Travel Flashback: Paris 2006

Every Wednesday (more or less, and lately much less), I plan to post a look back at some of my past travels. You can find the rest of my travel posts here.

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I love Paris. I know, I know – what an original thought; there are only probably like five million other people in the world who would make the exact same statement. Though cliche my love for Paris may be, it’s nonetheless true. I’ve written about my more recent trips to Paris (in 2010 and 2011), but this trip, way back in 2006, is where it all began.

That summer, I was studying in London. While I spent most weekends exploring London itself, I also soon realized that all it took was an easy and quick Eurostar train to get to Paris. And when the City of Light is that close, who can really resist? Certainly not me.

So to Paris I went, and since it was my first visit to the city, I was determined to hit all the major sites. In fact, when I think back at everything I crammed into that weekend, I feel a bit tired. My sightseeing frenzy started at Notre Dame:

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I then made the short walk to Sainte-Chapelle to admire the exquisite stained glass:

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One thing I didn’t realize until I arrived in Paris was that I was actually visiting on Bastille Day! Every single building – like Palais de Justice, pictured below – was decked out in French flags. It was fun to be in the city when everyone was in such a festive mood.

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In the evening, I trekked up to Montmartre. After a steep and somewhat sketchy climb through some of the neighborhood’s backstreets, I ended up exactly where I wanted to be: at Sacre Coeur. The white domed church was (and still is) one of my favorite spots in Paris.

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I hung out on the hill below Sacre Coeur for a bit before heading over to the Moulin Rouge. I didn’t get a chance to go inside, but as a big fan of the movie, I pretty much just wanted to see the famous windmill.

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And near the Moulin Rouge, the streets were filled with some…interesting stores:

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As the sun was setting, I made my way to the Louvre. I didn’t go inside the museum (that would happen the next day), but I wandered around the courtyard for a while. What a pretty spot in the golden hour!

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I also walked through the Tuileries, where I snapped one of my favorite photos of the trip, of this older couple embracing in the garden. It’s not necessarily a high quality photograph, but it always makes me smile.

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The next morning, I made my way back to the Louvre and actually went inside. I’ll be honest: while the collection at the Louvre is incredible, I didn’t (and still don’t) particularly care for the museum. The crush of tourists was overwhelming and, in my opinion, really detracted from the experience of viewing the art. Plus, this was back in 2006 when the Da Vinci Code was still pretty popular and I saw way too many people making a beeline for the Mona Lisa and ignoring all of the museum’s other treasures.

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After feeling a bit let down by the Louvre, I headed to Musee d’Orsay, which is much more my style. First, the museum’s space is incredible; it’s located in an old train station, so it has one of those gigantic, grand clocks and a high vaulted ceiling. Not to mention, its collection is amazing and much more manageable than the sprawling one at the Louvre.

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After all that museum-ing, I decided to treat myself to something sweet. As I was young and naive back then, I had yet to learn of the magic of Laduree and instead headed to Fauchon, which my guidebook recommended. I bought a fancy box of chocolates, but I couldn’t help but ogle the array of brightly colored eclairs.

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I ended my day with a trip to the Eiffel Tower. As I walked up to the tower, I saw a couple taking their wedding photos. I’m sure this happens all the time there, but I remember thinking it was just too cool. What a backdrop!

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The next day, I started at the Rodin Museum, which turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of Paris for me. The museum itself contains a lot of Rodin’s work, but the best part was found beyond the museum walls, in the garden. Various sculptures were scattered throughout, tucked away among gorgeous flowers and perfectly shaped shrubs. It was such a peaceful place to spend a morning.

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I then walked to the nearby Les Invalides, where I popped in for a quick visit to Napoleon’s tomb (and paused for a while to admire the building’s beautiful, ornate dome).

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In the afternoon, I hopped aboard a cruise down the Seine River. There, I met a group of very friendly Japanese tourists, one of whom was kind enough to snap the below photograph of me, taking special care to frame it just so I look like I’m sprouting the Eiffel Tower from my head:

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And I finished my weekend in Paris with a stop at the Arc d’Triomphe, followed by a stroll down the Champs Elysee, where I grabbed lunch at a ridiculously overpriced restaurant (ah, my young, not-yet-travel-savvy self).

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And that, my friends, was the beginning – but certainly not the end – of my love affair with the city of Paris.

Travel Notes: Paris 2010

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!

