We just got back from a wonderful trip to the City of Light! It was our first time there and I would say I had a lovely and fantastic experience. We flew on Aer Lingus, ORD through DUB to CDG. It was a good experience and I would fly with the shamrock airline again. During the flight we used some of the time to come up with a loose itinerary. We started with the itinerary that Rick Steves laid out in his invaluable Paris 2010 travel guide. It was the first time I had used a Rick Steves’ travel guide and I would highly recommend it. While in Paris I noticed quite a few people lugging this book around like we did. I think that going on a trip to another country without a decent travel guide in tow is penny wise and pound foolish! I was even able to check ours out from the library.
The days and times of our itinerary ended up changing a lot but in the end we fit everything in that we wanted to see.Here it goes:
Day 1 (09/24)
We left ORD in the early evening. It was pretty uneventful.
Day 2 (09/25)
We arrived at DUB around 7 AM and had a 4 hour layover before our flight to CDG. I took Euros out from the ATM. The terminal was dirty and filled with rubbish. People were drinking beer; we had coffee. Our flight finally left and we arrived at CDG in the early afternoon. We called the apartment manager Pierre to let him know to meet us soon. We rode the RER into Paris. Once we arrived at the station in Paris we took the Metro to the Saint-Paul stop near our apartment in the heart of Marais. We found our address and Pierre waiting outside. He showed us to our 5th floor walk-up studio apartment (tiny tiny tiny!) and how everything worked and we were left on our own in Paris. We got situated and then headed out to find some food. We found a place across from the Pompidou that Janie had written down before we left. There we ate, had a beer and then walked like zombies to bed!
Day 3 (09/26)
We met our friends Kevin and Sonia around noon and had some falafel at Chez Marianne! Marais is known for its Jewish district and the accompanying falafel joints. We caught up over a typical relaxed and long French lunch and then headed towards a place called Angelina’s for hot chocolate. It was hands down the best hot chocolate I have ever had. It is like drinking a melted European chocolate bar. So rich and sensual. And the interior is splended as well. We then made our way on foot to Luxembourg Garden. Once there walked around, sat around, took some pictures, passed around a bottle of red wine. It was a bit overcast but nice to stroll around such a large and beautiful (60 acre) park! Next, we rode the Metro for the first time back to our apartment. For the Metro we bought the 7 day pass. However, since it was Sunday and the 7 day pass always activates on Monday we also bought a Metro ticket for the day. The 7 day Metro pass was a steal for how much we used it plus it also worked for the RER ride back to CDG when we left Paris. This is probably the only thing we would disagree with Rick Steves about. He recommends buying ten packs of individual Metro tickets.
Day 4 (09/27)
In the morning we went on a walk starting at Notre Dame. On a side note, I have to say our apartment location in Marais was perfect for us. It was central to everything and within walking distance to many major sights. It took about 10 minutes to walk to Notre Dame or the Louvre or the islands. Plus, Marais is really hip and trendy. It feels cobbled together but in a very cohesive way. When we arrived at Notre Dame we spent some time to take in the whole facade before we went inside to take in the interior. The whole church is amazing! As with most sites we saw in Paris, pictures do not do them justice. Being there comes close. Thinking about what it took to construct them comes closer. After the church we then walked across one of the many bridges crossing the Seine to Ile St. Louis where we spent time looking in boutiques and taking in the restaurants, ice cream shops and high rent apartments. This is where I bought and consumed the first of many baguettes on the trip! Next we crossed over to the Left Bank and wandered around, stopping at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, looking at the Gothic St. Severin Church, walking around the Latin Quarter, crossing the river back to Ile de la Cite and walking by Sainte-Chapelle, past the giant Palais de Justice, the cozy park Place Dauphine, a statue of Henry IV and then crossing over the oldest bridge in Paris, Pont Neuf where we got on the Metro. Our next stop was the Galeries Lafayette. This is a department store that sits right beside the old classy looking Opera. The interior of Galeries Lafayette was amazing with a sensational dome. It is by far the most glamorous mall I have ever been to! But the real reason we headed there wasn’t the endless shopping it was to enjoy the great open rooftop deck with sweeping views of Paris. During the evening we enjoyed a cruise on the Seine. We used a company called Vedettes du Pont Neuf that started and stopped right at Pont Neuf. We sat up top on the boat and had a wonderful time seeing Paris from the river at night!
