When I booked my day at Versailles, I also signed up for “Bike Le Marais & Canal” the very next day! After walking around so much at Versailles, the thought of biking the city was a little daunting, but my excitement outweighed my concerns. I had really enjoyed meeting fellow travelers, talking with locals, and seeing the sights from a different perspective than standard tours allow.
The details emphasized not to be late, so I headed towards the meeting place, a Velib bike rack in front of the Hotel de Ville, with ample time. I did a quick walk-by, and then went across the street Le Relais de l’Hotel de Ville for breakfast. While waiting for my double espresso and bread with butter, I noticed a couple sitting at a table outside. Based on their attire and demeanor, I guessed that they were American, and also suspected they’d be on my tour. My suspicions were soon confirmed. That couple, which I later learned resided in Seattle, made up the other two thirds of my tour group!
Our guide, Nathan, arrived shortly after we did. I immediately noticed that he didn’t have a French accent, but couldn’t quite place where he was from. After embarrassing myself by asking if he was Canadian (I thought I heard an “eh”), he said he was Irish (I know… I wasn’t even close). If you’d like an accurate mental image of my reaction, think of the “face-palm” emoji, give it ginger hair, and add flushed cheeks. The schoolgirl like embarrassment was largely because I was hoping to make a good impression with my extremely good-looking guide. Either Airbnb requires their Experience guides to submit headshots or men in Paris are just seriously above par, because Nathan and Thibault were both F.I.N.E.
Our bike ride was easy, except for occasional areas of traffic. Nathan led us to a few gardens, such as the Anne Frank Garden, which were hidden behind buildings and between houses. He pointed out the green signs that mark public parks, and said that any time we saw that sign, we could go inside! I was grateful for that knowledge in the days that followed, when I wandered into gardens that that I otherwise would’ve thought were off limits. He also shared some history about Le Marais, pointed out Victor Hugo’s house, led us into a garden off the Square of Louis XIII at which they were setting up an Omega party for Fashion Week, noted a famous falafel restaurant (recommended by Lenny Kravitz), and took us past and talked about the Pompidou Center.
Next, we stopped at Republic Square, where we discussed past issues and present politics. Nathan used to work for the UN, and the other woman in my tour was a lawyer, so subject matter was not light. I enjoyed that the tour of the historic district of Le Marais also included current events. Next, we continued our ride along the canal, ending at Pavillon des Canaux. As advertised, the stop included a drink. The couple from Seattle was still jet-lagged, so they didn’t stay long, leaving me to enjoy my blanc beer while chatting with Nathan. I was disappointed when we immediately went in opposite directions. I would’ve enjoyed talking more!
I strolled along the canal and slowly wove my way through the streets towards my apartment. I grabbed a table outside at La Chaufferie and ordered a glass of rose and a vegan salad. As per usual, I ended the meal with a single espresso, and then continued on my way. Once back at my apartment, I took a quick shower, put on a dress, and started walking towards the opera house to see the Paris Opera Ballet. I felt like I wanted to treat myself, so I got a table outside at Café de la Paix, where I was sitting just across the street from Palais Garnier. I enjoyed a lovely glass of Beaujolais and a plate of beef tartare. I would have been tempted to get a dessert if the service hadn’t been so slow! By the time I got my waiter’s attention, I had just enough time to pay my bill and head to the theater.
The ballet was performing “Jewels” by George Balanchine. I had seen San Francisco Ballet perform the “Rubies” section, but had never seen “Emeralds” or “Diamonds”. They were stunning. I actually cried during the first section, because it was so beautiful. The precision of the corps was incredible. The principal dancers were flawless, with expressive port de bras, crisp footwork, and incredible lines and extensions. “Diamonds” featured a corps of 16 couples. The sight of all 16 men performing pirouettes to the knee flawlessly made me tear up again! “Rubies” was lacking some of the attitude that had made me enjoy San Francisco Ballet’s performance so much, but it was still fantastic. During intermission, I was just as pleased. I explored the ornate lobby, took a more careful look at the ceiling painted by Chagall, and tried to appreciate the full majesty of the venue. My ticket for the performance was very expensive, but I felt that it was worth every penny. It was a truly magical experience.
