Straight off the bus from Brussels, we arrived in the City of Love – hot, flustered and standing in the middle of a grimy, run-down bus depo. At this point in time, Paris could not have gotten any further from its romantic, quaint reputation. Hurriedly, we headed to the metro with hopes that Paris could only get better from here. Thankfully, we would not be disappointed.
Setting foot in our wee apartment in Montmartre, a sense of relief rushed over us. This didn’t look so bad – in fact, it was rather lovely! Outside our apartment block, a flight of stairs led us to the famous Sacré-Cœur Basilica (The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris) and a short walk down the road delivered us to an aromatic pâtisserie (bakery). The latter alone was enough to keep Daniel content for the duration of our stay!
We had allowed ourselves four full days in Paris. But, the question was, where to begin?
A logical starting point was the Basilica. On entering the grand church, our senses were greeted with the sound of angelic music and the overhead sight of a larger-than-life Jesus, his presence made all the more powerful by his backdrop of bold blues and gold. The Holy place really was a magnificent sight. We proceeded to enjoy the view outside the church which overlooked the city we were yet to discover. I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of the vintage orange car that had parked up in front of the selfie photographers!
That evening, we found ourselves at The Louvre – arguably Paris’ most iconic site. We’d learnt that each Friday evening from 6pm, the Louvre Museum allows free entry for those under 26 – we weren’t going to turn our noses up at that! Hence, our evening was spent in the beautiful, old palace’s rooms, hunting down what we deemed to be the most famous and interesting works of art. The Mona Lisa was just the beginning. We left three hours later having barely scratched the surface, yet feeling satisfied with our art-fix.
Over the next few days, we roamed the streets of Paris in search of some of its other most well-known sites including the Arc de Triomphe, the Panthéon, the Notre Dame de Paris, the Champs-Élysées, the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Père Lachaise Cemetery and, let’s not forget, the Eiffel Tower. If this wasn’t enough, we also took a train out of the city to visit the Palace of Versailles. We had a busy few days, to say the least!
The Arc de Triomphe was spectacular in all of its Neoclassic glory. We stood under its arch and soaked up the minute details of such a grand piece of architecture, reflecting on the lost lives of those soldiers who fought for France during the Revolution, the Napoleonic wars and, later, World War I. We chose not to pay the €8pp to go to the top of the Arc; but, we have to save some activities for next time, right?!
Other attractions that really topped our list were the Eiffel Tower and the Jardin du Luxembourg. We opted for the classic backpacker’s experience of the Eiffel Tower. We packed a picnic into our day bag and, at midday, enjoyed a spread of fresh cherry tomatoes, fromage (cheese), a crusty baguette and a small bottle of wine in front of the sun-bathed tower. I think it was even easier to appreciate the structure with such beautiful flavours on our palettes. Maybe the wine helped too…
The Jardin du Luxembourg (or, Luxembourg Gardens) were equally as kind to us. Once again, sunshine prevailed and both tourists and Parisians alike were out in full force, enjoying the stunning, central-city retreat. Despite there being plenty of people in the park, we did not struggle to find our own space to sit down and read. Yes, read! We’ve discovered that we love to go somewhere simply to read. I guess I’m still an English major through and through!
An attraction that we would be wary to recommend is the Palace of Versailles. Situated in the town of Versailles (a fifteen-minute train ride from central Paris), the palace is undoubtedly stunning, yet overwhelmingly crowded. Of course, we were there in peak tourist season (summer time). After waiting in a queue for an hour to get into the palace, we were shuffled through its rooms like sardines. It was like nothing we had experienced!
As one would expect, the rooms were incredible, coated in all kinds of luxurious materials like marble, velvet and the intricate brushwork of a number of court painters. At one point during our palace tour, Daniel commented that the palace was “…very cluttered.” As hilarious as his observation was, I did understand what he was getting at. No single part of the finished rooms was left bare. Instead, each room worked into a scene of sensory overload, of absolute excess!
Our suggestion would be to only visit the palace if you are particularly interested in its history and have a strong desire to see it in the flesh. Or, visit during the off-season! We have also since learned that the palace gardens are a great attraction in themselves, yet without the queues and sardines of the palace – maybe opt to see these instead!
Overall, despite nearly drowning in a sea of people at King Louis XVI’s abode, Daniel and I adored Paris. Its architecture was unreal, the fromage and baguettes were a dream and its atmosphere was magical. Who would’ve thought that two people whose first impression of Paris was so underwhelming would go on to consider Paris as one of their favourite stops so far? Then again, can anyone resist falling for the City of Love?