I had a lot of fun blogging this summer’s travel adventures, so I figured it would also be fun to take a look back at some past trips. I’m starting with some notes on my 2010 France and Spain trip; this post is one of several in that series.
My dad told me once that the one place in the world he still wanted to visit was the Normandy D-Day beaches. These have always been on my list too, so we decided to plan a trip. And, because I love to travel and quickly get excited about the opportunity to see a bunch of places in Europe, the trip was obviously not going to be just Normandy. So, it became: Paris-Normandy-Barcelona with dad, and then I did Madrid-Toledo-Sevilla solo. And so we start in Paris.
The rule of thumb when it comes to jetlag seems to be: to adjust to a new timezone, don’t take a nap, but try to go about your day as though you were already completely adjusted to the new timezone. We, apparently, really took that to heart as our first day in Paris was jam-packed with activities. Looking back, we may have overdid it a tad – it was a thoroughly exhausting day.
I had been to Paris before but since Dad had not, we did all the most crucial tourist items this trip. The thing about all of Paris’s sights is that they’re all so incredible that it didn’t feel repetitive to me. It just felt exhilarating to be in Paris.
To start, we headed to Notre Dame – it was beautiful as ever. We followed the Rick Steves walking tour, and so our next destination was the Ile Ste. Louis, where we stopped at Berthillon for lunch and (naturally) their famous ice cream. The ice cream was delicious, but I don’t know if it’s 8-euro-for-a-cup delicious.
On second thought, maybe it is worth it:
After lunch, we kept following the walking tour – visiting the Latin Quarter, Shakespeare and Co., and Sainte Chapelle. We also stumbled upon some musicians playing on one of the bridges to the Ile Ste. Louis. I’m not exactly sure why, but this was just quintessentially Parisian to me – very charming and lovely.
We headed next to the Arc d’Triomphe. I had wandered around the base of the Arc on my previous trip, but I had not been to the top. This time, we decided to conquer that. I have to say, a couple hundred steps when you’re jetlagged = not a great idea. But, exhaustion notwithstanding, the views from the top were spectacular.
We then headed down the Champs Elysee, stopping at Laduree. This was my first visit to Laduree; since then I’ve become semi-obsessed with it (and with fancy French macarons). Every pastry looks absolutely beautiful.
We walked down the length of the Champs Elysee, then through the Tuileries Gardens, and found a restaurant a few blocks from the Louvre. Since it was our first dinner in France, we decided to go full-on, traditional, stereotypical French food: French onion soup to start, followed by boeuf bourguignon. It was fantastic! I actually don’t have a picture of it, but to me the onion soup was the most amazing. And by amazing, I mean – more cheese than I ever would have imagined could fit into a soup bowl. So good.
And finally, to finish the day, we went up the Eiffel Tower. I thought it was fun to see the tower at night, when it was all aglow – a different perspective than my previous trip.
The next day, we went outside the city to Versailles. This was the part of our Paris stint that I was most looking forward to, as I hadn’t gotten to do it my first time around and I absolutely love European history. I’ve read a couple books on Marie Antoinette, and I took one course on the French Revolution and one on the French Enlightenment in college, so I was super geeked about this.
The first thing about Versailles was that it was incredibly crowded. When you’re outside on the grounds, it doesn’t matter, but making our way through the palace itself was a bit of a challenge – it was wall-to-wall people.
The interior of the palace was spectacular and so lush and over-the-top. Since visiting Versailles, I’ve been to a bunch of the other big European palaces (Madrid’s Palacio Real, Munich’s Residenz, and Vienna’s Schonbrunn). However, at the time, Versailles was my first glimpse into grand European palaces, and I couldn’t believe how opulent it was. After seeing the others, Versailles seems par for the course, but at the time, I was blown away. I’m still blown away, but a little less so (if that makes sense).
One small detail I loved about Versailles – the wallpaper. I know that sounds strange, but it’s all brightly colored, velvety, and with nice floral patterns. Just perfect. Another cool thing – the famous hall of mirrors. So much glass, chandeliers, and overall sparkly-ness.
One thing Versailles has that none of the other European palaces can compare to is its gardens. They are spectacular and HUGE. The all-caps is merited there, I think, because I can’t even describe how large they are. We spent a few hours in the gardens, and there were still entire gigantic tracts we didn’t even get to explore.
We walked through the gardens and then across the grounds to get to the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, both of which were impressive as well. In the Grand Trianon, the rich yellow + blue tapestries caught my eye. Wherever you go, go blue.
The Petit Trianon also has its own very lovely gardens. I can never turn down a flower picture, so the entire day was heaven for me.
We returned to Paris in time for a dinner cruise down the Seine. Though the food itself wasn’t that remarkable, the cruise was a pretty good deal for 2 reasons: 1) It’s a neat experience to float along the Seine and have dinner. Very fancy. And, 2) We got two bottles of wine with our meal. Me like.
After dinner, we walked back to our hotel, stopping by the Eiffel Tower again. It’s everywhere you go in Paris!
The next day, we tackled the Louvre. On my first visit, my primary reaction to the Louvre was rage, triggered by the fact that I actually heard a couple with heavy southern accents loudly ask where the Mona Lisa was. Yes, that’s a valid question, but I get so upset about all the people who just go there, see Mona, and leave. There’s SO MUCH MORE. There I go with the all-caps again. Anyway, to reinforce this point, I submit to you my photo of all the crazy tourists crowding to see Mona. Get your pictures, guys, and then move onto the next thing!
Rant over. I will say that, this time around, I enjoyed the Louvre more. We saw Mona, yes, but rather than lingering in the Italian paintings section, we saw lots of other things – some of the French and Flemish paintings, the Greek and Roman and Egyptian artifacts, and Napoleon’s apartments. It was good to see the less marquee exhibits; they were just as fascinating (if not more so).
In the afternoon, we had one of my favorite lunches – croque monsieur. I had croque monsieur 5 times while in France (yes, I counted). The thing is, I really like routines. And, even more important than that, it’s really tasty.
In the afternoon, we did one of my favorite things of the trip. We went back to the street our hotel was on (Rue Cler) and went to a creperie. We enjoyed our crepes, drank coffee, and played cribbage using our handy travel-sized cribbage board. Crepes + cribbage + Rue Cler = perfection.
(Also: don’t these crepes look amazing? Mine was a Grand Marnier + nutella crepe. The Grand Marnier was pretty strong, but it was tasty. Dad’s was called the “birthday crepe” – fancy!)
After that, we visited Sacre Coeur, which is probably my favorite church in Paris (and maybe anywhere). I like how unique and non-traditional the exterior is – it just stands out. I also love the hill beneath Sacre Coeur – it’s a good place to relax and enjoy the Montmartre vibe.
We finished our day with dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. The big story of that meal was that we got escargot for an appetizer and I had a little trouble extracting the snails. One might have flown across the table. Who knows, really?
The next day, we visited the Musee d’Orsay in the morning (no pictures, but I love that museum. So many treasures but infinitely more manageable than the Louvre) and then headed out of Paris in the afternoon. Next stop: Normandy!