I traveled with my sister for my 1st trip (her 2nd) to Paris. Based on your suggestions, we rented an apartment in Le Marais (3rd arrondissement). It was a great location and base from which to explore the city. I had scoured the forum archives before we left, and as always, got some great information and tips which helped make our trip a success. I hope you enjoy my LONG trip report. Here goes . . .
After 13 hours of travel, we arrived in Paris on Saturday morning. We got through customs fairly quickly and hailed a taxi for our trip to the City of Lights. We arrived at the apartment about 30 minutes later and were pleased with its size and décor (the owners’ website is www.parisroses.com). After looking around the place, we left to find some breakfast. We found a café a few blocks away and there I was introduced to my first “cup” of French coffee. I was a bit surprised by the teacup size and drank it in about 3 gulps. I enjoyed the french bread and butter. After breakfast, we walked around the neighborhood and tried to stay up, but grew more and more tired. We eventually went back to the apartment and took a nap. We woke up 4 hours later feeling refreshed and much better. We headed out to Rue de Rivoli for some shopping and sightseeing. I enjoyed all the small, independent shops and it made me sad for what shopping has become in the United States (big box store heaven). We had dinner at a Thai restaurant and our first glass of French wine – a rosé -- both of which were delicious.
We decided to go the Lavage de Madeleine, an annual Brazilian parade that takes place though the main streets of the city. There were drummers, dancers and musicians leading the way to the Church of Madeleine for the traditional washing. We had a great time and it was a welcome introduction to Paris’ diversity. After the parade, we ate lunch, and then hopped on the Metro for the 35-minute ride to the Chateau de Versailles. We planned a late afternoon trip hoping for smaller crowds, but we learned that when it comes to Versailles, there’s nothing small about the crowds or the grounds. Pictures don’t do it justice, and its size and opulence is unbelievable. Versailles is an amazing site and a must do, in my opinion. Just be ready for long lines, lots of tour groups and rude people, and sore feet. Unless you have the stamina of the Energizer bunny, this should probably be a two-day trip – one day for the main chateau and gardens and a second day for the outlying palaces and gardens. We only made it to the main chateau and some of the gardens, and we were exhausted at the end of our visit. We headed back to the apartment for some rest, and then had dinner at Le Petit Italien. The food was just average, in my opinion, and did not live up to the ratings on TA. The wine – red this time -- was wonderful.
After two days of constant activity and little sleep, jet lag got the best of us. We forgot to set the alarm and slept until 2:00pm. Even though we got off to a late start, we still had a full day of activity. On the way to the metro, we stopped at the nearby boulangerie for croissants. This would become a daily morning ritual for me. Our first stop was the Bastille for photos, then on to Notre Dame. While walking in the wrong direction, we stumbled upon Au Grand Turenne, a cute café in the 3rd, and stopped for a late lunch. Our waitress, the food and the wine were great, and this turned out to be one of our best lunches. After getting back on track, we made it to Notre Dame in time for the 6:15 pm mass. Although my command of French was not good enough to understand everything, it was interesting to watch. I was surprised to see that they allowed tourists to walk through the church and take photos during mass. (I personally thought it was rude and disrespectful.) Anyway, we left there, took photos of the Palais du Justice, then walked over to St Germain des Pres. We explored the area, did some window shopping, then stopped at a café to drink wine and live like Parisians. We really enjoyed the vibrancy of the area, and spent a few hours drinking wine and taking it all in.
Our first stop on day four was the Arc de Triomphe. We took photos, and then walked up and down the Champs Elysees and surrounding area. We ate at Pizza Vesuvio and had a great smoked salmon pizza, with red wine, of course. Their waiters have been described as bossy, but we had a fun time joking around with ours – who spoke French, Italian and English. We took a photo with him before we left, then hopped on the metro and headed back to the 3rd. On the way to the apartment, we stopped at Amorino for gelato, which was fresh and yummy.
