The Burns Sisters Conquer Paris

A really long time ago, my sister Susie and I went to Paris. Like, a really long time ago: March or April or something. I kind of forgot to write about it---other than posting a whole bunch of photos of the six bazillion calories we consumed in 72 hours---but we really did have a lot of fun. My sister is one of only a few people I can travel with without needing to go into a private corner and scratch my eyes out for a few hours midway through the trip, and it's mostly because we like doing the exact same thing: we like eating, we like drinking, we like walking, we like shopping, and we like laughing at each other having trouble with the public toilets in a foreign country.

I mean come on: there is nothing funnier than when the door to the free public toilet won't close and you really have to go. Oh wait, yes there is: when you come out of the free public toilet and a cute boy goes in right after you, except the free public toilet has an automatic flush that hasn't had time to automatically flush yet. Not that anything like that happened to Susie, of course. By which I mean it totally did.

In London, we bought these matching sunglasses especially for the trip, which cost a pound each in Primark. If you have never been to Primark, imagine your local Forever 21 at opening hours on Black Friday then multiply that by six hundred, add a pinch of Mexican Wal-Mart, and divide by the number of people who elbow you in the face while grabbing at the cut-price tank tops (it should be well into the double digits.) The sunglasses, though only a pound each, held up remarkably well, I have to say, although all subsequent viewing of my Paris photos has prompted me to think, upon occasion, wait, did we both just get out of Lasik surgery?

(Well, you could certainly be forgiven for thinking it.)

We stayed at the most wonderful hotel in Paris: it was called Mama Shelter. I have to give full credit to my Internet friend Marguerite for suggesting this one---I once met Marguerite for a beer in Berlin, you may recall---because I never would have found it on my own. Or maybe I would have found it, but then I would have talked myself out of it because I didn't think I was cool enough to stay there. It's very cool, you see, Mama Shelter, but it doesn't do it in a pretentious way: rather, you just feel like you've stumbled upon a hidden local secret, except it's a hidden local secret with Frette bedsheets and Kiehl's products in the bathrooms, which I think we can all agree are the very best hidden local secrets of all.

Also, here's something: it was cheaper than any of the other hotels (or rented studio flats) I looked at for this trip, coming in at around 89 Euros a night. The biggest reason for this, I think, was that it was in the 20th arondissement, far from the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and all that jazz, but that actually suited us just fine. Every morning, we'd make the ten minute walk from the hotel to the Metro station (Gambetta, if you're planning on staying there), and public-transit ourselves around the city; in the three days we stayed at Mama Shelter, we also managed to find a favorite local patisserie, park, and grocery store, all of which were just a couple of minutes walk from the hotel.

As you can see, here I have recently been to the patisserie in question. This was the best bread we ate in France, hands down.

I love staying slightly away from the action when I visit cities; you feel less like a tourist and so much more like a resident. One morning, we met a very nice man in Pere Lachaise Cemetery (final resting place of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and plenty of non-famous dead people too) who caught my eye and smiled kindly as we stumbled past him for the sixth time (we'd come in the back way and missed the public maps.)

"Vous cherchez quelqu'un?" he asked ("are you looking for someone?") and I had to swallow my pride, take a deep breath, and announce sheepishly "Nous cherchons Jim Morrison," which, being that I was obviously a lost foreigner of a certain age, is probably exactly what he thought I was going to say. (Raise your hand if you made that particular pilgrimage in your late teens or early twenties. Oh come on, you know you did. The first time I visited in 2001, I even filled an empty film canister full of earth from the grave itself and carried it earnestly all the way back to London with me as though it Meant Something, but I was 21 and that's the sort of thing you do. Also, they had film canisters then. Like, not ironically. Isn't that weird?)

The nice man squired us all the way through Pere Lachaise, chattering amicably to us in French as he did---he'd lived in the area for thirty years---and finally deposited us at the grave in question. "What a nice man!" we said to each other for the rest of the day. And what do you know, the following morning, we were coming out of our favorite local patisserie, and there was the man again, crossing the street in front of us. "Bonjour, les filles!" he called across the street, waving, and we waved back, as surprised as he was. When does that ever happen in a foreign city, let alone one you've only been in for 36 hours? When you stay in a neighborhood, I guess, rather than on the tourist track. Score another point for Mama Shelter.

Here is a picture of Susie kissing the grave of Oscar Wilde in Pere Lachaise, which was covered in hundreds of lipstick kisses from various women. Not sure why, as he wasn't exactly....into the ladies, was he? Also, this public grave kissing cannot have been very sanitary, I think you'll agree. I told her that if she caught the swine flu doing this, I wasn't taking her to the emergency room at 3am.

