Why don’t I love Paris?
Paris has been in my dreams since I started taking French class in fifth grade. “Why didn’t you choose Spanish? It is much more practical,” my dad wanted to know. Oh… but because of Paris.
It wasn’t long before I started adding to-do items for my trip to Paris: eat a croque monsieur washed down with a menthe a l’eau, kiss Oscar Wilde’s grave, have croissants and cappucinos every morning…
Ironically, when I started traveling after high school, Paris never made the itinerary. Let’s camp in the desert in Israel! And see the lions in South Africa! Paris was unceremoniously swept under the rug – Paris can wait, it will always be there. At one point, I traveled to a sufficient amount of major cities that I began to discount Paris completely – cities are all the same.
But my husband had traveled to Paris back in high school, before we met. It was the first major city he ever visited! (He grew up in rural New York and had never even been to NYC). He joined an exchange program in high school and Oh! The buildings! The crowds! The bustle! Paris was the only place to be. He had his first croissant and his first wine in Paris. He had his first taste of the world in Paris. Paris, to him, was charmed. He had been aching to take me there. “Here, buy this dress. You can wear it in Paris.” He told me on a trip to Annecy last summer. All summer we planned to go, but something or other came up. We finally got the chance to go this Christmas. And it was winter so I couldn’t wear that dress 😦
Maybe we went at the wrong time (the week after Christmas… which is actually known to be low time for tourism). Maybe we had bad luck. Maybe I was never meant to actually go to Paris… maybe I was just meant to love the idea of Paris from afar. Even now, as I am writing this, I am falling back in love with the idea of Paris.
So let’s see… what happened?
We landed at Charles de Gaulle airport and walked to the metro ticket machine to buy tickets for the train to our hotel. The tickets were expensive, so I checked Uber and there was a comparable price for taking Uber Pool to the hotel. We had a lot of luggage and I heard about the pickpockets in Paris… so we chose the Uber. It was 37 euro for the trip. Our driver had amazing Parisian character – cursing Uber and the traffic all the way to the hotel. In his words, it was all just so “In-croy-able !”
La Baldaquin Hotel
There are 20 arrondissements in Paris. We stayed in the 17th arrondissement at Le Baldaquin Hotel. I highly recommend this hotel. It is on a quiet street off the main road, so we perceived no outdoor noise. At the same time, it is convenient to get anywhere. It is a short – 5 minute walk to two different metro stations, “Place de Clichy” and “Rome.” On Saturdays, there is a market on the main road. There are restaurants (James Bun- yum!) and patisseries and boulangeries (bakeries) also on the main road, which made breakfast easy. The hotel rooms have good free Wi-Fi and clean and spacious bathrooms. There is tea and coffee refilled daily in the room. If I return to Paris, I will stay at this hotel again.
Our first night in Paris.
We ventured in the general direction of the hill-situated neighborhood of Montmartre to visit the Sacre Coeur Basilica. On the way, we passed Moulin Rouge and stopped in the ticket office to see if catching a show would be possible… the cheapest tickets were 112 euro, but the “normal” tickets (evening show) were around 200 euro – hard pass. At this time, 1 euro was equal to about 1.3 US dollars.
Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre
With appreciation from our wallets, we left Moulin Rouge and continued our stroll in the direction of Sacre Coeur. As expected when visiting the highest point in a city, the walk there is entirely uphill. However, as you might also recognize, an uphill walk frequently comes with remarkable views. We followed road signs for Sacre Coeur and found it without difficulty. Basically, if you’re not there yet, keep going up 😉 When we arrived, it was late evening and there was a line to enter. It was Tuesday night, the day after Christmas (December 26) and the line was reasonably short and swift… a 30 minute wait? Admission was free. They checked our bags and allowed us to walk around inside the basilica. Sacre Coeur was built between 1875 and 1914 and had a stone interior similar to other houses of worship. It was very beautiful, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. The greatest part of visiting Sacre Coeur was walking around outside the basilica. The monument was uplit and glorious, looking majestic on its high pedestal. Across from the basilica, was the finest view of Paris in Paris. The Eiffel tower was somewhat obstructed by trees, but we were able to walk down one loop of road to be a little lower and get an clear sight. We even caught the 5 minute light show where the entirety of the Eiffel Tower sparkles. This show occurs hourly commencing at and following sunset.
