Paris: Bonjour and Bon Appetit
Paris, our first destination of many on our long 77 day European adventure!
Adam and I touched down in Paris via Charles de Gaulle Airport at 10am and rushed to the City of Love by hailing a taxi. If we had to do it again, we would have done the metro because we did not plan this part of our trip out well. Taking the metro to the city is not only faster (due to traffic on the highway), but also cheaper. The excitement of our vacation triumphed our jet lag as we drove in traffic to our hotel. Yes, we were on a budget, but decided to keep Paris romantic and kick off our European adventure at a nice hotel with great views because after all we had worked hard to get there.
Les Jardins d’Eiffel
We stayed at a three star hotel (which is considered a great hotel in Paris), Les Jardins d’Eiffel, and had a wonderful four night stay here. The staff were knowledgeable, friendly and professional. We enjoyed our room which had a great view of the Eiffel Tower and loved the location of the hotel. We felt more like locals than tourists because of its location – close enough to the Eiffel Tower, a metro and great local pastry shops and brassieres. We also enjoyed the feeling that Paris was home to us because everyday we traveled by train to different cities, such as, Normandy, Bayeux, Giverny and Versailles. After long days of sight seeing and traveling it was always nice coming “home” to our hotel room and walking to our favorite nearby brasserie.
Le Jules Verne
As soon as we checked in, dropped our bags and changed into some fancy clothes we took an uber to the Eiffel Tower to enjoy a fabulous lunch at Le Jules Verne, a Michelin star restaurant by Chef Alain Ducasse. Our lunch was amazing, a simple, classic French cuisine meal and the views were even better. Enjoying lunch inside the Eiffel Tower on the second level was the best start to our 77 day European adventure!
Looking back we still cannot believe we landed in Paris at 10am, checked into our hotel around noon and made it to our lunch reservation at 1pm. Phew! After lunch we went outside to the viewing grounds (which we had free access to due to lunch) and took everything in. The views from every side were amazing! As I am writing this I can still feel the excitement we had in that moment. Everything went as planned – our trip was off to a great start and we were in complete bliss.
Eiffel Tower Fan Zone
After lunch and enjoying the high views from the Eiffel Tower, Adam and I made our way back to the hotel and completely passed out….thanks jet lag. After we felt rejuvenated we grabbed some simple baguette sandwiches for dinner and met my friend, Mary Anne and her family. We truly live in a small world, the Lucas family were visiting Paris the same four days as us and that night was the one time we could all get together. It gets better though, during this time the Euro Cup was going on and France was hosting the tournament. In addition to that, France had been playing really well during the tournament and were playing against Germany in the semi-finals that evening. Both the Lucas family, Adam and I are all huge soccer fans, so we all went to the Eiffel Tower Fan Zone to watch the game.
The passion for soccer in Europe is INSANE! When you think of Americans passion for football it usually means tailgating, drinking and almost some aggressiveness. In Europe their passion is walking through the streets singing their national anthem, chanting, music playing everywhere, and being proud citizens and fans – you can just feel their passion and it was an awesome cultural and soccer experience for all of us.
This leads me into explaining how we basically were in the middle of a riot. The last thing Adam and I told our parents before we left was that we would be smart and safe…..well on this first night in Paris the five of us were basically in a riot. Oops…. As we were waiting within a crowd of fans trying to get to the security point, the fans started to get irritated waiting and started pushing everyone forward and then the people up front would push us backwards. We were all packed like a can of sardines and it started to get scary and slowly we were all separated. Then if things couldn’t get any worse, it did. People got more aggressive and I(Christina), somehow made my way alone in the front and people pushed me into police officers with shields and they were pushing me back….scary. Then I watched as the officers looked at one another, nodded and scrammed. At that point the fans went rushing forward and until the five of us found each other it was a crazy moment. How’s that for a first night in Europe?
All was good in the end and we finally got inside the fan zone and the atmosphere completely changed – everyone was friendly and happy. Looking back now we laugh, and because we were safe in the end we can happily say that it was a blast! We had such an amazing experience watching the game on the biggest jumbotron with the Eiffel Tower in the background and the sun setting. I am not a France fan, (I don’t think any of us were), but being there in that moment we were all cheering for France. The game itself was fun to watch, very intense, with great scoring chances on both sides, but with only a few minutes left in the first half France drew a penalty kick. In that moment you could feel the tension in the air, but France barried the ball into the net and ended the half 1-0! As soon as that ball crossed the goal line everyone went crazy!!!! It was one of the coolest experiences and a memory I will never forget.
