I finally convinced my husband after 5 years of marriage to take me to Paris and London! It was a very last minute decision as I had been laid off and out of work for 8 months. I booked the trip at the end of August and we left for Paris on September 16th – wow! We arrived on Thursday mid-morning at CDG. Customs was a breeze, which totally surprised me. After the passport check, we went to find our luggage. What a mess! The board NEVER updated to tell us which turn-style the bags would be on so we ended up walking around for ½ hour trying to figure it out. Very frustrating when I just wanted to get OUT of the darned airport! But moving on…
We found the Tourist information store in CDG and bought our 4-day museum passes as well as a one-way ticket on the RER to get downtown. Finding the train was easy and we were soon on our way. On one of the stops, a gentleman with a guitar and amp boarded the train and started playing. He was pretty good! He got through his first song and I started clapping excitedly…. Only to get a few sharp looks from the locals around me! Oops! I then quickly quieted down and hung my head in shame for the rest of the ride. :) We got to the St. Michel/Notre Dame stop and easily navigated with our heavy luggage to get on the M10 and to our stop at Sevres Babylon. Easy peazy!
We stayed in a studio apartment I found on VRBO (#161965) that was very clean and cozy. It was right across the street from the Le Bon Marche Food Halls. YUMMY!!! We found lots of great desserts, bread, meats, cheeses, etc. to eat day & night. I’m still craving their baguettes with ham and cheese…
The first night was pretty laid back. We walked around the 6th a little, working our way over to the Eiffel Tower. As a first timer to Paris, this was what I had been waiting a lifetime to see! We curled up on the grass in the Champ de Mars for a while and admired the view. It was roughly 5 pm, cold, windy and a bit overcast but we decided to go to the top anyways. The line was very short and in no time we were viewing the city from above. I am very scared of heights and I was amazed at how safe I felt at the top. I was expecting the tower to sway and move considering it was so windy, but it didn’t! What a relief! I highly recommend going to the top if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do. It’s worthwhile to do it at least once.
The next morning (Friday) we started at Musee d’Orsay. Got there fairly early and was able to skip the lines and get in with our handy museum passes. Loved the d’Orsay! I’m not much of an art connoisseur so we didn’t spend a ton of time viewing the art itself, we just took in the scene as a whole. The architecture, the sculptures, paintings and just the overall “vibe” took my breath away. Little ‘ol me was standing in one of the greatest museums in the world! We spent a couple hours there just absorbing what we could, making sure to get some great pictures of the ceiling, clock, etc.
We then made our way to walk down the Seine towards Ile de la Cite to see Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame. Just outside the d’Orsay we encountered our one and only attempt to get us to take the “gold ring”! Thanks to the forums on Trip Advisor, I quickly spotted the scam and we moved on from the guy. We walked down to the islands (which was further than I expected!) and took a brief break on Pont Neuf. (Side note: my husband has health issues and he tires easily – so the walking was already starting to take a toll on him. Bad wife! Bad!) As we we’re sitting there, we noticed all the “hop on, hop off” busses going by. We decided at that point that it was probably a good thing to do. We didn’t know where to get on them, how much, etc. so we just started walking the way they were going to try to find out information. I knew we were close to Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame so we decided to hit those two places first. We located Saint Chapelle and noted the long line so we decided to sit and eat at the café across the street and wait for the line to go down. The food was “eh”, but it was a nice rest. Of course, by the time we were done eating the line was still as long as ever but we jumped in anyways. It took us close to an hour just to get in. Oh well, it was worth it! The stained glass was beautiful! The next stop was Notre Dame. Since we didn’t know for sure when we’d get back to that area we decided to wait in line to climb to the top. This line was much worse! After standing forever we finally got to climb the steps. If I was tired before, I was REALLY tired now! My legs hadn’t seen that much of a workout in a LONG time! :) The views were beautiful so it totally made up for it!
