This post on my experience in Paris has taken me forever to write. I’ve revised and written it 1,000 times but no matter how hard I try I just can’t seem to do it justice.
For three euphoric days Michael and I ran around the City of Lights and, like most first time visitors, tried to see as many attractions that we could.
If you’ve not had a chance to visit yet, let me forewarn you… Paris will steal your heart. Crepes, baguettes, French champagne, glorious architecture and the flashing lights of the Eiffel tower – everything about Paris is bliss.
Day 1: Cafe Life,Montmartre and Moulin Rouge
After our time in London, which you can read about here, Michael and I flew to Paris for the remainder of our vacation. We stayed in Hotel Le Royale in Montparnasse near the Luxembourg garden and Saint-Germain quarter. It was a lovely hotel and we were thrilled with the accommodations and service. It was gorgeous and romantic and had an expresso maker that made us extremely happy. #priorities
We didn’t speak French (yes, we were those people) and only knew a few phrases so it took a bit to get acclimated. I’ll admit to being a bit anxious in the beginning trying to get around. Thank God for my husband who was way less intimidated than I was about the language barrier.
Our first order of business was to have lunch. Now, you had better believe that I was bound and determined to experience the café culture that I had read so much about so that was the first order of business. And as luck would have it we stumbled upon the most glorious café called La Rotonde. It was exactly what I pictured in my mind and after walking a bit aimlessly around the perimeter a French waiter
took pity on us invited us to sit and presented us with an English menu. (Whew!)
And what an experience it was! White linen table cloths, amazing service, the perfect bottle of white wine and food that was beyond my expectations. (And I had high expectations, let me tell you.) Come to find out that our cafe is quite well- known and was frequented by none other than Pablo Picasso, who had a studio nearby. He even memorialized two diners in the cafe in his painting “In the cafe de la Rotonde” in 1901.
Our next order of business was to figure out the public transportation, which despite the language barrier, we found to be easier to navigate that the London Tube system. Go figure!
Our afternoon consisted of a quick jaunt to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Latin Quarter before heading off to one of my new favorite places in the world…. Montmartre.
I found Montmartre initially on Instagram. True story! I was following hashtags about Paris when I started to see these charming photos. I knew immediately that we had to visit. Montmartre is in the 18th arrondissement of Paris well-known during the Belle Époque to have been a busy bohemian quarter filled with various avant-garde artists the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri Matisse.
So, it’s kind of a big deal.
On the crest of the hill in town is the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur. When we visited it was in the middle of services. I must say that I found mass said in French to be quite gorgeous.
The town practically glows at night and is one of the most picturesque quarters of Paris. I was awestruck by Place du Tertre and the “carré aux artistes” (artists’ square). It was a tad touristy but I really enjoyed soaking it all in and spending time people watching.
From there we wandered down the hill at Place Blanche to Moulin Rouge to catch a show. Yes, THAT Moulin Rouge. What better way to celebrate your 20th wedding anniversary then to treat your husband to burlesque cabaret dancers?
I drank ridiculous amounts of champagne and marveled at the costumes (what little costumes there were) while my husband, ahem, “enjoyed” the show.
As an FYI for those of you who have not visited Moulin Rouge, which is probably everyone I know in real life, the cabaret show is by no means ‘erotic.’ It’s a cross between Cirque du Soleil, the Rockettes and a Broadway musical. Except with thousands more feathers, sequins and rhinestones and less fabric, of course. Also there was a woman dressed only in a nude thong swimming around a giant water tank filled with boa constrictors. So there’s that.
You’re welcome, honey.
Day 2: Effiel Tower, Louvre, Luderee and Tears
Day two was the day of tears for me. Normally I’m a pretty even-keeled person. Oh sure I bawl at sappy Facebook videos from time to time, but my normal every day life doesn’t include the need for tissues. Until I wander through the streets of Paris, that is.
Michael and I started the day at breakfast in the hotel where we discovered French butter for the first time. Oh. My. Lord. French butter is a little slice of heaven. No, I take that back. It is a BIG slice of heaven. Oh la la!
the butter breakfast we headed over to the Effiel Tower. Now, we heard that the lines were long so our plan was just to gaze and take pictures but as luck would have it we found ourselves zipping up the tower! For the record, I do not like heights (we’ve been over this before) so I wasn’t completely on board with this plan. But my husband talked me into heading ALL THE WAY UP and yes, the views were magnificent. And yes, I was happy that we did it but I was much happier on the ground. C’est la vie.
After the Tour Eiffel we went pretty much everywhere beginning with the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile and then on to the Champs-Élysées, Pont des Arts bridge, Musée du Louvre, the river Seine and on and on and on. It was a glorious Fall day perfect for walking and soaking up the culture.
The Arc de Triophe was a personal favorite although we had to climb a steep 280 step circular staircase to get to the top. My legs were burning! 280 steps is a lot, in case you are wondering. But the view is so worth it!
We strolled down the Champs-Élysées (sing it with me!) and had lunch at a little sandwich shop that was surrounded by
murderous hungry pidgeons. I have no clue what sandwhich I ordered because I was winging it but it was fabulous. All French food is good food, so you can’t really go wrong.
