“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”
When I returned from Paris and Nice a few weeks ago, I had more than one acquaintance curiously ask me, “What did you do in Nice for a WHOLE month?” As I started to get used to the question being asked, I didn’t drag out a complicated reply, but rather, I responded, “I lived.”
When I look back at my various travels, it is the importance of the everyday things that Bill Bryson mentions that I remember….accomplishing the simplest things….like ferreting my neighborhood for the nearest pharmacy that does Covid testing.
Or tracking my walk up to the train station using my ‘google maps’ app (remember: I’m directionally challenged!) and having the time to stop, along the way, in a couple of never-been-to shops such as a Lebanese bakery or recognize that no two buildings look alike.
Then, successfully buying a train ticket for a roundtrip to Antibes to see a friend after showing the woman assisting me my ‘google translate’ message to her on my phone.
Or utilizing the Uber app for a round trip to Villefranche-sur-mer for a lunch at a restaurant while watching a helicopter land on a yacht to drop off some new guests vs. the contrast of others paddle-boarding nearby. I have always loved gadgets but I often don’t know how to use them, so accomplishing these simple tasks, especially in foreign surroundings, gives me satisfaction.
I had the time to explore several Beach Clubs in Nice, testing out which one had what I considered the best virgin Mojito and Salad Nicoise. OH! And, although I consider myself up-to-date on restaurants, I made a few more new-to-me restaurant contacts that happened to be in my neighborhood, Le Sejour owned by a pleasant, actively engaged business woman, with her informing me her son owned another one next door.
Then I found a restaurant I vaguely knew about and had the time to tap. Think fresh seafood: Cafe de Turin on Place Garibaldi. A multitude of outdoor seating under the arch which had the added benefit of watching a flow of people discovering the Place Garibaldi.
I selected a platter to suit my tastes and curiosity. The well-versed waiter, when asked, took the time to offer a few tips on what is the best way to eat the crab, since it was different from the Pacific Ocean Dungeness crab I am used to.
He even offered to teach me how to spot a bad oyster since I told him about an experience I had in Paris, eating oysters at a very well-known restaurant that I trusted would not serve me a bad one….yet, they did, and I had my first and, hopefully, last time, of having no choice but to prove to them the oyster didn’t agree with me…right ‘on the spot’.
I always appreciate how I am able to accomplish these tasks with relatively minimal knowledge of the French language. And, adding to that, I always take note of when the kindness of strangers kick in AND am so thankful that many of the locals now are able to speak some English with me, even though we stumble along, oft times with some mistakes, but that only sends us into laughter.
If you are hooked on Stanley Tucci’s series, “Searching for Italy”, you may remember his visit with a man who is known to be the one who initiated the idea of ‘Slow Food’. Well, I am experiencing ‘Slow Travel’. I, fortunately, have the time and the interest to not feel compelled to rush out the door every day and cram in numerous highlights. I’ve been there and done that and sometimes I even still do it, if my travel partner joins me for a few weeks…Blitzed Rome in a day. And, more recently, Barcelona, in three days…Gaudi and harbor/water highlights but so missed out on the bakery we hustled by to get to our next famed destination.
In fact, the less traveled but seemingly known by all-the-locals street the bakery was on was so emblematic of what I imagined Barcelona to be that I vowed to slow walk it…sometime in the future. I can say I actually enjoyed much of this fast travel, on a certain level, but it was also all about the ‘must see’ highlights, not about the little known….and…unrevealed surprises and knowledge gathering that slow travel affords you the opportunity to pick up on regarding the every day local person’s living style in a city or countryside.
When I was in Paris, I met my friend, Nancy, at the Orsay Museum with the intention of seeing the Gaudi exhibition (remember I just said I had only hit some of Gaudi’s highlights in Barcelona). I admit there is nothing quite the same as experiencing Gaudi’s magnificent and intricate structures in Barcelona in person but this was a way to see more. Add in I hadn’t been to the Orsay in a long time and I was game to mask up and step in.