We descended the stairs in front of the basilica and walked through a pedestrian square seemingly dedicated to artists. Some were painting from photos of Parisian scenery, others were sketching tourists’ caricatures, and others had their own distinctive art forms. Witnessing the artists at work was serene, even in the dense crowd. I was also keen on finding street art around the neighborhood. The seahorse and alligator mosaics that we saw on the way to Sacre Coeur are featured below. However, once you leave this square and walk through the street, expect to be heckled. A man grabbed my husband’s arm, and with a “hakuna matata” mantra attempted to put bracelets on his wrists. Even though we were not receptive and kept walking, he kept hold of his arm –releasing it after half a block. Men with sketchpads stopped short in front of us while we were walking and offered to draw our caricatures. We persisted past all the solicitors and souvenir shops until we were out of the tourist area.
After exiting Montmartre, we stopped in a café and ordered hot chocolate and French Cheese to share. The hot chocolate arrived as one cup filled with chocolate and a separate pitcher of steamed milk that we then had to mix (pictured below). The French cheese was a white cheese native to northern France that is similar to yogurt. It is served with sugar, honey, or confiture (jam).
Having rested at the café, we walked through a main shopping street with window displays and scenes of all sorts. There were some by easyJet that I really liked. I couldn’t get many photos because of both how thick the crowds were and how short I am.
On our final stretch home, we bought a croissant and pain au chocolat from a boulangerie that was open late. It was the best croissant and pain au chocolat I ever had. I regret not getting the name of it because I could never find it again.
Musée du Louvre
The next morning, we went straight to the Louvre and arrived at 9am, exactly when the doors opened. There was already a long line formed. There were separate lines for ticket holders and for those without tickets – the length of both was about the same. We went in the line for those without tickets. We waited about an hour or an hour and a half in line. It began to rain, but we brought umbrellas. For those who didn’t bring umbrellas, there were vendors selling them throughout the line. Once inside, the tickets were 15 euro each and we bought them from a machine. Like great tourists, we made a b-line for the Mona Lisa. By the time we arrived at the painting, there was already a hoard of people there. As I was in no rush, I stood in the back of the hoard and slowly moved up with it as people from the front took their photos and left. Once you get farther into the hoard, the more pushing and shoving you experience. People do not hesitate to put their phones in front of your face while they stand behind you to take a photo. People shoved and elbowed their way to the front and took 15 photos each – some on their phones, then switched to iPads, then switched to Nikon cameras. I was there a long time before I got to the front- and I was losing my temper quickly at the beginning of the day. I went up, took some pictures on my phone and then proceeded to be shoved and elbowed out. We walked through 2 more wings of the Louvre, but I found the angry patrons too distracting. People were cursing as others walked through their photos, they were running toward the Mona Lisa… It was not my scene. I needed to get out of there. When we left the Louvre, we looked at the state of the line to enter the museum – it multiplied in length by a factor of 5 or 6! It snaked into other openings of the old palace out of necessity as it no longer fit into the area with the pyramid.
Pont des Arts
Paris cries out through every crack in its streets and aging architecture- desperate for love. In some places, specifically the Pont des Arts, the love received has taken its toll on the city. Though I had no lock in hand, I was curious to see the passion-filled, lock-drenched, bursting fence of love lining the bridge. I was momentarily taken aback when the fencing wasn’t there… then I remembered an article I read in the summer of 2015 about how these padlocks were destroying the bridge and a railing had collapsed under its weight. At the time, there were an estimated 1 million locks on the bridge. The trend started in 2008 and lasted 7 years before it saturated the fence. Not wanting this in their city, Parisians signed a petition (successful) to remove the padlocks. The fencing was replaced with glass paneling which could not be obtruded with padlocks… and the glass also made graffiti easier to remove. However, we noticed that the poles in between the glass panels had bike chains wrapped around them to support new locks. Those locks then supported more locks. Love, it seems, will always find a way. (Jurassic Park reference)
I love macarons. Beholding at the flavor variety of macarons in Pierre Hermé was something else. The flavors encompassed varieties such as “Truffle Blanche & Noisette” and other mouth-watering combinations (menu and display cases pictured below). We purchased 3 macarons to share – “Infiniment Rose,” “Caviar Petrossian,” and “Datte & The Earl Grey.” Although the choice was difficult, the price helped us limit the number we bought. They tasted fresh and remarkable.
