Two Americans in Paris

When we were making plans for our Big Adventure, Paris initially wasn’t even on our list of places to see in France because we felt we would be sucked into a complete tourist experience, and we believed it was also too expensive to stay for an extended period of time. However, we eventually figured that since we would be flying into Paris we might as well visit for a few days before heading off to explore other areas.

We realize now we did not schedule anywhere near enough time in Paris, and we of course ended up doing the whole tourist thing, visiting various “must-see” places around the city. It didn’t help that we lost almost two days of our time here thanks to the long (miserable) flight from Uruguay and jet lag. Although we arrived last Friday, we weren’t ready to get out and see anything until Sunday, when we scheduled what we thought would be two short walking tours of Notre-Dame and the Latin Quarter and the Marais neighborhood.

We were filled with dread at the thought of having to get our suitcases down eight flights of these stairs but finally discovered the (hidden) elevator.

When we set out on Sunday we thought we had plenty of time to get to the tour meeting spot via the Metro. We have a Metro station just down the street but once there we had to go down eight long flights of stairs to get to the tracks, and I can’t do going down stairs quickly (we have since discovered the elevator). I told Brett I felt like I was descending into the 7th circle of Hell, and that the stairs would never end. Our train arrived shortly after we finally arrived at the track, but two stops later we ran into a problem: the station where we were to transfer was closed for repairs! So, we had to sit with our map for a while and recalculate a new route to get us to the Notre-Dame Cathedral (Cité Station). We eventually got to Cité, but saw no signs in the station directing us to Notre-Dame and we ended up coming out of the wrong exit, heading away from Notre-Dame versus toward it. By the time we got oriented and over to the cathedral we had missed our tour, but fortune stepped in for us: another tour was forming up and the guide warmly welcomed us to her group.

Notre-Dame Cathedral. This past Sunday was something called “Patriarchy Day” where all churches, schools, museums, etc. in Paris were open for free to everyone. The crowds and lines to visit anywhere were massive and long.

The temperature had been fairly moderate when we left our apartment, but by the time we got to Notre-Dame it had climbed to near 80° and we were overdressed, hot, and parched. The guide gave Brett time to run over and get a couple of bottles of water, and then off we went with the tour. We enjoy walking tours and learn a lot, but like the one in Buenos Aires, this tour also ended up being longer than advertised, and by the time we finished we knew there was no way we would survive the Marais tour later in the day. We had already walked over 11,000 steps and neither of us was interested in going through another 17,000+ step day in the heat. So, we said thank you and good-bye, and five transfers later on the Metro we were back in Montmartre (and of course we got to climb back up those eight flights of stairs in our station before arriving back at the apartment). After drinking a LOT of water, and of course some wine, we went out for dinner at an affordable Japanese restaurant down the road. It was still warm enough to sit out on the street and we enjoyed a very good meal!

A glimpse of the Seine River cooled things down a bit on Sunday.

Monday’s temperature was predicted to be 85º so we pulled some of our summer clothes back out of the suitcase, but decided to wait until later in the afternoon to set out, which turned out to be a very good choice. We did a little food shop in the morning, and stopped at a nearby boulangerie for a chicken sandwich to carry along with us for a late lunch/early dinner.

A recent and provocative work by acclaimed street artist Banksy, in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank

Our first stop of the day yesterday was the Arc de Triomphe. Paris, we were discovering, is one of those places that photos just cannot do justice. We were absolutely wowed by the Arc and stayed for a while to check it out. Afterwards we decided to stroll down the Champs Elysees. The street was wide and there was a nice breeze, but we sort of felt for a while like we were walking through the Ala Moana mall in Honolulu – the shops ran the gamut from Tiffany’s to Foot Locker with a McDonald’s thrown in for good measure.

The Grand Pyramid in the inner courtyard (“carrousel”) of the Louvre museum. Again, there were hoards of people visiting so we skipped going in.

We stopped at a park and ate our chicken sandwich while we rested for a bit, then climbed back on the Metro again at Franklin D. Roosevelt Station and rode over to check out the courtyard at the Louvre (there was no way we were going to deal with the hordes inside the museum). The temperature was starting to drop a bit so we spent an enjoyable time there, although we did stop at a Starbucks in the mall we had to pass through to get from the station to the courtyard – I got some iced tea and Brett ordered hot chocolate. I had promised myself that we were not going to go to a Starbucks while we were in Europe, but a hot day in Paris apparently had other ideas.

And then it was on to our last stop, the Eiffel Tower. We arrived at around 6:00, found a nice place in the park to sit and stretch our legs, and stayed until around 8:30, long enough to watch the sun set and the lights come on. What can I say other than c’était manifique! We did not stay for the full light show though – we had walked over 13,000 steps and nearly six miles at that point, and we were ready to get to our apartment and to bed.

