A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.
After nearly missing the train from London...we arrived in Paris! (Completely forgot that boarding the Eurostar is not as quick as boarding a normal train... Give yourself plenty of time to get through security and passport control!)
We settled into our hotel, Hotel Thérèse. After being greeted by the very friendly staff, we were told our room had been upgraded and offered a complimentary afternoon tea... I was liking Paris already.
We soon set out to grab a quick meal and start exploring the city.
Before we knew it, we had walked nearly eleven (yes, ELEVEN) miles, from Jardin des Tuileries, down the Champs-Elysées, up to Sacre-Coeur, and around Montmartre, before settling at a patio table at Au Rendez-Vous Avec des Amis for a well-deserved meal.
I realized looking at my photos after the trip that I didn't get any photos of my favorite part - the pastries!
You'll just have to imagine the most delicious butter croissant that I ate on the way to the Musée d'Orsay. We opted to visit this museum instead of the Louvre, 1) because I love Impressionism, and 2) I'm a little intimidated by the sheer size of the Louvre (it's the world's largest museum).
We listened to Rick Steves' audio tour, which gave a context to the masterpieces that we wouldn't have otherwise known. For example, Honoré Daumie's funny little caricature clay busts of people were satirical pieces of all the politicians who hated the art in the museum during that time period.
On one side of the first floor, you find conservative, 19th century art. On the other side, you find the harsher works of the revolutionary realists. For example:
Upstairs, you see pieces that initiated the greatest change in art since the Renaissance: Impressionism.
The Impressionists used an innovative technique: Instead of mixing paint colors together, they put blocks of different colors next to each other; up close it looks disjointed, but far away the viewer's eye mixes the colors to make sense.
BIKE ABOUT TOUR
After the museum we met our bike tour group at Notre-Dame.
Our friend Claire highly recommended this tour, and we're so glad we listened to her!
One of our first stops was Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris, with multimillion-dollar apartments that have private gardens that look like this:
We also saw Jim Morrison's former house, the Open Air Sculpture Garden, and the very same rat shop that was featured in one of my favorite movies, "Ratatouille"!
PICNIC BY THE EIFFEL TOWER
After a big day, we spent a relaxing evening picnicking with a great view.
A MOVEABLE FEAST
Today was one of the days I was looking forward to most on this trip... Culinary tour! (Separate post coming soon!)
PICNIC ON THE SEINE
After stuffing our faces all afternoon on the tour, we continued into the evening with a picnic on Île Saint-Louis along the Seine (with all of the groceries our culinary tour guide, John-Paul, helped us select).
For dessert, we had ice-cream at Berthillon on Île Saint-Louis.
Our last day in France was spent biking around Versailles. (Click here for Versailles post!)
DINNER IN MONTMARTRE
We returned to Montmartre for dinner at L'Annexe, a small, cozy restaurant recommended to us by our food tour guide. The restaurant owner's grandchildren danced between the tables, a cat wandered in from the street and weaved through patrons' legs, and the owner gave big hugs to all the regulars that came in.
We were craving some of the cider we had had with our crepes on the food tour yesterday, and even though the restaurant doesn't carry cider, the owner did a fantastic job of setting us up with a dry, sparkling white wine that hit the spot.
We started with the charcuterie board and a dangerous amount of bread.
For the entrées, Tyler had the tuna tataki and I had the beef. The sauces for both dishes were absolutely delicious. We finished off with a mouth-watering chocolate fondant, as well as strawberries with cream.
I literally did not feel hungry until after noon the following day, I had eaten so much. (I always thought that if I could have one superpower, it would be to eat whatever I want without consequence. I now think that's what they call living in Europe. Despite stuffing my face daily, I miraculously did not gain any weight during the trip.)
I wanted to stay in Paris forever. The magnificent buildings,the lush gardens, the artistic masterpieces, the rich history, the delicious pastries, the thrill of trying to speak a different language, the aforementioned superpowers... C'est vraiment bon vivant!
But, I was equally excited to move on to the grand finale of the trip: Julie's wedding in Belgium!
Jardin des Tuileries: Created by Catherine de Medici as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564.
Champs-Élysées: Paris' grand boulevard lined with shops and restaurants.
L'Arc de Triomphe: Triumphal arch marking start of Champs-Elysées.
Sacre-Coeur: Roman Catholic church located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, and the highest point in the city.
Montmartre: Neighborhood with cobblestone streets and small restaurants and cafés. Many writers and artists, including Picasso and Van Gogh, used to call it home.
Notre-Dame: Catholic cathedral built in 1163. One of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture.
Place des Vosges: The oldest planned square in Paris with multimillion-dollar apartments. Where Victor Hugo used to live.
Île Saint-Louis: Tiny, picturesque island near Notre-Dame.
Sainte-Chapelle: Gothic cathedral with floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows.
Musée d'Orsay: Museum of nineteenth-century art, including Europe's greatest Impressionist collection.
Louvre: The world's largest museum and home to works such as the Mona Lisa.
If you have time, take a day trip to Versailles!
Ladurée: Considered by many to make the best macarons in Paris.
Au Rendez-Vous Avec des Amies: Restaurant on a quiet street in Montmartre, where many young professionals hang out.
Berthillon: For delicious ice-cream on Île Saint-Louis.
L'Annexe: For an authentic Parisian meal in a cozy, family-owned restaurant. Recommended to us by our food tour guide.
Hotel Thérèse: After searching high and low for a place to stay that "felt like Paris" but wasn't exorbitantly priced, we found this hotel. Very friendly and professional staff, beautiful rooms, good location. Great value.
Navigo Découverte: Thank goodness Tyler discovered these - unlimited metro access for less than $25. (Our Versailles bike tour guide was impressed that a tourist had found these!) Not available at the automatic ticket machines - ask for them at the service desk.
The Paris metro is not quite as intuitive as London's Tube, but it is still manageable. I'd recommend finding accommodations near a station that lets you easily get to the places you plan to visit, so you're not spending too much time hopping on and off the tube.
When speaking to the French, always begin with "Bonjour", try to speak as much French as you are able to, and smile a lot! We did not run into the rude French stereotype - I think because we tried our best and smiled a lot!
The Parisians dine between 8 and 11 p.m. Some restaurants may not open until 7 p.m. or later, so have snacks on hand if you're used to eating earlier!
Take a food tour! It's a great way to learn about the history, culture, and cuisine of a city, and talk to a local.
I really wanted to take a cooking class, but they were all booked up! Learn how to make macarons, croissants, a four-course meal, and more.
Both the bike and food tour companies gave us "secret" lists of their favorite restaurants, wine bars, and coffee shops in the city, which was a great way to find out where the locals eat.
If tip isn't already included in the bill, a tip of 5-10% is normal.
Dining out can get expensive, so take one night to put together a picnic and eat by the Seine with the locals. This was probably one of our favorite meals of the trip!
I like to read a bit about my travel destination before I leave to get a better sense of the place. I started reading The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France - 1885 to World War I by Roger Shattuck, which paints a fascinating picture of the avante-garde movement and Paris' culture at the turn-of-the-century.