This short little story is the second part in the tale of Zelda, who we saw last week, finding herself unexpectedly packing for a working trip to Paris and free to plan for a bonus long weekend alone in the city of lights . You can read the first part HERE, or scroll down to find out how she enjoys her weekend in Paris.
Zelda’s working week in the business district sped past in a blur. On Friday morning, after a full and busy week , she bid goodbye to her team and wished them ‘bon voyage’ as they headed back to the airport and their long flight home. She on the other hand only needed a ride down town to the Latin Quarter. She climbed into her taxi and showed him the name of the hotel on her phone, muttering to herself “Darn, I wish I spoke some French!”, he looked at the phone and said “Ah, L’Hotel Le Saint, très bien Madame” and she was whisked away into the heart of Paris.
Of course she had done a lot of research for the trip, that was a big part of the fun! She quickly decided that she wanted to be in a quiet hotel in St Germain des Prés. She had read that she could do so much on foot, and that it was the best way to see Paris.
The taxi stopped in front of the hotel, “Voilà Madame, vous êtes arrivée.” He opened her door, and lifted her suitcase out of the back of the cab, while the only words she could manage to utter were “Merci, oui, merci”.
As she was paying her taxi fare a young man in uniform emerged from the hotel, smiling. “Bonjour Madame, may I help you with your bags?” He guided her into the hotel reception, asking if she had had a good journey? was this her first time to Paris? etc but Zelda hardly heard him. She was giddy with excitement at finally being in the real Paris, and bowled over by her beautiful hotel.
The Hotel le Saint felt like a country chateau. The old stone floors, the comfortable armchairs in front of a fire. It was clearly recently redecorated, but had kept a very traditional French feel to each of its spaces.
A few minutes later she was shown to her room, ” Madame, this is your Suite, I think you will be very comfortable, you have a lovely view over the Rue de l’Université. Here is your key, and this is a little guide to St Germain des Prés that we are happy to offer you, just to ‘help you find your way”
Zelda unfolded the sweet little map of Paris, “Why thank you, this will be very useful”. The introductions over, she had the room to herself and she sunk down onto the big bed. “Oh my goodness …. here I am, at last”
She opened her suitcase and carefully unfolded her clothes, then took another look at the map. “No time to lose, let’s take a walk!”
She walked out of her hotel and along the rue Jacob, with the vague intention of heading to the Place Furstenberg, but actually happy to follow her inspiration. She got waylaid in the Gien store, looking at their beautiful tableware, then carried on to Furstenberg. It was every bit as pretty as the photos, with the big trees in the centre of the square and the stores around the square were all so tempting. She peered through a window at some most intriguing antiques on one corner, and secretly wished she knew how to get their chandeliers back home.
Crossing Furstenberg Zelda turned right to walk up towards the Boulevard St Germain where she had heard there was a wonderful selection of stores, and here she spent an hour quite happily window shopping at Sonia Rykiel, then buying soaps and fragrances from Fragonard. When it started to rain, by a happy coincidence she found herself right outside the most beautiful umbrella store she had ever seen.
Half an hour later she emerged clutching a beautiful soft grey umbrella and began to walk back along the boulevard thinking it was time to find herself some lunch. She picked a spot on the terrace of the Bonaparte, sheltered beneath the red and white awning, and settled in to enjoy her snack and watch the spectacle of Paris walking by.
Her phone pinged in her pocket, and she checked her messages : “Hello Zelda, how lovely to know you’re in Paris for the weekend, let me take you to dinner tomorrow, I’ll collect you from your hotel at 8pm, wear a pretty dress, we’ll eat somewhere special, love Barbara”. Zelda had messaged her friend the week before, but wasn’t sure if Barbara was even still in Paris.
Zelda smiled to herself, how lovely it would be to see Barbara again, after so many years, “I wonder if she’s changed?”. She spent a long while at the café, it felt so restful to be a spectator and watch the world go by, and she wanted to savour every moment and every bit of Frenchness she could get.
After lunch she wandered into the old church across the road from her lunch spot. She knew nothing about it and was amazed to discover that it dated back to the 6th Century! Completely bowled over by the beauty of the wall fresques and the architecture with its columns and painted ceilings, with the help of an online guide, she walked slowly around the building, understanding the history and soaking up the atmosphere of its 1200 year old walls.
At the end of the afternoon feeling totally relaxed and her mind filled with all the beauty that she had seen during the day, she made the ten minute walk back to her hotel, and en route took the decision to have dinner in the hotel restaurant, the Kult, that evening. She booked her table at reception and went upstairs to rest for a while and freshen up.
She wasn’t disappointed by her meal, it was so French and so delicious, and the staff went out of their way to make sure she was comfortable and enjoyed her evening. She ordered a glass of champagne before being served, and then a glass of a delicious Burgundy wine to accompany her foie gras starter and the mushroom risotto that she chose as a main course.
