The Husband had a 4-day weekend in honor of Veterans’ Day (thank you to all who serve!), and with it we went to Paris.
On our flight I was finally able to capture some pictures over the Alps. I’m not sure where we were during these pictures, but I think I can safely say it’s either Austria or Switzerland. These mountains may be one of the things I miss most when we leave Europe, and I’m not even a snow sports kind of person. They’re just incredible to look at.
We arrived at Orly airport around 11 on Saturday and had a heck of a time figuring out how to get to the city center, despite the fact that I had looked it up beforehand. So if you’re flying into Orly, go down to my TIPS section for an explanation. Anyway, we ended up having to navigate the Metro to get downtown. It was the first time I’d really had to figure out a metro system since… um, ever? It was a daunting task. A lot of you probably think that’s adorable, but if you grew up in a state that didn’t have a metro system (at all), then maybe you’d find it daunting too. It took some serious concentration, but I finally figured out the map and after a couple trips and problems following signs, I had become a Metro Master.
Our hotel was downtown and as advertised, had a view of the Eiffel Tower. That pretty much made my day even though some of the staff were kind of rude and unhelpful. The hotel was Hotel Splendid Tour Eiffel, in case any of you want to try it out – it was definitely one of the cheaper hotels in Paris, even though it was still really expensive for us.
We arrived before our room was ready, so we explored and looked for lunch. We ended up finding a street called Rue Cler, which I highly recommend exploring if you’re in the area. The street was mostly pedestrian, with a bunch of restaurants and shops. We found a bakery-type place and got ourselves little quiches for lunch. Then we went back inside because the deserts looked way too good to be ignored. We each got an eclair and found a spot to sit and enjoy them in sight of the Eiffel Tower.
Eventually we made our way toward the city center to see some more of Paris and scope out some areas for dinner. Unfortunately it was dark by about 5pm, so our sightseeing hours were pretty limited. As we walked, we came across a sweet, lardy basset hound! The owner didn’t speak English and seemed to think I was a bit of a freak for being so excited to meet his dog, otherwise I would have taken a picture. We continued to make our way east and then headed north toward the Notre Dame area. We found some great little pedestrian-oriented areas and had a really hard time choosing a restaurant. We decided on one with a price-fixed menu, even though it was on a very touristy street. I know the rule of thumb is never to eat at a place were the proprietors try to hassle you into choosing their restaurant, but we did it anyway. And this time it actually paid off! Both our dinners were delicious and I even got to try escargot for the first time since I was a weird little snail-eating child.
We wandered around some more and even found the Little Temple Bar before going to see what Notre Dame looks like at night. Unsurprisingly, it was beautiful. But time was flying and by the time we got back to our hotel it was about 11pm.
The next day we were ready to get a lot more done. We started off by taking the metro to Denfert-Rochereau, which is where you’ll find the entrance to Paris’s catacombs. They open at 10am (except Mondays when they’re closed) and entrance is €10. We arrived half an hour after they opened and the line already stretched all the way around the block. Maybe because of the recent horror movie As Above So Below? Or maybe they’re always so busy. Either way, the wait probably would have been at least an hour, and the catacombs themselves would take the same amount of time. With this in mind, we grudgingly accepted that we just wouldn’t have enough time for them. (NOTE: Tickets for the catacombs cannot be bought online, so if you want to go you’re going to have to deal with the line. It probably isn’t so bad on a weekday. Otherwise, your best bet might be getting there well before they open.)
Then it was back on the Metro to Notre Dame. We came out in the middle of this weird bird market! See all those cages? They all have birds for sale in them. The street featured everything from fat chickens to tiny parakeets and every kind of accessory your bird might need. Later we walked along the Seine toward Notre Dame, where you’ll see all sorts of street vendors selling their goods. Most along this area of the river seemed to be selling art. This is a great place to get an affordable painting of Paris! The one we got cost us €15 and is about the size of my laptop. I’m sorry, but I’m just not willing to get up and measure, so you’ll have to use your imagination. Before you consider getting a print, DON’T. Unless you have a portfolio case that can transport a print without bending it, canvas is going to be the way to go. You can roll it up and it can even get a bit squished and flattened in your bag without permanent damage.
