So I went on a family vacation to Paris and Rome (with a day in Venice). Each city was new to me, but I had some really (really) high expectations. Doesn’t everyone have high expectations about the City of Light and the Eternal City?
Well I had a good time and took some decent photos. It definitely looks like I had a great time in the photos, just like how I only ever saw my friends’ smiling faces in their vacation photos or those of strangers on instagram. But nice vacation photos don’t reveal the blisters on your feet from walking miles and miles on cobblestone. The heat exhaustion. The struggle finding a public restroom. The constant fear of being the tourist who gets robbed in the streets.
This post will be my honest reflections on my time in Paris. Another post on Rome will follow.
Friday June 8
8.5 miles | 20,975 steps
It was so foggy when we arrived I was thoroughly impressed the pilot could land the plane at all. I could barely see 20 feet in front of me. Definitely could not see the Eiffel Tower anywhere, a monument which, for some naïve reason, I thought would greet me the minute I arrived in Paris.
I was off the plane at 8 am. Stuck in customs and baggage claim until 11 am.
The first thing we did after leaving our luggage at the hotel was randomly walk the streets and look for lunch. We stopped by a boulangerie and picked up sandwiches. Baguette sandwiches! I was so excited to try my first baguette made in France.
It was hard. So hard to chew that my jaws ached, and I could barely tear the bread with my hands. Surely not all baguettes will be like this, I thought. This was just some bad luck and inexperience on my part.
Afterwards, we went to visit the Centre Pompidou, which is home to a wonderful modern art museum. If you go up the unique set of escalators, you get a nice view of the city with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. 10/10 would visit again if I return to Paris. There are a lot of temporary exhibits with works from all types of artists. From Picasso to up-and-coming artists. Photography, sculptures, paintings. There was a chair and a life-sized photograph of the same chair next to it. It was glorious.
Afterwards, we walked to the Seine and strolled down the river until sunset. Saw the Notre-Dame Cathedral from the outside. By this point, I was so jet-lagged. I had basically been awake for 36 hours.
Saturday June 9
12.2 miles | 29,557 steps
Visited Notre-Dame in the morning. There was a long line of tourists so early in the morning! (well, if you count 9 am as early). The inside of the cathedral was beautiful, as expected. So many stained-glass windows. So many statues. So much history. I wished I knew the stories better. But even then, I loved the spiritualness of the place.
Next, we went to the Louvre. Again, there was a long line of tourists. The line feels even longer if you really need to use the restroom. Anyways, I always knew the Louvre was huge – I mean, it’s the world’s largest art museum – But I didn’t realize I physically would not be able to walk through the entire museum before collapsing. Unfortunately, I missed all the artwork on the top floor of the museum, but I did see everything on every other floor. The antique statues were my favorites (I’m a huge fan of Greco-Roman history 😅). Took the obligatory photos of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Actually, I could only get photos of other people taking photos thanks to the crowds.
For lunch I had yet another sandwich, but with a pretzel bun this time. I was still too traumatized by baguettes.
Basically left the Louvre at closing time around 6pm. We then walked around the outside courtyard to the little “Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel” which I totally thought was the famous Arc de Triomphe (my bad). There were people selling crêpes on the street for 5 euros. The guy handled coins and folded crêpes in the same hand. Hmmm.
Then we walked along the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Probably a bad idea at that point because it felt like the longest walk of my life. There were nice shops along the avenue, but I had no energy after the Louvre. I also passed a long line of people just waiting to get into the Louis Vuitton store???
We finally reached the Arc de Triomphe (the famous one this time). It was certainly grand. Something to check off the list, but not much besides that. There’s already a billion photos of this monument. I couldn’t find a new angle worth sharing.
Sunday June 10
8.7 miles | 20,731 steps
Versailles. We took the train to see the Palace of Versailles. We waited 1.5 hours in line under the hot sun just to enter. When you really think about it, you are literally just paying to visit someone’s house (granted, the beautiful house of monarchs). It was so crowded inside that I had to lean out the 2nd floor window to just BREATH. No air conditioning + summer + a million people = really bad time. If I ever come here again, it will be in the winter.
For lunch, we ate in one of the cafes in the palace (I think “Angelina Paris”). Yet another baguette sandwich. This one was even worse than the one I had on the first day. I could throw the bread at someone and it would kill them. That’s how hard the bread was. I never tried another baguette after that, so my current impression of French baguettes is really dismal.
Upon leaving the building, we found out that the garden, which is usually free, charged admission that day because some “fountain show” was happening. Well, we didn’t want to stick around for a fountain show, so we had to trek the long way around the garden to see the Grand Trianon palace on the other end of the estate. We took a wrong turn somewhere and went the reallllly long way. I actually enjoyed the detour because we saw some beautiful pastures with goats and sheep. And I love sheep.
It started raining before we made it to the Grand Trianon, so we had to turn back and return to Paris 😢.
Back in Paris, we made a quick stop at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. All I remember is a lot of stairs. Then it rained so hard my shoes were wet for the next eight days (even AFTER I spent 2 hours blow-drying them in the hotel room).
Monday June 11
9.9 miles | 23,453 steps
The problem with booking flights in advance is that you never know what weather you are going to get. It was foggy and rainy my entire 4 days in Paris, and the day I visited the Eiffel Tower was no different. The visibility from the top of the Eiffel Tower was extremely limited. The view of the Eiffel Tower from the ground was also dreary. Everything looks desaturated in the fog. The two photos below are some of the only good shots I got from atop the Eiffel Tower. It was an exciting experience, but not as magical as I wanted it to be.
Afterwards, I finished off my last day in Paris by running around…in the rain, looking at the famous Palais Garnier…in the rain, and buying macarons…in the rain.
Overall Thoughts on Paris
- Public transportation is pretty nice. A bunch of subway lines going in all directions throughout the city.
- Everyone we encountered could speak English. Many touristy places had both French and English signs.
- Literally bought a bag of cheap croissants from a tiny grocery store, and they were the best croissants I’ve ever had.
- Lots of sketchy people in the streets. Hanging out, smoking, homeless.
- Not enough air conditioning. Many restaurants don’t have ice water…or cold drinks in general. Even their refrigerated drinks weren’t cold enough??
- Super polite security officers. In a museum, when we went through the security check, the officer asked “Is it alright for me to check the inside of your purse?” In America, I’m used to someone yanking my bags open, poking the contents around, shoving the bag back at me, and apathetically yelling “NEXT.”
As a side note, I stayed at the Best Western Hotel Faubourg Saint-Martin, and the breakfast there was beautiful. Breakfast area was the cutest little nook in the basement with a shelf of various jams & jellies, trays of croissants, different breads, and a selection of cheeses, fruit, and cured meat. They had real tea kettles to make tea. They even had an egg boiler machine where you choose your own egg from a basket and dip it into the boiling water!