fellow designers and I went out to a traditional French wine bar and ordered a charcuterie plate of meats and cheeses. What else could you want for your last dinner in Paris? To top it off with an even more perfect meal, however, I got up at sunrise the next morning before we left for the airport and picked up a bag of pastries from the little French bakery on the corner across from our hotel. I topped off the trip with two perfect, buttery croissants.