...I think now I can say it without imagining myself in Paris in my dreams but reviving those romantic 4 days we spent in Paris. It was end of March and my husband surprised me with a romantic trip to my dream city for my birthday. There is no better way to celebrate the day you were born!
Our journey started with a first-time trip on Thalys speed train that takes you from Rotterdam to Paris in only 2.5 hours. Very European way of traveling and very comfortable I should add. The weather was cooperative and for at least 2 days we had sunny and sparkling days we packed with trips around and outside Paris. Let me tell you – to look nice and to walk Paris like we did is two absolutely incompatible things. So no heels and fancy dresses to compete with Parisian women.
After checking in into a very nice hotel just 1 metro stop away from Charles de Gaulle Square, our first stop was Montmartre hill. Probably the only visible hill you will find in Paris, slopes of which are filled with tourists and locals who come here to be entertained by the artists of various genres. On the very top of Montmartre proudly sits a relatively new for the European standards Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. This magnificent architectural ensemble is a functioning church where no photos are allowed and, believe me, they enforce it like nowhere else in Paris. As our friend Anatoliy suggested, we tasted a real French crêpe at one of the street vendors. It was delicious! Here I have to confess – it was not just one time I ate crêpes in Paris :-) There was one next to the Pantheon and the other one next to la Sorbonne… I just couldn’t resist this gentle lace of dough with heavenly-chocolaty Nutella or confiture (jam in English) in it to melt in my mouth… OK, I am again deviating from my story! But you got the point, right?!
Next stop was la Place de la Concorde – the largest public square in French capital. This square has some dark moments in its history – turned out here were executed number of kings, queens, and some nobility of France starting from King Louis XVI. In the center there is a biggest object on the square – Luxor Obelisk. This is one of the 2 obelisks that Egyptian government gave to France in the 19th century. The second one never made it to France since it was too heavy. Right next to it - the Tuileries Gardens which we didn’t visit because it was getting dark.
The next day we went to Chateau de Versailles which is around 20-30 minutes outside of Paris by train. Bright sun rays bathed golden gates and roofs of this magnificent palace on the backdrop of an absolutely virgin blue sky. This day was promising… but as we called it late it turned out to be a day of mishaps. My "deep" knowledge of French didn’t help me to notice on the website of Versailles that it is actually closed on Mondays… I know, I know… what I was thinking… I think I didn’t notice it. Anyway we had a splendid walk around the gardens that truly have no end anyway you look at them – they simply stretch to the horizon and beyond.
Tip for those who think of going in March – skip Versailles and all the gardens altogether. Although the weather might be nice all fountains, sculptures are closed and covered and gardens are simply semi-naked since spring still makes its way to this part of the world.
After roaming gardens of Versailles we stopped by a local bakery and tried French delicacy called macaron. Yummmmm is one word I will say – when in France you should definitely try it!
Next stop was Jardin du Luxembourg – residence of Marie de Medicis where now the French Senate is housed. Only in Paris you will see the following picture: Monday, around 2-3PM, people definitely in the office attire are relaxing on the metal chairs in the gardens with a baguette and a glass of wine :-) French really know how to live and enjoy life!
The day was really lovely and we planted ourselves in the nearby café and ordered lunch and a glass of wine. All the chairs on the terraces of cafes and restaurants in France are not facing each other but lined up facing the street – another very European way of spending time. By facing the street you sit much closer to your companion and both of you can enjoy the life as it is passing by in the form of hats, scarfs, fashionable shoes, trendy coats, fancy sunglasses, and of cause berets!
Full and happy we moved on with our day. In few steps from the Jardin du Luxembourg there are another 2 important places in Paris. One is la Sorbonne. Found in the 13th century by Robert de Sorbon, it is one of the most respected and important university in Europe. "It refers both to the University of Paris and to the first college established in what became the university" (see more on Answers.com
). Specifically here in the Latin Quarter you will find, in my humble opinion, the freshest and less commercialized crêpes and galettes
in the entire Paris! As you can see for yourself I am very content and full of expectations from my galette! This one was made out of buckwheat with egg and cheese baked in it. All of this yumminess you can find in Les Crèpes à Gogo
The other important place in the same area is the Pantheon. Unfortunately at the moment it is on the reconstruction and we were not able to give tribute to such important French figures as Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Moulin, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, Louis Braille, Jean Jaurès, Alexandre Dumas, among others.
Arc de Triomphe is one of the most recognized architectural marvels of Paris. After the battle and victory at Austerlitz Emperor Napoleon said – my troops shall come home only through the triumphal arch. So there it started in 1808 and was finished only in 1836. From the top of this structure you can see 12 avenues (including the Avenue des Champs Élysées) radiating from the Place Charles de Gaulle.
Tip number 2: if you plan to spend in Paris more than couple of days, I highly recommend to become acquainted with Paris municipal transportation. Especially metro. It is very convenient, has stops everywhere in the city and you can buy a pass for 1, 2 or more days that is covering not only metro, but also bus, and train. It is called Mobilis
. Zones 1 and 2 will cover everything you see here on the photographs – meaning entire Paris that a tourist might see (cost in March 2011 for 1-day pass was 6.10 euros per person for unlimited trips for 24 hours). Zones 1-4 will cover the city and trips all the way to Versailles. Zones 1-6 will cover everything mentioned above plus trips to the airport and the Disney Land. In general there is no need to spend money on more costly Paris Visite pass. The discounts it gives are not that numerous.
Ah, of course here is Notre-Dame… It was a bit of a childhood dream to see this place after I read Victor Hugo’s "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and imagined all of the actions happening in magical Paris. And in addition the famous musicale completed the picture for me – I was in love with the French language, this music, and this romantically-tragic story. And here I am, standing and slowly moving my eyes across the façade covered with elaborate decorations, statues, and famous Notre-Dame chimeras. We had no strength at that point to climb the towers of Notre-Dame. But when I am back to Paris I will definitely do it! Behind Notre-Dame there is a gorgeous little park and a very elegant view of the back of this cathedral. On the corner you will find a little place called L'Esméralda
where they have lovely onion soup and escargots.
The last place we couldn’t miss to visit that day was of course la Tour Eiffel. This controversial structure of iron was considered at its time to be an ugly mark on the face of Paris. I found it grandiose and magnificent. It seemed to us much bigger in real life that when you see it on the photos or movies. A long ride in 2 elevators is taking you to the very top where you can see the entire city! Breathtaking view with the background of plethora of languages from all over the world. While you will be drank with romantic atmosphere still watch your pockets, purses and bags. I was almost robbed but was lucky to wake up and scream at the guy.
And the final destination for us was musee du Louvre on the 4th day. This is an amazing collection of art from literary all over the world. We really wanted to enjoy at least couple of halls and call it a day but the touristic crowds will not let you… Access to Mona Lisa reminds me of an unorganized line to the first McDonalds in the Soviet Union in Moscow in my childhood. It feels like all the tourists have only one agenda -- get closer and take a photo with Mona Lisa to put a check mark and show it off to their family and friends. So don’t expect enjoyment or quite atmosphere. After 2 hours of racing from one hall to the other we saw some highlights and decided this is going to be it for now. We will come back and spend more meaningful time here one day I hope.
And here are some other beautiful places in Paris: the Pont Alexandre III, the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées, the Petit Palais, and the view of l'Hôtel national des Invalides.
C'est tout pour aujourd'hui. A bientôt!