A little cul-de-sac of attached houses in Montmartre – we would have never have thought to turn down this street on our own.

This morning we woke up bright and early to meet up with a private guide for a tour of the Montmartre area. We set up this tour through a wonderful organization called Paris Greeters. The tour was completely free although we did make a donation of 20€ to the organization. Our guide, Jean-Claude, would accept nothing from us except for a glass of juice when we stopped to rest midway through the tour.

Hotel Particulier, a (genuinely) hidden gem in Montmartre, offers luxury, privacy, and a spectacular view of the city off to the right. The hotel has just five suites, with prices starting at $477US per night. There’s also an acclaimed restaurant and bar on site.

We knew Montmartre was full of hills, but until we walked the area we had no idea how many hills there actually were! There are also miles of old cobblestone roads, fascinating architecture, breathtaking views around almost every corner, art everywhere, and loads and loads of history. Besides the more famous sights in the area, such as the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur or the only vineyard left in Paris, Jean-Claude also showed us places we never would have found on our own, including a cul-de-sac of attached houses from around the time of WWI, and a very private (and expensive) small hotel with a drop-dead view of the city (instead of being upset when we showed up at the hotel, the staff was very generous and invited us in for a drink!). Although he lives in a suburb outside of Paris, Jean-Claude also seemed to know plenty of people in Montmartre, including a famous artist we met on the street (we had no idea who he was however). Below is a slideshow of a few of the things we saw this morning:

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After three days with lots of walking, Brett and I decided to take this afternoon off to rest and re-pack our suitcases in preparation for Thursday morning’s early departure for Normandy. Plus, while it’s a little cooler than yesterday it’s also more humid, and it rained for a short while this afternoon. Tomorrow we may go visit the Pompidou Center or we might go look at the churches of Saint-Sulpice and/or Sainte-Chapelle – we haven’t made up our minds yet.

The final stop on this morning’s tour was the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur. It was awe-inspiring and we would have loved to go in, but it was also swarming with tourists and touts so we instead admired it from the outside and took in the views of the city from the top of this hill.

We know we’ve barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and experience in Paris. Neither of us can say we’ve fallen in love with the city; in fact, we both agree that we barely know it and want and need more time than we gave ourselves. We’ve had an absolutely wonderful time though, and know we’ll be back.

17 thoughts on “Two Americans in Paris

    • Laura says:

      Maybe more than that!

      It’s been slightly overwhelming for me but in a beautiful sort of way. I wish we had given ourselves more time to just “be here” instead of trying or having to cram in so much in a few days.

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  1. Jen says:

    Saint Chapelle! The windows are incredible!
    Yes, Paris has lots of tourist sights, but that’s because they are beautiful spots. I think it’s the parks I love most in Paris, although the Musée d’Orsay and the Orangerie are amazone muséums.

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    • Laura says:

      You’re right – there are so many beautiful sights, and although I’ve seen them all in pictures those have been nothing compared to seeing those places in with your own eyes (sort of like seeing the Grand Canyon, or the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.).

      We’ve enjoyed the parks as well. We have a little one right outside our apartment building’s front door. When we’re in the apartment, we love opening the windows to enjoy the sound of the fountain, and watch the people come and go and enjoy the park.

      We had hoped to see the Musee d’Orsay and Orangerie, but we are just going to have to come back.

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  2. Laurel Hill says:

    Love the pic of you two at the Arc. All of your pictures are great. I agree with the poster above about St. Chapelle…the windows are worth seeing for sure!

    And FWIW, we spent nearly 10 days in Paris and I still didn’t see everything I wanted to. On our last full day, I came down with a cold and didn’t have the energy to see the Marias district. I will have to go back, right? 🙂

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    • Laura says:

      I don’t know if we’re going to make it St. Chapelle or not tomorrow – both of us are feeling more tired this evening than we realized earlier in the day. That long flight plus jet lag plus pushing ourselves the last three days in the heat has apparently caught up with us. We both said tonight we wish we were about 15-20 years younger, with the energy we had back then, and about five more days here.

      The family to the left in the picture at the Arc were taking picture after picture of themselves there, trading off who was using the camera. We asked if they would take our picture, and offered to take their picture together and they could not. be. bothered. But then a cute Japanese couple stepped up and offered to take our picture and we reciprocated.

      We will leave Paris the day after tomorrow with a strong desire to come back and that’s a good thing!

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  3. Natalie says:

    Glad you had a wonderful time in Paris and want to be back. I just left Paris about two weeks before you arrived. Hope you have fair weather to enjoy Normandy.

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    • Laura says:

      Where did you stay when you were here? We have thoroughly loved being in Montmartre, but would love to hear about the other places people have stayed and enjoyed.

