I haven’t spent a full winter in a cold climate for 15 years. The weather is crisp and clear, and sometimes below freezing, but not particularly cold. Still, it took a long time to remember how to dress in layers easily, and how to keep track of all the winter gear need, the gloves, the scarves and hats.
A small milestone has passed, the Christmas and New Year’s period. Even months before, it was something that friends would ask about. And now it’s passed.
I stretched it out! Christmas lights went up in the streets: not too showy, quite elegant, we thought. My morning cycle to work became colder and brisk. All December, I rode while sing Christmas Carols, loudly, along the Seine, under the Eiffel Tower’s watch, or past the Christmas displays in the windows of the Bon Marché, where even the lights from cars and traffic signals converged with the holiday glow. Chestnuts roasting over open fires! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Hark the herald angels sing. It never felt right to me singing cold weather Christmas carols in Sydney’s 30 degree heat, so this year, I indulged.
We went to a performance at Théâtre Chaillot by the Batsheva Dance Company, from Israel on Christmas Eve: ‘Decadance’, a selection of ten of their works: beautiful and unexpected movement.
Afterwards, we had a late dinner in the foyer of this vast and grand building with one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The lights sparkled every hour for five minutes; we were there for the 10pm and 11pm light show while served a most excellent three course meal, but for midnight were riding our bikes down the Champs-Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe: lots of people wandering around. I guess that’s what tourists do in Paris for Christmas.
On Christmas Day, we had a quiet morning, spoke to family by Skype, went to an incredible special lunch at Atelier de Joël Robuchon Etoile (see the blog post for photos), and spent the rest of the day recovering.
On 31 December, we took a train just 40 minutes to the outskirts of Paris, Saint Germain-en-Laye. The lovely old hotel, Pavillon Henri IV, recommended by a colleague, turned out to be part of the chateau where Louis XIV was born. They’re very proud of that.
There is a magnificent park next to the chateau, with miles of perfect rows of trees and sculpted bushes and pathways, running along a historic wall with a view of Paris, La Défense closer by and the Eiffel Tower far in the distance. We went for a lovely stroll through it on New Year’s Day.
The town itself was rather charming and old, and there we bought baguettes to go with the foie gras we’d brought, and a Gallete de Rois, a traditional pastry for the 2nd of January (we thought we’d start early). Layers of crisp puff pastry stuffed with frangipane, sweet almond paste: delicious.
We skipped the expensive party the hotel was hosting, drank a special bottle of champagne, as recommended by a sommelier pal (Jerome Prevost’s La Closerie), ate foie gras and brie de meaux, watched Downton Abbey on a laptop, and managed to stay up past midnight, somewhat of a struggle these days.
As the sky darkened, the lights of the city became in comparison more bright.
Through our hotel window, Paris stretched out wide in front of us and into the distance. I’m not sure I’ve been in a similar geography before, feeling like we were up on the edge of a wide pan, rather flatter than around where I grew up in Vancouver. We didn’t think there would be fireworks, but there were some quite close by, on the nearest banks of the Seine, and we saw others in the distance (with a brief flare from the Arc de Triomphe at midnight).
Far in the distance to the right: the strobelights of the Eiffel Tower at midnight, sparkling as we’d seen them on Christmas eve, though the rotating beacon continued on and on after that (as it does all night).
In the morning, the whole city slowly glowed pink and red and then became progressively lighter, welcoming the new year.