Let me start by saying that I never thought that I would like Paris as much as I did. To me the image of Paris has always been crowded streets overrun with tourists and long lines to see the endless buildings and museums. I also had an idea that it would be quite dirty as a result of all of this.
While some of this is true, a visit in the winter proved to be the perfect time to visit the city of lights. There were still lines to see the main attractions, but they weren't unbearably long. I imagine in the summer you could end up waiting for hours in line to see the different sights.
Our trip was short, way too short for Paris. We took the bullet train on Friday night and arrived at 11pm, then left Sunday at around 5pm to make it back home for work the next day. The TGV is nicknamed the bullet train because it only takes 3 1/2 hours to get from Stuttgart to Paris. If you drive it's roughly 6 hours. This train is impressively fast, it goes over 190mph for much of the ride.
Our seats on the train
Our Italian wine on the train ride. Thank you Europe and your amazing drinking laws.
So we had Saturday and Sunday to visit and see what we could. We also met with my brother-in-law as well, so a lot of our time Friday night was spent catching up over drinks. Since we arrived so late we didn’t head out until close to midnight. I was surprised that many of the bars we went to were closed or were closing. In fact, one bar we tried to go to let us in when they were closing and then kept hushing us so the tenants upstairs wouldn’t complain. Being told to whisper at a bar is up there on my list of the stranger things that have happened to me in my life.
Since we essentially couldn’t talk, at a bar, I asked the bartender (well, I was whispering) where we should head to next. He actually drew up a map with about 9 bars in the area that we should visit. What a nice guy! We followed his pub treasure map to the next place and ended up staying there for a few hours. It was a locals bar and thankfully because of this the price’s were fairly cheap.
The rest of the weekend we walked around quite a bit and visited Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t make it to half of the places I wanted to visit, so I guess another trip is in order. Even if you have no interest in museums or the beautiful architecture in the city, Paris is worth a trip solely for their food. French food is simply amazing. I’ve been tempted on more than a few occasions to drive to France for the day just so I can eat some good French food. Germany has good food, but you have to search it out and you quickly learn that it’s all the same, all the time. The French change things up and create some delicious dishes. It reminds me of the states, except without the GMO’s and pesticides that fill every dish.
The Sights We Visited (and didn’t visit)
Let me start with the things I didn’t see but wanted to visit. I really wanted to check out the catacombs and visit the Montmartre area and Sacre-Coeur. The catacombs are interesting because there are over 6 million Parisians buried under the city with bones scattered all over as evidence. In the 1700’s people were getting sick from the decaying bodies filling the land with nowhere to bury them above ground. So they were transported underground between the 18th and 19th centuries. I visited the catacombs in Vienna and was fascinated by the amount of bones stacked up in open rooms and on display.
Montmartre is the eccentric and interesting area of Paris that my friend said I have to check out. Here artists are trying to make a living, there is the Moulin Rouge, and even sex shops are in this area in northern Paris. My friend told me that Sacre-Coeur has great views of the city and this is the main reason I wanted to go, with the second being to walk the streets of Montmarte and see some of the crazier shops and most likely people as well. In case you're looking at places to stay, many bloggers recommend staying elsewhere because it's not the safest area after the sun goes down. The sacre-coeur is a beautiful basilica that's young and provides great views from above as well.
Well, none of those things happened (hence why I need to go back again). Honestly, we didn’t do much at all in terms of sights because of poor planning. I went to the top of Notre Dame for the views of the city below. It was worth the short stair hike. Even on an overcast day, seeing the city from higher heights really puts it into perspective. I walked through the Latin Quarter and the St. Germain area. I visited the Eiffel Tower. I saw the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe but didn’t get any photos. All the more reason why a trip back to the city is in order.
We also walked along the Seine River to the Eiffel tower on Saturday. When we arrived low clouds were rolling through which made for some great evening shots of the Eiffel Tower. I know it’s hard to re-invent the image, but I like how mine turned out. If only I brought my tripod (this seems to be a common occurrence…maybe I need to purchase a more portable tripod).
Surprising Finds In Paris
I never realized that nearly every street in Paris has patisseries, butcher shops, wine stores, and more. Many of the shops leave their doors open so you can smell the sweet and buttery treats being concocted inside. I was also surprised that many of these places had lines out the door. I stopped into one and purchased some sort of cake/mousse made of chocolate. Since my French is limited to what I remember from high school French class, ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Merci Beaucoup’ are basically all I remember. So I just pointed and said ‘Oui!’ and the lady put my dessert in a cute to go box. That was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time! German desserts are good, but they’re quite different from America’s sweet treats. In Germany desserts don’t have as much flavor or as much sugar, so I always feel like I’m missing something when I try one of their treats (with the exception go apple strudel).
Since I was there for such a short time, I don’t have anywhere near a complete list of things to see or places I recommend. However, there are a few things I learned while there.
Visit Paris When It’s Cold
There were still lines at places. We tried to go to the catacombs the first day but we arrived at 3 and they were closing at 4pm. This wouldn’t be a big deal except the line was around the corner and there was no way we would make it inside within an hour. I can’t imagine what the line is in the summer. The same goes for other places. There was no line to go up the Eiffel Tower, but I’m guessing the story is much different in the summer. Also, it only took about 10 minutes in line to take the stairs to the top of Notre Dame. Paris is still beautiful in winter, the only caveat is that it might be a bit miserable if it rains or snows the entire time you’re there!
Try A New Dish
France has such good food that I felt like I was eating the entire weekend. So while you’re in France try the escargot, foie gras, or tartare. You may be pleasantly surprised.
I have to admit that we did go to Hard Rock Cafe because Germany is not famous for good burgers, or nachos, or potato skins and it’s nice to have a taste of America every now and then. Don’t judge.
Avoid the Tourist Areas When Dining
This seems obvious, but the price differences are pretty extreme. We stopped into a cafe near Notre Dame. Big mistake! For two beers and two coffees, it was 38 Euro which is roughly $50. Ouch! But further away near where we were staying in the 6th arr. the prices were great and people were much friendlier. The food was also excellent. I had french onion soup for 6 Euro, my husband had tartare for about 10 Euro, and we also had sandwiches and homemade fries for less than 10 Euro each.
Below is a map of where we stayed. We rented a place through airbnb.com that was a beautiful apartment and in a great location. I highly recommend it to everyone going to Paris.