The problem with writing these introductory lines last is that I know what it's in store for you: many, many words about some of my favourite parts of Paris – I love that city and am still coming to terms with having left – and effectively none about opera. With that caveat out of the way, if you care to stick around, the following is my way of celebrating a really wonderful (despite the endless cold weather) two months and maybe even offering a few hints to like-minded potential visitors. It's mostly shopping and food – I think the monuments and museums speak for themselves, don't they? – and it's pretty Marais-centric, because that's where we were based. But a few nearby arrondissements are in there too: the 2e through to the 6e, hence my slightly cryptic title.
Passage du Grand Cerf Maybe it's bit cliché of me, but few things made me happier on this trip than wandering accidentally into one of the city's beautiful covered passages: nineteenth century shopping arcades which are so enchanting that it doesn't really matter if there's nothing in there you especially want to buy. If I'd done my research, I'd have known about the Passage du Grand Cerf in advance, but as it was, I was exploring Rue Tiquetonne – which has some great shops itself, as well as a great name – and spotted a sign for "Rue Marie Stuart", whose name also attracted me. It was, in fact, a fairly inconsequential street, but then I turned around, saw this arcade and was smitted. I especially loved Rickshaw, which brims with Indian curios and antiques, and L'illustre boutique, where I bought some tiny and adorable star shaped magnets made from folded paper. Also worth finding is the, shorter, fairy-lit Passage Molière, and particularly the delicate jewelry at Fanchon en Mars; and if you're in the area, please have dinner at Le Quincampe and report back – it was on our list but we never made it.
Bar de Jarente This little restaurant sits at one end of the Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine, one of many in the square. At first glance they all look fairly similar, but after working our way few a through, Bar de Jarente was the clear winner and we made it our regular haunt. I pretty much developed a duck confit addiction in Paris, and BDJ was my number one dealer – we were there every week and I rarely ordered anything else, though when I did branch out, the results were no less delicious; Stuart's pick was the sausage and lentils, which never failed to send him into raptures. The place is run by what I assume are father and son, and the service is outstanding: exceptionally friendly to locals and tourists alike, and happily bilingual. When they took a week's holiday – as French businesses tend to do – without telling us, we went into a tailspin, but happily they were back in time for a farewell lunch or two. Or three.
Pain de Sucre So as not to wind up the size of a house, I made the decision early on to buy pastries only on weekends, a scheme I more or less stuck to. Friday counts as the weekend, right? Thought so. I used the sensational Paris Patisseries blog as a starting point, and one of the first places it sent me was this patisserie, partly because blogmaster Adam spoke so highly and so tantalisingly of their caramel macarons. I was not disappointed. Crunchy, chewy, salty and sweet, it didn't just spoil me for other caramel macarons – it spoilt me for all other macarons, full stop. The Caprice – choux pastry with orange blossom filling – is also pretty special. I made quite a few weekend stops here, each time buying a few more macarons until I could hardly keep up with myself.
L'éclair de génie More pastry. I happened on this place entirely by accident. Opened not too long ago by the former head patissier of Fauchon, they sell designer éclairs – with prices to match. €5 for a smaller-than-usual éclair is not exactly a practical purchase, but as an occasional treat? Utterly worthwhile. I tried the chocolate-coconut, the lemon yuzu and the salted caramel, and each one was amazing. I valiantly resisted their similarly upmarket chocolates but I have to assume they're just as good. There's another upmarket éclair maker in the 2e, L'atelier de l'éclair, which has its own charms – savoury and family-size éclairs, and marginally lower prices – but for me L'éclair de génie still edges them out.
Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe Another accidental discovery. I did read my Lonely Planet guide, honestly, and bookmarked it within an inch of its life, but just the same all my best days happened when I forgot to consult it. This street is what Rue Vieille du Temple (another favourite place for endless wandering) becomes after it crosses Rue de Rivoli, and as it heads towards the Seine – one guess which bridge it leads to – the irresistible boutiques come thick and fast, including several exquisite stationery/calligraphy specialists (Mélodies Graphiques is the most olde-worldey and congenial, while Papier Plus has stunning notebooks in every colour you could imagine), a specialist in antique musical instruments, and the delightful Monastica, which sells only products manufactured by nuns and monks – everything from soap and candles to tote bags, keyrings and some remarkably Paul Smith-esque accessories. Oh, and around the corner on Rue Tiron, Aux Petit Versailles du Marais makes fabulous palmiers. (I really did eat a lot of pastries on this trip.)
