Jack from Titanic said it best: good ol’ Paree. It’s the city that everyone romanticizes and dreams about. The city of endless fresh bread aromas. The city Audrey Hepburn adored. The city of romance and love.
We were dropped off at the Megabus Coach Station in Amsterdam and waited over three hours for a bus that we thought would never show. That changed the minute we saw a bus turn into the depot with PARIS shown in bright orange letters at the top of the double decker. Michelle was pretty excited about this one.
7 hours later, we pulled into Porte Maillot Coach Park in center city Paris in the early hours of the morning. We got lost, scrambled around, then waited to be greeted by our French friend, Pauline, who would be our host for our three days in Paris. Pauline’s apartment is located in the eastern suburban outskirts of Paris, called Noisy-le-Sec. It took us a little bit of time to get to and from the center of the city, but it was great to see a part of Paris that foreigners hardly see. It’s the traveler in us that always strives to live like locals and not act like tourists.
Paris is pretty. Of course, one of the first things you have to do and see for yourself is the iconic Eiffel Tower. When I visited Paris the first time with Pauline, she made sure that my first experience seeing it would leave me in awe. We both made sure to leave the same affect on Michelle this time.
“Close your eyes until we tell you to open them!” Let’s just say she was landmark struck, and so the photo bombarding of the iconic city centerpiece commenced.
A lot of people think that going to the very touristy parts of Paris aren’t worth the wait. For some places, that might be the case (The Louvre, for us, unless you’re eager to see the Mona Lisa), but not the Eiffel Tower. Even native Parisians and French citizens visit the tower, which is a good indicator of what is to be expected from the view at the top. After waiting for a bit and circling the queue a few times before we reached the front, we finally boarded the lift that would take us up the three stories.
The view was incredibly breathtaking. Even Pauline said she never gets sick of it, being French and all. I recommend going to the very top of it, even if you’re afraid of heights (and can handle it.) There’s such a serene energy that permeates the air that high up and everything looks even more beautiful when you can see the city from every angle. We felt so good up there, wind blowing in our hair, the sound of camera clicks never faltering. I definitely think it’s truly one of the highlights of a trip to Paris.
Fun Fact: The Eiffel Tower was originally supposed to be built in Barcelona but was rejected immediately. Interesting now that it is now one of the most visited sights in the entire world. Sorry about that, Spain.
Something we thought was wonderful about Paris is that there are always places to escape. As one of the most visited cities in the world, Paris can easily get very crowded and uncomfortable. The garbage and the smells that come from the Seine can get overwhelming at some points and can easily take away from the beauty, culture and art that makes the city so desirable. However, there are plenty of green spaces, gardens, parks, outdoor cafes and other areas that can take you away from the madness. The French love to relax and take any opportunity to have a cigarette, sip on a glass of wine and chat with friends. Pauline made sure that we relaxed and took every opportunity to stop our New York City hustle to simply enjoy what was around us. It was a great way to unwind after weeks of non-stop traveling around.
Something I desperately wish New York, or America in general, had cultivated is the café culture that Paris does so well. Wouldn’t it be great to order a coffee and croissant, sit outside and not be pushed out so that another cycle of people can order and spend money? There wasn’t a street or café that we passed that didn’t have people enjoying themselves in. Even early in the morning and late at night. The city has truly mastered the art of pur plaisir.
Where To Visit:
Eiffel Tower – An obvious choice. As mentioned, the view from the top and even from afar is magical and worth seeing. At night, the tower puts on its own little 10 minute light show at every hour before completely shutting off at 1 am (extending to 2 am when it’s hot out). I can only imagine what it looks like in complete darkness. In the summer, many people picnic, lounge and drink in the green space right in front of the tower, Champ de Mars. The Metro to Trocadero is the best way to get there.
Notre Dame de Paris – If you’ve seen the film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, then you know how famous this cathedral is. Back then, I thought there was an actual hunchback living in the bell tower. This cathedral is one of the most beautiful medieval buildings we’ve ever seen. Its famous French Gothic architecture has also made it one of the most famous religious sights in the world. While we didn’t get a chance to go inside, the stained glass and the many sculptures inside Notre Dame are said to be equally as jaw dropping.
a. Saint-Michel – An extension of the Notre Dame area, anything you could possibly want to eat (and for relatively cheap) is located on this strip. Be mindful of the hundreds of owners trying to lure you into their restaurant. Scope the places out first, once up and down, and then make your choice.
