Paris Walking Tour
The regret of having to leave London so soon was abated by the excitement of catching a flight to Paris for the first time! Ideally we could have taken the Eurostar fast train to Paris, but timing worked out such that it was better to take a direct British Airways flight out of Heathrow.
My first impression of Paris was the city train that would transport us from Charles De Gaulle airport to Paris proper. I'm not going to lie at this point I thought I'd made a terrible mistake coming here. The train was covered in graffiti, the windows and chairs broken and dirty, and while the graffiti in Rome may be an amazing relic of Roman history, I'm pretty sure the artists of this train were still riding it. Gratefully, we connected at Gare du Nord, and found the remainder of the city's public transit to be perfectly adequate if not still totally overwhelming. Paris has a total of 16 different lines and over 300 stations.
My second and favorite impression was walking out of Bastille station into the pouring rain and busy night life. We navigated the short distance to a large blue door which opened into a courtyard. We climbed the worn and winding hardwood staircase which in contrast to the courtyard had no decor, and found the door to our perfect little Airbnb apartment. Okay in full disclosure we found the door to our neighbors first and probably totally freaked them out trying to force the very old fashioned key into the very old fashioned and robust keyhole. I believe in the correct door we had to turn the key a full four times to unlock our Parisian hideaway.
Our gracious host had left champagne, fresh French bread, butter, strawberry jam, marmalade, and orange juice waiting for us and it was and is still one of most heavenly things I have ever tasted. The apartment could not have been more than 500sqft, but fit a large walk-in shower in the tiny bathroom, a full kitchen, a queen bed, tv and small table and breakfast bar. In other words, everything I could possibly need. It was late and we were exhausted, so unlike Audrey in Funny Face we really did go to bed to rest up for our first real day in Paris.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to catch a train to Versailles. However, we barely made it to the train station when Dan stopped in the middle of the street and noticed that his wallet was missing! No, it didn't get stolen. Well, not that we know of. I had accidentally ordered him a Euro wallet for his birthday, and since we were going to Europe he was happy to break it in on this trip. However it was small and thin compared to the weight of his usual wallet, so it slipped out of his pocket and he didn't notice.
We actually remember a family at the crosswalk across from us bending over to pick something up, but they had kids that they were distracted by and we were so panicked that maybe it was stolen. We think maybe the family picked it up after all. In any case, we looked everywhere and could not find it and we are 100% sure that he wasn't pick pocketed. There had been no one around when we left the apartment. Thankfully we only had a little cash for the day and one credit card in it, so we just needed to go home and regroup. We cancelled the card and decided to nap it off and just spend some extra time in Paris. Not bad for a plan B!
After we had fully recovered from the case of the missing wallet, comforted by a fresh baguette and the creamiest butter I ever tasted, Dan and I set out to see Paris with fresh eyes.
From Bastille, it is an easy walk to the Notre Dame. The cathedral is absolutely breathtaking, and the hordes of tourist standing outside taking photos have no effect on its beauty.
We took our own photos outside, but decided to skip the line to go inside. We were told the line was about an hour long, and totally worth it to see the incredible stained glass windows and climb up to the top to see an expansive view of Paris. However, I had my heart set on visiting the impressionist exhibit at the Musee D'Orsay, especially the Monet pieces, so we decided to continue our walking tour.
If you walk behind the Norte Dame towards Pont de l'Archeveche, you will find one of many love lock bridges around the city. Here lovers write their initials on a lock, close the lock around a ring of the bridge, and throw the key into the Seine river to signify eternal love.
Across the bridge, we began the long walk along the Seine towards the Musee D'Orsay, passing the famous Second Bank Booksellers, and waiving to the Louvre from across the river.
The rain started as we got in line to enter the museum. I was so surprised by the sudden shower, that when someone approached me offering an umbrella, I gratefully reached out to accept, not realizing he wanted five euros for it. Silly me, but I have to give these guys credit for capitalizing on oblivious tourists.
I purchased our tickets online which provided entry into both the Musee D'Orsay and the Musee de l'Orangerie. This got us inside the beautifully refurbished train station turned museum much quicker. On the first two floors, is a comprehensive exhibit of famous sculptures, including Auguste Rodin's interpretation of the Gates of Hell from Dante's Inferno. Creepy, but awesome!
I am always so amazed by the work that sculptors are capable of. One of my favorite scenes in Pride and Prejudice (2005) is when Liz visits Pemberley and tours the house museum, because duh, don't you have a museum in your house? Actually I do, and it features the lost treasures of a Goodwill scavenger and HGTV addict, aka Mom. However, you will not find the Veiled Vestal Virgin (Raffaelle Monti, 1846) in my house. I mean how do you make stone appear to be transparent?! Seriously, I want to know...
The D'Orsay is also known for its extensive Impressionist era collection including the works of Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, and my all time favorite and founder of the French movement Claude Monet. A few of these paintings are on the first few floors, but the best exhibit is all the way at the top.
Here on the 7th floor, we passed through the chic cafe that features the original train bells, and massive clock which looks out over the Louvre, the ferris wheel and the stunning Sacre-Coeur sitting on the hills on Montemarte. There was a long wait for the cafe and we spent so much time with the sculptures, that it was near closing time anyway.
Past the cafe, we entered an open concept flow of rooms dedicated to these impressionist masterpieces. It is so hard to pick a favorite, but I believe I would have to pick "Woman with a parasol." Like many of his paintings, this one just transports me to a simpler time of just relaxing in beautiful place, letting the sun and coastal breeze wash over me, forgetting the harsh realities of life. Of course, all of his works including "The Artist's Garden at Giverny," "The Water Lilies" at Musee de L'Orangerie, and other works throughout France display his genius use of color to illustrate the light on his subjects at various hours.
I could have stayed all day, but the museum closed and it was time to see the most iconic part of Paris - Tour de Eiffel! We passed the National Assemblee, the Esplanades de Invalides, and the Musee de l'Armee, catching our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower just outside.
Nearby we stopped at a market for some champagne, a fresh baguette, and then picked up a take-away pizza at restaurant across the street. We made the final trek to the Champ de Mars, the long park in front of tower which is perfect for picnics and people watching.
The Eiffel Tower is definitely amazing. We did not go up to the top this time, but if you choose to, be sure to buy tickets online to save you so much time! Instead, we loved just relaxing over a bottle of champagne in the park watching the other tourists. Feeling full, sleepy, and happy with our first day in Paris, we walked back towards the river to catch the Metro back to Bastille, passing the dinner boats ready to set sail on Seine. We had a night cap in a cafe in Les Marais, then made our way back to our cozy home falling asleep to the sounds of Paris night life.