Upon arrival at Les Invalides, we predictably joined the line to enter. Despite the small quantity of people in line, the intense security for the military museum lengthened the wait. We had to empty our pockets, open our bags, open our jackets, and get patted down – all outside in the cold. By the time we got to the ticket office, all I wanted to do was sit down and warm up. After sitting there for a while, I felt terrible, but I had absolutely no desire to go in the museum. I really did want to see Napoleon’s tomb and I really did want to learn about the French military history… but I was too cold, too tired, and too “lined” out. Besides, I had to head back to the hotel to work my US hours.
At many glowing endorsements from the internet, we made sure to stop by an Angelina for a hot chocolate. The Angelina shop was not what I expected it to be. I imagined a starbuck’s-esque café, but it was actually a pastry shop that also sold hot chocolate. There was no seating so I had to go back out into the cold to drink my hot chocolate. The beverage was exceptionally thick and chocolatey, and felt like drinking straight melted chocolate. It was available to buy a glass bottle of the hot chocolate to take home as a souvenir.
The cost is 1.90 euro per trip. tickets are bought ahead of time and a special discount is given when 10 tickets are bought together. Within Paris, you only need the ticket to enter the system… but in some places (Eiffel Tower) and whenever you leave the city, you need your ticket to exit as well. When in doubt, hold on to your ticket. The metro system overall is fast, clean, and very well set up. Some of the cars are even driverless! The doors always line up with the suicide doors at metro stations with driverless cars. But always beware of pickpockets! We witnessed a failed pickpocket attempt on the train on our way to Père-Lachaise.
Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile
That evening, after my USA work hours, we took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc de Triomphe is an important military monument in Paris honoring the fallen soldiers in the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. The first stone was placed on August 15th, 1806 to coincide with Napoleon’s birthday and it was finished 30 years later in 1836. The walls lining the inside of the arc have the names of 558 French generals- the ones that are underlined died in battle. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I is beneath the Arc (pictured below). Originally lit on November 11, 1920, the eternal flame burns to remember the fallen soldiers who were never identified in World War I or World War II. The inscription reads “Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914-1918.” The eternal flame is re-lit every evening at 6:30 pm.
It is not possible to get to the Arc de Triomphe by crossing the traffic circle- you must follow the underground tunnel through the metro. There are signs leading the way. The ticket office is immediately at the top of the stairs leading from the metro to the monument. There was a line to go up and we waited in it. Admission is 8 euro. There is no elevator, so expect to climb the narrow winding staircase. One side of the Arc is for traffic going up and the other side is for traffic going down, so each staircase only has traffic going one-way. The view from the top was noteworthy. The Arc de Triomphe is in the center of a large traffic circle (called l’Etoile or the “Star”) so we went around and looked down each road coming out from the traffic circle – though the Champs-Élysées was the only one well-lit. This was the best view of the Eiffel Tower that I experienced in Paris. On the way down there was a small museum with how military fashion had changed through French history.
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
For months before we relocated to France, we had “French Fridays.” My husband (then fiancé) would come home and immediately turn on the song, “Champs-Élysées” and we would dance and laugh while he sang the words. Sometimes we even had croissants while we listened. (we were really trying to acclimate to France… kind of like when you put a new fish in the new aquarium still in his store-bag… ) Well anyway, this made it on my dream-Paris to-do list. We are going to dance and sing Champs-Élysées on the actual Champs-Élysées!
…Well, we didn’t…
We descended from the arch and walked down the Champs-Élysées… which was a total highway by the way. It was filled with designer and department stores – all closed at the time, but we looked at their displays. We went into an Italian eatery and ordered onion soup (what we in the USA call French onion soup) and a pizza. Neither was anything to write home about. It seemed like a main shopping street anywhere. We walked down the avenue and continued to meander back to the hotel.
Notre Dame de Paris
The next morning, we planned to go to Notre Dame. The cathedral was built between 1163 and 1345. It was the site of many important royal wedding and coronations, but most importantly (to me) it was home to the great Hunchback of Notre Dame. The cathedral gets 13 million visitors per year- all of whom showed up the same day I did.
When we arrived, I snapped some photos from the outside, but refused to wait in the 2 hour line. Sorry, folks, you’re going to have to search Google Images for the interior decor.
