Paris wasn't what we originally had planned for our winter break. At first we were set on traveling back to Jackson Hole for another ski vacation, but the plans for that trip just wasn't working out. Finally, about a week before we were to leave, we decided to scrap the plan all together and go somewhere different. When we thought about where to go, we both immediately landed on the same place: Paris.
Paris is a place I have dreamed of visiting since I was about fifteen. The whole image of the city was enchanting: the cream colored buildings, the cafes, the Eiffel tower, the striped shirts and red lipstick. Knowing my fascination, Micah has suggested we visit on several occasions the past year, but something kept holding me back. I eventually realized I was intimidated by Paris: the language, the attitude, the expense--all the typical American stereotypes of France. I didn't want my fantasy of this place to become colored by disappointment.
However, I found basically every one of these stereotypes to be untrue. We spent five days in Paris, and each day we became more and more captivated by this city.
Because our days were filled with incredible sights and food, I am going to break our experience up into two posts. These are the first two days of our dream week.
After a seven-hour flight from JFK, we landed in Paris at 6:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. our time). From the airport, we hopped onto the metro and headed into the heart of the city, which is where our hotel was located. We reserved a room at Hotel de La Motte Picquet, and we could not have been happier with our stay. We booked it because it was affordable and we knew it was just a seven-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, but we had no idea it was right around the corner from Rue Cler, an adorable, well-known market street lined with patisseries (bakeries), wine shops, cheese shops, and cafes.
Not only was the location perfect, but the room was both clean and adorable, and the people who worked at the front desk were incredibly kind. They went out of their way to offer suggestions for museums, things to do for New Year's Eve, and advice on trains.
Our room wasn't quite ready when we arrived, so we dropped off our luggage and set off to explore. We jumped back on the metro (I will say that the metro is far better in Paris than it was in Rome), and headed to Notre Dome, which is the beginning of Rick Steves's historic Paris walk.
At this point it was 8:00 a.m., and the famous church was just opening for tours (by the way, admission in the church is free), so we were able to walk right in without a line. It was huge, with beautiful stained glass windows and incredible architecture. As we walked around, Micah read the history of this beautiful church from our Rick Steves Pocket Paris guidebook.
After our tour, we crossed the street to an adorable cafe to have a couple (or deux) lattes, croissants, and a Nutella crepe.
We crossed the bridge again and came across the famous love locks linked to the rails.
Conveniently there were men around selling locks, so we purchased one and wrote our names with both the day's date and our wedding date.
We tried to memorize the location of our lock so we can find it when we return one day.
The famous Shakespeare and Company was near, so we popped in for a bit. Micah appropriately picked up a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.
We spent the next hour or so trying to find a place to purchase a Paris Museum Pass. Rick Steves suggests purchasing this pass because it grants you admission to the majority of museums in Paris (the Eiffel Tower is not included, however) so that you do not have to wait in line to purchase a ticket after going through security (you do still have wait in security lines, which can be quite long). It also ends up being a better deal than purchasing individual tickets if you plan to visit a lot of museums. Advice on the pass: you have to purchase a pass for at least two days, so make sure one of those two days isn't a Monday or major holiday because the museums will be closed. We eventually discovered that they are sold in any shop that sells cigarettes, and these shops are all over Paris (you will see a sign over the door that reads TABAC).
Passes in hand, we headed straight for Sainte-Chapelle, a royal chapel that is made up of the most overwhelmingly beautiful stained glass windows you will ever see. Step inside this room and I dare you to not gasp.
Next door to the Sainte-Chapelle is La Conciergerie, which is where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned during the French Revolution and awaited her fate with the guillotine. It was fascinating to tour this former prison and imagine the shock Marie Antoinette must have felt going from Versailles to being under surveillance around the clock in one of these small cells.
Feeling exhausted, we ventured back to our hotel for a short nap. After a quick refresh, we took the seven-minute walk from our hotel to the Eiffel Tower. It was dark at this point, so it was beautifully lit. The golden tower at night sparkles every hour on the hour for five minutes, which is even more beautiful in person than you can imagine. Seeing this tower close up for the first time is certainly a bucket list item for me. I kept saying to Micah, "I just can't believe we are here!"
