Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Part 1: What to Do & See in Paris! Days 1-4

Paris is so exciting. It truly is a beautiful city and I fell in love the moment I laid eyes on her soil. I cannot stress enough how much I love traveling, but most importantly, I love being immersed into a new culture. The city is as exciting as you would believe and the people there just seem to have that je ne sais quoi. Their aura is just as chic as their cafes. It is magic.

I left DC on my flight around 5p East Coast Time (about 11pm Paris time) and arrived at 6am Paris Time. I did not sleep on the flight, except for maybe about an hour's worth; I was told to get at least a nap or so in if I could). When we arrived, most Parisians were not even awake and I was thankful we were the first flight that morning. I was really fortunate to have found a non-stop flight, as there were not many of those available. First thing upon arrival was to get my metro tickets- as that was going to not only be my main mode of transportation around Paris, it was the only budget-friendly option leaving the airport. The metro arrived fairly quickly and within 30 minutes, I was disembarking right in front of Notre-Dame.
The mornings in Paris are a hustle and bustle for sure, just like any busy workday morning. However, most Parisians stopped to at least enjoy their coffee, sitting in a nearby cafe to get a quick cup in before rolling onward to work. I took it upon myself to stop at Cafe Panis about 2 blocks from my place for a bite of breakfast. I enjoyed my first taste of paris with a cafe creme and croissant. It was nice to get the front window spot to watch as people passed by - it is a great place to people watch and it became my favorite cafe.
After dropping off my bags at my AirBNB studio apartment, my first stop was Notre-Dame. Since the line was looping around, and nearly impossible to get in within the hour, I opted for the Crypte Archeology (on the same grounds). These crypts of roman ruins were not discovered until the 20th century, and quickly turned into a museum for those to see ruins preserved underground. If you have time, I truly recommend visiting as these roman baths are quite old and can easily be seen. It is a self-guided tour but there is a lot of divulge into.
Next, was a quick run to Saint Jacques Tower. Described as one of the best views in Paris, the tower is remains from a church that once stood at the location. The remains of the tower allow visitors to go to the top. They only allow a max of 17 people up every hour. It is 10 euros/person but the view at the top are killer and give a panoramic view of Paris, so long as you can walk the 16 flights of narrow stairs up to the top. The guides only speak French, but they have pamphlets you can use as a self-guide.
Since I had not eaten since my quick trip to the cafe for breakfast, it was time to go enjoy cocktails before dinner. I headed up to the rooftop bar at La Paillote (a swanky and fun rooftop bar on top of the famous Galeries Lafayette, a big indoor mall in Paris). As there was a storm rolling in, there was not much time to sit and enjoy the view, however, I got my first glace at the Eiffel Tower from the top. I really enjoyed sipping my red wine and seeing the Opera across the way from my table. As the weather began to turn, I went back into the mall and did a quick trip to grab a pair of shoes. One of the most interesting things about Galeries Lafayette is they separated their mall into two halves - one side for women and the other side for me. It was quite a new concept, but I really liked their innovative idea. So, it was onto the men's side for dinner!
Big Fernand is not just any burger joint smacked in the middle of the men's department store, it is a burger mecca. These burgers are so delicious, they rival the best burgers I have had here in the states. No joke! They have a small menu, but trust me when I say they do not need to have a big menu to make a big impact! I got the Bartholome - and this burger is huge! It is a big as my face- and twice as thick as any burger I have ever had. I ordered a water a side of fries, but I could have easily had just the burger and have been stuffed. It truly is big enough to share. Each burger is made to order and they are fresh- never frozen. And, the staff are super friendly so it is a win-win all around.
Next up was The Louvre. I was really going back and forth as to when to hit up the museum, but Friday Nights the museum is open later so it was the perfect opportunity to go and see all the wonderful art. The great news was when I arrived the security line was basically non-existent. Once I got into the museum, I went to one of the kiosks and purchased my ticket to go in. The Louvre is HUGE! It has so much artwork you really need more than a day to enjoy it full. Otherwise, you will do like I did and just get through as much as you can. Every corner of the museum boasts art, from the ceilings to the hallways and even the "basement", there is so much it is overwhelming. I loved it. Most of the artworks at The Louvre are quite old - so do not expect any more modern art in its halls, other museums in Paris house those. Stop and see Napoleon's apartment as well as the Roman Ruins in the "basement" - remains from the walls that once surrounded paris are below. If you have the time, take a day to enjoy all this museum has to offer- there is much more than just the Mona Lisa within her walls.