Sainte-Chapelle took far less time to build than did Notre Dame – 7 years versus almost 200. It was built in the 13th century for the purpose of keeping safe King Louis IX’s relics of Christ.
Instead of waiting to go inside Notre Dame, I thought we would go to Saint-Chapelle which has the more impressive interior and possibly the shorter line (less famous). And while it did have a shorter line, we still ended up waiting around an hour. Admission was 10 euro. When we finally entered the chapel, it was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with sardines people. Thankfully, as it was the only thing I could see, the ceiling was beautiful to look at. We went upstairs where the crowd was slightly thinner and were met with the famous 15 15-meter-high stained glass windows. At that point, we could unpack our fins arms and legs and walk around admiring the décor. It was the most striking cathedral I have ever been in, and I highly recommend a visit.
The Eiffel tower was next on the agenda for that day… yet, I had already resolved not to wait in any other lines. I just wanted to walk around on the grass and have the tower be in the background – I did not want to climb it or even get close to it. I just wanted to be able to walk around freely with no strangers touching me.
To exit the metro at the Eiffel Tower, we had to put our tickets back into the machines. The rest of the stops you don’t need a ticket to exit, and we had gotten into the habit of immediately throwing away our tickets. Thankfully, after the guard was finished with his conversation, he let us out. We thanked him and then he proceeded to yell at us that we did not thank him enough. Ok.
When we got to the tower, I was immediately and unwillingly merged into a line that I had no desire to be a part of. The city had put up fencing that got narrower and narrower as you walked so the crowd grew denser and packed tighter. I waited in a line for nothing for about 30 minutes before I got free from the fencing and was able to cross the street. I ached to walk on the grass… but that was fenced off too for some reason. I was merged again into another crowd on the outer fence of the grass in a sea of selfie sticks. I put on my happiest face, took some photos, and metroed straight back to the hotel, never wanting to go outside again.
After my USA work hours, we went out again. I had been wanting to go to a neighborhood called Le Marais because I had heard about the cheap and delicious food there. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, I was so hungry that I walked into the first eatery and filled up on bland pasta. However, once I was full and no longer hangry, we were able to walk the streets and enjoy a different side of Paris. Still somewhat touristy, but no hoards. I enjoyed seeing the diverse part of Paris and filling up on ethnic pastries.
We stopped by a creperie called La Drogueire. The chef was making crepes on two plates in the window while people ordered and waited below. We ordered one “Nutella, almond, honey, and noix de coco” crepe and one “sucre, beurre, citron” crepe. Once we had the crepes, we were invited to sit down and eat the crepes inside his small establishment. We gladly enjoyed our desserts indoors. Well satisfied, we continued to go through the bakeries and pastry shops in the neighborhood – buying baklava and a few other sweets to enjoy in our hotel room later that night.
The next morning, we planned on going to Versailles. On our way to the metro, I stopped by a market to grab a croissant and pain au chocolat for us to have for breakfast. On my way out, I saw a man and a girl behind him running desperately toward me. Next to me, I also saw a stopped bus. I assumed they really wanted to catch the bus. The girl was screaming, “mon dieu, s’il te plait!” However, as soon as the man ran past me and then the girl, I realized something else was wrong – he had stolen from her. For whatever reason, I started sprinting after them as well. They rounded the corner to the right, and out of the left corner of my eye, I saw the entire busy street of people sweep immediately into the streets and toward the scene. As soon as the thief realized what was happening, he slowed to a walk and was immediately apprehended. The men that caught him held his hands behind his back and emptied his pockets finding the cell phone he had snatched from the girl. She was still hysterical, unable to comprehend what happened and I tried to comfort her. Another man came over to us, smiling, and unzipped his jacket to reveal and orange police tag. “I am the police. The police are here.” After they started talking, I felt free to leave. I ran back to tell Colin the story while he waited for me at the metro, excited because of the happy ending. He wasn’t as excited seeing as I also made us miss the train.
Château de Versailles
We bought a point-to-point ticket to Versailles (one way) and it was 3.60 euro each. We had to get off about a mile from Versailles because of the schedule, but the walk wasn’t bad. When we got there, there was, of course, a line. However, we had a timed ticket! It was the same price as the regular ticket online, but we had guaranteed entry by 9:30 am. One of the security persons saw this and told us to go all the way to the front to go straight to security! It was awesome!