      We have enjoyed ourselves here, but there is still so much we want to see and didn’t have time for. I am so happy with the experience we have had here. We’re looking forward to see some of Normandy although it’s supposed to rain for two of the days we’re there (we will save the museums for those days, and visit the landing beaches, cemetery and other memorials on the dry days).

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  4. Tamara R / My Retirement Project says:

    It sounds like you may have bumped into a bit of traveler’s fatigue, which is super common (I get it as well), the result of a prolonged period of stimulation. For me, it hits right around the two to three week mark of extended travel, and the anecdote seems to be an immediate slow down of activities until it passes – generally within two to three days. So your response to slowing down for a bit, even while in Paris, is probably about perfect. And, actually, sitting at a cafe sipping something while people watching in Paris is one of the best things to do there anyway!

    And just so you know, we visited Normandy in a pouring rain, and it didn’t affect our visit one iota. If anything, seeing it under rainy skies can make the experience even more memorable. So, enjoy, no matter what nature tosses at you during your visit!

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    • Tamara R / My Retirement Project says:

      Oh, and as to your question to the comment above mine, we really like the area around the Sorbonne on the Left Bank. It’s well positioned for visiting Paris’ many sites, while still feeling relatively quiet and neighborhood-ish, vs. the crazy congestion along the Right Bank.

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      • Laura says:

        Thanks! We liked the area around the Sorbonne as well, but would be very happy to stay in Montmartre again. Our apartment’s size and location has been fantastic, and we love the neighborhood.

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    • Laura says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head about traveler’s fatigue. We ended up deciding to stay in the neighborhood today and planning the drive through Normandy, picking up some pastries for breakfast and things to eat on the train tomorrow (individual quiches, grapes, cookies and water), and strolling once more in the area around our apartment. The past few days’ schedules and amount of walking, the heat and jet lag had really gotten to us, more than we realized – our minds were willing but our bodies weren’t and were telling us to slow w-a-y down. We’re going to finish off the food we’ve got in the fridge for dinner tonight (pate, cheese, leftover quiche, an apple, and hard-cooked eggs – we made pain perdu for breakfast this morning to use up the baguette!) and finish the packing and do some housekeeping so we’re ready to go.

      The weather forecast in Normandy has improved, but it looks like there will be big drops in the temperature and we’ll have to start wearing our coats again versus summer clothes and sandals.

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  5. anexactinglife says:

    Love your account of Paris! We were there for 48 hours in 2015 with very little planning; I regretted that since I could have crammed in more sights if we’d been organized. But, like for you, it just gave us a taste and made us want to go back someday. We also walked around/past the Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, etc without going in because our time was so limited, but we did go to Musee d’Orsay. I dream of returning!

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    • Laura says:

      I so wish we had had one to two more days so we could have toured the Musee d’Orsay (and the Orangerie). Both high up on our list but we just didn’t make it. Anyway, another reason to add to the list for why we have to return!

      We had high hopes for getting out our last day there, but woke up feeling exhausted that morning and decided not to push ourselves even though it meant missing some things.

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  6. JJ says:

    There actually is another way to get into the Louvre without waiting on the ridiculously long line by the pyramid. I wish I’d known you were going there because I would have mentioned it. It looks like you had a full day as it was though! Notre Dame was free the day we went. I can’t remember what the occasion was, but it took some time to get in. We were also there when France won the World Cup game vs. Belgium and witnessed the celebrating, which later got out of hand, but we were at the Eiffel Tower while that was going on and the tower was shimmering. Definitely something I’ll never forget! I’d like to return some day because I felt the same way you do — I saw a lot but I know there’s so much more!

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    • Laura says:

      I would like to see the inside of the Louvre, but our next trip will be planned around a time when there are fewer tourists (does such a thing occur in Paris?). And, all museum tickets will be booked in advance so that we can skip the lines! I would have loved to have gone inside both Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, but there was no way with the amount of tourists at both places when we were there (I was disturbed by the whole tourist scene at Sacre Coeur – it was Disneyland). I also have to be honest and admit I’m more interested in seeing little out-of-the-way places, like the tour we took through Montmartre and the tour through the Latin Quarter.

      Still, we want to go back to Paris. I would definitely stay in Montmartre again – we absolutely loved that neighborhood.

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      • JJ says:

        I was there in early July, which is vacation time in Europe, and the line to get into the Louvre inside (not outside by the pyramid) was short and we bought the tickets there. They have banks of machines where you buy the tickets so we didn’t have to wait long at all (maybe 5 minutes), but you have to go in the morning because it does get more crowded later. You don’t really need to buy the tickets in advance, but I guess you can if you are concerned about the line. We really had no trouble though. We saw the Mona Lisa and walked around the museum and then walked around the mall there for a little bit. We didn’t go to Sacre Coeur so I can’t comment on that, but Notre Dame was very interesting so I hope you get to go inside at some point.

        It’s good to know you liked the Montmartre area. I’ll have to remember that next time I go!

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