Popelini What's that you say? A macaron sized éclair? Well, close enough. Popelini make choux à la crème – cream puffs – which would be too cute to eat if they weren't so damned tasty. I confess I didn't wait for the weekend to visit; I was craving just a mouthful of sugary goodness and lo and behold, there was Popelini, purpose built. I limited myself to two and never quite managed to return, though if I had, there's no telling how many I might have emerged with. Odette, on the Left Bank close to Notre Dame, also specialises in cream puffs, and has a reportedly fabulous first-floor tea room, but I'm afraid the abrupt, unhelpful service I received when taking mine to go put me off somewhat. The cheery Popelini definitely gets my vote.
Gaspard de la nuit A very savvy bass-baritone sent us here, and thank heavens he did. Around the corner from the super famous and oh-so-opulent Bofinger, this cosy restaurant made two of the best all-round culinary experiences we had in Paris: service (again, voluntarily bilingual – don't trust the stereotype of the anti-tourist Parisian), wine, food – oh the food – and, at the end of it all, calvados: a happy if perilous new discovery for me. Open till midnight every night and just a few minutes' walk from the Opéra Bastille, it's perfect for dinner after an evening performance of a normal opera, or a Wagner matinée. If I could implore you to try just one item from the menu, it would probably be the tarte fine au boudin noir, although it shouldn't surprise you to hear I'm also keen on their duck confit.
Fleux Not so much a shop as a miniature empire. Fleux has a cluster of four stores on Rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie and while technically I suppose you could call them a homewares retailer, that doesn't begin to convey the kooky, colourful goings-on side. Sure, you can buy a chair or a set of dinner plates there, but you can also buy a limited edition Lego Moleskine notebook, novelty pacifiers, or a beaded Karl Lagerfeld brooch – not one designed by him, but his face in bead form. There are mugs and iPhone cases in Pantone colours, stuffed toy heads for your wall, all manner of kitchen gadgets you never knew you needed but clearly must own immediately and a variety of slightly bizarre "Georges Clounet" merchandise, which pokes fun at its namesake's coffee endorsements by replacing him with a scruffy Frenchman. This is not high concept, high fashion stuff we're talking about, although you could certainly spend a fortune here if you wanted; it is, however, paradise for shopping – window or proper – when you don't know what, if anything, you want.
Un dimanche à Paris Since my dessert exploits owed so much to Adam's blog, I could hardly fail to visit the pâtisserie which had been his local, nor to try the pastry they made in his honour: a multi-layered confection of chocolate, peanut butter and peanuts aptly named "Le péché d'Adam". I was glad, in fact, to have that aim in mind, because this place is a chocolate sensory overload and I might easily have spent the whole day choosing what to try. Un Dimanche also has a tea salon and a restaurant, both of which are right near the top of my Next Time list; I'd love to try more of their creations in situ, with a view of the cobbled alley, the Cours du Commerce Saint-André, on which Un Dimanche, along with a couple of restaurants (one of them supposedly the oldest in Paris) and a purveyor of beautiful leather stationery, is situated, just steps away from the exit of the Odéon metro station – right in the heart of St-Germain-des-Près.
And the rest...Bensimon, where I bought pink polka dotted shoes...Café Hugo, on the Place des Vosges, the site of our very first Parisian lunch...The Kilo Shop, which sells secondhand clothing by weight...The Marché Bastille where we bought bread, meat and a thousand kinds of cheese on Sundays until Walküre matinées took precedence...the walk from the Panthéon down Rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève to Rue des Ecoles...Jardin du Luxembourg, where we watched kids playing with toy sailboats and considering hiring one of our own...Boulangerie Saint-Gilles, which I've seen recommended precisely nowhere but was our constant source of excellent fresh bread and croissants...OCD, which kept us stocked up with English-language DVDs...The Ile St-Louis which is still a flâneuse's dream, even if it was too cold for icecream from Berthillon...The insanely luxurious public toilets in the Carrousel du Louvre, whose hefty admission fee you're inclined to forgive once you see the lighting and (seriously) the gift shop...even the café whose name I've forgotten with a surly "no laptops" sign in the window...the hilariously named bookshop I Love My Blender...and everything I haven't mentioned...and of course the Opéra Bastille itself, to whom I owe infinite thanks for bringing me back – and for so long! – to my giddiest city crush of all.