One of my favorite times of day in Paris is the morning - and Parisians do it right. They love their bakeries and cafes. And, I do not blame them one bit! Breakfast on day two was at this famous bakery called Maison Kayser, one of the many locations for Eric Kayser and his delicious treats! It is hard to decide what to order, but once you walk up to the cases, your eye will catch some tart or bread for your first meal of the day. One of my favorite things about this particular location, is they have a secondary store next door for coffee and sandwiches where you can actually sit and enjoy your meal. I enjoyed a cafe creme and chocolate tarte for breakfast (yes, dessert first please). I also grabbed a madeline and a kougloff. Each sweet treat was even more amazing than the previous one.
Off to explore and walk around the 5th Arrondissement, I stumbled upon these amazing roman ruins (now a public park) called Arenes de Lutece. It was amazing to see an old coliseum snuggled right in a quiet neighborhood. Kids were playing a quick game of soccer while others sat and had conversations among friends. It was overwhelming to see. Nearby was the small pedestrian area that has a growing green wall. Another beautiful site near the coliseum. One thing about Paris I enjoyed doing is going down a street to see where it took me. Often I would end up in small areas, like this one, where they the city had cleaned it up and made it into an area people wanted to venture toward. Shortly after, to get my energy back up, I stopped in Berthillon for a cone of raspberry sorbet - and it was phenomenal. If you have the opportunity to go, do so. Their sorbet is fresh and mine tasted like fresh raspberries. Amazing! Beats any gelato I have had in the states.
Continuing along the walk around the Arrondissement, I noticed long rows of shops and merchants; everything from wine sellers to cheese sellers. They had a butcher who had the latest cuts in his case and large roasters rotisserie-style stand for to-go orders. A lof of speciality shops aligned the small streets and scatter amongst them were cafes and small restaurants preparing for the day. I ended up at this small corner cafe, called La Fountaine de la Mouffe, after admiring their lunch menu. The service was excellent and my three course meal consisted of herb and garlic escargot, duck confit and goat cheese salad. It was by far one of the best meals I had thus far. Paired with their house red wine, a local favorite and truly delicious, it paired well with my meal. It was heavenly.
Next, was quite a long hike uphill to the Place du Pantheon and onward to Jardin du Luxembourg. Granted, I did not venture into either majestic buildings (i opted not to and just enjoy the exteriors of both), the gardens were truly magical. I loved the beautiful flowers growing everywhere and even the children playing with the rental boats in the fountain. My favorite, by far, was the pirate ship! It was breathtaking. During the particular weekend I was visiting, they were having European Heritage Weekend, which had a great deal of museums opened to the public (which are normally closed) were free to enter and view. One of the places opened were the botanical garden at Luxembourg. It was wonderful to see the nurseries and seedlings growing.
One must-do on my paris list was to go to Pierre Herme, a famous chocolatier, and go to the flagship store and grab a sweet treat to enjoy! It is nothing short of amazing. So many different flavors of macarons, tartes, pastries and mini cakes. I made sure to snag a tarte for dessert later. There may be a line, but it goes by quite fast. The ladies that work there are efficient and really have their flow for getting people their orders. Go by and grab a treat for a picnic! You will not be disappointed.
Onto my favorite time of day, coffee hour- my new happy hour in Paris. This cafe had some killer cafe creme. Au Vieux Colombier was one of those local cafes in Paris you think of when you read books or see a parisian film. It just felt like home. I had such a great experience here. The staff are super kind and always seem to check up on you. I contemplated staying for dinner, but decided it was time to explore more of the city, so that thought was put on hold.
Instead, I went back to my studio rental to change for dinner. After running around all day with morning rain showers and then sunny afternoon, I freshened up and decided to roam down Rue de la Huchette (a big walking area for restaurants and stores near Notre-Dame. Known for some of the best little food joints in the 5th arrondissement, it became a go-to for figuring out a meal on the fly. Just walk down the street until a menu catches your eye, or in my case, the owner begging you to come in for dinner. After a few attempts, and an order of free drinks on the house, I was in for dinner at Le Fil D'ariane. This little greek joint is hustling and bustling with live music and an active waitstaff that dance and truly enjoy serving people. In all honestly, what drove me into this little place was the rotisserie chicken, potatoes, pig and lamb that were on spits in the window. Bonus points for great advertising! I had the lamb with potatoes and a side salad. And, my free greek cocktail was quite delicious as well!
Walking back from dinner was magical. Walking along The Seine and seeing Notre-Dame lit up at night was romantic. There is something mysteriously loving about Paris lit up at night. Not only is it less crowded, but the mood seems to be more laid back and relaxing. It is nice to stroll and see the city lit up in all her majestic glory. It is as if time stands still. And, it quickly prompted me to go see the Eiffel Tower. I had read before leaving that you can watch her as she lights up at night and I did not want to miss it. So, I took the Metro over to the Eiffel Tower.