Once inside, we picked up free audio guides which were really helpful and told stories about the rooms. Bring your own headphones or you have to carry the guide around like a phone. The decorations were really interesting, even if they were not my favorite. Fully carpeted walls and matching canopies on the beds so that everything blended together?
My favorite part of Versailles was the gardens. Though nothing was blooming, the gardens had a wonderful and eerie air to them. It reminded me of the gardens in the animated feature “Anastasia” where Anastasia got lost when Rasputin came to get his revenge on her. It was winter and thunderstorming when we were there (thunderstorms in the winter?!), and we were soaked and cold, but the gardens were so beautiful with their mystique that we didn’t mind. Plus, the weather probably saved us from more crowds! We walked from the palace to Marie Antoinette’s retreat. We almost rented a golf cart because of the weather, but we learned that the golf cart could only be driven on the straight path there and we would’ve preferred to take it exploring if we rented it. It was about 36 euro per hour. Walking there, we realized it was farther than we expected, especially in the cold rain, so we stopped in the little café halfway there. We ordered a grog for me, a beer for my husband, and a pizza for us to share. Thawed a little, but still drenched, we left to finish the rest of the journey.
We spent the entire morning / afternoon in Versailles and took the train back to our hotel to rest and so I could get in my work hours.
Pho & Co
In the evening, we went back out to the Le Marais area. We went to Pho&Co to eat and the food was PHENOMENAL. We got the fresh chicken shrimp spring rolls, pho, coconut chicken curry, and read beans with coconut cream for dessert.
After dinner, we were full, but wanted to go back to the crepe man anyway. Unfortunately, it was late and he was already cleaning his plates, turning away 6 people while we were there.
Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
The next morning, our last destination in Paris was the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.
Père-Lachaise opened its gates on May 21, 1804 and was not immediately popular. There were only 13 graves during the first year. However, thanks to some clever marketing (moving famous people’s remains to the cemetery), it is currently the largest cemetery in Paris. Here, you can visit the graves of Frédéric Chopin, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Molière, Victor Hugo and Oscar Wilde… among many many others (Père-Lachaise has over 300,000 plots). Parisians call it la cite des morts (the city of the dead).
Prior to my visit, I never considered gravesite leasing. At Père-Lachaise, I learned, they lease out gravesites for 30 years at a time so a family member or other designee would have to renew the lease every 30 years. This way, degraded tombstones and monuments would not begin to plague the cemetery.
And I would say it is successful. The cemetery was much more romantic than I anticipated and it was definitely my favorite part of Paris. It was wildly beautiful, eerie, and ethereal all at the same time. I could have spent the whole day (week) there. (In fact, my spending too much time here is what set off a cascade of events that ended with us being towed off a snowy mountain). The moss, drizzle, fog, and stone sculptures gave it an otherworldly feel, truly appropriate for a cemetery.
Ok, on to my mission. Oscar Wilde was all the way in the back of the cemetery and I was eager to walk through the whole thing. When we found the tomb, I was surprised to see his gravesite enclosed in glass. I watched Paris Je t’aime when I was younger, and I really wanted to kiss the gravestone of Oscar Wilde. I brought my lipstick and everything! The glass had a note that read that the family of Oscar Wilde paid for the cleaning of the memorial and didn’t want anyone defacing it. This seemed odd to me as a sentiment to be displayed on a man’s tomb who was always laughing at the seriousness of life. Though I did not understand it, I respected the family’s wishes and did not try to get past the glass. However, I did see some fresh lipstick prints near the back and they made me smile in hopes that Oscar would appreciate them. I did kiss the glass 😉
Despite the fact that it is recommended to visit on a sunny day, we went here on a rainy day and I recommend that instead! The rain kept the other tourists away. (I know I am a tourist too! But who loves being in crowds?!)
If you ever see me back in Paris, know that I found some way to avoid the incessant hoards of tourists. And ask me about it! The crowds and lines were unbearable for me. A few select places had really good food, but the rest were bland and overpriced. I would definitely recommend Sacre Coeur, Sainte-Chapelle, Le Marais, Versailles, and Pere Lachaise. They were unique and definitely worth a visit. Perhaps, I would also recommend scheduling your trip for rainy season 😉 if you have the right clothing, the rain shouldn’t bother you… and Paris is actually most beautiful in the rain.