We worked our way around the area with no clear destination. We knew we wanted to see the Louvre and the Siene but honestly everything was so stunning that it was impossible to walk by without taking it all in. As you may have guessed, this is where the tears began. (I wore sunglasses so it wasn’t as creepy as it sounds.) When you’ve dreamed of visiting a destination all of your life and it turns out to be more magical than you’ve ever imagined, there will be tears. The beauty of it all was overwhelming to me at times and the memory of it will stay with me forever.
“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” – Oscar Wilde
We met a lovely woman from the East Coast while visiting Lauderee (because French macarons!) on Rue Bonaparte who was renting a flat right by the Louvre. She said it had always been on her bucket list to live in Paris for a month. Michael and I looked at each other immediately like “Yes! We must do this!”
After munching on sugary sweet stuff, we strolled along the Siene and headed back to the Latin quarter to visit another internet find of mine called Shakespeare and Company. Shakespeare and Company is an English-language bookshop in the heart of Paris on the banks of the Seine. It is famous for being the gathering place for writers like Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. We sipped lattes while we took in the afternoon sun.
The thing that struck me most was how the people of Paris flowed into this lifestyle. It was a Monday evening around 5pm when most people were getting off of work. But they weren’t hustling home, instead they were relaxing in the gardens with their books or newspapers or friends and winding down before going home. These people chill every day in the most stunning city in the world. It’s mind-boggling.
Dinner that evening consisted of my favorite things in life…. wine, a giant pot of cheese and fresh bread. Not one vegetable. Ask me if I care…
Day 3: Versailles, Cemeteries, Catacombs and Le Bistrot Des Campagnes
Our final day in Paris was more structured as we opted to take advantage of a tour company that came highly recommended named Fat Tire Tours. We booked an excursion to The Palace of Versailles and spent most of our day on the property.
Let me just pause here to affirm that Versailles is as opulent and grand as you would imagine. What began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge evolved into one of the most spectacular examples of the grandeur of 18th century French art and architecture. Versailles is well-known for its unbelievable Hall of Mirrors, Grand Apartments, vast gardens and scandalous history. Everything was just so… LAVISH. (And gold. As in, real gold.)
Our tour guide’s name was Ben and he was hilarious and so much fun to be around. You could tell he had a passion for the history and he really enjoyed his job. (And making fun of Louis XIV’s calves.) One day I’m going to move to France and be a tour guide like Ben. It’s my new calling.
Michael and I loved discovering the gardens and weaving our way through the palace. The Hall of Mirrors was just spectacular! Of course we didn’t get to see everything at Versailles because the property is massive and we had a few more things planned for our last evening in Paris… like visiting cemeteries and dead bodies!
No, I’m not kidding.
Yes, I probably need therapy.
Honestly, the cemeteries in Paris remind me of New Orleans (gee, I wonder why?) and are downright fascinating. We visited the Montparnasse cemetery which opened in 1824 as the “cemetery of the south.” Montparnasse is one of the three principal cemeteries of central Paris (the other two being Pere-Lachaise and Montmartre). A few of the notable burials there include Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Serge Gainsbourg, and Guy de Maupassant.
Not far from the Montparnasse cemetery the Catacombs of Paris. Squee! In case you live under a rock, the catacombs are underground ossuaries in which hold the remains of more than six million people in a small part of the ancient Mines of Paris tunnel network.
We visited the catacombs in the late afternoon and wized right in thanks to the “skip the line” tickets we bought from Fat Tire Tours. (Best investment!) Only a certain amount of people are allowed underground at a time so the line is always wrapped around the corner.
What a cool experience! It was not crowded and very easy to follow along with our audio guides. Because of the intimacy, I really felt like a part of ancient history traveling through those tunnels.
As you first step into the ossuary you walk under a doorway with the haunting inscription: “Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort!” (Stop! This is the empire of death!). Inside you find bones grouped by the cemeteries that they came from. Some are neatly stacked along the corridors; others arranged in patterns, creating crosses and hearts and other images.
Creepy and fascinating. We loved it!
Our final night in Paris was spent eating like a local at Le Bistrot Des Campagnes. This restaurant came highly recommended from our hotel staff. In Paris, dinner doesn’t begin until 7:30pm so we were early birds getting there at 7:00pm. The menu was entirely in French and although we did have help translating, it didn’t help much. It was one of those nights were we ordered something and hoped for the best.
The food was fabulous! (Of course it was.) We enjoyed a bottle of Le château Tourteau Chollet while we watched the evening dinner scene unfold around us. There was a two person kitchen open to the entire restaurant where diners were able to view all of the preparation done by the chef. Wait staff consisted of two women who prepared food and drinks, bussed tables and enjoyed the camaraderie of all of their guests. And the desserts were to die for… C’est magnifique!
Dinner that evening was the perfect ending to a perfect visit.
Leaving the next morning was difficult, to say the least. Paris changed me in ways I still don’t fully understand. What I know is that I am no longer the same person I was prior to my visit. I simply can’t wait to return!