Let me tell you she lit up like a christmas tree. And, I caught her right on time to grab a video of her sparking, right at 9pm! It was magical. Paris is truly the city of love. It was this moment I knew tomorrow morning was the big day to greet her finally! It has been on my bucket list forever to not only see the Eiffel Tower, but to climb her stairs as far as I could and Day 3 in Paris would be it!
So, I went back and hopped in bed, since going to the Eiffel Tower is an early-morning activity (avoid long lines and go early morning). Oh, but I did not forget my tarte from Pierre Hermes. It was a perfect way to end such a long day.

Breakfast is always important, no matter how early you get up. Day three i enjoyed a cafe creme to go with a pain au chocolat from La Boulangerie St Michel. This bakery is amazing and I was glad to discover it the night before. It became a quick breakfast spot.
With any major monument in Paris, if you want to avoid lines, you go early. And, the earlier the better. Also, particularly with the Eiffel Tower, if you take the stairs over the elevator, not only will you save a few bucks, but you will have a shorter line. Guaranteed! However, 674 steps tends to deter people from wanting to take the budget-friendly alternative. I know you may not want to, but DO IT! Trust me. You can take the elevator from the 2nd floor to the very top, but how many times will you really get to climb the Eiffel Tower? It does have these really great facts/boards to read along the way, so you can take your time.
When I reached the top, it was quite foggy and chilly but well worth the time spent. It was amazing! Truly worth it. Keep in mind that they only allow so many people to the top. And until a set number of people come down, others cannot come back up. Same with the lower levels as well. Lines were just as long getting down to the lower levels as it was to get to the top (mainly since that is the only method of transport). One gift I gave to some family members was a post card stamped and sent from the Eiffel Tower. If you have a few euros to spare, this makes for a great gift for those who are far away from you.
Once you finally decide to get down, if you have time (and weather allows), having a picnic right by the Eiffel Tower can truly be a wonderful way to spend lunch. Most parisians at lunch (or running nearby) enjoyed the large grassy areas for relaxing and taking in the day. There are plenty of benches to sit and enjoy the views from all aspects around the tower, so take time to sit and enjoy the views! As the weather was not ideal for a picnic on the Sunday I went (it was still very muddy from the prior two rainy days), I headed back to find lunch.
And, it was time for street food! Rue de la Huchette again is a great place to find food vendors for a budget-friendly meal. I had not had the opportunity to really have 'to-go' food yet in Paris, so it was no better time than lunch! I found Creperie Chez Suzette and made a ham and cheese crepe my lunch (they had actual gluten-free crepes!)! It was delicious and they make it right in front of you. This particular place had seating indoors, but I took mine to The Seine to enjoy lunch on the steps. (If you are looking for a gyro, I recommend Maison du Gyros-  I grabbed one of their lamb gyros, and they are HUGE! includes fries on your gyro in the price).
While I didn't have any pictures from my next adventure, I did come across Free Walking Tours and I found a guide who took me around the neighborhood telling me the history of the area, historically significant locations and tidbits about the area that make it unique. I truly recommend doing one of these if you can find one that fits in your schedule. (Also, if you want a fun experience, try their sister company, VizEats, for an authentic dining experience. I could not get one during my time but these are awesome opportunities to eat with locals at their home and have a true cultural experience). By that evening, I was exhausted and tired of really walking around. Thankfully, there was a mini food festival on The Seine. I stumbled around until I found makings of a meal fit for a queen! It was a great mix of goat's milk cheese, croissants, wine, baguettes, red wines, and foie gras. It was so delicious and filling! I recommend if there is a festival, go to it. I was able to try a lot of different cheeses and wines and they gave me great ideas for pairing them together.
Breakfast was again a cafe creme and a pain au chocolat from La Boulangerie St Michel. Even with early morning rain, it was a wonderful morning to sit outside on their patio. They also had a unique grilled cheese that was quite delicious- the cheese was also melted on the top outer slice.
Next, was a quick metro ride to the Fontaine du Jardin des Tuileries. This is similar to what I would consider a small section of Central Park in NYC. The gardens are designed in parisian-style near Place de la Concorde, the end of the Champs-Elysees, (you get a great view of Luxor Obelisk in the middle of the square) and a great place to start your walk toward the Arc de Triomphe. However, before making the long walk, The Musee de l'Orangerie is a great stop if you like artists like Picasso, Monet, Renoir, and Modigilani. Monet's Water Lilies are in full display in two circular rooms that truly show the beauty as the artists intended. This was by far my favorite exhibit of Monet's I had ever seen. As I knew this trip would not include a day trip out to see Giverny, this was as close as I would get to seeing the beauty of Monet and it did not disappoint!
