Paris has one of the strongest reputations of any city in the world. Either as the most romantic city, a city filled with rude people, a city full of art and culture, or even a dirty city. I have never had much of a desire to visit France so my expectations were pretty low. The city I found was a mixture of the stereotypical things you hear and a few surprises.
We decided to spend 7 days in Paris because we figured there would be so much to see and do we would need a lot of time to do it all. I found an incredible AirBnb with an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower and of Montmartre hill and cathedral. We were located close to a metro station in a neighborhood full of grocery stores, shops and cafes. It was a good location to feel like a local Parisian and to get around easily in Paris. I really loved taking the metro home at night and stopping in the local bakery, vegetable & fruit stand, and grocery store to get dinner. I really felt like we experienced the true Paris this way. It also meant we weren’t surrounded by the tourist groups which drove me to the brink of insanity by the end of our week in Paris.
Deciding what to do in Paris wasn’t easy. Seriously there is so much there I think it would take months just to scratch the surface. I was really ready to leave Paris after 7 days, so was J.. There is only so much big city we can take and Paris is definitely a big city in every sense of the word. It is full not only of locals but all of the tourists traveling in huge tour groups that fill the streets, museums, restaurants and churches all day every day.
Day 1 we decided to go see the Eiffel Tower and then walk the river Seine. We headed out to the metro station where we found the nicest guy working who helped us navigate our entire day on the metro. (We found in every metro station there were always people to help, give us maps, print out directions if the maps were confusing and work with us to plan our days. They were always friendly and spoke very good English. Hats off to Paris for this! It doesn’t exist in most places we have traveled.) The walk up to the Eiffel Tower is insane. There are souvenir stands lining the entire walkway, all selling the same stuff, as well a tourists, police, and tour guides. It was a three ring circus! The Eiffel Tower is both underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time. I know this is a crazy thing to say but it is underwhelming in that we have seen it everywhere our whole lives so you know what it looks like, also there are so many people there that it is very discouraging to think about going to the top because of the lines. It is overwhelming because seeing in person all of the workmanship and engineering it took to build this structure is mind-boggling. I like seeing it from our apartment at night better because the lights and overall positioning in the city is so impressive. The Eiffel Tower is positioned along the Seine so we started our walk down the banks thinking it was going to be pretty close to reach our next destination. I severely underestimated the distance but we managed to make the walk anyway.
The Seine was probably one of our biggest disappointments in Paris. I had this pre-conceived notion that it was lined with restaurants, romantic trees with places to sit and watch the world go by. I thought there would be people walking along or reading books, picnicking or just relaxing. We didn’t really see any of this, in fact the only people we saw were other tourists. We finally made it to our destination the Pont Alexandre III Bridge. This is the bridge you see in every Paris movie with the huge statues of women and the gold accents on the statues. As we approached I couldn’t help but see it full of actresses and actors I have seen in movies over the years. It is so iconic. It was really beautiful in person. I was a bit overwhelmed to be standing amongst over the keystones which exhibit magnificent bronze nymphs, the gorgeous lamps and the beautiful view of museums, the Eiffel tower and the Seine. It felt like standing in a moment of history. This bridge is the first time electric lights were used to light Paris, it is also where Art Nouveau made its worldwide debut, This was all topped off with the benefit an adorable Glaces (Ice Cream) truck waiting to serve a fantastic homemade ice cream treat before lunch.
After this we walked over to the Champs Eysees. This is a hugely famous shopping street in Paris. We couldn’t wait to get out of there to be honest. I am not one for chain stores and restaurants, and huge shopping areas. It felt void of any of the charm we were looking for in Paris. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the side streets and then heading back home to rest and get ready for the next day. (Okay, to make dinner, drink wine, and watch Paris transition from day to night-pretty romantic right…)
There are so many museums to choose from in Paris you have to be really specific about what you want to see. For me the Musee d’Orsay was more important than anything else in Paris. So, we stood in the rain for over an hour waiting to get in, and chatting with a really cool couple from California. The museum didn’t disappoint. The old train station has been transformed into one of the most incredible art museum spaces I have ever been in. As you enter the grand staircase leads into a huge open atrium that is incredibly grand in its art and architecture. The light colored stone, antique glass ceiling and massive statues are awe-inspiring. I wanted to stand there all day soaking in the feeling, the history and the art. I was completely overwhelmed with the art here. Everywhere I turned were paintings I had studied, or dreamed of seeing my entire life. There were gobs of people everywhere and the policy of allowing people to take selfies with the art was pretty distracting but I found if I stood as close as I could and just blocked out the rest of the world I could appreciate the Monets, Renoirs, VanGoghs, Manets and so many more. It really is an incredibly magical place. Every time I think about it I want to be standing there, taking it all in, the architecture, the art, the sculpture and the bustle of the people. (We ate lunch in the cafe where surprisingly I found a few decent vegetarian options. Just be prepared for a line.) Our one mistake was underestimating the amount of time we would want to spend in the Musee d’Orsay. I would give it the better part of a day due to the waiting and the vast collections of magnificent works.
