Je t'aime Paris
Leaving our beautiful little greenhouse and the beaches in Southern France was a bittersweet parting. It had become a home away from home for us, and as long-term travellers know, that empty feeling when you leave a place or good friends, descended upon our hearts like a heavy fog as we boarded the train to Paris. Thankfully, we had 4 hours on the train to snap out of it and get excited about our five-day stint in "zee beootiful see-tee of Pari". There were a few things we absolutely had to do and see, but the majority of our trip was unplanned.
Here are the highlights of our time in Paris and a few tips we found helpful!
Mass at Notre Dame:
I'm not the religious type, but ever since watching 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame" I've wanted to see this cathedral for myself. I was absolutely blown away but the grandiosity of this place and the holiness that emanated from it. I mean, the gargoyles, flying buttresses, pointed arches, life-like reliefs and stained glass windows came together so beautifully to create an air of omnipotent nobility and power.
It's great to see from the outside, but we decided to see it in its' true form and attend a Sunday mass. This was remarkable. The acoustics, the light, the sheer magnificence of the interior was humbling and inspiring at the same time.
Masses are free and held throughout the day on Sunday and even a few times during the week.
Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur:
Having both never been to Montmartre, we didn't really know what to expect as we left our downtown neighborhood of Oberkampf, for the renovated outter suburb to meet up with a friend for lunch.
As soon as we stepped off the platform, we knew we were in our element. This area, formerly run-down and known for boozing and 'decadent' entertainment, has since become a charming, artsy alcove outside city limits. Here travelers can escape the nerve-wracking tourism of central Paris and relax at one of the many small cafes. We had lunch at La Mascotte, a local bar/restaurant with arguably the best wine list around, and after a few glasses, were primed to explore the Sacre Coeur Cathedral and more of downtown.
The Louvre, The Tuileries Gardens and drinking in the rain:
OK...Ill admit it, I'm a huge Dan Brown fan and have, on more than one occasion, secretly wished to be Robert Langdon. This made the Louvre an absolute must-do on the top of our list. We figured that one day wouldn't be enough, so we planned to go on Saturday and then again on Sunday, a free-entry day.
FYI: Entrance to the museum on the first Sunday of the month is always free, except for the special exhibits.
Saturday we woke up early and got to the pyramid entrance by 9:30 am. There was already a small line forming, but it moved fast and we waited less than 5 minutes. The inside was packed, and became even more so as the day went on, but we were able to see everything we wanted without too much hassle or overcrowding...except for the Mona Lisa. Get your elbows and camera ready, 'cuz its a battle to see her!
Sunday, we showed up after mass at about 10:30 and holy cow, it was a zoo! Apparently free-entry day has caught on in a big way, so despite the 20 Euro savings, I wouldn't suggest going then at all. We took a few pictures then hightailed it out of the plaza to explore calmer territories.
After a relaxing day at the Tuileries, the inclement weather drove us back to our hotel and waiting bottle of wine. Our hotel was uber-basic and without anywhere to enjoy a bottle, and with the weather being rainy and cold, we thought we were SOL...until we walked into the local boulangerie (bakery).
Whodda thunk that this place was a nighttime hot-spot, and the owners would be totally cool with us drinking our bottle of wine under their covered patio? As long as we bought a pain au chocolate and brownie, we could drink there all night...Um, no problem here!
The Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe and getting caught in the rain...again:
Pretty self-explanatory. In my opinion, it was worth a visit for the walk and to say I've been there, but it was overrun with tourists and kind of dissapointing . It was still great to see and we got some fun pics just before we got caught in a downpour.
Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower)
Now this surprised me. To be honest it was one of the sights that I was indifferent to visiting; I knew that it was quintessentially Paris, but I had seen tons of pictures, postcards and models of this tower and was kind of 'meh' about seeing it in person.
Thank goodness, Jeff insisted we visit , because I was absolutely shocked by how beautiful and elegant, yet symbolic and powerful it was up close. It truly is a work of art, and after a baguette sandwich on the mall in front of the tower and walking around underneath it, I have to say it was definitely a highlight...and oddly romantic ;)
The Seine, Paris Plages and Place Bastille
Before we left Provence, I started reading the book The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. While an amazing piece of literature on its own, the horrors of revolutionary France, Paris in particular, came to life as I walked along the same streets where the 'Lady Guillotine' and Bastille once stood, and along the banks of the same river which 220 years ago flowed red with blood.
That history seems almost fictional compared to what the city is today. With hip pubs and restaurants around the Place Bastille and green bean-bags, lounge chairs, and tour boats along the Seine, the bloody days of the French Revolution are hard to imagine.