I’m back to blogging for good reason reason – to document our most recent trip to the land of croissants, champagne and words that I cannot pronounce: France.
In early 2015, I was rerouted home from a business trip to Barcelona via the Charles de Gaulle Airport. As we flew into Paris, I couldn’t stop gawking over the spacious countryside dotted with stone houses. I didn’t make it outside of the airport on that trip, but dreamed of getting out and onto those tiny, winding roads.
Flash forward to November of 2016 when an American Airlines fare sale sent flight prices to Europe into the triple digits. Read: under $400 round trip. Late that evening, P pulled up Google maps, I pulled up Google flights and we pulled the trigger on turning an expensive Euro dream into an affordable reality.
As this flight price fluke starts to look more like a trend here to stay, a few friends and family members have reached out for our French do’s and don’ts.
First on the list: do go to France.
From the moment we stepped out of the metro station, I was smitten with Paris. The rooftops, the church bells, the cafes. If you told me I was forced to sit outside of that metro station for the next ten days and not move, I would have done so and been perfectly content.
Alas, we didn’t sit still outside of a metro station for ten days. We moved. A lot. By foot (racking up an average of 10 miles a day), by train (thanks TGV) and even by car (check driving around the Arc de Triomphe off the bucket list).
- Day one: arrive in the A.M. and stay in a hotel for night one
- Day two: take the TGV to Reims (champagne country) to visit family
- Days three – five: champagne and churches
- Days five – ten: Paris + a day trip to Normandy (Bayeux and Honfleur)
I’m focusing this post on the bulk of our trip, Paris. Stay tuned for details of our other adventures.
Where we stayed:
A friend who lives in Paris recommended we aim for one of the first five arrondissements. Think of Paris’s neighborhoods like a snail, they start in the middle and the numbers get bigger as the wind their way out. One through five are going to put you closest to the action, though I read great things about others and we certainly made our way around while exploring.
We opted for a hotel on our first night as we knew checking in early might be tricky with an Airbnb. I read good things about city lockers, but we opted not to deal with it. We landed on a boutique hotel in Saint Germain and LOVED it. While the rooms were small, I couldn’t recommend this place enough. I also had my heart set on at least one room with a cute Parisian balcony and this place fit the bill.
Options in Reims were limited and if I were to do it again, I might even choose to stay in Epernay (town on the other side of La Route du Champagne). We opted for the Hotel Mecure. It was inexpensive, comfortable and we literally only slept there.
Back in Paris, we rented an Airbnb in Le Marais. I asked our friend Christian, resident Parisian, to help with this decision as we wanted to find a place close to a metro, in a lively neighborhood, but on a quiet street that would put us closer to locals. This place fit all three and owner Florian was incredibly helpful throughout the booking process.
Where we ate:
Disclosure: we are not foodies. That might be a crime when heading to Paris, but we’re just not into fancy or expensive when it comes to what we eat. While Paris prices were certainly steeper than we were used to, we were still able to find delicious food for affordable prices. We averaged €5-10 for breakfasts, €15-30 for lunches and €40-60 for dinners. Paris isn’t cheap folks.
A few of our favorites:
The most delicious sorbet. There are a few locations that sell their product, but the original is on Rue Saint-Louis en I’lle. There will be a line for take away, it moves fast. You can choose to get a table indoors instead.
Tiny little Italian on the northern side of Le Marais. The streets were quiet, the pizzas and salads delicious.
A tourist destination. There are several Falafel places on this street, but this one is the most famous. They mention Lenny Kravitz on their sign for goodness sake, but they earned the remarks in my book. We avoided the line here and snagged a table inside. The fries. SO. GOOD.
I stumbled upon this sandwich shop on Yelp and we stopped in on our way up to Montmarte. I can’t remember the last time I had a chicken sandwich this delicious. My only regret is not spending more time in this neighborhood, on this street in particular. It was filled with what looked like plenty of delicious South American and Japanese restaurants.
A Spanish tapas restaurant that came highly recommended from a friend. P remarked that this was the dining experience he expected to have in Europe. Loud, lively, fun. The tapas and sangria did not disappoint, the free shots that came along with closing out our bill were a welcome surprise. Side note: free shots happened more than once on this trip. Once after lunch. We declined. Maybe this is a thing in France? Maybe we looked like stressed Americans? Someone chime in.
Every bakery, creperie, chocolate shop
I read and saved about 10,000 bakeries in Paris. We went to none of them. I simply couldn’t resist just walking in to nearly every single one we passed on our way to get to something on my list. They’re on every street. They’re all delicious. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
What we did:
First up: a lot of wandering. Second: a lot of stops at bakeries (see comment above). Here were some of the other highlights of activities we paid for.
Worth it. Splurge for the online ticket. The site is in French, but Google Translate, duh. The ticket will save you three hours of waiting and comes with an audio tour. We purchased tickets one day in advance and looked up a print and copy shop in our neighborhood to print them. I geeked out over this place far more than I probably should have and the history to go along with it is just fascinating.
Just like we aren’t food people, we aren’t art people, but when you’re in Paris, the Louvre feels like a must. Thanks to Airbnb’s new experiences, we were able to check it out, learn a little and have an amazing time.
If you’re going to Paris, make booking Cedric’s tour the first thing you do. He’s a classically trained art guy (I’m sure there’s a technical term for that) who is also a standup comedian. Hands down best tour we did in Paris.
While the tour is free, they suggest you tip. And of course you should! We took the Notre Dame tour and really enjoyed it. Understanding the symbolism of the architecture and the neighborhood was a joy and Eric was a great guide. They do tours all over the city and are a great introduction to the neighborhoods.
Bonus if you’re interested in going inside of Notre Dame: the line looks long. It’s not long. Even if it’s to the end of the square, you’re in the church in about ten minutes. We waited about three.
This barely belongs in a paid category. We spent a whopping €5 on this. There are Vielb bike stations all over the city, we just happened to pick one along the Seine to stay away from street traffic a rush hour. We biked until we stumbled upon the Seine pop-up bars where we checked in our bikes for happy hour. Best afternoon of the entire trip.
We came here on more than one occasion. If it wasn’t freezing most of our trip (by southern standards) I would have loved to linger longer. I was especially enamored by the tiny house that the ducks live inside of on the pond. All ducks should have their own houses. Way to go, France.
Pere Lechasie Cemetery
You’ll know this one as where Jim Morrison is buried. Do check that out, but then check out some more. The mausoleums are stunning and the trees throughout are breathtaking. They carry maps at the gate if you’re interested in finding more famous people inside.
Sacre Coeur Basilica
This gets pretty touristy, but luckily it wasn’t too packed on the day we visited. Plus the views of the city are pretty incredible.
A few other spots we didn’t make it to but were on our list:
– Galeries Lafayette: rooftop bar hidden with the mall.
– Minzon: I’m still upset we weren’t able to try the famous cauliflower.
– Sewer Tour: this sounds strange, but we heard it’s really fun. Closed Thursday and Friday.
– Saint Chapelle: I was over lines and tourists. So many lines.
– Merci: described to me as Anthropologie in France. Probably a good thing we didn’t make it.
Next up: more on this adventure, including champagne and World War II history. Stay tuned.