Day 5 (09/28)
This was the first day that we were headed to museums. Since we are serious sightseers we opted to get the 4 day Paris Museum Pass. We had tallied up what we wanted to see museum-wise and it definitely paid for itself and then some. Also, the other advantage with the pass is that you skip to the front of most lines which saves a lot of time. The only catch with Paris museums and memorials is that they all seem to be closed different days of the week; that’s why we found it helpful to come up with an itinerary to make sure not to show up at a museum that was closed for the day. We started the morning with the Orsay Museum. The museum is housed in an old train station that in itself is striking. Personally, I liked this museum better than the Louvre we had yet to visit. It is an Impressionism museum which I like. After we got our fill of Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin and a cool scale-model of the city we headed to the Rodin Museum. We wandered the gardens where Rodin’s greatest works are – The Thinker, Balzac, The Burghers of Calais, Gallery of Marbles and my favorite The Gates of Hell. Next we walked over to Rue Cler, a traffic-free street filled with cafes and shops selling wine, cheese, chocolate, bread and fruit. We bought some fruit, bread, cheese, wine and pastries and relaxed for a bit. We met up with Kevin and headed for dinner at Pho 14, a Vietnamese restaurant, in the 13th. After slurping down some pho we headed to his apartment for dessert that he had just made that day at his school Le Cordon Bleu. It was delicious of course! It was late but we headed to the Arc de Triomphe and walked up the 284 steps to get a night time view of Paris and the glittering Champs-Elysees.
Day 6 (09/29)
Starting the day with the massive Louvre Museum was probably a good idea. After a while the large crowds and sprawling space got to me. The art at the Louvre hangs like wallpaper. I can say I saw the Mona Lisa. However, it was almost disappointing after all the hype. It’s tiny, behind plates of thick glass and everyone is snapping pictures with their flashes on. I stood there for awhile and I think she grew on me but it was far from my favorite at this museum. I saw most of the famous works here – the Venus de Milo, the Parthenon Frieze, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, The Marriage at Cana, Psyche and Cupid, two Vermeer’s and the Napoleon III Apartments. After escaping the Louvre, a walk through the Tuileries Garden with its pretty gardens and fountains was great to clear the mind. At the end of Tuileries sits the Orangerie Museum. Personally, I found this museum much more enjoyable than the Louvre. The main attraction is Monet’s Water Lilies which are 8 huge 6 foot tall canvases that wrap you in his garden at Giverny (see Day 7). It was lovely! The other part of the museum houses works by Monet as well as Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and one of my personal favorites Modigliani. After partaking in enough museum action for the day, we headed back to Notre Dame to climb the tower. We climbed and climbed and reached the facade between the two towers and then on to the top of the south tower, 400 steps total, for a spectacular view of Paris and the gargoyles that overlook it! After the climb down we stopped by the Deportation Memorial that is dedicated to the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camp. We walked back to our apartment to meet Kevin for dinner. After trying with no luck to find a few different restaurants that Janie had written down we ended up at a creperie because it was there before us and we were hungry. It turns out that the creperie, Creperie Suzzette, in Marais, was fantastic! We all had galettes (buckwheat dinner crepes) which were unbelievably good. We headed to the Eiffel tower next. We hung out at Trocadero Square for a bit which overlooks the Eiffel tower. It was a pretty happening place and we watched as the Eiffel Tower glittered in the night. Janie and I headed over to go all the way to the top but it was closed by that time (22:30) so we planned to try the next night.
