I’ve just returned from a week-long vacation in Paris with my dear FOFriend, Mary Ann. We’ve been to this exquisite city together many times over the last 20 years, both for business and fun, and it never stops being an exhilarating experience.
This was the first time we stayed on the Rive Droite (Right Bank), at an apartment in Le Marais, which is now the hippest area of Paris. The aristocracy’s favorite place to live until the 17 century, it eventually became home to one of Paris’ main Jewish communities. When the Nazis took over France during World War 11, they enlisted the French police to round up Jews in a stadium for bicycle races in Le Marais, before shipping them to concentration camps. Now the area is packed with cool young Parisians, architects’ offices, ad agencies, galleries, bistros and boutique after boutique of edgy apparel and unique bijoux (jewelry); chocolates, cheeses and pastries, and pharmacies that sell $40 horn hair combs and upscale creams and cosmetics you’d only find in American department stores. We ate the best falafel of our lives on the Rue des Rosiers.
We rented our charming, loft-like flat (you don’t say apartment in Europe) from Haven in Paris. We love staying in authentic homes because it’s more comfortable and more fun than a hotel stay, and about half the price. The two French architects who own the flat made clever use of the modest space. Mary Ann and I brewed coffee every morning and enjoyed delicious yogurt we bought in a little grocery. It was fun to eat breakfast “in” and far less costly than having a simple breakfast in a cafe, which would have cost about $50 for the two of us.
Here are some highlights from the trip I thought my FOFriends would enjoy:
Playing Footsie With Fish: When we passed a tiny salon offering “fish pedicures,” we had to check it out. Sure enough, the water tanks around the perimeter were filled with dozens of tiny toothless fish that thrive on the dead skin of human feet. The moment you lower your feet into the tank, the fish come a feasting. Some prefer the heels, while others gravitate to the toes or soles. It tickles slightly at first, but after a few minutes, the sensation is soothing. We chose the 20-minute session, which was followed by a five-minute massage (by a woman, not the fish.) Believe it or not, our feet felt much softer after this unconventional treatment.
The fish, called Garra rufa or Doctor Fish, are from Turkey, where they live and breed in the outdoor pools of some spas, and feed on the skin of patients with psoriasis. The fish only consume the affected and dead areas of the skin, leaving the healthy skin to grow. Fish pedicures are available in select salon outside Washington, DC, and elsewhere across the country, although they’re outlawed in a number of states that claim the tanks can breed disease if not properly equipped with ultraviolet lights. Our tanks were. Check out this website to see where the fishy pedicures are offered.
Wedding Crashers: Mary Ann and I went to the tony George V Hotel, near the Champs Elysees, to buy a special room spray my sister loves. The lobby was filled with lots of striking and tall (as in 6 feet) women, who were obviously French models. (We confirmed they were when we asked if we could take their photos). They were there for the wedding reception of Cedric and Mariyna, also a model. These photos speak for themselves.
Wharton, The Writer, Not the School: “Wow, look at that gorgeous house,” I said to Mary Ann as we walked down the Rue de Varenne, one of the most beautiful streets in Paris (considering that every single street is beautiful, this is quite a compliment.) We went to take a look at the plaque on the building and read that this was the home of writer Edith Wharton from 1910 to 1920. “My years of Paris life were spend entirely in the rue de Varenne –rich years, crowded and happy years,” it read.
The Most Famous Beaches in the World, Where No One Swims: Even the greatest history professors and cinematographers in the world could never translate the power of the Allied invasion of France, in June 6, 1941, like a first-hand visit to the Beaches of Normandy. It is humbling to walk on stretches of sand where thousands of soldiers gave their lives. It is impossible to fathom how 225 Rangers secretly scaled the sheer cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on Omaha Beach, supplies strapped to their backs and weapons in their hands, knowing the enemy was positioned at the top. Ninety survived.
Rosine, a 37-year-old Frenchwoman, led a stupendous full-day tour. She works for the Memorial de Caen.