The next morning after a good night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast in her room, Zelda decided to borrow a bike from the hotel and cycle up to the Jardins de Luxembourg. The gardens were ablaze in their autumn colours. She pedalled slowly along the alleys, then sat for a while on a bench admiring the view, and watching a class of young school children walk through the park, two by two.
The wind picked up and Zelda suddenly felt cold. She pulled the little map that the hotel gave her out of her pocket and saw that they recommended a tea salon, only a few minutes from the park, “Perfect!” She jumped back onto the bike, and cycled a few minutes before drawing up outside Mamie Gateaux, the cutest tea rooms she had ever seen. While sipping her tea and eating the rather large slice of lemon pie, she took another look at the map. She was looking forward to her dinner date with Barbara, and wanted to get her friend a gift.
She traced a path across the map back to her hotel “Where could I go to get Barbara something cute? …. ah! Ines de la Fressange, I’d love to see her store” She finished her tea and was quickly back on her bike and heading towards the iconic shop where she browsed contented and then purchased a pretty clutch bag for her friend.
She glanced at her watch, remembering that she had booked herself a facial and a manicure at the hotel spa, she wanted to look her best for the evening. Her choice was truly inspired! A couple of hours later she was back in her bedroom, her skin glowing, her nails impeccable and thrilled with the very French looking hairstyle that the hairdresser had created. She studied her reflection in the mirror, and couldn’t help but wonder if she’d meet anyone interesting at the restaurant.
She didn’t need to wait long to find out. At 8 pm, Barbara swept into the hotel lobby, “There you are! Oh Zelda it’s so great to see you, you look gorgeous. Come on grab your bag, they’ll be waiting for us at the restaurant”
“They? said Zelda, “who is waiting for us?”, “Oh didn’t I tell you, there’ll be quite a crowd tonight, it’s a friend’s birthday dinner, and we are going to one of my favourite restaurants” Barbara drove quickly through Paris, she clearly knew her way around, and she never stopped talking. Like Zelda, she was also dressed beautifully, in a knee length black dress and black heels. She pulled up in front of a restaurant on the corner of a street and overlooking the river Seine. “Here we are, welcome to the Tour d’Argent!”
The evening flew by in a moment. Delicious food, great conversation and all sorts of new people to meet. Zelda was introduced to many of Barbara’s friends, both French, American and other nationalities. Everyone was happy to chat with her. and before long she was invited to join them the next day for some antique buying at the Porte de Vanves and then a late lunch at le Nemrod.
During the evening, amidst the buzz of conversation, laughter and good food, she couldn’t help but wonder if she could fit in to a life like this? Barbara looked so happy and filled with energy, and all of her friends were so interesting. “Could I do this?” she asked herself.
She startled as a voice whispered into her ear “So serious?! What are you thinking about Zelda,”, she turned to find that Barbara’s friend Lucien, was sitting beside her, smiling. “Oh Lucien! she laughed, Actually I was just thinkin that you all seem to be living a charmed life here, and that it looks such fun to be a Parisian”
Lucine poured himself another glass of wine, “Of course my friend, it is fun ….. just move here and try it out, why don’t you? Just look around this table, half are French and the other half are from all over the world. But nobody is here by chance. We all have to make decisions and create the life that we want, non?!”
“Lucien, you make it sound so simple, but there would be so many details to sort through, so much would have to happen, it’s complicated”
Lucien looked her in the eyes, and touched her forehead with a finger “The only complication is here Zelda. And you my dear are the only one who can know what you really want and make it happen”
At that moment a cake with a candle arrived at the table, and everyone started singing Happy Birthday. The cake was cut, glasses were raised and the end of the evening was spent happily chatting and laughing. In the early hours of the morning, Barbara and her boyfriend accompanied Zelda back to her hotel, “We’ll be back here at 10, so be ready!”
The night was short but Sunday morning found Zelda enjoying her breakfast in her bedroom as she prepared for a day’s antique hunting. The market at Vanves was amazing, the variety of antiques for sale and the general atmosphere was unlike anything she had ever experienced. “I’m in love Barbara!” Zelda said to her friend as they wandered through the antique vendor stands. “You live an amazing life here, I want this too!”
Over lunch there was much discussion about what it takes to leave one life and start another, and in the afternoon, Zelda made her way back to her hotel, where she ordered tea in front of the open fire, and sat down to think. Her weekend in Paris had been very different to anything she imagined, and who knew, maybe it was the start to a whole fresh start in life!
I hope you liked this little tale, that could be the story of you , of me and of many people we know.
Most of these photos were supplied by my friends at the Hotel Le Saint, whom I thank and whose hotel is every bit as good as Zelda experienced! And for those of you who receive my newsletter I have more good news; Le Saint is allowing me to share a special offer with you, to make your next stay in Paris even more spectacular!