Paris is Always a Good Idea
Everyone hears how magical Paris is; maybe in the form of Audrey Hepburn twirling around in Funny Face, or maybe through stories of a relative or friend’s travels. After London being a little more hustle and bustle than I was expecting, I was skeptical about whether Paris would really be the elegant city of romance that I’ve always imagined. However, it did not disappoint. From the first day, I was enchanted by the city. The architecture is beautiful, and unlike in London, where the style of building changes from one neighborhood to the other, Paris maintains a charming, homey feeling by having these similar cute balconies and flowers throughout the city.
I was also worried that the Parisians wouldn’t be very welcoming since I’ve heard they look down on people who don’t speak French, but we never had problems. Everyone we met was nice and fairly easy to communicate with, even after my sister Amy (who acted as our translator) left. For example, at restaurants they usually A) have English-speaking waiters, B) have menus in both French and English, or C) can communicate well enough for you to ask for water and point to something off the menu. Outside of the business setting, the people were still overall friendly and even went out of their way to be helpful. When one couple overheard Amy trying to ask for the bill, they helped her find the right word. Walking down the street, when someone noticed that the bottom of our bakery package was coming undone, she stopped and let me know. When we tried to do laundry at the nearby laundromat, a French woman walked us through the entire process. Granted, this was after Amy left and this woman spoke only French, so we received the information in a sort of telephone game of French -> Spanish -> English, since there happened to be another person in there who spoke French and Spanish so I could translate. The only thing I can think of that would qualify as rude is that they tend to stare – one of the favorite pastimes of people in Paris is to sit and people watch outside of restaurants while they drink their coffee and smoke their cigarettes. They actually arrange the chairs of restaurants specifically for this purpose, with a long line of them facing the street.
We stayed in an Airbnb again, in the neighborhood of Montmartre. This apartment was a little less convenient than the one in London, as they didn’t provide any extras other than WiFi. However, it was still nice, spacious, and close to many restaurants and a subway station, which is why we picked it. After settling in, we immediately went across the street to eat at Dunkerque. Here I got to try real French cheese and a drink called Kir, which seems to be unique to France – for what reason, I have no idea, because it’s a delicious mixture of crème de cassis and white wine that I’m sure would be my go-to if it were available in the US. While there, within about two hours of arriving in Paris, we saw what we believe was a thief who had failed at stealing someone’s bag and was sprinting away from the angry victim. Reassuring.
The first place we ended up was Sacré-Cœur, a Catholic basilica at the highest point in Paris. The view from the dome is breathtaking, literally, because you have to climb some god-awful number of steps (I think I heard 300?) to get to the top, and then again to get back down. No wonder there weren’t many obese people in the 1800s.
We then ended up going a little out of our way to L’absinthe Café to try absinthe for the first time. The process of drinking absinthe is kind of a complicated ordeal. A small amount goes in the bottom of a glass and a flat, grated utensil is placed over the glass with a cube of sugar on top. Then you very slowly drip water onto the sugar until it has all dissolved into the drink. The result is a cloudy, not-very-green drink that tastes like really strong licorice. No, I didn’t hallucinate; I think most companies take out the wormwood nowadays.
Next, we went to Notre Dame, and it was absolutely beautiful. The stained glass windows were some of the most amazing things I’ve seen on this whole trip. They were originally designed and built almost 1000 years ago. They’ve been restored a few times, obviously, but still retain an awe-inspiring sense of antiquity and gave me that newly familiar feeling that I was looking at the same windows that some historic titan once did. I later found out that Napoleon himself was crowned Emporer there, so that very well may be true.
The next day we started off with a breakfast of croissants, pain au chocolat, and cafe au lait and headed down to see the Moulin Rouge. Unfortunately, we only got to see the outside, but I would absolutely love to go back and see a show there. We got coffee and then made our way to the Luxembourg palace. Luxembourg and its gardens were built in the 1600s and the beautiful statues, flowers, and fountains make it a perfect place to talk, read, or just sit and relax. We didn’t go inside, but we walked around the gardens and admired everything for about an hour. My favorite was the Medici Fountain, which features multiple statues and a long pond surrounded by flowers and trees that make it look like you’ve discovered a special hidden grotto in the middle of the manicured gardens. Luxembourg is where I started noticing that the French have a unique habit of trimming the trees around their walkways into squares. It creates a really cool effect that you’re walking through a tree tunnel, but it looks a little weird from the outside.
