Where: French Road Trip – Stop #1: Paris
When: September 2017
Hotel: French Officers Club (Hotel for military officers)
Why France: My friend Karyn was coming to run the Disney Paris Half Marathon with me (and we threw in the Disney 10K for fun, because why not?) But instead of just going to France for the races, we decided to make a trip out of it. We were going to spend almost four full days in Paris, before heading down to Mont St. Michel and the Normandy beaches before circling back to Paris for the races. After the summer trip to Provence, I wasn’t sure when/if I was going to get John back to France, so I definitely took advantage of this time. Personally, I really wanted to see Mont St. Michel and Normandy, and couldn’t wait to get to those areas.
The Trip: When building the itinerary, I gave Karyn a full day in Germany to get over jet lag before we hopped the train to Paris. I am a complete believer that the first time anyone goes to Paris, they need to do all of the touristy stuff – beginning with a trip down the Seine on a boat before heading up the Eiffel Tower for the sunset. It also puts you in the perfect location to head over to the Trocadero to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the dark. The Trocadero has the best views of the Eiffel Tower, and is a sight not to be missed. Make sure to grab a bottle of wine and some snacks to sit with the crowds and wait for the night light show. (We stopped and got what were the best churros I have ever had – diabetes in a cup, but so incredibly worth it!)
The Seine River cruise that is tried and true for me is the Bateaux Parisiens boats, and they load right at the base of the Eiffel Tower. The trip takes you down past the Louvre, the Musee de Orsay and Notre Dame, among others. The entire ride is about an hour, and if you time it right, you can head straight to the Eiffel Tower (always book tickets in advance!) and be up there in time to enjoy champagne as the sun sets on Paris – which is exactly what we did.
The next morning we were up very early to get to the Louvre and the Mona Lisa before the hordes of people descended. It worked as we were able to walk right in but even better was that the Louvre was missing the large groups of people I was bracing myself to be bumping into as we moved from room to room. I’ve been to the Louvre twice in July and it was (for lack of a better way to put it) miserable. Yet another reason to travel to Paris – and Europe in general –in the off season.
You can’t be in the Louvre and skip Angelina. The hot chocolate alone makes this a must-visit. First opened in 1903 and a favorite of Audrey Hepburn, the café is not far from the Louvre and is across from the Tuileries, so even taking the goodies to go is a good option. (It has become a franchise throughout Paris, but the original on Rue de Rivoli is the one to visit!)
Post-Louvre, we headed to one of my favorite places. No visit to Paris is complete without a trip to Sacre Coeur. I love so many of the Paris neighborhoods, but the Montmartre arrondissement is truly special. Spend time on the steps of Sacre Coeur watching the performers, enjoy the beautiful inside of the church, watch the old artists sketch portraits while drinking wine and just wander while trying to find the one remaining windmill and the tiny vineyard. It is what I imagine old Paris to be like.
The popular, and not-to-be missed, day trip from Paris is a visit to the Palace of Versailles. If you get there early, you’ll beat the crowds. But, if you aren’t a morning person and get there around peak visiting hours, go to the Gardens first and then head inside when things die down. I’ve now walked the Gardens, toured them on a bike tour, and rented a bike on my own and I definitely say do the last option. You’ll be able to go at your own pace and won’t be worn out from the miles of walking…because the gardens are huge! John and I made that mistake the first time around.
When planning a trip to Paris, it’s also equally important to kind of plan the day by neighborhood. It’s such a big city, that if you plan to see Sacre Coeur, the Pantheon and the Eiffel Tower in one day, you’re going to be spending so much time on the metro – it’s best to break it down by what is close together so for our second full day, we were headed to Notre Dame, Saint-Chappelle and the Arc di Triomphe, with a walk down the Champs Elysees.
The Paris part of our adventure was over, and the next morning we braved Paris rush hour for our Mont St. Michel and Normandy adventure! (More on that in the next post!)
Final Impressions: Paris really is always a good idea. I’ve done the above itinerary three times now and (in my opinion), the best way to maximize your time in the city while getting to see everything that makes Paris famous the first time around. I met Karyn in Paris in 2019 when she went to run the Paris Marathon, and that time we walked around neighborhoods we hadn’t seen and climbed Notre Dame (two days before the horrifying fire – so lucky!). The second…and third…and fourth times to Paris are for the relaxing in a café and enjoying wine on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower. But there is no shame in being a tourist in Paris, and it’s definitely recommended!