Tuesday morning, November 1st I awoke cheerful and excited to begin the next phase of my travels in Paris, France. I departed from Shannon airport just outside of Limerick City early afternoon and landed at Beauvais-Tille airport an hour later, where a charter bus took me into the city (I booked a cheap flight and didn’t realize I flew into an airport so far out of the way, whoops!). I arrived in Paris at Porte Maillot in the early evening, just as the sun was setting over the city. I managed to hail a cab which brought me to my destination, my friend Mathilde’s apartment in the Volontaires neighborhood of Paris. She was working until 8 that night, and had left me instructions of how to get myself into her apartment. As I waited for her to get off work, I wandered around the neighborhood and got a snack from a near-by grocery. My initial thoughts were how difficult it was to converse with locals, as both my cab driver and the grocery clerk spoke very little English. Mathilde arrived home several hours later and since we haven’t seen each other for over three years, we spent the evening gabbing and catching up, over a delicious meal she made for us. We wanted to get a good night’s sleep that night because we knew we had a long day ahead of us.
We woke up early Wednesday morning, enjoyed chocolate croissants and coffee for breakfast and set off for the subway station to take us to our first stop. Naturally, the first thing on my list of things to do was to go see the Eiffel Tower, so that’s where we began our day. There’s a certain feeling I always get when I visit a new city and see a famous landmark for the first time, and right as I got the first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower that feeling rushed over me. You know the feeling? It’s difficult to describe, but I was awestruck and delighted. We walked around the tower grounds to take touristy pictures, then ventured on towards Seine River (La Seine), which we walked along until crossing Pont Alexander III Bridge. We passed the Big Palace (Le Grande Palais) and the Small Palace (Le Petit Palais), then crossed Avenue les champs Elysée, where we could see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.
Around lunch time, we made it to Place de La Concorde Plaza and ventured into La Madeleine, a very chic, expensive area with loads of designer shops, boutiques and elegant restaurants. We enjoyed a delicious meal in Le Marché Saint Honoré, walked passed the big Opera House, Opera Garnier, then Mathilde took me to the the top of Les Galaries Lafayette to overlook the entire city. Once again, the weather was spectacular all day (although rather cold, around 50 degrees), the skies were blue with perfectly puffy clouds and you could see all the way to the Eiffel Tower from the rooftop. Shortly after, we stopped to eat some world-famous macaroons at Ladurée at the Printemps (seriously the best macaroons ever).
Next we went down the Avenue of Opera and weaved through a few beautiful gardens to get to the Comedie Francaise. Then we found ourselves in front of The Louvre, which is absolutely gigantic. Although I appreciate art, we decided not to waste our time/money by going inside… I know what the Mona Lisa looks like. We did however take a few touristy photos in front of the Pyramide du Louvre, and then set off back along La Seine towards Isle de la Cité to see Norte Dame. As a young girl, the Hunchback of Notre Dame was a beloved Disney movie of mine, and I was even Esmeralda for Halloween last year. So I was very delighted to see this gorgeous cathedral in person and learn about its history.
As the sun began to set, we crossed the river again into the Odéon neighborhood, where we sat for happy hour drinks and to rest our legs. We made it back to Mathilde’s apartment by nightfall to freshen up before heading out to Saint-Lazare to see the play Bigre. Mathilde suggested this because it is a silent play, so she thought it would be easy for me to understand. And I am so glad she did, because it was hilarious, full of gags, great acting and very comical story line. We ended our evening by taking the subway to the Eiffel Tower once again to see it all lit up at night. It was the perfect way to end a beautiful day in the City of Love.
On Thursday morning I woke up to another perfectly sunny day and shared a brioche and coffee breakfast with Mathilde. She had to work for several hours, so it was solo exploring day for me. Thankfully the day before we had taken the subway enough for me to become familiar with the lines, so I began my adventure by taking the subway to Montmartre, where I climbed up the hill to the Sacré Cœur Basilica which overlooks the city. I ventured down into the neighborhood where I enjoyed a lemon crepe (crepe citron) and met a lovely Italian man named Fabio who showed me around the neighborhood and to his restaurant La Maison Rose. He spoke very little English so it was difficult for us to converse, but he was so generous to offer up part of his morning to give me a short personal tour of his neighborhood and send me off in the direction of Moulin Rouge.
