Paris With My Best Friend
I had been to Paris about four times on various backpacking trips through Europe, and I had always had a terrible time. I was always wearing tennis shoes and blah clothes, and I do not speak even one word of French. Okay, one: “merci.”
So I just thought that Paris sucked, and I was very down on it, in general.
Then a friend who speaks French said she wanted to go through, and I agreed, begrudgingly. We decided for this trip that we would dress a little nicer and make an effort with hair and makeup for the entire trip. We promised to not wear hats or bandanas, which I have done on a lot of trips.
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At most of our stops through Europe, I did not notice any difference. But boy, what a difference it made in Paris! I do not know if it was the speaking French or the way we looked, but we were treated amazingly everywhere – no more snobbiness, we got smiles, and it was an entirely pleasant experience.
One of my very favorite places in Paris is the Luxembourg Gardens, which is written in French as Jardin du Luxembourg. This is a HUGE space in the city that is totally within walking distance of a lot of the other sites, and it is gorgeous. In the summer, when it is very hot outside, it is so much nicer to sit on the grass or lay down on the grass and have a little nap, instead of boiling on the cement. The gardens have been around for hundreds of years, and it feels like that. They are extremely manicured and lush, and there are even some nice and obviously very old apple orchards inside the gardens. It just screams classiness, and one of my very favorite things in the entire world, I swear, is to buy some brioche – which is sweet bread – and some soft cheese – yes, you can get brie, but there are a LOT of other options here – and just have a picnic in Luxembourg Gardens.
One time I walked here because the line to go inside the Louvre was just too long. The Louvre Museum – which in French is the Musee du Louvre – is worth a visit inside, at least once, though. The most famous piece of artwork, maybe in the entire world, is the Mona Lisa, and this is where it lives. There are so many wonderful things about the Louvre, and one is the incredibly cool entrance, which looks like a glass pyramid. The only negative is that it is so ridiculously famous that during the high season – like in the summer, or right around Christmas – the line to get in is one or two hours. Paris in the summer is brutally hot and Paris in the winter is brutally cold, and I am too much of a pansy to wait outside in either extreme, so if I show up and it is too cold, I just head over to the park, or go for a long walk along the river.
Another cool touristy site is the Pont Alexandre III, which is a really famous bridge over the River Seine. It is absolutely beautiful architecture, and it makes for a beautiful picture spot, especially because you can see the Eiffel Tower from it. Sometimes there are a lot of people there, and sometimes it is completely empty, but if it is busy, it will be busy on the side facing the Eiffel Tower (go figure!) so just wait for people to take a picture and step out of the way. It generally does not take very long.
Everywhere you go, you will see vendors set up selling crepes, and do yourself a favor and get one. My personal favorite is nutella et banana – “et” means “and” – and it is the most incredible combination in history. You can get savory ones, and cheese and ham crepes are especially popular, too. I have no idea why crepes have not taken off in popularity in America, but someone should get on that. Really, who wants a pretzel from Aunt Annie’s, or whatever that place in the mall is called? If that was a crepe place, I would be all over it.
Anyway, you can not talk about Paris without talking about the Eiffel Tower. Yes, it is very cool to see. And yes, because it is so famously romantic, you can have a romantic moment. But, let us just get real for one second: the line to take the elevator up is INSANE. The walk up by stairs is not the easiest on the planet, but it is not terrible, and there is never a queue, like there always is for the elevator. I think going up will always cost $20 – so the stairs are not free – but if you are pressed for time, or if you just hate waiting around (like me) then go to the right of the long elevator line and just head up immediately.
If you like religious sites, the Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame are must-sees.
Sainte Chapelle is translated to “Holy Chapel” and it is considered the nicest royal chapel in France, and possibly in the world. It is less famous than Notre Dame, but go when it is sunny so you can really get the most out the beautiful stained glass windows in there. When the sun streams in, it brightens up such a dark, gothic place, and the effect is incredible.
The Notre Dame Cathedral goes back to the 12th century, and it is also gothic with beautiful stained glass, but it is usually filled with tourists. Go at night, and you can sometimes hear a choir and an organ being played, and the lighting is gorgeous. Or go during Mass on Sunday, and it will not feel touristy – you are not allowed to take pictures or talk, so you can just shush and enjoy.
The River Seine divides the left bank and right bank, which is the main way people think about Paris being split up. You can spend the entire day just walking up and down the Seine, and you will see so many sites, including a really lovely flower market. The water is murky and kind of gross, but you can pay about $20 and get a ticket for a water bus, and hop on and hop off all day. You really will not need any other kind of transportation.
At night, splurge a little bit and take a Batobus river cruise… the banks are so ridiculously gorgeous at night, and you will see the Eiffel Tower lit up and perfect, too.
Arc de Triomphe is cool to see – to me it looks like the one in New York City in Washington Square Park, but I know that one was a copycat of the Paris one. Napoleon had it built in 1806, and it is really pretty. Do not make the same mistake I did, though: the street you have to cross to get to the arc is incredibly busy and dangerous – DO NOT try to dodge traffic to get to it. Instead, look for what they call a subway, which is actually a walkway underneath the street, and you can safely pass under the road. Pretty nifty!
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