We ended up leaving at halftime to avoid putting ourselves in another riot situation and found a local brasserie to finish watching the game. Even in the brasserie the fans were full of passion and energy. When the game finally ended the streets were crowded with fans singing and cheering their national soccer team on. We had a great time with the Lucas family and I am so happy that we were able to experience this soccer game and end our first night in Europe with them. For all the big soccer fans out there, watching games in Europe is a MUST!
We spent all day in Bayeux at a Normandy D-Day tour and then spent the early evening enjoying dinner and exploring Bayeux while we waited for our train to Paris. We encourage everyone to make a day trip out there to learn and see in person where the iconic seaborne invasion took place.
On our way to the metro to take us to the train station we stopped at a beautiful bakery, Nelly Julien Douceurs et traditions Boulangerie. I am so happy we did because these pastries were delicious! The staff were friendly and even though their English was limited it was enough to help us make our selection. Once we took our seats on the train we indulged our pastries as we made our way to Giverny. These pastries were one of many amazing meals we enjoyed on our trip in Paris and the rest can be found here.
We were going to Giverny to visit Claude Monet’s House and Gardens. That was a very special trip for me as my middle name and grandmother’s maiden name is Monet. We really enjoyed splitting our day between Paris and Giverny. It allowed us to break up our sightseeing of Paris instead of cramming it all in and becoming overwhelmed and exhausted. Traveling and seeing more than Paris was always refreshing. Yes, there is plenty to do in Paris and we did not even do it all, but it was enjoyable to see beautiful cities outside of Paris. In this case, after we spent our morning in Giverny we returned to Paris to enjoy the rest of the afternoon at the Louvre.
The Louvre is the largest and most famous museum in the world with over 9 million guests every year. It holds over 30,000 pieces of artwork, including several famous masterpieces of Western Civilization, such as, the Mona Lisa. Guests can spend all day in here and should plan accordingly, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to take a break, even a shopping mall, The Carrousel du Louvre – I mean it wouldn’t be Paris if there wasn’t a shopping mall inside their famous museum, right? For the big history buffs there are guided tours and audio guides available. Or guests can download the Louvre app and go at their own pace with an audio guide on their own phone. We opted to do none of these because we enjoy looking through museums at our own pace while reading descriptions when we find something intriguing.
As soon as we saw the famous glass pyramid we were in awe! The glass pyramid is the grand entrance and it is not to be missed. The lines are longer here, but at least guests have something magnificent to look at while they wait. We took in the beautiful landmark by taking the signature picture of touching the top of the pyramid, (something Adam did not quite understand).
After we had our fun and admired the glass pyramid from every angle we made our way to the entrance. Before we arrived to the Louvre we had purchased our tickets in advance. This allowed us to skip standing in the long line during the summer heat. I highly suggest purchasing tickets in advance and entering at the pyramid because once inside its like you are in a diamond. The shape and natural lighting is quite exquisite.
Once we made it inside we summoned our inner spirit of Tom Hanks and worked on solving the Da Vinci Code or maybe we quickly worked our way through the crowds to find the beautiful, Mona Lisa. After several twists and turns we finally made it to the renown painting – once your are in the general area it’s not hard to miss due to the overflow the crowd. Once we made it to the front we tested her eyes to see if she was always looking at us…she was.
After we felt our mission was accomplished we went searching for a few more famous masterpieces such as, Liberty Leading the People, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Vénus de Milo, and The Wedding at Cana.
We enjoyed walking through the rest of the museum and seeing all of the wonderful art pieces until we felt like we had seen enough history. In addition to us coming to a close we were extremely hot and tired. I am not sure if the Louvre is always like this, but it was stuffy and hot! There was no AC and the body heat of all the summer tourists was really weighing us down – thank goodness we always bring water. Believe it or not, once we were back outside we actually felt cooler.