I then walked towards the direction of the Louvre again, as we didn’t really explore the Tuileries Gardens the day before. Although it was pretty exhausting, I really enjoyed walking throughout Paris over riding a bus or taking the subway from landmark to landmark. It made me feel more like a local (even though I definitely looked like a tourist with my camera hanging around my neck). About an hour later I made it to the Tuileries Gardens, where I sat to people watch for a bit and rest. The gardens were packed for a weekday, most likely because of the unexpectedly-good weather. I watched a few adorably elderly men play Pétanque (kind of like bowling?) and after walked along La Seine in the direction of Notre Dame again to explore the neighborhood La Marias, known as the “gay” neighborhood in Paris. I loved this area, the streets were vibrant and classy, lined with the most amazing fashion shops and cafes. Someone even stopped me to take a picture of me for some sort of street fashion blog! I enjoyed another crepe in this area, this time Nutella and banana (could easily eat only crepes for the rest of my life and be happy about it). I wandered into a few clothing shops, and scolded myself for not having more room in my suitcase. However, I could not help myself when I saw a stunning leopard peacoat at Mango… I was going to make it fit in my luggage no matter what.
I enjoyed my afternoon getting lost in the streets of La Marias until about 4:30, then wanted to try to make it back closer to the area around the Eiffel Tower (Concorde) to catch the sunset. It was a long walk away, but well worth rushing… I was able to get a few good shots of the Concorde fountain and Eiffel Tower in the distance along La Seine. Afterwards I caught the subway back to Mathilde’s apartment. I was going to meet her after work for dinner, and I needed to freshen up. Around 8pm we met up and went to dinner at one of Mathilde’s favorite restaurants. We enjoyed glasses of wine, a fantastic meal and some creme brûlée while I listened to Mathilde converse with two elderly French men seated next to us about the Hillary/Trump election. Although I didn’t understand much, I was at least able to state my two sense about the election with Mathilde translating for the men. They thought we were adorable young women. We made it back to her apartment by 11pm and both fell asleep immediately.
We only had a few hours to spend together on Friday morning. Mathilde took me to a popular pastry shop for breakfast (can you tell that chocolate croissants are the norm here?) and we took the subway to the Luxembourg Gardens. Unfortunately it started to rain, but we made the most of it before I had to catch the bus to head to the airport once again. Although it was a fairly quick trip to Paris, I/we managed to fit in a ton of activities and I can’t describe how lovely it was to see Mathilde again.
- The buildings and the architecture. We don’t have structures with such intricacy and history in the US.
- Listening to people speak French. It’s such a beautiful language, and especially listening to Mathilde converse with people made me very envious. So now learning to speak French is on my list bucket list.
- The subway system/public transportation… it is SO easy to get around, and the subways are extremely clean.
- The fashion. It’s incredible. I wish I’d had more time to go into every fabulous boutique or clothing store I passed, we just don’t have shops like that in Portland. Also the French dress so elegantly, even just to go to the grocery store. Mathilde mentioned that no one wears sweatpants outside of their homes like they do in America.
- Pastries. You can get a delicious chocolate croissants or macaroons just about anywhere.
- There are secret gardens and fountains all over the place, and so well-kept and elegant.
Other things I learned/noticed:
- During my three days in Paris I saw more couples/people kissing or making out in public than I have throughout my entire life in Portland. Now I see why it’s called the City of Love.
- The French aren’t particularly fond of Americans, or at least they don’t act like it. Obviously with the exception of Mathilde, very few people spoke English and were kind of standoff-ish towards me when I said I didn’t speak French. Street signs and directions are also all in French, so getting around without a French speaker can be kind of tough.
- Everyone lives in apartments in beautiful old buildings with a lot of character. There are very few actual houses in the city.
- Nobody walks around with their food, and very few restaurants give you a to-go option if you haven’t finished your meal.
- Everyone smokes cigarettes… not a fan.
But I was overall a huge fan of the city. Merci Beaucoup, Paris, see you again!