Where: Paris, France
When: July 2013
Hotel: Hotel Bellevue (In the 8th District)
Why Paris: If there was one place I was going to visit while in Germany, it was Paris. I have always, always wanted to go and that was at the top of the list as soon as John got back. I was downright giddy the day we bought our train tickets. From what I hear, driving in Paris isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds, but the train ride from Stuttgart to Paris is a mere 3.5 hours, and really – why worry about a car and parking the first time around when there is so much to see and do?
The Trip: This trip was all about hitting the famous sites of Paris, and therefore I will say up front that I for sure plan to go back – if only to wander around the streets, to sit on the banks of the Seine with a bottle of wine and just really enjoy the wonderful city that is Paris. Of course one of the most common rumors around about Parisians is that they are rude but I truly can’t recall a mean person while we there. John and I were both wary of the rampant petty crime but it may have been our overprotectiveness of our possessions that kept that a non-issue as well!
What we found was a city that lived up to the hype. I thought it was beautiful and wonderful and four days was not nearly enough time. It was sufficient to see what we wanted to see the first time around, but one of my favorite memories was one of the nights where we just wandered the streets of Montmarte, eating pizza in one of the restaurants outdoor patios. As we continue to travel around Europe, each trip makes it clearer that having an idea of what you want to see is always a good idea, but some of the best trips are truly when you just wander and enjoy the place you are visiting.
That, however, was not the theme of this trip. This trip was about seeing all of the places we have heard about and read about. Take pictures like the many we have seen. And I don’t think that is a bad thing either. I’d probably be disappointed if we hadn’t done all the “touristy” things because I wanted to experience them for myself. Only, maybe I wouldn’t have gone in July…because we had lots and lots of company on most of our city tours!
For example, the Mona Lisa room in the Lourve:
Day 1 – We took an early morning train from Stuttgart to Paris – which is an easy trip through the pretty German and French country side. First impressions upon pulling into Paris weren’t necessarily favorable thanks to the grimy, graffitied walls that lined the train station. But when we emerged from the Paris metro near our hotel, the city was enchanting and contagious. I loved it immediately.
We had a busy day one planned – after dropping our bags in our hotel room, the plan was to head to the Arc de Triomphe before walking down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées over to the Eiffel Tower on our way to a Seine River cruise before our night tour up top of the Tower! Here’s a very important tip – Paris seems compact on a map, but take a map of the Metro because you will want to use it!! We got a little turned around on our way to the Arc, and by the time we were done that night, we had walked almost 10 miles. Now, there are worse things than being lost in Paris, but with three more days ahead, there is no need to be crazy.
Day 2 – After getting some much needed rest, we set out the next day bright and early to go see the Louvre, before heading to Notre Dame and the Ile St Louis. Here’s a tip – I had bought our tickets to the Louvre ahead of time, but as it turns out, all the places to pick up the tickets are outside of the city! We got there close to opening time, and actually had to wait only about 20 minutes before getting into the main entrance. The downside was that we had to buy tickets again but it was better than trying to find the place to pick up the ones originally purchased. After the Louvre, we had planned to go to Notre Dame but we needed to take a break after the frenzy that was the crush of tourists in the Louvre. It was honestly overwhelming but gave us a good excuse to check out the Cafe Angelina, known for its desserts and hot chocolate. We eventually made it to the outside of Notre Dame and elected instead to tour the Sainte Chapelle instead of waiting in the hot summer sun for two hours to get inside Notre Dame.
We did not realize how entirely exhausted we were until we headed back to our hotel after the busy tours and took a four-hour “nap.” Luckily, there were restaurants just outside the hotel where we could grab a quick dinner before going to bed again! 🙂
Day 3 – Day three was highlighted by a trip to the Palace of Versailles. Another suggestion – if you are limited on time, still go see at least the Palace’s gardens! There were amazing!! My absolute favorite part was Marie Antoinette’s “hamlet,” a little hideaway all her own when the life of a privileged royal got to be too much. I also wanted to see the Hall of Mirrors, but the initial wait into the Palace was over an hour, and following our 7-mile walk around the grounds the last thing we wanted was to wait in the hot sun. Luckily, the crowd had thinned a bit and we only waited about 25 minutes. But if we thought the Louvre was bad, these tour groups were slightly worse. The Palace was beautiful but all the shoving and waiting and general unpleasantness wasn’t great. I’m glad we did the gardens because that is what made our venture to Versailles!
The train ride back was luckily empty and quiet, which was needed after the crazed tour of the Palace. But being it was our last night, we wanted to head out to to the Montmarte area to see Sacre-Coeur with a quick stop by Moulin Rouge. (Neither of us were interested enough to pay the pricey admission to see the cabaret show.)
A short Metro ride away and we were at Sacre-Coeur! After a day of walking, it was completely worth it to take the funicular up to the top and bypass the crazy amount of stairs!.
After enjoying the atmosphere, we wandered the surrounding streets and it was a wonderful. We weren’t rushing, we weren’t overwhelmed by crowds and it was a perfect night to just walk around.
Day 4 – To get the most out of our time, we scheduled a late train on our last day to get an opportunity to walk around a little bit more to the sites we hadn’t seen yet. We stopped at the famed Laderee for their Macarons, and went to the Latin Quarter before ending at Notre Dame to put our lock on the Love Lock bridge. I’d really wanted to do this, so we brought along a tiny, bright green lock and used a hotel lobby sharpie to write “J+S” on it. We found a perfect spot right in front of Notre Dame to lock our love and throw away the key. It may sound cheesy, but it was actually really sweet.
Final Impressions: I loved everything about Paris. We only had four days to fit in all we want to see but as I said, I am hoping to go back for a less frenzied tour of the city. It is a wonderful place and I can see what it is such a romanticized destination. The best part is that it doesn’t disappoint.