Day five was an extra busy day. We started off at the Luxembourg Gardens, which were beautiful. It was a great place to relax and “smell the roses” before the hustle and bustle of the rest of our day. Since we were close, we walked over to the Pantheon for photos. We walked around the Latin Quarter a bit, and then took the metro to the Tour Eiffel, where my sister had a 4:00 pm reservation to ride to the top. While she traveled up, I stayed below and took photos from the ground floor (I’m afraid of heights and was not that adventurous). Unfortunately, 20 minutes after we got there, the skies opened up and it poured down raining for about 45 minutes. My sister was bummed that the weather was crappy by the time she made it up, but said the views were still amazing. Next, we took the metro to the Louvre. I’d seen the Louvre on television, but you really can’t grasp its sheer size and magnitude until you see it in person. You could easily spend a week there alone! We arrived around 7:00pm and planned to stay until close (it’s open late, until 9:45pm, on Wednesday and Friday). Unlike the people still waiting outside in line, we entered through the Carrousel, bought tickets from the ticket machine, and walked right in – no wait at all (Thanks TA for that tip). We started in the Greek art section and eventually made our way to see Venus de Milo. There were only about 10 people in the room, so we walked right up to see and take photos. I love Egyptian art, so we went there next. The collection spans several floors and is incredible. Next, we headed to the highlight of the Louvre – the Mona Lisa. Once again, we walked right into the gallery, where there were about 15 other people. I couldn't believe I was actually standing in front of the famous art piece I’d read about since a young kid. It took me a minute to come to grips with it. We ended our visit with the newest exhibit, the Art of Islam, which had just opened a week before (and almost certainly is a sampling of the art we’ll see at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, scheduled to open in 2013). My sister couldn’t believe how easy it was to walk through the Louvre at night. Her first visit was during the day and she waited in line for an hour just to see the Mona Lisa. Needless to say, she enjoyed the night visit much better. We both agreed it was nice to navigate the museum and enjoy the art without massive crowds. I highly recommend the late nights for the Louvre.
We were sore and tired after five busy days of walking and decided to make today a chilled day. We walked around the 1st arrondissement and eventually stopped at a little cafe where we ate, drank wine and people-watched for a couple hours (got to love those long Parisian meals). Later, we went to a wine tasting class at O’Chateau Wine Tasting. This turned out to be a highlight of our trip. Our sommelier, Charlotte, was excellent – very personable and knowledgeable (having trained in Napa Valley, New Zealand and France), and she spoke perfect English. She educated us on French wine labeling (by region instead of wine type), as well as the types of grapes grown and wines produced in different regions of France. We sampled a champagne, 2 whites and 3 red wines as we learned. It was a great experience and after 6 glasses we were feeling “nice” when we left. If you enjoy wine and want to learn more about French wines in particular, I highly recommend it (though I’d say go on your first or second day for maximum benefit).
We had planned to go to Sacre Coeur today, but my feet still said no. So instead, we headed to Saint Germain des Pres for some shopping. First, we went to Bon Marche. This place clearly caters to a high end crowd (think LV, Gucci, Hermes), so it was window shopping for us. The store has several levels and is beautiful. It was cool to see one of the world’s first department stores and there’s some interesting stuff in the market, so I’d recommend a visit. Next, we walked over to the 6th, where we had lunch, then went back to shopping. We bought leather purses, French kids books, chocolate, souvenirs and wine. As the day progressed, I found myself getting sad knowing this was my last full day in Paris. Back at the apartment, we rested and made dinner plans. We had been wanting coq au vin and finally found it at A la Biche au Bois. We had a 9:00 pm reservation and when we got there, they remembered us as “the girls who want coq au vin.” The restaurant was full of Parisians so we figured that was a good sign. We were right - the food was delicious. After dinner, we took the metro back to the 1st and went to Le Majesty Bar. We had a great time hanging out with some Parisians and members of the Polyglot Club (The Polyglot Club meets there every Friday for a French-English language exchange). We left around 1:00 am, in time to catch the metro before service stopped for the night.
We had an 11:00 am taxi pickup for the airport, so I headed out that morning for my last trip to the boulangerie. My “regular” boulangerie was closed, so I had to walk three blocks to find another. Since it was my last day, I bought two croissants, which turned out to be smart, because these were even better than the ones I’d been eating. Walking back to the apartment, I reveled in the surroundings already trying to figure out how and when I’d be back. Having been home for a week now, I have to say that I now have the “affliction” too.