It’s been awhile since my last post! It seems that I’ve got less time on my hands to blog, as we’ve been to Paris, Mont Saint Michel, Carcassonne, and now Avignon since F and I finished our time in London. Vivre la France! Also, the UK (read: England, but largely not London, Scotland, or Northern Ireland) has just voted in favour of leaving the European Union. While it’s easy to make jokes about traveling to London after the pound has taken its dramatic nosedive, it’s truly terrible news. I don’t think those who voted in favour of leaving the UK fully grasped the stupidity of their decision, but I’m sure they will in the coming years. Unfortunately however it is mostly the younger generations of British citizens, the majority of which voted in favour of staying with the EU, who will have to face the brunt of Brexit’s long-term consequences.
But enough sadness for now. Let’s talk about Paris for a bit.
France, by the way, has in the last twenty four hours overtaken Great Britain as the world’s fifth largest economy.
OK BACK TO MY VACATION. Actually this time.
We spent three days in Paris.
The first day, we went to the Louvre. We arrived in Paris at around 2pm, and so had little time to do much else but tackle the museum before it closed for the evening.
I didn’t bring my camera to the Louvre, so I only have this little collage from my iPhone.
The Louvre is overwhelming large, and impossible to cover in three hours. We didn’t even try, and simply looked for exhibits that interested us. Still, my third time visiting and it was still so much to take in.
For my own part, I spent most of my time admiring the gaudy furniture and plateware of former French rulers, from King Louis XIV to King Louis XVI (and Marie Antoinnette), and walking through full displays of Napoleon III’s apartments. Imagine how amazing it would be to host dinners in rooms like that… super tacky, yes, but also kind of amazing?
We also wandered around the more popular areas of the Louvre, like the painting collections. It was enjoyable despite being full of people, and F masochistically squirmed his way to the front of the Mona Lisa’s massive crowd just to say he did it.
After a busy three hours, we headed back to our little Airbnb to sleep, our heads full of dreams of floor-to-ceiling paintings (and they were really, really high ceilings) and more fancy tea spoons than any royal family could possibly, truly want.
Our second day in Paris was a busy one. The Palais Garnier, Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Company, and the Bastille monument were all places we visited.
Fred really enjoyed this mango juice, which was sold at a cafe we found near the Palais Garnier. It was called Au, which we believe is a chain of cafes.
We booked tickets in advance for Paris’ most famous opera house. 10:00am on a rainy Monday morning. For those wanting to see the Palais Garnier in the future, we recommend booking weekday tickets in advance at 10:00am, just as we did; though there were a couple of groups waiting to get in as well, we ended up being the first ones inside and had the place all to ourselves for a long while. Even as we left an hour and a half later, the opera house wasn’t very busy for such a touristy time of year. There was lots of space and time to explore the opera house as much as we liked without ever feeling crowded.
As I said… all to ourselves! The main staircase is the kind you want to run down wearing a big dramatic ball gown.
Exhibits of costumes from previous performances decorate the corners of some of the halls.
F particularly loved the Palais Garnier. He enjoys theatre, and while he doesn’t (yet?) listen to opera, the whole space took his breath away.
The view from below a small chandelier.
The ceiling of the theatre.
After completing our viewing of the Palais Garnier, we headed out into the rain. Off to the Notre Dame!
In between periods of rain.
The Notre Dame was restored by the prolific French architect Viollet-le-duc in the 19th century and houses various Christian artifacts for public display and more holy objects in the Treasury, which costs several euro to view.
We didn’t go up the bell towers. By noon there was a line down the block to get into the towers, and while there was also a line to get into the church itself, the former didn’t appear to be moving much.
Holy objects on display in the treasury.
I’ve been to the Notre Dame twice before, and I can’t say that as a tourist (not as a Catholic person), I particularly enjoy visiting this cathedral. We went this time because F had never been
There are always so many people in the cathedral and it just feels so… I don’t know. I don’t have the right words to describe my feelings towards it, but of all the cathedrals and basilicas and churches I have visited (again, as a tourist, not as a religious person) the Notre Dame ranks at the bottom.
Maybe you have a different opinion. If so, I’d love to hear why! Maybe it’ll shift my perspective.
In any case, a short walk away from the Notre Dame is the wonderful bookstore Shakespeare & Company.
If you love books, you must make time to visit the shop. It’s Paris’ oldest and largest English-language bookstore and it is such a gem. You can’t help but get home-library inspiration from wandering among the crowded book stacks, where you’ll sometimes find little nooks and crannies to hole up with a good book.
It’s not an overly large bookstore, but it’s a special one. I picked up a few books, we went outside, and popped open our umbrella because it was pouring out.
We didn’t stay too long. And with the rain coming down, we decided to head home and skip out on our walk to the Sacre Coeur. It was only a half hour walk from our room, but we just couldn’t muster up the willpower to see another outdoor monument through sheets of rain. Instead, we made it back to our room (thank goodness it’s just around the corner from a metro station!) with a bag full of pastries and salads, and napped the evening away. With all the go-go-go that Paris and London has been, it was good to recharge by lazing about, playing video games, and sleeping to the sound of rain hitting the pavement.
Our final full day in Paris was a cloudy but lovely one.
Maybe I enjoyed it so much because of the food…
We started with Blé Sucré. Lauded for its quality of pastry and considered by some to make the best croissants in Paris (it has definitely been voted “best pain au chocolate” in Paris as well), it was impossible for me to pass up.