Jardin des Tuileries – One of the many areas to sit and relax in the city. The garden is nice and has a fountain with tons of green chairs surrounding it that you can lounge on. There are always people (and children) around for ample people-watching. And ice cream, too. I had some that was black currant flavored, which to my surprise, tasted delicious.
Sacré-Cœur – More churches! I’m not religious by any means, but the Basilica is one of the best places to go if you’re all about the French #views. The walk up to it is a bit of a trek, nothing strenuous, but it’s worth it. My advice is to not look back until you’re at the very top of the stairs, that way it feels more remarkable. Be careful, though. In this area, where there are many tourists, panhandling and aggressive vendors are always lurking. Like in any other city, be mindful, be aggressive if you have to be and keep your belongings close. Then enjoy the view and use the back streets to head down the streets of Montmarte. Apparently, some of the best baguettes can be found here. The Moulin Rouge Cabaret is within walking distance, too.
Champs-Élysées/Arc de Triomphe – Think of it as Paris’ version of 5th Avenue. There is a lot of American influence on this long strip of shops, designer stores and restaurants, which made us not want to buy anything. The famous Ladurée pastry shop can also be found here if you’re feeling something sweet. And at the end it is the stunning Arc de Triomphe. The historic monument honors those who fought and died for France during the French and Napoleonic Wars.
Palace of Versailles – The biggest regret from our trip is not visiting Versailles. We were a bit deterred from it being too far our west and out of the way from Pauline’s apartment. We also didn’t have enough time, as it would have been a full day trip. From what we heard from her and saw in photos, it is a tremendous and opulent piece of history. The gardens are lush and the palace itself is gigantic. It really does showcase the disparity of wealth between the public and the elite during this time in French history, dating back to 1862.
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont – One of our favorite hidden gems in Paris is this hilly, spacious park. We bought some fruits, popsicles, tons of baguettes and croissants from the supermarket, found a spot deep inside and sat in here to have a picnic. There’s a bridge, a lake right in the middle and a few bars inside, too. This is where we felt most at ease because it’s a part of the city that not many tourists venture out to since it’s further away from the center. Definitely recommended if you want to get away or need to relax after a full day of wandering.
Parisians – Okay, so not the friendliest of people. We know how lucky we are to have a native French friend to have guided and showed us the sights along the way. But you’d be surprised at how kind they can be if you try. Saying simple French phrases really goes a long way. We were happy to have found a few great Parisians on Metro rides who shared some laughs with us. It was a nice shock for all of us, especially for Pauline.
Brioche, Baguettes and Camembert – The French know food. Everything we ate was absolutely amazing. A few standouts were of course, the bread and cheese for which they are so know. Imagine how sad we were when we got back to eating bland bread and American cheese. If anyone knows where we can find Camembert in NYC, let us know. Also foodie tip: if you find bread with dots on the bottom, then it’s not home made. Always look for smooth, flat surfaces on your baguettes. Check out, PAUL and La Boulangerie.
Love Lock Down – The Love Lock Bridge is sadly no longer a thing in Paris. I remember just before we went to Europe, Michelle was worried she wouldn’t be able to see it on our trip, since the bridge’s renovation process and #LoveWithoutLocks campaign was just beginning. Fortunately, she was able to see it…even if it was half the bridge. Unfortunately for tourists, the bridge was deemed as unsafe and Parisians called the idea of it an eyesore. Since last summer, the bridge is now sort of an art space, fitting as the bridges original name is Pont de Arts. Where the 40 tons of padlocks went, we don’t know. Kind of sad when you think about what it meant for all those lovers to have their locks removed. 💔
The next time one of us will be in France will be later this summer to visit the countryside. Michelle is venturing out down south to Lyon and Grenoble, so we’ll see what she has to say about that adventure. Until, then, je t’aime Paris. Stay safe and we are always with you.