The Champs-Elysees is a long walk, but well worth the efforts. It has so many high-end shops to admire, all the high end fashion you can feast your eyes upon and dealerships that look like boutiques. And for the guys, if you want to rent a Ferrari, all you needed was $80 for a 20 minute drive. Along the way, I stopped for lunch at Leon de Bruxelles, a great Belgium chain of Paris, that was actually quite delicious. As a side note, I had looked at a side day trip to Brussels (Belgium) but opted to not go, as the 2 hour travel would not allow much exploring with the current train schedules, so this meal was as close as I got. And, it was pretty good. First course was a salad, followed by the mussels and fries and creme brulee for dessert. Their herb blend on the mussels was amazing. For a chain, they make these to order and they tasted fresh - just as fresh as if they were a part of the morning catch. Highly recommended.
Strolling along and I finally came to the Arc de Triomphe. And, she is huge. I reminded myself the tour de france ended their race here not that many weeks prior to my visit. It is a very beautiful monument and has been around since Napoleon's reign, and was completed in 1836. While I didn't take any time to climb to the top, I did spend time near the torch of the Unknown Soldier, and actual remains of a fallen soldier were buried in that location (transferred from another spot) in November 1920. If you have a moment, it is a beautiful memorial to see. The only route to get to the Arc de Triomphe is via the tunnel access that will lead you right to the side of the monument - I would not dare attempt to cross the street above ground.
Next on the route for the day was a walk to Cafe du Trocadero for a quick drink and snack. If you have ever seen Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, then you already know this little cafe from the opening shot of the movie. While it was not on my actual list of things "to see", it was a great coincidence to stop and admire the view of the Eiffel Tower from their outdoor seating. Their selections are a bit steep compared to other places I enjoyed my wine and coffee, however, you just cannot beat the location.
Across the street was the Trocadero. If there is one place you may not have on your list of places to see, make sure you have this one on your list. The Jardins du Trocadero are a fantastic way to get one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower. And, if you are big into fashion, you already have seen the "courtyard" in many shoots. While I opted to not go in and explore Trocadero, I found the grounds much more appealing. And, it was time to enjoy a crepe with my stellar view! Like a scene from a movie, the Eiffel Tower was very picturesque and perfect for those "selfie" moments. If you happen to go during the summer, the fountains and flowers will be in full display.
Returning toward my mini home away from home, it was time to stroll along The Seine. After you cross Pont d'lena, continue your stroll down the steps along the riverwalk. I rather enjoyed stumbling upon the Jardin Flottants Rive Gauche, a floating barge that doubles as a mini park, perfect for walking, sitting and enjoying the views of the city. I found it a great place to enjoy a quick stop to people watch. As the dinner cruise boats floated along The Seine, you could see children playing and runners jogging down the pathway. Even couples sitting along the makeshift benches, grabbed a spot to play checkers at one of the painted side benches and tables.
I decided to take a slight detour off of The Seine to head down toward Pont des Arts (aka the love lock bridge). It was disappointing to have missed all the wonderful locks (mostly because I wanted to add my own to it), but instead found these glass panels in its place. I can see why there was so many Parisians unhappy with the the weight of the bridge, it was so heavily relying upon those supports, which were no longer holding. If you didn't know, Pont des Arts bridge is one of the few all wooden bridges that remain in Paris proper (the slats are separated enough you could lose your phone in The Seine if you dropped it between the wooden board slats), and it is quite an unsteady bridge. While I miss the beauty of the locks, those who wish to place locks on another bridge have done so in other locations and on other bridges. So, the tradition continues in the city, just not in its place of origin. In lieu of placing a padlock on a bridge or structure that would eventually be removed, I instead I locked a kiss on my man.
After a stroll back to the 5th arrondissement, it was time for dinner. I really was indecisive this particular day and had a tough time deciding what I wanted for dinner. Honestly, with so many great options, I find it hard to choose. However, this particular night I went to Le Lutece. This was really one of my favorite places in Paris to eat dinner. I really enjoyed the great service as well as the variety of options on the menu. I started with pate and baguette for my first course, rabbit with mushrooms and mustard and potato gratin for main course with a mini salad on the side, and dessert was pear tart with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I really enjoyed the rabbit and was impressed by the pear tart.
En route home, I decided to stop into Shakespeare & Co for a quick look around for a novel or two. This legendary bookstore in Paris has a lot of history (even if this stop is not its original location, it is still ideal real estate). So many great writers, like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound, spent many a night there writing/sleeping there. It is a haven for both writers and readers alike and its walls are covered every inch with books from all over. It is a sight to admire. After going to the second floor to look through the books, I found this mini writers cubby, with the most iconic red typewriter I had ever seen. Sitting down in the little nook, I began reading the quotes and musings of people who left notes from all over the world. I left my favorite quote from Elizabeth Browning. It says "Light Tomorrow with Today."

Stay tuned for Days 5-8, Coming soon! 

No comments:

Post a Comment