If you are wondering where we ate in Paris, you might be disappointed when I tell you that in place of five-star, five-course gourmet dinners, we ate what we came to coin "bed picnics" for two out of the three evenings we were there. Bed picnics are another reason I love traveling with my sister, because after long days of trekking around the city on our feet all day, we both agreed that there would be nothing nicer than to head back to the hotel in the evening, hit up the grocery store on the walk back from the Metro, and spend the evening with a selection of breads, cheeses, ham, olives, and assorted French candy spread out on a bathroom towel on the bed in front of us while we watched back-to-back iTunes episodes of The Inbetweeners (have you seen The Inbetweeners? It's very British and rather crude, but if you have ever been a teenager, I think you'd like it.)

This was not a bed picnic, this was a bench picnic, but the two are very similar.

Susie and I, in fact, came to perfect the art of the bed picnic. On the one day we didn't have a bed picnic for dinner, we managed to squeeze in a bed picnic for afternoon tea instead. It consisted of a chocolate pot de creme each, and then another chocolate pot de creme right afterwards. After that, we went out for dinner and were laughed out of town when we tried to walk into creperie Breizh Cafe without a reservation (and the next day for lunch too. If there's anything worse than being laughed out of a restaurant by a French maitre'd once, I think you'll agree that it's being laughed out of a restaurant by a French maitre d' twice. Don't do this. Learn from our mistakes.)

Instead, we found a nameless neighborhood brasserie where we gorged ourselves on frites and beer and then at around eleven that night---which is very daring for me as I usually have somewhere else to be most evenings at eleven, that place being IN MY PAJAMAS---we met my friend Caroline for drinks in a very trendy unsignposted bar down an alley. I hadn't seen Caroline since 1999---she was one of my very best friends throughout the latter half of the 1990s; you may remember that we went to see Bon Jovi together---and the fact that she hadn't changed at all (like, at all) was both heart-warming and mind-blowing. Sometimes I think back on how I grew up, all that moving around, and I think wow, that was such a strange way to live. And then other times I'm in a foreign city and an old friend looks me up on Facebook and says hey, you're in Paris, I'm in Paris, let's meet for a drink, and it's like the world shrinks and the past recedes and nothing at all has changed. 

It eventually came time to leave Paris, of course, and Susie and I did so grudgingly---has anyone ever left Paris willingly?---with a block of Brittany butter, a bottle of champagne, and the stinkiest wheel of cheese you've ever had the displeasure of smelling stuffed into our carry-on bags. Too bad for the people sitting behind us on the Eurostar, that's all I can say, although they were the loudest loudtalkers in the history of loudtalking, so I'd argue that they had it coming.

Too sad to be leaving. I hate you Gare du Nord, you destroyer of dreams.

Aside from Mama Shelter, I don't have a huge number of recommendations---although I will vouch for the hot chocolate at Cafe Angelina, touristy as it is, and the macarons at Laduree, as well as L'As du Fallafel by proxy, as it was closed when we showed up there, having been promised by Sarah Brown that it would be the best falafel of our lives---but I will say this: Go to Paris if you're ever given the chance, even if it's years and years from now. Go with your sister if you have one. Walk everywhere. Eat everything. Have a lot of picnics. Take a lot of pictures. Be smarter than us and make a reservation for that crepe place. And don't leave the public toilet before the automatic flush.

Speaking of pictures, there are way more than you could ever be interested in looking at right here. And this was me being restrained. I know. Stop being so photogenic, Paris. 

Brother Tom
May 24, 2010

What a wonderfully well written piece. xx

May 24, 2010

Gah, we struck out with Breizh and L'As du Fallafel this past weekend too. Still, Paris is Paris. And my feet now feel like mincemeat.

May 25, 2010

i love bed picnics too ... my sister and i had chinese food in our brussels hotel =p

May 25, 2010

I once took the Eurostar back to London with what I was sure was the stinkiest cheese ever. Perhaps you've broken my record.

May 25, 2010

I love bed picnics also! I just never knew what they were called. And I always lay a towel down first, so I don't get crumbs in my bed.

Sounds like a fun trip!

Sarah Brown
May 25, 2010

You were the second person that week who told me they tried to get a falafel and they were closed. Either they're getting too big for their britches, or it was Passover or something.

We're thinking about a cheap Paris weekend next month (ha, does that exist?), so I'm so glad you posted about your hotel!

I have yet to go to Primark. Will it scratch my missing Target and Old Navy itch?

May 25, 2010

I love L'as du Fallafel! Absolutely incredible...I am sorry you missed it!

FunnyGal KAT
May 25, 2010

I just learned I'm a cliche-- I went to Paris with my sister when I was in my twenties and we searched out Jim Morrison's grave in Pere Lachaise. We didn't kiss any gravestones, but we did eat crepes every single night we were there (I think it's a requirement for being in Paris)

Your trip sounds so fun-- and makes me want to go back.

Amy Louise
May 25, 2010

Paris <3 One of my favourite cities ever, and I get to move there in two years to spend a year at Sciences-Po! I'd love to go sooner though, because last time I went was 2005.