Day 3 was a trip to Versailles. I can’t thank our friends enough for telling us not to miss this. A few transfers on the metro and a nice 45 minute ride outside the city gets you to the absolutely extravagant and massive Palace of Versailles. There is no way to ever due justice to the massive estate. The gardens are extraordinary with miles and miles of trees, beautifully symmetrical gardens, white marble statues lining wide walkways each leading to beautiful fountains or smaller palaces. We chose to walk the grounds first to try to allow the incredibly long line to wind down. (Even if you buy tickets ahead like we did the line is due to the security checks getting into the building. The lines are shorter around lunchtime or later in the afternoon.) The views of the gardens, the surrounding mountains and the long avenues of statues were so completely unexpected. The care and detail in planning the exquisite outdoor space is unbelievable. They basically reinvented the thousands of acres to create the gardens envisioned by each King. Then there is the Palace. The hall of mirrors, the incredible furniture, the architectural details and ornate woodwork take opulence to another level. Unfortunately the Palace was literally packed full of tour groups. Many times we were shoved and pushed so much that other people around us were starting to complain due to their children being smashed. It was really crazy. I would have liked more time to study the architecture and learn the stories, like the ones about the royalty peeing on the staircases, or not bathing because they had a fear of water bringing death, but alas the crowds were so intense we found ourselves rushing through just to get out of the chaos and avoid being trampled.
Day 4 we stayed local visiting Notre Dame, and exploring quaint neighborhoods looking for markets, shopping and the best hot chocolate in Paris. While Notre Dame was a big disappointment for us we loved seeing the smaller neighborhoods of Paris where you can sit in a cafe, sip champagne and watch the locals do their shopping. I had this preconceived notion that Parisians would be so fashionable and snobby that I would feel a bit awkward. I can honestly say I never ever experienced this. While Parisians don’t go out of their way to talk to you we found them to be pleasant, helpful and not snobby at all. They just seemed reserved, and after a week being bombarded by people I can understand why. Drinks were much more affordable in these neighborhoods too. We paid up to 10.00 for a cappuccino in areas that are more touristy but when we got away from those areas they were more reasonably priced at 5.00 or so.
Day 5 we spent in the apartment. I had a big allergy attack so we opted out of another rainy cool day on tour and instead spent the day taking in the sites from our windows and catching up on some Netflix. I know it sounds crazy but sometimes a rest from traveling is necessary. There certainly isn’t a better place to do that in an apartment with the view we had.
On our sixth day we worked up the courage to tackle the Louvre. Our experience at Versailles really freaked us out so we were hesitant to head over to the Louvre. I think we were both a little concerned that it would be so hyped that it could never live up to the reputation. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Seriously, the Louvre is an experience in itself. The building is incredible (the day before we spent some time on Youtube learning about the building which I would strongly recommend. It is the only way to completely appreciate the architecture and history). We bought our tickets online, which I can not encourage you enough to do. The lines are sooo long if you don’t. With online tickets we walked right in. I could write numerous blog posts about the Louvre but I am sure other people have done it more justice than I ever could. I can tell you this, my mind was absolutely spinning from all of the works we saw, and we cut a lot of stuff out. I was blown away by the amount of works from before Christ. The incredible mosaics, and architectural pieces which had been salvaged and the decorative pieces. My heart was broken when I heard that 85% of the people who visit the Louvre go only to see the Mona Lisa. In my opinion there are so many more incredible paintings, sculptures and metalworks worth seeing and you won’t be surrounded by tons of people. As I said the architecture itself is incredible along with the history of it being practically in ruins after World War II only enhance the miracle of all of the works preserved here. We spent about five hours here, and while we didn’t see everything I don’t think my brain could have handled anymore than that. I was definitely overstimulated. Like the Musee d’Orsay you can’t help but being blown away by the spaces like the Hall of Statues with its glass ceiling allowing the natural Paris light to pour in and reflect beautifully off of the white marble statues.
There is no exaggeration when I tell you that as we walked through the Louvre we were constantly saying, “Oh my God, there is blah blah or blah blah. I can’t believe we are standing in front of it.” The Louvre is just like that, a wondrous environment to discover what you have seen all your life, as well as discovering things you never thought possible to see. We never felt crowded here, except at the Mona Lisa. The space is incredibly large and allows for tens of thousands of people to mill about without disturbing one another.
Day 7 we took a trip to Montmarte. I had heard jokes about it being a bit seedy up there, and truly it is. I wish we had hopped off the metro at the Abbesses stop which is very close to the funicular that goes to the top of the hill. Instead we hopped off early and decided to walk around. There is truly not much to see here, aside from a cafe or two laying claim to old authors having dined or drank there. If you want to see the Moulin Rouge you can get off at the Blanche exit but we opted out given the tickets were over 300.00 each while we were visiting. We took the funicular to the Sacré Coeur because J. loves funiculars. I wish we wouldn’t have though because we were packed in like sardines and it is a really short trip up. The view is so awesome I would recommend taking the time to walk up and down the hill, enjoying the view, the musicians and the people. The Basilica of Sacre Coeur is really impressive. It is a simpler beauty than some of the other churches we have toured but I think it adds to the charm of the building. You can climb to the top of the church, which I imagine would be stunning, but the credit card machine didn’t work to pay for the tickets and we spent our last euros on the funicular. So, bring extra cash if you want tickets to climb to the top of the Basilica.
Overall I would say Paris has been my least favorite place on our journey so far. That isn’t to take away from the incredible things we did see, Pont Alexandre III bridge, Musee d’Orsay, Versailles and the Louvre. I had no idea how many huge tour groups there are and how difficult it can be to navigate through or around them. We did see someone get pickpocketed on the metro so be cautious in public places. There are police everywhere in Paris and Versailles. While we never felt any threat when we were there it is clear they don’t mess around with any possible threat. Perhaps poor Paris has so much hype surrounding it that it has no hope of living up to all of it or maybe my love of small towns just overrode the incredible art and culture of Paris, but either way when it comes to big European cities I will take Madrid or Rome over Paris.