Travel Notes: A Love Letter to Paris

Dear Paris,

Hi, it’s me, Laura. We’ve met three times before. I know you’re fabulous. You know you’re fabulous. Everyone knows you’re fabulous. But, hey, I bet it never hurts to be reminded of the fact. And so, here are some of the things I loved about you on my most recent visit.

I love Rue Cler. Upon arriving from Amsterdam, we made our way almost immediately to Rue Cler. The area was buzzing with activity; it seemed like every person in Paris was out enjoying a Sunday lunch at the cute cafes lining your streets, and soon we were just such two people. After lunch, we stopped at my favorite little creperie (Ulysse en Gaul) for unparalleled people watching and sweet Nutella crepe goodness.

I love the Eiffel Tower. Oh, Paris, I fear that even you don’t love the Eiffel Tower. I’ve heard that your residents find it tres tacky, but – for better or worse – it is the symbol of your city. When I see it, I feel a little thrill. Because in that moment I know, I’m in Paris. And it is fabulous.

I love your artwork. Seriously, Paris, are you just showing off here? I mean, you’ve got the Orsay and the Rodin, two of my favorite museums ever. And don’t even get me started on the Louvre. It’s ridiculous. You could spend a lifetime and a half wandering around its halls (which, in and of themselves are pieces of art) and still not see everything. Let’s just get past the fact that the Mona Lisa is overrated and comically tiny. There are so many other paintings, sculptures, and artifacts to treasure. This visit, I was especially enchanted with the works of Jacques Louis David and with the painting “The Burial of Atala” by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson (pictured below).

I love your food. I have many French favorites, but one of my favorite meals this trip was plain and simple – onion soup, pomme frites, and white wine. The onion soup, in particular, never fails to impress. You really cannot go wrong with sinfully excessive amounts of cheese in soup. And as you can see below, Janelle also enjoyed your tasty Croque Madame.

I love your ambiance. You see, you have this delightful river flowing right through your heart, and as we walk across the Pont d’Arcole onto the Ile de la Cite, I feel the magic all around me. I’m in the center of the city, the place where it literally all began, and life is pretty damn good.

I love Notre Dame. I’ll be honest with you – sometimes I feel major church fatigue while in Europe. I mean, how many churches can you visit? And don’t they all kind of look the same? But Notre Dame, with all its gothic grandeur, is something special to behold. Notre Dame, I don’t get tired of.

I love that you are the city of love. One day, I hope to be in love in Paris. How wonderful would that be? For now, though, I’ll just have to soak up the love that’s all around me when I’m there. There are over-the-top gestures of PDA everywhere you look. You Parisians sure aren’t shy about showing your affection to one another, that’s for certain. In any other place, I might roll my eyes at it, but in Paris, I give it a free pass.

I love Sacre Coeur. It, like Notre Dame, is one of the few exceptions to my boring church rule. I love that it sits atop a hill in Montmartre. I love that, from its steps, you can look out and see all of Paris. I love its blindingly white domes. And I love to relax on the hill just below it, listening to the music performers, and seizing a moment to chill out and simply be.

I love standing atop the Arc d’Triomphe. You have to climb up hundreds of tiny, winding stairs to get there, but when you emerge onto that rooftoop, it’s spectacular. Looking down the Champs Elysee and watching the eighteen million lanes of traffic spiral around the Arc, I feel the energy of the sitting buzzing all around me.

I love the elegance of Laduree. Walking through the line there, passing intricate pastry after intricate pastry, and taking in the sweet sugary smells. Sitting outdoors under a mint green tent, grabbing a table with mint green tableclothes, and sipping my coffee out of a mint green coffee cup, I feel ever so slightly elegant even though I know I’m not. And, oh yes, did I mention your macarons? They are light and colorful and wonderful (salted caramel became my new obsession, this time around).

I love floating down the Seine. On our last night, we took a dinner cruise down the river, and it was the perfect way to end my five weeks in Europe. It’s a lovely and special thing to do, in a lovely and special place.

So, Paris, all this is a very lengthy way of saying that I love you as much as I ever did and can’t wait to come back again soon. I know you’ll be waiting for me.

xoxoxo,

Laura

P.S. In May and June of 2011, I spent 5 weeks traveling around Europe. This post is the last of a series chronicling the different places I visited on that trip. Here’s where else I went: Rome, Palermo, Cefalu, Taormina, Siracusa, Agrigento, Colmar, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, and Amsterdam.