The next day, I had an audition scheduled for 12:30pm on the Champs Elysses. I was instructed to arrive at noon to register. I like to move before auditions in order to calm my nerves at warm up, so I opted to walk the 45 minutes to the theater. On my way, I stopped at Welcome Café for the Anglais Breakfast, which consisted of orange juice, a double espresso, a croissant, and an omelet. I got to the theater, the Lido, way too early, so I continued wandering around, stopping in front of the Arc du Triumph for some photos, then went to the reception area inside. There I met one of the ballet mistresses, who led into the house where we took care of some paperwork. I handed her extra copies of my headshot and resume, then was shown backstage so I could change.
I had done “private” auditions in the past, but none like this! I returned to the stage and started warming up. Shortly after, one of the company dancers arrived and introduced herself. She checked in with the ballet mistress, then starting teaching me a number from the show. Whenever we were walking upstage, she’d whisper words of encouragement or stylistic suggestions. She was very nice and encouraging for the 30 minutes she was teaching me. It was a little unsettling, however, to be onstage, alone, with an audience the very first time I had a chance to hear and dance with the music. Regardless of how close to tempo you count, the music is always different! I had just one chance to try what they referred to as “the crazy section” with music before the ballet mistress stood up and asked me to follow her backstage. She measured my height against the wall, and then told me to change and meet them back in the house. I was, for the very first time, told that I was too short! She gave me good feedback, and said she would keep me on file for possible tours in the future. Considering this trip included my first auditions in four and a half years, I felt good about the outcome. I can’t control my height, but I can control my attitude. I choose to still see the day as a success.
Remember in my first Paris post I mentioned I’d share more about my photographer at the Basilica de Sacre Coeur later? The time has come! When he emailed me the photos he took, he asked if I’d like to meet up. We ended up meeting for coffee at Café Etienne Marcel that afternoon. He was a very nice architecture student from Denmark. I dated a Dane for over two years, so I was able to fake my way through some conversation in his language. After coffee, we took a walk in the rain. When the rain got to be more than we could handle, we stopped at Bistrot Marguerite for dinner. I ordered a glass of red wine and beef bouguignon. Mom and I made Julia Child’s beef bouguignon after seeing “Julie and Julia” together, so mention of the dish always makes me smile. The taste did not disappoint! Next, we walked to Notre Dame Cathedral. I visited Notre Dame on a past visit to Paris, but seeing the church at night on this visit was very different. The lights highlighted some of the details of the structure. The light building against the dark blue sky was quite breathtaking. We soon said goodbye, and I headed to the Bastille district for a bar crawl!
The bar crawl was the third and final Experience I signed up for. We were told to meet outside a McDonald’s. I arrived early to use the ladies room, and met another girl doing the same. She was from California, and also traveling solo. After a quick chat, we went outside to meet the rest of the group. In total, we had 5 Americans and one Korean, all traveling alone! Our guide, Camille, was warm and energetic, and led us to some unique places. We started at a delicious wine bar, Les Caves de Prague, where we shared two bottles of red and a cheese board. The wine was quite possibly the best I had in France! I regret not getting a photo of the labels. Our second stop, Charlie, was described as “a cave with good gin and tonics.” It was quirky and cozy. The final stop was a speakeasy called Moonshiner. We entered through a pizza shop and ended up in a beautiful, dimly lit bar that looked like a set from “The Great Gatsby.” I sipped on delicious Manhattans while talking with the group. Though we were all in Paris for different reasons and came from various walks of life, conversation was easy and seamless. Like at Versailles, I felt like I was out with a group of friends, and not strangers.
The night ended with a crepe from a street vendor and a taxi home. I made plans with one of the girls to meet up the next morning for coffee and a museum before I needed to go to the airport. I crashed into bed, again feeling content and proud. Going to a foreign country alone was risky, but I had not just survived, I had flourished.