After a long, hot afternoon in the Louvre we needed something sweet to reenergize our mind and body and what could be better than a French macaron? Not just any French macaron though, the BEST French macarons from the best pastry chef in the world, Pierre Herme. Yes, Pierre Herme was recently awarded Best Pastry Chef by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. and has been the lead trendsetter of macarons for years. As someone who is in the pastry field it was my duty to go to Pierre Herme’s boutique and try his famous macarons and chocolate truffles. Wow! I had high expectations which are hard to meet, just ask Adam, but wow Pierre Herme blew all expectations.
We do not like macarons nor have we ever understood the hype for them until now. Pierre Herme made us a macaron believer and lover in one bite. Since we were on a budget and on the move (didn’t want our delicate pastry goods to melt in the summer heat) we only bought three macarons and two chocolate truffles. Worst mistake ever! We still dream about how delicious those macarons and truffles were. Out of my three macarons we had two signature flavors: Salted-Butter Caramel and Milk Chocolate & Passion Fruit and one ephemeral creation: Lemon & Flaky Hazelnut Praline. All three were absolutely amazing – great textures and powerful natural flavors.
The two chocolate truffles we had were: Pistachio Praline and a Pure Origin Brazil Dark Chocolate Ganache. Again flavors were spot on and the chocolate melted so smoothly with every bite – we could literally taste the rainforest in Brazil.
Going to Pierre Herme for macarons is just as iconic as going to see the Eiffel Tower – it is a MUST DO!
Champs de Elysee
After we got a pick me up from our macarons and chocolate truffles we walked down Champs de Elysee because of all the recommendations and another sight to see while in Paris. When Adam and I pictured Champs de Elysee in our minds we thought of the fanciest, most luxurious, expensive shops in a row on a fabulous street. So when we finally were walking the famous avenue of Champs de Elysee we were quite disappointed and didn’t understand why everyone loves going down this street. The popular, well known brands such as Adidas, H&M, Quicksilver and Disney had big stores and were flashy and overshadowed any fancy, luxurious brands that were there.
Exotic cars were seen everywhere on the streets, but besides that there was not that much of “showing off money” that we anticipated. A little bummed, I would have liked to have been able to walk in an area in awe and envy…. I think living in Las Vegas for two years has really spoiled us since we weren’t impressed by Champs de Elysee.
The boulevard was pretty with the trees shading some of the sidewalk as well as, cafe and restaurant patios overflowing into the sidewalk. We would love to be back to witness the Tour de France here – now that is probably something spectacular at Champs de Elysee. The best part of walking down the boulevard was arriving to the Arc de Triomphe.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe was beautiful! It was built in honor of those who fought and died for France during the Napoleonic Wars. To get to the Arc de Triomphe guests should not cross the street! There are underground passageways that lead to the roundabout center of the Arc de Triomphe. Guests can purchase tickets to go inside the arch to enter the small museum and walk up 40 stairs to get a panoramic view of Paris. We opted not to do these things because one, we had seen enough of museums for one day and two, we were happy with our higher view from the Eiffel Tower.
We took in the beautiful landmark up close from the ground level, which happens to be free. We got as close as we could to be right under the arc and it was pretty cool. In the middle of the arc is the French Flag and you feel a sense of pride and honor – very moving. After walking more than 11 miles we finally called it quits and took a metro back to our hotel.
As we said before, we love our hotel location, so we found a local restaurant, Colonel Mustache, nearby for dinner. This was a wonderful dinner. We sat outside and enjoyed a three course meal. We shared escargot (snails) for our first course, I had steak with béarnaise and french fries and Adam had pasta with truffle oil and ham. For dessert we had a classic French dessert, caramelized apple clafoutis. Everything was well prepared and delicious. The staff was very attentive and kind and we made friends with our neighbors. The best part of the meal was our complimentary gifts – they gave us mustache stickers! We had so much fun, kicking back, enjoying our meal and reminiscing over our wonderful day. It was a real great dinner to end a really busy and fulfilling day.
We woke up in the morning and traveled to Versailles to visit the palace and gardens. The Palace of Versailles was full of gold – it is amazing how much money the French had and how they flaunted it. We were glad they did because the Versailles Palace was remarkable and now everyone else can feel like royalty too when they visit. We walked the most this day mostly because of Versailles – we walked over 13 miles. Train rides became our time for rest and recuperation.