Clockwise from top left: Gateau Basque, croissant, pain au chocolate, and the Trousseau.
We popped in shortly after it opened. Oh, it took a long time to decide what to order. The croissant and pain au chocolate, of course, but the desserts! Looked so good!
I’m a sucker for sweet foods.
F and I smiled to ourselves and each other and the food as we ate. As much as it’s been fun to visit museums and opera houses and other great monuments, it’s patisseries like this that carve out special places in my memory bank.
Blé Sucré’s claim to the best croissants and pain au chocolat certainly tastes credible.
After our buttery, sugary breakfast, we took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe. We hadn’t booked tickets in advance, but the line at the Arc typically moves quite quickly so there was no reason to worry about waiting around for too long.
The Arc opens at 10am, so we killed time by walking along the Champs Elysées. That popular little song tumbled out of our mouths every once in awhile as we walked because the two of us are terribly, tragically lame.
There wasn’t much for us on the Champs Elyées, unfortunately. We found the Ladurée, which I visited seven years ago, and made a note to come back. Otherwise it was mostly mega chain stores (many of which aren’t that great) which turned us off.
Back at the Arc de Triomphe, we purchased our tickets–5 euro with a valid student ID–and headed to the top. The climb, while initially narrow and winding, is not actually difficult, so unless you get vertigo easily or are incredibly unfit, don’t worry! The climb is a short 248 steps, with a little break area in between.
As I mentioned earlier, it was a cloudy day in Paris. The trip up was still worth it, though, and I personally prefer it to the lookout points on the Eiffel Tower. So many streets spreading out, and so many iconic places viewable in the distance: the Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, and yes, the Eiffel Tower.
I’ve always thought that Paris was most beautiful when you spent your time looking up. Looking up at the buildings, the potted flowers and the architecture, the shop windows and the cafes. Don’t look down at the piles and piles of garbage that sometimes sit on sidewalks for days, waiting for the garbage trucks to to come pick them up; or the cigarette butts and litter.
But the view looking down from the Arc de Triomphe is so charming.
There’s also a view of one of the most nightmarish roundabouts I have ever seen, but still. Charming.
F and I recommend visiting the current photography exhibit on your way down, where portraits of World War One uniforms are on display for you to learn about.
At the base.
Following our descent from the Arc, we took tea at Ladurée. It’s been seven years since I last visited this particular location, and I have to say I was really and truly unimpressed. I am certain that the Ladurée in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada provides a much higher quality tea experience but we’ll wait until I try it when I get back home in a month.
Because I’m a sucker* for tea and sweets, though, I did pick up some macarons and a box of tea to enjoy later.
We walked a lot in Paris. I used that to justify eating so many sweets and pastries while in the city, though now that I’m in smaller towns in the South of France, I’m having a hard time justifying an entire dessert platter after dinner because I walked all the way around the corner of our Airbnb apartment… ahem.
We walked a lot in Paris. We walked from the Champs Elysées over to the Tuileries Garden, and people watched as we made our way over the the Musee d’Orsay.
Over the bridge.
! The Musee d’Orsay! One of my favourite museums in the world.
It’s the space, the quality exhibits, the permanent exhibits… I love everything about it.
Restoration on works within the museum’s collection are sometimes on display. Here, a large Courbet painting is being restored.
Several paintings currently going through restoration were visible behind large glass boxes throughout the museum. One such restoration process provided an interactive experience for visitors, where you not only could see the restoration work being done by employees behind the glass, you were also provided with a tablet that helped explore the contextual importance of the painting. The current painting is a Courbet work, and by pointing your tablet camera at different people and things in the painting, you get an in-depth narrative from each of them as “they” tell you about their relation to the painter, the others in the painting, and the state of art in France in the 19th century.
After many hours of happy, inspiring wandering, we left.
I forgot to mention–like the Louvre, we purchased tickets online in advance for the musee d’Orsay. The line to get in at around 3pm was over an hour, so getting to skip all of it entirely was a relief. Of course not everything needs to be pre-purchased when you travel, but we do recommend at least getting d’Orsay tickets online because they don’t narrow your visiting time down to a certain day and entrance time like other places–rather, you can visit whenever you want during a three month period. Awesome!
It was nearing dinner time by then, but we wanted to snack first, so we walked to the gardens of the nearby Louvre to enjoy our macarons.
From then on we walked around a nearby neighbourhood filled to the brim with expensive, curated antique & art shops.
We had a fantastic dinner at a restaurant called La Frégate, where I had the roast duck and mashed potatoes covered in a delicious raspberry-infused gravy. The raspberry flavour were such a well-done and unique twist to what could easily be a normal meat & potatoes kind of meal. I loved it.
And to end our last day in Paris, we went full circle: more pastries. This time, we walked from the La Frégate down the Rue Montorgueil, which leads to the Rue Faubourg Saint-Denis.
Halfway back to our apartment was Stohrer, Paris’ oldest pastry shop. We bought some pastries for the road before continuing on our way.
There was a music festival going on that evening, so the streets were lively and full of revel and it was easy to be happy. Bellies full, pastries in hand, and minds on the wonderful works we saw at the musée.
It was a good end to our time in Paris.
… Next up, le Mont St. Michel.