We ended our busy day with a cozy dinner at La Petite Cler, an adorable cafe around the corner from our hotel.
Micah had a medium-rare steak with salad greens and a baked potato, and I had their special, which was a perfectly cooked piece of salmon with a citrus cream sauce and mashed potatoes. It was the perfect close to the perfect day.
We went into this day calling it our museum day. Our first priority was the Louvre, so we woke up early and arrived 30 minutes before it opened. There was already a bit of a line when we arrived, but nothing that caused us to wait very long once the doors opened. As soon as we went through security and descended the escalator, most everyone around us broke out into a sprint, which was confusing.
"Why is everyone running?" I asked.
Micah shrugged his shoulders, and we walked the opposite direction, down the hall and straight to the Venus de Milo.
And then to the royal jewels, which included jewels Napoleon would have worn.
We spent at least thirty minutes walking around, feeling as though we had the museum to ourselves.
Where was everyone?
The Mona Lisa. They were running to the Mona Lisa.
By the time we made it to the room with this most famous painting, nearly fifty people were crowding around. I wanted to get closer; Micah did not want anywhere near the mess.
I handed the camera to Micah, "I'm going in."
At first I had to shoulder my way into the crowd, but once you push yourself halfway through, you become caught in the current of people, and you have no choice but to go forward. Once I made it to the front, I spent some time taking in this painting that is known all over the world. I am glad I knew before seeing the painting that most people tend to be disappointed--it isn't particularly large or vibrant, and there are certainly more grand works of art in the Louvre. But it's the Mona Lisa, for crying out loud--how can you not be impressed by it? I didn't feel an ounce of disappointment.
We left the Mona Lisa to have lunch in the museum's cafe, which ended up being really good. I had a simple salad with tuna and a Diet Coke (yes, they included ice), and Micah had a sandwich.
As we were leaving the Louvre, we took a peek at the line for entry, and it was insane. If you plan on visiting this museum, do as we did and get there at least 30 minutes before it opens (and remember it's closed on Mondays).
The next museum on our itinerary was the Musee d'Orsay, which is known for its collection of impressionism and post impressionism art, including works by Monet, Manet, and Van Gogh. We love this style of art, so we were excited for this museum.
The building itself is fascinating, as it was once a train station, and it is arranged in a way that is easy to follow--you simply flow in and out of rooms of incredible art as you make your way down the long building.
The Louvre is incredible to see, but this museum housed pieces that truly spoke to us. If you enjoy impressionist art, this is a must visit.
After looking at every piece of art in Musee d'Orsay, it was dinner time, so we took a metro back to our hotel to freshen up. After looking at a few reviews online, we decided on a cafe across the street from us called Le Florimond. Another cozy cafe, we were greeted by friendly waiters who immediately offered menus in English once they heard our accent. They explained that we could order a la carte, or we could each have an appetizer, meal, and dessert for 38 euro a piece, so we went with that. Micah started with lobster ravioli, and I had what they called a tart, which was actually a piece of puff pastry topped with smoked salmon and sauces--both were incredibly delicious. For the meal Micah had leg of duck and I had the stuffed cabbage rolls--also wonderful. For dessert Micah had chocolate ganache and I had puff pastry with bourbon cream, which was stacked at least a foot tall. Again, so good, and we were uncomfortably full after.
Throughout the meal the waiters joked with us, found humor in our horrible French, and were highly attentive. In fact, that was our experience at every cafe we visited. We were never ignored or treated rudely, and the portions were always more than enough. I will say, though, food is quite expensive in Paris. But once again, everything we ate was incredible, so I never felt cheated by the price. Just be aware if you plan to visit--a healthy portion of your budget will (and should) go toward eating out.
Goodness, looking back on those first two days, we sure did pack in a lot. Stay tuned for days 3-5!