Notre Dame Cathedral
When we arrived back in Paris we went to the Notre Dame Cathedral – the gothic cathedral of Paris. The cathedral’s architecture both inside and out is beautiful. Even though tourists flood to the cathedral, mass is still held everyday and a priest is always on hand. Guests can attend tours for free, receive an audioguide for 5€ and climb stairs to reach the top of the towers for a city view.
Religious or not, people should definitely make it a point to visit this cathedral. Inside is so magnificent – so much history and unique architecture. The cathedral is dimly lit, but with the colored stained glass beautiful, natural lighting shines through the glass giving the atmosphere a glorious aura.
There are tall, strong archways following the pathway to the altar with high ceilings and artistic sculptures throughout the cathedral. Though the cathedral is dark, you can feel the light and high spirits in the room – quite moving.
There was a positive and negative to being in Paris when France was hosting the Euro Cup. Positive was that we were in Paris during the Euro Cup!!! As avid soccer fans and players this was an awesome soccer experience for us. Watching the games among the French when their team was playing so well was a lot of fun. The negative was that it closed the green space to install the fan zone. The green space is where people usually enjoy picnics and take their iconic pictures of the Eiffel Tower. This made it extremely difficult for us to take quality photos up close with the Eiffel Tower in the background. With that being said, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower after our visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame to take an iconic picture of us in Paris. Even with the difficulties we eventually managed some good pictures.
The other positive, but negative was the Eiffel Tower at night. I was really looking forward to the sparking golden lights at night, but every time we looked at the Eiffel Tower it was lit up in French colors for support of their soccer team. So although it was cool to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity it was a little bit of a bummer to not experience the full effect of the Eiffel Tower. It’s a good thing we loved Paris and plan to come back one day.
Dinner at our favorite place
You would think that on our last night in Paris we would go all out or something, but instead we went to our favorite restaurant that made us feel like locals. We had been at Le Centenarie three times now – once with the Lucas family at night, once for breakfast and now for dinner. We chose this restaurant because we enjoyed the customer service, local feel and we knew we could watch the Euro Cup finals. France was playing Portugal and it was an intense game. We were real Europeans for dinner that night – we lingered our meal by eating our first course for an hour, our main entree for another hour and drinking wine and coffee till the game was over. Unfortunately France lost, but I must say that with all the passion we had seen in Paris, the French had good sportsmanship. I think we can both say that this was another great experience and this restaurant touched us in a warm way as all the famous landmarks did.
Au Revoir Paris
We walked the streets of Paris one last time while going to the Eiffel Tower. The four nights we were there we only saw the Eiffel Tower light up from a distance – via our room. We wanted to see it glow up close one time and of course it glowed the colors of the French flag – blue, white and red. Overall we really enjoyed our time in Paris – walking long miles to all the beautiful landmarks, eating all the amazing pastries and food and experiencing the culture of the people (we never came across one rude person). During our time, we mastered the metro and train transportation systems, felt at home at our hotel and the neighborhood it was in. We truly fell in love with Paris more than we anticipated.
- Do not buy bottled water at restaurants! The tap water in Paris is surprisingly very good and drinkable. Water bottles are priced really high because they try to make money off tourists. In fact you can sometimes spot who the tourists are and who the locals are.
- Do not be alarmed if there are soldiers carrying guns. They are there for protection from any terrorists.
- In the summertime it does not get dark until almost 10pm.
- Research your airport transfer. Shuttles and the train (fastest) will be cheaper than taking a taxi. http://parisbytrain.com/charles-de-gaulle-airport-cdg-to-paris-by-train/
- Use the metro to get around the city. It’s super easy, reliable and cheap.
- Grab breakfast at bakeries. Your in Paris and should enjoy the best buttery croissants and pastries everyday while you can!
- Buy your museum/attraction tickets in advance! It will save you a lot of time standing in line.
- If you plan on going to a church make sure to either wear appropriate clothes or pack some with you.
- Plan your days out, but leave room for the unexpected. Sometimes the best experience are ones you never planned.
- For great tips about exploring Paris as a solo traveler, click here!