We took the train to the Place de la Concorde and made our way down the Champs-Elysées to find a place for lunch. Apparently this is usually a street for cars, but we lucked out by being there on a day when it was only open to pedestrians. Considering the size of the crowd, I’m surprised that they would ever try to confine the pedestrian traffic to the sidewalks. After lunch, we headed to the Arc de Triomphe (which is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). I’ve seen multiple pictures of this arch, but I wasn’t prepared for just how massive and intricately designed it actually is. I was really impressed by all of the inscriptions and carvings that decorated the sides and that I’ve never noticed in pictures. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is dedicated to a soldier who was killed in the first World War but was never identified, and they still lay flowers around his grave and keep an eternal flame going, which symbolizes all the unidentified soldiers from all the wars.
We next went back to Notre Dame to see the archaeological crypt. This museum is not very popular, probably because it’s more informational than “pretty”. It contains the ruins of the Roman city Lutetia, which was there before Paris was established. I had no idea that the Roman Empire ever had control over that area, so it was interesting to learn about, even though half of the information was only in French and I mostly had to use the pictures to figure out what they were saying.
The Eiffel Tower was the last thing on the list for that day. On our way there, we shared a banana and Nutella crêpe. For some reason, Nutella is way more popular in Europe and I saw it way more than I ever have in the US. The Eiffel Tower itself was amazing, but the surrounding area was a little sad looking because there had been flooding and because they were setting up for Euro 2016 (which also explains the soccer ball in the middle of the Tower).
On Monday, we had been planning on going to the Louvre all day, but it was closed because of the flooding. Instead, we went to Palais Garnier in the morning and then walked around the area outside of the Louvre that afternoon. Palais Garnier was on my list of things I wanted to see, but we almost skipped over it. I’m so happy that we got to go – it might have even been my favorite thing that we did in Paris. This is an old opera house designed by Charles Garnier for Napoleon III, and it is one of the most beautiful buildings you could imagine. Everything from the entrance hall to the ballroom to the opera house was so ornate and intricately detailed. It was over-the-top without being tacky, which is hard to do when packing that much decoration into every inch of a building. The most beautiful room is the Grand Foyer – this place is decorated from floor to ceiling with gold, paintings, and chandeliers, inspired by the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. I also thought the rotundas dedicated to the sun and the moon were cute – they have black and gold ceilings that are completely different than anything we’d seen in the palace or otherwise.
On the way to the Louvre, we impulse bought a box of macarons for later (SO GOOD!) and then walked through the misleadingly named Palais-Royal, which may have once been a royal palace but has now been converted into shops, restaurants, and government buildings with a garden in the middle. Although it wasn’t what we were expecting, it was nice to walk around and enjoy the flowers and statues around the garden area for awhile.
Going to the Louvre was a little anticlimactic since we couldn’t get in, but the plus side was that we were able to look in the underground windows and look at the statues with no one surrounding them.
On the last day before we left for Venice, we took a day trip to Versailles. This place is another tourist trap, but understandably so – it’s amazing. We toured the gardens first in hopes of avoiding the ridiculously long line to the palace itself, which did dwindle down by the afternoon. The gardens were absolutely freaking huge; even though we took a golf cart and were trying to rush, we still barely made it through in two hours. The gardens themselves contain two little palaces, one called the Grand Trianon and the other the Petit Trianon. The latter was used by Marie Antoinette as a private residence, which she used to escape court life and etiquette. Apparently she preferred this chateau to the Grand Trianon, even though it was smaller. The Petit Trianon looks over an adorable little gazebo-like thing called the Temple de l’Amour, which has a statue of Cupid making a bow. The main feature of the gardens of Versailles are the Grand Canal, which is huge and you can row boats on. According to our guide, this was modeled after Venice’s Grand Canal and gondoliers from Venice were hired to ride up and down it all day.
The Palace of Versailles was obviously built as a show of wealth to impress visitors, and it worked. I intended to only take a couple pictures of my favorite rooms, but it seemed like each room I walked into was even more amazing than the last. It was super crowded, which took away from just enjoying the rooms a little, but it’s still one of those places that everyone should see for themselves someday. As I’m sure is obvious from the pictures, I’m a huge sucker for beautiful ceilings, and Versailles had no shortage of them.
We only were able to spend about four days in Paris, but by the end, I was completely enchanted. Overall, it was probably my favorite out of the large cities that I went to. The food was delicious, the people were very kind, and there was so much passion for beauty and attention to detail that even random apartment doors you see throughout the city are pretty enough to catch your eye. I’d love to go back someday and stay longer, maybe once I actually know some French.