In the weeks leading up to our trip to Paris, I did a ton of research on blogs, articles linked through pinterest, and reaching out to a few friends who had previously lived and studied in the city of lights. With such a huge and well-traveled city, it really is impossible and extremely exhausting to even try to read everything there is to know and do and to build a realistic itinerary for only a week-long trip. As it happens, once we did arrive, we only did little more than half of the planned things on the list, but we also chose to allow ourselves to wander, grab coffee, and sleep in. After all, traveling is exhausting and we wanted to be on at least a bit of a vacation!
Since we live on the west coast of the US, I thought it would be a good idea to get up ridiculously early and tire ourselves out the week before our trip, so that we could fall asleep on the plane and not waste our first day there. The plan inevitably worked, because on our first day we arrived in Paris around noon and after taking a decent amount of time to gain our bearings and grab some food, then navigate to our Airbnb located in the Republique neighborhood, we were already out and about exploring, instead of dozing off at about 3 am Seattle time.
One of my favorite ways to explore and enjoy is through amateur photography, and my camera for some reason resorted to all black photos while on the plane, so our first stop was to a highly reputed camera repair shop in the 3rd. It turns out the settings were just wonky and he was able to use it just fine, so we left a little embarrassed and headed towards the shops to get the next thing on our list: a swimsuit! I had completely forgotten to pack one, and we were heading to a Turkish spa to relax and deal with jet-lag, so this was a must. After barely finding something that fit me and felt moderately covered, we sauntered into a sun-soaked cafe mid-afternoon for strong warm coffee and delicious Nutella crepes: a soon to be staple of the trip.
I love how time seems to cease from existing in those warm cozy places where the golden sunlight fills all the open corners between shadows. In coffee shops and on tree-scattered beaches, snuggled on couches or on a sunrise hike. I never wanted to leave that cafe, but there was so much of Paris to see beyond this street!
As the afternoon slipped into evening, we made our way back to the Airbnb to grab bags of toiletries and swimsuits then head to the Hammam Medina Center. This style of Turkish bath house is very popular around Paris and it surprised me that I did not hear more about it while researching, but the best information was found here, where she explains in great detail what to expect and what her experience has been at several locations. We chose the Hammam Medina Center because it seems like the best option for the price, very clean, and also allows couples on weekends, whereas most hammams are women or men only on certain days. This was the best decision, and one of the highlights of our trip! Seriously, what better way to spend your half-awake time on the first day in a city halfway around the world than lounging around in a relaxing spa, complete with almond oil massage and the infamous Parisian gommage?
"Pure bliss that I have been missing ever since" is probably the quickest way to describe the experience at the Turkish spa. We arrived and put our names on the list, and were given a print out in English to help us remember the steps: first you change into your swimsuit and leave your clothes in the locker. You go downstairs to the shower and cleanse yourself, then put on the rumored savon noir, and enter the hammam, or very hot steam room. The room was so filled with a menthol steam that you could not see the depth or even the wall across from you. We sat on a bench and tried to breathe while maintaining some sense of time. You are supposed to stay at least 15 minutes, and as much as 45, but honestly I don't see how anyone could know how long they have been in this room when it is all you can do to keep your eyes open for all the menthol and steam and sweat. We eventually discovered the bucket of cool water and used it to cool our faces and persevere.
After melting into existential existence and heat, we finally resolved to escape to step two- laying out and relaxing on the hot stone slab outside of the steam room. Like a post-sunny-beach-day-nap, it was incredibly satisfying and refreshing coming from the intense heat in the steam room. We loved not having to worry about timing and schedules and where to be. We only had to laze around from room to room, coming and going whenever we wanted. From here we had to rinse off the savon noir and head to the gommage room. Luckily, we were the only two in the room because it was an intimate experience to remove your suit and let these ladies scrub you within an inch of your life- breasts and all. If there is one thing I learned in France, it was to be comfortable with my body because everyone else sure was.