Day 7 (09/30)
After being crammed into Paris with 11 million people (the highest density of any city in Europe and twenty times greater than New York City) it was time for Giverny! Giverny, fifty miles west of Paris, is where Monet and his family lived. We took a train to Vernon (literally stepping on to it as it was leaving which was great because the next one was in 2 hours) and then took a bus from Vernon to Giverny. The weather was overcast when we left Paris but when we arrived at Giverny it was sunny and warm. We ate a lovely meal at a flowery restaurant across from Monet’s house then ventured inside. The gardens there were absolutely stunning! Flowerbeds after flowerbeds of beautiful plants. Across the road was the water garden which is what I envision when I hear the word Monet. It is all weeping willows, water lilies and Japanese bridges. It was enjoyable to wander the gardens, seeing what Monet saw, smelling the flowers, hearing the birds chirp, and feeling far away from Paris. Next, we wandered through Monet’s house which was pleasant and then caught the bus back to the train station. After our train ride back to Paris we relaxed with a bottle of red wine before heading to the Eiffel Tower. This time we were good all the way to the top. It didn’t take long to make the ascent all the way up and Paris positively is the city of lights from that view! It was phenomenal! The Arc de Triomphe looked tiny. And Sacre-Couer didn’t look like it was even on a hill. Unbelievable. The top of the Eiffel tower is a must see. We had a late meal of pizza and beer at the excellent and cheap Restaurante Sant Antonio on the Marais square.
Day 8 (10/01)
As our Paris Museum Pass was expiring this day we planned to visit two more museums. Before entering the Pompidou we ate at Dame Tartine which is just outside across from the playful fountain. I was surprised that I liked the Pompidou more than I thought I would. The building itself is interesting as it has sort of an exoskeleton with all the pipes, heating ducts, elevators and escalators on the outside. Personally, I enjoyed the Pollock’s, Dali’s, Picasso’s, Matisse’s and all the applied arts – chairs, tables, lamps, flatware. After heading out of the exoskeleton we went to the Cluny Museum. It is the National Musuem of the Middle Ages. I liked this museum the least of the ones we visited in Paris but I can say that the highlight were the excellent The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries. These 6 tapestries were designed by an unknown artist before A.D. 1500 and depict the five senses with an extra bonus unknown tapestry thrown in. After our fill of museums for the day we went to Sacre-Couer. It was raining slightly which put a damper on our plans to have a picnic there overlooking the city (Sacre-Couer is Paris’ highest point). We took a stroll through Montmartre and then up to the church which was again, just like Notre Dame, impressive! There was a service while we were there which we stopped to take in for awhile. We headed to Place du Tertre which was still bustling despite the rain with people and the artists that are popular with tourists. It was time for dinner so we headed to L’Ete’ en Pente Douce a little ways downhill from Sacre-Couer where the food and wine were good and the atmosphere cozy.
Day 9 (10/02)
Our last full day in Paris took us in the morning to Victor Hugo’s House on the lovely place des Vosges. Hugo moved there after the success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and it is quite an elegant and peaceful place. He wrote much of Les Miserables there. We met Kevin at our apartment and headed to Le Cordon Bleu where we were going to sit in on a class of cuisine cooking. The demonstration was wonderful and seeing that we had only eaten some pastries in the morning the smells and sights did not help the hunger pangs! The samples we ate were delicious! On a side note, Le Cordon Bleu is the same school Julia Child and Giada De Laurentiis attended. After hanging out with Kevin and some of his classmates afterwards at a cafe, we had to say goodbye and get some souvenir shopping done. After spending a few hours shopping we headed back to Angelina’s only to find it closed! So instead we opted for some light snacks and wine and beer.
Day 10 (10/03)
We got up at 6:30 AM to begin our long journey back to Madison. Au revoir Paris! We’ll miss you!
Some final notes
Where I didn’t note where we ate, it was either unmemorable, we were eating baguettes with camembert (we ate this a lot) or we were chowing on falafel. There was great falafel in Marais. I had it at least at Chez Marianne, L’As du Falafel (Lenny Kravitz’s favorite apparently) and King Falafel. Tasty, filling, and inexpensive. I also heard a story that if the manager of one of the falafel joints sees you patronizing a competing place he will refuse to serve you ever again. As for accommodations, we had a really hard time finding a place to stay. I wouldn’t recommend waiting too long to book a hotel or apartment. I would also recommend if it is your first time in Paris to stay in one of the first eight arrondissements. We originally wanted to spend half the trip on the Left Bank at the Hotel du College de France and the other half on the Right Bank at the Hotel New Orient. The hotels were full by the time we checked. We next checked into staying at an apartment. We found success through the agency Paris Cosy. I would also recommend checking into the agencies Lodgis.com, Vacation in Paris (I like this one) and Paris Best Lodge (I like this one too). And if you are comfortable with renting from an individual the sites roomorama, iStopOver and my favorite airbnb.