Paris, the city of romance, artists, inspiration and the setting to many a romantic movie. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? The answer is an emphatic yes, and no and maybe. It just depends…
We are finally on the adventure of our life time (up ’till now)! After resigning from our jobs teaching English in South Korea in February, we are traveling through Europe, visiting France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland and Austria. We spent almost a year planning our two month trip to Europe which eventually evolved into a ten to twelve month journey that will see us crisscrossing Europe, hopping on over to Ireland and then onto the USA for a few months. South and/or Central America may also make its way (hopefully) onto our itinerary.
The way we have planned our travel is a combination of hostels, couchsurfing, workaway and friends. This means we get to experience regular life and meet locals in the places we visit as opposed to just being main stream tourists. It also means we can stretch our budget further and travel for longer! We’ve already met lots of people from all over, in Korea and along the way and always appreciate the tips, suggestions and insider information we get. As a result of this we are often adding new places and activities onto our list.
If it’s incredible architecture steeped in history, more museums than you can swing a stick at and just the sheer awe of walking down roads and alleys and avenues whilst craning your neck in every direction so you can look at all the beautiful buildings then Paris is the place for you. If you think you’re going to walk onto a movie set and it’s going to be moonshine and roses all the way, Paris can also be the place for you. It all depends on you.
It’s a real city, people live here. They deal with everyday life and strife and they have to put up with tourists. Some of them seem rude, some intimidating and some areas seem downright dodgy. The big tourist attractions are just that as well, they get busy, you have to deal with crowds. They also add up quite quickly if you want to go inside and up everything. Choose a few you absolutely can’t miss and just enjoy the others from a distance. If the weather is good and you’re physically capable, go for walks, have picnic lunches, enjoy the outdoors. There are parks all over and most of them have nice benches where you can sit and have a break and just people watch while chewing on your baguette. Most of the parks even have free Wi-Fi! If you were wondering about the baguettes, they are good, and available everywhere. They make a very easy and cheap lunch if you combine them with some ham and cheese from a small grocer, even a bottle of wine or some beers if you fancy. No need to feel embarrassed either as everybody does this. If you want to splurge there are loads of small cafes and restaurants everywhere that have lunch and dinner specials but this just wasn’t in our budget.
Here’s a brief breakdown of what we did
We only arrived at our hotel at about 8pm after taking the RER from the airport. (Helpful hint – be careful of taking up too much space with your luggage on the AIRPORT TRAIN because some French people may get really mad at you and tell you off loudly in french for 2 minutes while you just stare at them with bright red cheeks.) For dinner we just got some supplies from a convenience store before exhaustion took over. Kayley just about fell asleep in bed with a beer in her hand. I helped her out by finishing it for her.
We began our day at the Arc de Triomphe. It makes a great central point to start exploring in all directions. Our route went straight down the Champs Elysees popping into a few stores that we will never be able to afford things from, while heading towards the Luxor obelisk. Along the route there are lots of statues and some palaces to take in as well. The road ends here in a nice park with a pond and some lounger chairs where you can relax and feed the ducks. From here we meandered towards the Eiffel Tower with no intention of going up it. Just to enjoy the sight of it and have a late lunch in the park next to it.
Walked from our hotel in the 13tharrondissement, through the Latin quarterto Notre Dame Cathedral. On our way, we passed the Pantheon and the University of Paris. Great area to walk through as it is filled with little shops, delicatessens, cheese shops and cafes and just oozes quaintness. Notre Dame is a must see, also it’s free to go inside, you just have to queue to get your bag checked. This left us the afternoon to go to the Louvre Museum. Word of advice, pick a few halls/displays you are interested in and skip the rest. It will take you weeks to do it all. Also, its tricky to navigate inside as some stairs/lifts are one way only, take a map.
Back to Notre Dame so we could climb to the top for some great views of Paris, the Eiffel Tower and of course the gargoyles from up close! It’s 10 euros per person to do this. Also, its 387 narrow, steep, spiral steps to the top. Be prepared, it will leave you breathless. From here we walked to the Pere-Lachaisecemetery, the largest cemetery in Paris. It has the graves of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Chopin to name a few.
We also moved accommodation to the Montmartre district in the 18th arrondissement to spend a few nights with a Couchsurfing host. He took us on a walk through the neighbourhood. Pointing out all the landmarks like the Moulin Rouge, Sacre-Coeur Basilica, view points for the Eiffel Tower, the square where all the artists gather and interesting shops along the way.
We started the day with a trip to Galleries Lafayette, a big department store. The have a viewing deck/ terrace on the top of the building that is free, and offers good views of the city, including the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately it was a bit hazy and bright, but a nice excursion nonetheless. The afternoon was spent in Bois de Bolougne, a huge park with trails, woods and lakes. After walking though some of the numerous forest trails, we found a nice spot near a lake for a picnic and just relaxed. The park was filled with joggers, walkers, runners, families, dogs and ducks! We enjoyed another french lunch of baguettes, pate, cheese and wine, followed by a delightful nap on the grass in the sunshine. We walked back up to Sacre Couer for some festive sundowners to end the evening.
Day 6 and 7
We spent two days just in and around our hostel, St Christopher’s Inn Canal. We needed some time to relax, catch up on photos and blogging and to give our feet a break! It’s a large hostel with a decent breakfast, lots to see in the area and some nice outdoor spaces along the canal. The promenade gets very busy on the weekend. It was nice to have a beer and watch the locals play boules.
We headed back to central Paris for some better photos of and with the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe now that we had a better understanding of the layout of the area.
Overall Paris was a great experience. You can get a lot done in just a few days, especially with the central area being easy to walk through. The subways work well and will get you anywhere you need to go, Google Maps will do the rest. We were lucky to be there during the off season and nothing was very busy. Paris is also a great city for runners, lots of outdoor spaces, big sidewalks on most roads, the drivers where quite courteous and there are people running everywhere and at all times of the day. There were also lots of armed guards/army patrolling all over which is a little unnerving but it keeps the beggars and tricksters at a minimum.
You could do Paris in a weekend if you plan carefully and are prepared to spend just a short time at each attraction. 4 days would be more reasonable, pick the day with the worst weather to see the Louvre as it’s all indoors. If you want to head to The Palace of Versailles, you will have to set aside a whole day for it. Do your research on what will appeal to you and what you can skip. Most importantly just enjoy the city – go get lost in the alleyways. Paris has beauty everywhere.
Also, Paris is the only place I’ve seen a homeless person drinking sparkling wine.
Have you been to Paris? What did we miss? What did you enjoy the most? For us it was the buildings, famous or otherwise, the parks and the baguettes.