And ew, French cheese. Love it, but I once went through a 26 hour coach trip from France to Scotland and some idiot had left a wheel of cheese in their bag!

hip hip gin gin
May 25, 2010

Affinity for bed picnics is honestly one of the reasons I married my husband. And yes we spent a great deal of our honeymoon having bed picnics for breakfast and dinner, best thing ever!
I totally squealed by the way at the photo of Susie kissing the gravestone. I'm a certified germophobe and seeing her lips on that icky stone touched and kissed by millions pretty much took a year off my life, no Susie no!!
Looks like an amazing trip, am still totally jealous!

May 25, 2010

"Eat everything," is the best advice you've ever given the internet.

May 25, 2010

It has been well over a decade since I was last in Paris. And now I want to steal my sister away for a copy-cat trip with a stay at Mama Shelter and bed picnics (LOVE this term!).

May 25, 2010

Oooh *raises hand* I've been the tourist looking for Jim Morrison's grave and kissing Oscar Wilde's! Luckily now that I'm older and more mature (heh, right) I feel as though I can enjoy Paris as a city and not as a tourist destination. Which pretty much means that I have changed my priorities to eating and drinking a lot.

May 25, 2010

I am so down with the bed picnics - after you've been out all day? I always feel like a party pooper, but I won't any more. Looks like a lovely trip & I am dying to go again. Thanks for the fun post!

Elizabeth in Chicago
May 25, 2010

Ah, but see, you assume the lipstick kisses are from WOMEN. (Though, admittedly, the next time I'm in Paris, I will do the same.)

May 25, 2010

I'm going to Paris in July, and I am most looking forward to the food. I will file away that public toilet advice.

May 25, 2010

i love love love bed picnics! my husband (then fiance) and I did that frequently when we toured scotland...complete with the towel down for a picnic blanket! Your pots de creme sound far fancier than our hula hoops and monster munch though! (pickled onion flavor of course)

May 25, 2010

I've just remembered that my parents told me those loos flush by turning upside down, so I shouldn't stay in it too long.

Either I've remembered that really wrong, or it's REALLY fun having kids you can tell that kind of ridiculous stuff. Especially if they've forgotten it, but believed it, for 20 years. (Btw, Maddy's going to have hers any day! I'm going to tell it that ice cream vans only play a tune when they're empty and off to fill up...)

May 25, 2010

The sunglasses remind me of Andrew McCarthy...from I think it was Pretty in Pink. Very retro, and oh so Parisian.

May 25, 2010

The sunglasses remind me of Andrew McCarthy...from I think it was Pretty in Pink. Very retro, and oh so Parisian.

May 25, 2010

oh my goodness. those public toilets. I think London and Paris were the only times when I ever saw public toilets on the street. Most other cities hide their toilets in subway stations! love it!

May 25, 2010

Contacting my sister now! Sounds superb!

May 26, 2010

Very trivial I know, but what lipstick are you wearing in the top pic? So pretty!

Nothing But Bonfires
May 26, 2010

Thanks! I'm wearing what I always wear: Cover Girl Lipslicks in Daring. You can buy it for $4 at any drugstore or Target. It's kind of a cross between a balm and a stain. I have recommended it to about 343998 people.

May 26, 2010

My sister is treating me to an eight day trip to Croatia next month. Even though that sounds like a wealthy older sister thing to do, she's eight years younger than I am (similar to you and your sister) and a grad student in New York City, while I slave away at work in LA. She just felt generous, I guess, plus travelling with your sister is pure bliss, especially when you're best friends. Your pics are gorgeous and it makes me even more excited to meet new people, eat all sorts of new foods (although I doubt the baguettes will be quite as good there, and will Croatia even have pot de creme?), wander around the beautiful cities and mainly, spend time with my sister.

May 27, 2010

you and your sister are ADORABLE. xoxo

May 27, 2010

I love The Inbetweeners! I've just been watching the episode where they go clubbing in London and Simon borrows the tramp's shoes, which is cringeworthy and hilarious in equal measures. It's such an accurate portrait of being a British teenager... which does then make me grateful for no longer being at that painful stage.

May 27, 2010

How funny! I read this today and then met up with a friend who was studying in paris and waht did she bring me... A BOX OF LADUREE MACARONS! such timing! Your trip sounds like it was a blast, I can't wait to go back to Europe :)

Rachael W
May 29, 2010

I went to Paris with my brother this past summer, and our vacation sounds much like yours. France is my dad's home country, so I feel a special connection -- this post made me miss Paris so much.

May 31, 2010

Alright, so this is completely unrelated to this post, or sisters, or even food.
However, I came across this online new magazine and just in case you're not aware of it, I thought you may be interested. (What with you being a newlywed, a new homeowner, etc.):


May 23, 2012

I LOVE Paris, and I love your post! I didn't get a chance to eat at Breizh Cafe either :(

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