We went on to the cathedral, which was just as beautiful as the Hunchback of Notre Dame led me to expect (what a great movie, right?). Since it was a Sunday, church was in session most of the day and we were able to walk through while the priest was saying mass. The line was long and stretched halfway across the square, but it moved quickly and we were inside in less than 10 minutes. Entrance to Notre Dame is free, but please please PLEASE be respectful while you’re inside, especially during mass. Hats off, flash off, and quiet. Not everyone is a person of faith, but for those who are this is a very special place.
The inside was beautiful, but I found the exterior of the cathedral was really the most enchanting part with all the gargoyles and statues and decorations. But the very best part of Notre Dame is that you can climb to the top! If you’re looking at the front of the cathedral, the entrance to climb the tower is to the left (there were no signs when we were there so we couldn’t find it at first). The line was long and slow-moving because only so many people can go at a time. And then of course there are the stairs. What a workout! But let me say that it was WORTH IT. Entrance was only €8,50 and aside from getting an intimate view of Notre Dame, you also get a staggering view of the rest of Paris. Normally you get to see the South Tower housing the Emmanuel Bell, but unfortunately it’s closed for restoration for a while. I’m not sure when it reopens, so check before you go!
After Notre Dame, it was on to lunch and the Louvre! The Louvre isn’t too far from the cathedral, so we decided to walk and find food along the way. And find food we did! We found a Häagen-Dazs shop!!! Oh my Lord, was it good. We got a waffle sundae with two types of ice cream, caramel sauce, and whipped cream. It cost €10 but it was worth every penny. Sorry Italy, but I’ll take Häagen-Dazs over your gelato any day of the week. Then we found a Greek food stand for lunch before making our way to the Louvre.
The Louvre wasn’t really what I was expecting. For one, it was incredibly busy despite it being November and such a large building. And I guess I’m just really not a museum person. I think I expected the Louvre to feel less like a museum than it did – I wanted it to interest me more. We discovered quickly that all of the plaques were in French only, so to know what we were looking at we would have had to get an audio guide or something. The Greek statues were pretty interesting, the ones to the right particularly so. We got a kick out of these guys. Sometimes you just gotta make sure everything’s still where it should be, am I right? The painting below was one of my favorites because I’m a fan of Les Miserable. Vive la France!
We decided to find the Mona Lisa and see how we felt from there. We looked at the paintings along the way and sure enough, there’s the Mona Lisa amongst a sea of tourists. Alex was able to fight his way through and get a close up photo. One thing I appreciated about the Louvre is that you can totally take pictures as long as turn off your flash! Many museums I’ve been to have had a no-photos-at-all policy, mostly just so they can make more money selling prints.
After exploring the Mona Lisa wing, we decided that was enough museum for us. There are other entire wings of art, but they just weren’t calling us. We had other things to do, namely getting to the Pere-Lachaise cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried (among many other famous people). The Husband is a big fan of The Doors, and he said he’s always wanted to have a drink by Jim Morrison’s grave.
We took the Metro and found a shop to buy wine when we got off. We got a cheap bottle of Merlot (“We’re in France!” I said. “It’s bound to be good!”) to have at the gravesite and got to the cemetery at 5:50pm, only to find the doors closed. The cemetery closes at 5:30. We cracked into the bottle anyway because we weren’t going to let it go to waste, and spent the rest of the night forcing it down. And I do mean “forcing.” I learned that cheap wine is not necessarily good wine just because you’re in France (although cheap wine is usually pretty good here in Italy). It was terrible. I convinced the Husband to get up early enough to go back to the cemetery in the morning before our flight. In the meantime, we had a couple other touristy spots to see. Stop 1: The Arc de Triomphe (Merlot in hand).