Nancy, an American, who lives in Paris (and, by the way, is not fluent in French either) is an avid museum goer and saying this is an understatement. So there is always something I learn from her. However, when we met up in front of the Orsay entrance, there was an undisciplined crowd, flailing their entry tickets in the air, seemingly having no interest in forming any orderly line, along with most of them unmasked. I found this highly unusual, as it was not typical of my museum experiences in Paris. However, so it goes.
We took one look at the crowd and then at each other and unanimously declined joining in. We started to head back to where my rental apartment was located just on the border of the 6th and 7th arrondissements. Along the way we passed Deyrolle. (If you click on ‘Deyrolle’ you can watch a short video that tells you more about the shop as well as the Deyrolle family’s importance in the natural educational world.)
I pointed the shop out to my friend and found out she didn’t know of its existence. She is always game for new, so we stepped in and, eventually, after wandering around the ground floor, which is mainly devoted to aesthetic, yet functional gardening items, we made our way up the spiral staircase to the first floor. (Prince Jardinier bought Deyrolle from the family in 2008. Here is the enchanting tale, and true story, about the life of this Prince: https://www.theyellowtable.com/posts/the-magical-world-of-le-prince-jardinier)
See below just a smidgen of what there is to see on that first floor…a shop of curiosities. Those animals that you never thought you would be able to stand next to and look straight in the eye?…well, they’re there! Too many drawers to open in one visit, yet intrigued by what you would find in the next drawer?…you’ll have to come back for another visit because it’s overwhelming. Children walking around mesmerized. Adults mimicking the children’s awe and wonder!
I didn’t ever think I would get behind the idea of taxidermy? Yet, I got hooked on this shop decades ago and when I have brought other friends here, no one acts disappointed or less than curious.
They have a sign that requests you don’t take photos but, this visit, the staff seemed to give us a nod to at least take a few.
The next stop had us headed well into another direction of interest and taste. A few blocks later, I, once again, asked my friend…Would you like to go in here? I hadn’t frequented this shop in quite some time. I could see it had shifted its entire emphasis from exquisite Asian clothing to also including dreamy calmly-colored home furnishings: La Compagnie Francaise de l’Orient et de la Chine at 10, bd. Raspail in the 7th.
And then just across the street, yet another shop my friend had never known existed…..to step inside gives you a nasal experience only a cheese shop can do. And, this one, well, while it may not be as famous as Gaudi or the Orsay, it ranks at the top of the list with foodies of the world. Unfortunately, these photos aren’t capable of sending the aromas swimming into your nose like it did for us the moment we stepped inside but the video mentioned below will give you a bit more experience with this shop that my words will not.
I found it so difficult not to sample a half dozen or so (but my brain reminded me of being lactose intolerant/allergic just in the nick of time). I have spoken about this cheesemonger before. The last count for French cheeses is known to top out at 400 and this petite fromagerie carries over 200 types of cheese. This 5 minute video will give you a ‘taste’ of a visit to Barthelemy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwTh1BZL0UQ
So, we did miss a visit to the Orsay but, what I am attempting to point out, is the everyday things count and, as far as I’m concerned, we didn’t miss a museum visit.
Paris and Nice, for me, when walking down their streets, making new discoveries along the way and also enjoying the familiar again, ARE museums…just one constant, yet ever changing exhibitions of the best of French life, past and present. I have no doubt that others may feel this way about other cities. If you aren’t able to slow travel, then at least think about devoting a portion of the day to slow walking between the highlights you have scheduled to see and get a feel for not just the famous but also what keeps the locals appreciating where they live, be it their morning cafe on their way to work or the new boulangerie/patisserie discovery I made in Nice on my walk back from the sea where I made an almost daily stop to pick up a baguette or a sweet to have with my morning coffee-breakfast.
These much lesser known local bells and whistles sound off in Paris and Nice for me, especially since I now have the time to dig in a little deeper into the lifestyle….What city is your museum?