We walked to Ile St-Louis because I was hoping to get an ice cream from Berthillon. We crossed the bridge and noticed every place said “Berthillon”… Uh oh! (Note to self: make sure you have a map with you that locates the EXACT place you want to go. I foolishly left my best map, marking Berthillon, at home.) I ended up going to a place that I thought could be “the” place, but alas it wasn’t. We didn’t go down the island far enough. In any case, the ice cream I did have was very good! :)
We crossed the bridge right behind Notre Dame over into the 5th. We were hungry again so found a corner café to have another bite to eat. Again the food was “eh”, but it hit the spot. To be honest, we were scared to death of the menus! I was so excited about eating fabulous French food, but when it came down to it, I was chicken to order anything I couldn’t figure out! I had my little food translation book, and thought I was prepared but I wasn’t. Oh well, it’s no one’s fault but my own!
We then took the Metro up to the Place de la Concorde to walk the Champs Elysees. My dear husband had accidentally broken my camera lens earlier in the day (THANK GOD for a back up digital P&S!) so we thought we’d try to locate a FNAC to see what it would cost to replace it. Again, it would have been very handy to have my “MapEasy’s Guidemap to Paris” with me, locating exactly where the FNAC was… Needless to say, we did A LOT more walking! My feet complained a lot, but I couldn’t because, hey we’re in Paris! After all that walking we found the FNAC and a possible lens, but in the end decided not to buy anything rashly. I had to live with the point and shoot the rest of the trip. We took the Metro back to the Musee du Louvre to walk around the grounds and then hopefully go on a river cruise because it was getting dark. The river cruise was great and I got my first glimpse of the sparkling tower! Oooooh!
We got back to the apartment very late, our “dogs” were tired and we crashed hard! The next morning (Saturday) I had had a photo tour previously scheduled, so my dear husband got a chance to rest and sleep in. I met up with Randy Harris of “Photo Tours in Paris” for a 3 hour walking tour. Randy was great!! As previously mentioned, my lovely SLR lens was dead… Randy thankfully shoots with a Nikon as well and he was kind enough to loan me one of his lenses for the tour. Thank you, Randy!! We had a great time starting at the Trocadero and working our way down to the Louvre. I got great pictures at the Trocadero, Place de la Concorde, Jardin des Tuileries, Palais Royal, Hotel Regina and Musee du Louvre.
I got back to the apartment, got my hubby and we were off again. We had decided to get on the L’Open bus tour at Montparnasse, so we took the Metro down there. I found the crepe stand I was referred to by helpful TA members and had my one and only nutella and banana crepe! Yummy! We didn’t know exactly where the bus would pick up so we ended up walking around aimlessly hoping to see the L’Open sign… no luck. We decided to jump back on the Metro and head over to the Eiffel Tower as we thought the bus stop would be easier to find. Sure enough, we found one right away. We paid the bus driver on the spot with our credit card and away we went! Our first stop was the Opera. We got off, took the requisite pictures and tried to find a way to get in but only encountered big security guards fending people off. I was too intimidated to ask when/how we could get in so we opted to view it from the outside only. We had a heckuva time trying to locate the next bus that would take us up to Sacre Coeur. It consisted of more walking and more waiting. Finally a bus came that was jam-packed and we were stuck on the lower level unable to see much. :( We got off at Sacre Coeur around 5:30 pm and quickly made our way up the steps. Spent only a minimal amount of time up there because we were afraid we’d miss the last bus. What we did see, however, was beautiful. We got back on the yellow bus, switched to the green bus and rode it until we were kicked off, which was probably between 7-7:30 pm on the Champs Elysees. We walked to the Arc de Triomphe and even though we were both completely exhausted, we walked up to the top. Much easier than the steps of Notre Dame! It was beautiful! By this time, it was closing in on 9 pm so we got settled in to view the Eiffel Tower sparkling! It’s still the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!