Stop 2: The Eiffel Tower at night! I guess I’m a bit of a sucker for the romance of the Eiffel Tower lit up against the night sky. I’m not sure if I loved this or Notre Dame more…. They will both hold a special place in my heart. And in case you don’t know, the tower sparkles with bright white lights every hour for 5 minutes. It’s pretty magical. I’ve included a video at the end. Now I’ll let you enjoy some pictures.
We finished the night by having dinner right across from our hotel at an Indian restaurant that had been intriguing us. The restaurant is called Punjab, and it was possibly the most delicious dinner I’ve ever had. I had never really cared about Indian food before, but I now realize it’s because I had never had Indian like this. If you’re near that area, EAT THERE. Make sure to get a mango lassi (and a rose lassi, if you have room). I’m still sad that I couldn’t finish it all. That food will haunt me; I’m afraid I’ll search for the like of it for the rest of my life.
The next morning we were on our way by 8:30am, making the long Metro ride again to Pere-Lachaise. The cemetery was open this time, but don’t think you’ll find Jim Morrison’s grave without help. This cemetery is mostly above-ground mausoleums, so that it feels a bit like a city of the dead with its own roads and tiny buildings. Jim Morrison’s gravesite is blocked off now (something about vandalism and his bust being stolen?), though it would be very easy to hop the barrier. There were flowers and photos and candles on what would otherwise be a comparatively dull burial place. Jim Morrison’s is one of few actual below-ground graves, and it sits surrounded by mausoleums so that it is especially small and unassuming. We had Google Maps helping us, otherwise I don’t think we ever would have found it. Other famous burial sites in Pere-Lachaise include Chopin and Oscar Wilde, among others.
From there we made our way back to Orly airport and our too-short visit to Paris came to an end. I loved Paris more than I expected to, and while we did a lot in the time we had, there were still many things we missed out on. Hopefully we’ll be back someday!
TIPS: The longer the better! I learned that there just isn’t enough daylight in November to do all the things you’ll want to do. But I probably would have felt that way even in the middle of summer too. So make sure to give yourself as long as possible!
Buy in advance! “Tourist season” in Paris is a never-ending affair, so if you’re like me and think to yourself, “Oh, it won’t be tourist season so the lines won’t be too long. I won’t need to buy tickets beforehand,” YOU ARE WRONG.
The Metro is the way to go. I strongly considered getting tickets for one of the hop-on-hop-off buses (they run between €26-€33 euro per person, depending on whether you buy a 1- or 2-day and whether you buy them online or in person). That’s great if you ONLY want to see the big sites and you don’t want the “hassle” of using the Metro. However, the Metro is pretty great once you get it figured out, not to mention you can go ANYWHERE. You can get day passes for different zones (our day passes for zones 1-3 cost us about €10 each), which will save you some moolah. But please keep in mind that a “day” pass means a calendar day, not a full 24 hours (we learned that the hard way).
Flying into Orly airport? Here’s what you gotta do: 1.) Go outside and find the OrlyBus. Tickets cost €7,50 each (it’s a crazy amount, but they know they can charge it because the only cheaper alternative is walking) and you’ll get a reeeeeally small, easy-to-lose ticket. All forms of public transport in Paris use these fortune-sized tickets, so be prepared to keep careful track of them. 2.) Hop on the bus and validate your ticket it in the machine. You’ll stay on until the last stop, which is Denfert-Rochereau. 3.) From here, you’ll want to hop on the metro. (The station is around the corner. Look for the gothic-looking “Metropolitan” sign.) Get a map from the ticket counter, as well as a ticket; a single journey will cost you €1,70, or you can get a book of tickets or a day pass. The 6 line will take you the Eiffel Tower, or you can figure out the map to go wherever you’re heading. To get back to Orly at the end of your visit, just do it again in reverse!