I first went to Paris with my mom in 2007. Although I enjoyed it, I didn’t fall in love with it (sorry, Francophiles!). I didn’t think I was going to go back, but as we were talking about taking a trip to London, we figured we’d add on a few days in Paris to see some of the things we missed the first time. We actually ended up staying there a week because we wanted to take a day trip to Normandy (so moving), and visit both Versailles and Giverny.
I am actually glad we went back. Although it doesn’t pull me like Italy does, it’s really a place that everyone should see at least once. I know a lot of people just can’t get enough of Paris, but for me, twice is enough. Why? I guess because it’s more of a “city” than what I prefer. And although I love Rome, which is also a big city, Paris doesn’t have the same feel. To me, Rome is welcoming. Rome opens its arms and hugs me, while Paris is more aloof, keeping me at a distance.
Anyway. We took the Eurostar (don’t call it “the Chunnel”, you Yank!) from St. Pancras Station in London to Gare du Nord in Paris. We had gotten our tickets a couple of months in advance, and it’s a good thing since the train (or at least the car we were in) was packed. We got Standard Premier tickets…a little more expensive, but not the most expensive. They served a small meal (cheese, crackers and fruit) and wine.
I was prepared for all sorts of excitement when we entered the tunnel, or at least an announcement of some sort (balloons? trumpets? confetti?), but I didn’t even notice until after we were in it for five or ten minutes. We had been going in and out of shorter tunnels from the beginning, so I only realized we were in THE tunnel when we didn’t emerge back into daylight after a while. Ho hum. Those of you who are concerned or claustrophobic I don’t think it will be an issue (but since I was neither of those things, it’s only a guess, so please don’t blame me if you freak out and start trying to claw your way out of the tunnel after a few minutes).
We arrived in Paris in a little over two hours. Since we had been to Paris before, we decided to rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel. It’s so much nicer to have a place to call your “home”, especially if you are traveling with more than two people. That way, instead of heading off to separate hotel rooms, you can all sit down together at the end of the day in your pajamas with a glass of wine and talk about what you saw and plan the activities for the next day (which we did every single night). Also, depending on several factors, it could turn out to be a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel. Our apartment was in the 1st arrondissement on Rue du Pont Neuf. While it was centrally located, it really was not in a charming area. And the elevator smelled like pee.
Our first evening in Paris, we decided to go to dinner at a restaurant we went to before and absolutely loved – Le Relais de l’Entrecôte. There are three locations in Paris, but the one we went to was in St. Germain de Pres. There is only one thing on the menu: steak frites. The steak is covered with an amazing sauce, and the supply of frites is endless. I’m not kidding…they keep coming back with more until you tell them to stop.
Get there early…there will be a line forming about 30 minutes before they open. I think a lot of tourists go here, but there were definitely a lot of Parisians (or at least French-speaking people) there as well. Once you are seated, they ask you only how you want your steak cooked (don’t expect “well done” even if you ask for it, the French don’t believe in that) and what you want to drink. Then they bring bread and a simple green salad. Eat slowly and save room for dessert, which should definitely be this crème brûlée:
One of the best things we did was go see a concert at Ste. Chapelle. We got tickets online a month or so before our trip at classictic.com and listened to a small group play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons while sitting in a beautiful church. Being the end of March, it was a bit chilly inside, but the music was so beautiful, I didn’t even notice it after a while. If you enjoy classical music, this is something you should definitely do.
We visited Les Invalides and Napoleon’s tomb, but unless you are very interested in the military or Napoleon, you can skip it (or save it for a second or third visit). Two places you should visit if you are even mildly interested in art or sculpture are the Musee d’Orsay and the Rodin Museum. The Rodin Museum is relatively small, and shouldn’t take more than an hour or two to visit. The Musee d’Orsay is in the old train station, and is much larger. The line there will likely be long (a good reason to get the Paris Museum Pass and skip the line). We saw the temporary Van Gogh exhibit and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. You can take photos in the Rodin Museum, but I don’t believe you can take them in the Musee d’Orsay any longer.
We also visited Montmartre and Sacre Coeur (took a taxi), and I was underwhelmed by both. But there is no denying that Sacre Coeur is beautiful to look at and the view of the city from its steps is quite magnificent.
But what is one thing you absolutely must do while in Paris? Have a crêpe, of course!
You should only get crepes from places that make them right in front of you (so you know they’re fresh). Don’t be afraid to get them from places that are basically right out on the sidewalk, like the one I’ve shown above. That one is right across the street from Place Saint-Michel. The guy who made our crepes was a great sport and the prices were good.
Coming soon…more on Paris, Normandy and Giverny.