Spring break proved to be another eventful trip this year! Javi and I planned to go to Paris back in November so we could buy the cheapest flights possible. We planned each day almost to the hour to take advantage of the five days we had available. We had a word document, a budget, and even our tickets printed a week early.
Then fate stepped in.
Long, LONG, story short, after two cancelled flights and one delay that we ultimately missed due to last minute time changes, we finally got on a plane to Paris two days later than planned from Sevilla. The numerous cancellations, delays, and airport confusion was due to French air traffic controllers going on strike. The day before we left was when the bombings in Brussels happened as well. If the universe was warning us not to go to Paris, our determination outweighed any doubts we had. It proved to be a worthy decision.
We changed our schedule around to fit five days of activities into three. Our first day in the City of Love began with none other than the beautiful Versailles palace belonging to The Sun King, Louis XIV. Versailles is considered to be the palace that inspired all the other grand European palaces, and with good reason. It took 16 years to complete and is decorated from floor to ceiling in Baroque paintings, endless amounts of gold, statues, and many reminders that Louis was KING with portrayals of him as Apollo and other godlike forms. Versailles also has extensive gardens which include Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon, the Grand Trianon, fountains, and flowers in the springtime. It was still very much winter during our visit, and it would have taken a couple hours to see every inch of the grounds. We will save that for the next visit!
Lunch was definitely needed after walking through Versailles. The palace is located quite a ways outside the city, but it is still accessible by the RER train which connects to the central metro system.
Notre Dame was next on our itinerary, so we looked for restaurants in the neighborhood offering a menú del día which is also a popular way to eat lunch or dinner in Spain. Normally, you can order a menú del día between 9 and 15 euros depending on location, the popularity of the restaurant and food quality. Generally, they include a first plate, second plate, drink, and dessert or coffee. We both ate some delicious food including the famous French onion soup. Other quintessential foods we ate during the trip were crepes (duh), and colorful macaroons.
Notre Dame was right up the street from our restaurant. Despite the cold weather and visiting during the off-season, we still waited in lines ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. It took enough time to wait for the Towers of Notre Dame that we didn’t have time to go inside the Cathedral on day 1.
The waiting time for the Towers is mostly due to the fact that there are 400 steps to climb, no elevators, and you can only climb in a single file line. It is well worth the effort as the views from above are breathtaking, especially with the Eiffel Tower in the distance and the famous gargoyles pondering in the foreground. Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo had a pretty ideal spot.
Our ambitious itinerary concluded with a visit to the Louvre museum. The building itself is a masterpiece and was once the French royal palace. Now it holds some of the most famous and most important art in the world. We narrowed our visit to one of the three wings, as it could take you weeks to see everything. Most of the artwork we researched before-hand resided in the Denon Wing which includes Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo.
Day two began with a return visit to Notre Dame to see the inside of the cathedral. Notre Dame is one of the most famous Gothic-style structures in the world which took 300 years to complete! It’s located on one of Paris’ islands, Ile de la Cite, and spans a length of 130 meters with ceilings 35 meters high.
We walked past the stunning Bridge of Alexander III or Pont Alexandre III, which crosses over the Seine River on our way to the Rodin Gardens. You can see this bridge in movies such as Midnight in Paris, which is decorated with gold and bronze statues.
The Musée Rodin is one of the quieter Parisian sites we visited on our trip. The museum is located inside Auguste Rodin’s mansion which was once rented out to writers and artists such as Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, and Isadora Duncan. The mansion is full of Rodin’s sculptures, sketches, and personal art collection. Rodin is perhaps most famous for his sculpture, The Thinker, which is located outside amongst other famous works in the garden. I didn’t know much about Rodin before visiting; our visit was quite enjoyable and peaceful.
