Of all the things the pandemic has robbed us of, I miss the spirit of Paris the most. This city has an energy that just can’t be found elsewhere. While everyone loves an intimate dinner party, Parisian socializing is best enjoyed in groups. Crowded terraces drink long into the night, full cafés buzz around the city, picnics line the banks of the Seine, and a vast array of events and festivals mean that, in normal times, there’s culture for all to enjoy.
That kind of excitement is missing these days. Strolling through Paris on the brink of another possible confinement feels like walking through a museum after hours. The monuments are still lit up, but there are no crowds or cameras at the ready. Businesses reopened in June, but everything closed up again in October, and only some shops have reopened since. Cinemas, restaurants, bars, galleries, and theaters remain boarded up—with no projected end date in sight. Paris’ constant buzz has died down, and in its wake we are left with a show minus its spectacle.
We’re nearly a year into the pandemic, and I’m beginning to question my sanity. Why am I living in a tiny jail-like studio in an expensive city full of COVID infectees when I could be frolicking free in the countryside?
We move to cities because they promise us busy, exciting lives; finding yourself in the middle of one without anything in it forces you to look at your surroundings with an uncomfortable patience. Yet, there’s still something that keeps me anchored here, even with culture currently on hold and a grueling 6pm curfew. It’s certainly not the Paris of the past, but instead of mourning its loss, I’ve learned to appreciate the Paris of the present.
A quieter city means slowing down and really thinking about what we are surrounded with. I’ve turned my focus to one of the few places that have remained open since COVID first began: bakeries, France’s most refined art form, now have my undivided attention.
My new hobby is learning about different types of baked goods, and then finding the best or most unique version of it in Paris, kind of like a pâtisserie scavenger hunt. Eating pastries as a leisure activity is equally enjoyable with friends, too; at least once a week, a friend and I will try out a new bakery and go on a stroll along the Seine, savoring each crumb that passes through our lips (while keeping a safe distance bien sûr).
Yet, sugar highs can only last so long and putting your mask back on afterwards often feels suffocating. When bakeries don’t suffice, I’ve been escaping Paris and going on forest hikes in the Île-de-France region as often as possible. Walking amongst the trees helps me recharge mentally and physically. With travel severely limited for the past year, breathing fresh air is a novelty most days. My favorite hiking spot right now is the Forêt de Fontainebleau, amazing me every time with its varied landscape, cute villages, and countryside feel.
While it would be my ultimate dream to hop in a car and take off for the south, eating my way through lively markets, COVID has all travel plans on hold. However, since they qualify as essential businesses, Parisian markets are in full swing (albeit with some protective barriers). I’m actually kind of proud to admit that I have become a bona fide vegetable nerd. Similar to my bakery approach, I have spent the past few months reading about farming and the various types of local produce available in France, and then set out to different markets to find the sweetest fruits and legumes to be had.
While I admit I might not be a big fan of French cuisine, the quality of ingredients you can find is on another level. Who knew that when purchased from the right farmer, raw carrots can taste like they have been soaked in brown sugar? I had no idea how sweet produce could really be until I began frequenting weekly markets. Buying directly from farmers and producers gives me a brief moment of do-gooder joy, as I know I’m supporting small family businesses and getting better-quality food.
I feel really lucky that I have a strong support network in Paris, so I try to stay social safely. My friends and I have been taking advantage of how much emptier the city is without tourists. We have been going on photo walks, allowing ourselves to explore both the quieter areas and tourist hotspots from a new, unrushed angle.
It seems the key to staying sane during a pandemic is slowing down and looking at everything differently. It might be a bit grim at times, but this is still Paris. I’d rather stare at its stunning architecture than be confined anywhere else. I go through constant cycles of wondering if I should leave it all behind and volunteer on a lavender farm in the south, but this is my adopted home. It might not be as green and open as I want, but at least there’s no shortage of things for the eyes (and pastry-craving stomach) to feast upon.
- Check out why Jessica moved to Paris during the pandemic.
- Discover the 9 best day trips from Paris.
- Read Yvonne’s story of finding love and an apartment in Paris.
Written by Hannah Polinski for HiP Paris. All photos Hannah Polinski. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.