The next day (Sunday) was our last day in Paris. We hadn’t yet actually gone into the Louvre so we decided to start there as early as we could. We took the Metro straight there and went in via the underground tunnel/carrousel. Easy peazy! We were able to get through security fast and bypass all the people waiting in line to buy their tickets. We grabbed a Louvre map and started our journey to find the Venus de Milo. As previously stated, I’m not a huge art connoisseur so it was more about trying to see the “main” draws: The Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, etc . It took us forever just to find the Venus de Milo! We quickly became overwhelmed and scooted through as fast as we could. It ended up the only pieces we really saw were the three I listed above. After the chaos that was Mona, we quickly exited the Louvre. Whew! It was amazing to just be there and be surrounded by masterpieces, but neither my husband nor I had enough patience to deal with the crowds. Since we had spent a ton of money for a 2-day L’Open bus pass, we decided it was high time to get back on the bus.
We ended up over by the Bastille, had another “eh” lunch at the Indiana Café and walked to the Place des Vosges. I was excited seeing all the market stalls when we got there, but by the time we were done eating they were all gone! I guess feeding a hungry, crabby husband was more important! We made a quick sweep through the area and got back on the bus. We switched to the orange line to get to the Jardin du Luxembourg. After what seemed like forever, we finally got there! Walked directly to the Medici fountain and after a few shots, my camera quickly lost all its juice. Aarrgh! (Note to self: ALWAYS carry a back-up battery!) We meandered through the park a bit, I was sulking ‘cause I didn’t have a camera to take pictures, and we were both crabby ‘cause we were just so darned tired! We were fairly close to our apartment in the 6th so we decided to walk back home and work on some laundry as we were heading to London the next day. My hubby graciously offered to do the laundry while I took a nap and refreshed. Good husband! :)
We decided that we wanted to go back to the Invalides/Rodin area to try to see the Thinker. Got on the Metro, arrived at the Rodin only to find it closed! (Another note to self: note when museums/attractions are closed!) It was getting darker so we headed back over towards the Eiffel Tower to find something to eat and catch the Lady sparkling one more time. Had another “eh” meal at the Café le Dome (because my husband was too stingy to spring for one of the better, more expensive restaurants we passed on the way… bad husband!) and hoofed it really fast to the Trocadero to get a good spot to catch some video and pictures of the tower in all its glory. By the time we got back to the apartment, we were about falling over from exhaustion!
Things I learned:
• Wear tennis shoes!! Your comfort is more important than ANY fashion statement! My feet were sore as heck even wearing tennis shoes – I can’t imagine how they would have felt if I wore anything else!
• The Metro is awesome! I printed a 4x6 map on cardstock and laminated it. I kept it in my purse for easy reference and it made the Metro SO much easier! Oh, and buying a "carnet" of tickets was the best for us! Worked like a charm!
• Make sure your travel partner is involved with the planning! I had all these things I wanted to do, but when we got there my husband kind of hijacked the itinerary and I felt like I saw less than what I had expected.
• The people are wonderful! Absolutely no one was rude even though I thoroughly hacked their beautiful language.
• Always carry a backup battery for your camera, and have extra memory cards on hand just in case.
• If you’re short on time in Paris, the bus tours are great! Even though we seemed to wait forever for every bus, it was nice to know one was coming to take you to the next place. And unlike us, make sure you maximize on your bus tour by starting out EARLY! We didn’t and probably paid way too much for what we actually got out of it. Oh well…
• Note opening/closing times of the attractions you want to see. I should have made a note card similar to my map card with all the important times listed. Next time…
• Have a sense of humor and be prepared for unexpected changes to your plan! Just remember.... you're in PARIS! Enjoy it!
I made a lot of mistakes in my planning and could have probably experienced more than I did; however, I am still thoroughly pleased with the overall trip. Paris is exquisite and I cannot wait to go back!! Next time I’ll plan on spending more time just “being” there instead of rushing from place to place “seeing” everything!
Thank you for sticking with me to the end! As a treat, here’s a link to some of my pictures!