To succeed Valentine’s Day, I thought it appropriate to discuss what many would consider one of the most romantic places on Earth: Paris. The City of Light offers beautiful architecture, endearing landscapes, a Romance language, and…proposals at the top of the Eiffel Tower? Well, maybe for some. Every trip will have a certain ambiance based on your company, but in my case, I visited Paris with my sister!
The early summer trip offered perfect weather for our adventure. That being said, we ran into some roadblocks along the way. We were quickly introduced to the political atmosphere of France when we tried taking the train into the city from the airport and were notified that it was not in operation due to a strike. Throughout our three day journey in Paris, we also encountered a strike among the bus system and the Paris Catacombs. We were intrigued about taking a tour of this labyrinth of underground tunnels serving as the burial ground for millions. While inconvenient timing for us tourists, the French have a prominent history of fighting for their rights. Simply be aware of possible last-minute interruptions in public services when visiting the city. I will make note now that prior to visiting France, I had heard mixed opinions on the French as a people and their politeness or lack thereof. Having experienced them first hand, I could sense a hint of an elitist attitude from some, but I did not encounter any rudeness outside of someone having an occasional bad day.
Luckily, we were able to see all of the other main attractions while in Paris with no interference. The Eiffel Tower was first on the list. The tower was a beautiful structure and I never thought I would go to the top because of my fear of heights. But once I was there, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. We waited in a short line to buy our lift tickets to the top and opted to climb the stairs to the second platform (this option was about $22/person). Please abide by the health warnings as this was a significant cardio workout! Not into climbing 116m by stairs? Check out the multiple ticket options available here. Once we reached the second platform, we took what seemed like a never ending elevator ride all the way to the top. Given the number of tourists, these elevators move quickly so be prepared to feel the pressure change in your ear drums! The top, of course, provided a beautiful panoramic on the clear day we were fortunate enough to have. Thinking of getting engaged up there? No worries, the tower staff and their champagne cart are ready to serve you during your celebration.
Notre Dame was also on the list and I am happy to have seen it prior to the unfortunate fire this past year. We arrived too late in the day to schedule a tour of the infamous bell towers depicted in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but we did have plenty of time to explore the interior…and get crappy pictures showcased below. The fire left plenty of devastation in its wake, and according to Smithsonian Magazine, the status of the historic structure seems questionable as clean-up continues. However, AP News reports that if all goes well, the goal is to have the cathedral accessible to the public by 2024 when Paris hosts the Olympics.
We arrived at the Louvre late in the day around 4:00pm. In all honesty, this worked out perfectly for us. There was no waiting in long lines that are known to wrap around the surrounding area. We were able to walk right up and buy our tickets for about $17/person (there may have been an end of the day discount). Having only two hours to explore the world-renowned art museum was not ample time to stop and appreciate every piece of artwork, but for the two of us who appreciate art but don’t need to admire every painting, two hours was sufficient. We of course saw the Mona Lisa (much smaller than I would have imagined, and yes, she does stare at you), and a few other pieces you may recognize below.
On our short three day trip we also saw the Arc de Triomphe, a monument to the French Revolution which also houses beneath it, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI. The eight lane wide, free-for-all road around the Arc is a cluster! But there are pedestrian tunnels to get you across safely. Heading away from the Arc leads you directly onto the Champs-Elysees, your one-stop shop for high-end, name brand goods and food. The Jardins de Luxembourg provided a nice relaxing retreat from the city with trickling fountains and exquisitely cut shrubbery! While we did not have time on our trip, the Palace of Versailles is an easy day trip from Paris offering history, gardens, and golden everything!
Arriving in France, I knew I was in for a culinary treat, but little did I know how enjoyable every single dish would be. Our first morning at breakfast, we gorged on coffee, juice, biscuits, and two French classics: omelettes and crepes. As I have mentioned in a previous post, breakfast food is surprisingly cheap in Europe and the quality of food really gets you going in the morning. The omelette I had took me off guard as it was massive, open-faced, and filled only with sauteed peppers (not sure whether this was the norm). However, the crepe was just as large and was smothered in ganache and almond slivers. Pretty spectacular if I must say so myself! Later that day, after exiting the Notre Dame cathedral we were greeted by an international bread and pastry baking competition housed in a large event tent hosting competitors from all over the world. I wish I could have captured the cozy, slightly-sweet aroma looming in the air to share with all of you. Temptation got the best of us and of course we bought a few morsels to sample on our way through. For one of our dinners, we ordered a tasty lentil soup topped with sour cream and bacon. We also had our eye on macarons, a type of French meringue treat, which we picked up along the Champs-Elysees. I would go back to Paris to pick up a few more of these. The packaged macarons for sale in tourist areas tasted a bit stale and overly sweet, but the fresh ones from local shops, while slightly expensive, are worth a try! My favorite was the lemon and lime which included a tasteful tartness. If it’s not clear, it’s difficult to go wrong with food in Paris. One thing to keep in mind when eating out is the interaction with restaurant wait staff. They will seat you, take your drink and food order, deliver your food, and often disappear. What I am picking up on is that in Europe, having a server stop by your table occasionally can be viewed as rushing the customer. So, to pay the bill or order something extra, you have to hunt for and flag down your server or else they will not come by your table.
To save money we found a small hotel room off the beaten path but near a metro station which made it easy to get in and out of the city. I have to admit that I had my premature opinions about Paris, but after a short trip full of cheap food, historical sites, lavish gardens, and fancy window shopping (of course I didn’t purchase anything), I would advise a visit. For those of you who have also made it across the pond, I would love to hear about your adventure! And for those looking for a romantic adventure, Paris will not disappoint.
“I am not a great cook, I am not a great artist, but I love art, and I love food, so I am the perfect traveller.” – Michael Palin