The café culture in Paris is something one must experience. Parisians love to take a midday break and sip a cup of coffee while chatting. Cafés are everywhere, especially in the center of the city. One of the most famous cafés in Paris is called Les Deux Magots. We ate our packed sandwiches in the courtyard of St. Germain and tried some overpriced, yet exquisite creme brulée at a neighboring café. It was seriously divine. I still think about it…
After a quick visit to the Church of Sulpice, we made our way to the Luxembourg Gardens to rest our feet. The gardens are enormous and were inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy. Like many public gardens, there are a number of activities to partake in whether it’s playing chess, tennis, exploring greenhouses, or simply resting. We only saw a small corner of the gardens, but we were entertained by runners going by in a local race.
After our feet were somewhat rested, we ventured off to the Museé d’Orsay for some more artwork. I actually enjoyed the d’Orsay more than the Louvre for a variety of reasons. For one, we were able to see all of the artwork at our own pace and didn’t feel overwhelmed to try and fit in as much as possible.
The building is also opening and inviting as it was originally a railway station; inaugurated in 1900 for the World Fair, it allowed the residents of southeast France to travel easily to the capital. The museum was established in 1986 and includes works by Van Gogh, Rodin, Seurat, Ingres, Degas, Cézanne, and many others. Unfortunately, I was looking forward to seeing one of my favorite paintings, Dance in the City, by Renoir, but the information desk told me that ALL of the Renoir paintings were on temporary loan in Tokyo. We will just have to go back one day!
The d’Orsay was our last planned activity of the day, but we finished everything relatively early. Due to two missed days, we didn’t think we were going to have enough time to see the Montmartre district. It was too early for dinner, so we figured it was worth a visit! Montmartre is famous mainly for the Sacre Coeur Basilica. It is also the district where Ámelie was filmed, where the Moulin Rogue resides, and where many artists had studios such as Dalí and Monet.
For dinner we decided to eat out at the legendary Bouillon Chartier restaurant which is over 100 years old! The Bouillon Chartier’s initial goal was to provide a decent meal at a reasonable price and the seating hosts pack their customers in shoulder to shoulder…literally. For instance, if you are a party of two, you eat at a table for four next to another couple. The waiters write yours and your neighbor’s order right on the paper tablecloth and never have a minute free to rest or wipe the sweat off of their foreheads. It was a new dining experience for both of us, but do not go there thinking you will have a tranquil sit-down dinner.
Our third and final day in Paris was without doubt my favorite. We began in the morning with a visit to the Palais Garnier or the Paris Opera House, built by Charles Garnier at the request of Napoleon III. It is absolutely stunning and in my opinion, more impressive and grand than Versailles. You can visit the interior at your own pace which includes the auditorium, the grand staircase, the foyers, and the library. The Paris Opera House is also where The Phantom of the Opera takes place. It would be a dream come true to dance on the stage of this glorious theater.
On the way to the Arc de Triomphe, we stopped along the way at the Lindt store for some chocolate and the Lafayette Galleries where some of the most expensive clothing, accessories, and food in the world is sold. It also had a most impressive ceiling.
The Arc de Triomphe was built between 1806 and 1836 to honor those who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. It stands 49.5 m tall at the end of the Champs-Élysées and has a magnificent view of the city if you are keen to climb all the way to the top!
Our final destination was none other than the Eiffel Tower. We ate sandwiches in the park, complete with some first signs of spring!
Here are some Eiffel Tower fun facts according to the History Channel:
*It was built for the 1889 World’s Fair and took two years to complete
*Alexandre Gustave Eiffel designed the tower as well as the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty
*The base pillars are oriented with the four points of a compass
*It was the world’s tallest structure until 1929
*The tower can sway up to 5 inches in heavy wind
*It still remains a vital communications link with 120 antennae
We paid to go all the way to the top which included two separate elevator trips. It was cold with the wind, but like everything we did in Paris, it was well worth the wait. We stayed up all night that night due to an early flight and limited late night transportation options to arrive at the airport. After the metro, a night bus, some time in the airport, and our flight, we arrived in Madrid exhausted but happy we had a successful and enjoyable Parisian adventure. Au revoir!
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