I could never remember if Paris was known as ‘The City of Light’ or ‘The City of Love,’ now that I’ve been there, however, I realize it could easily be both. I only spent a total of three and a half days there, but my friend Mary and I must have gone to almost every big tourist attraction there is and more. Our time in Paris was so busy and full of experiences, that If I were to try and write every single one down, this blog post would go on for hours. Thus, in the spirit of keeping things short, well, shorter anyways, I’ve decided to just focus on giving quick reviews to the biggest and most famous monuments/ places we visited (Mary’s blog has a more day-to-day write up of our experience, so there’s a link to her blog below).
Musee D’Orsay: The Museum itself was quite nice. For a ticket costing around 10 euros, you could see hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and pottery, including works by Van Gogh and Monet. The size of the museum is very nice—large but not overwhelming.
Quick note: The Museum is right by the River Seine, and, unfortunately, if you stop to take pictures you might be targeted by a group of swindlers. They look like well-dressed, young hipsters, but I assure you their intentions are not benign, especially if they tell you they are collecting for the ‘blind, deaf and handicap children.’ Beware! I’ve been a victim of swindling in the past and it’s the absolute worst feeling because you blame yourself entirely (seriously, it sucks).
Sacré Coeur: The Sacre Coeur is a beautiful Basilica on top of a hill (it’s pretty easy to spot while in Paris). It takes a while to walk up the incline and then climb the stairs, but it is well worth the time. The view of paris is absolutely incredible and the basilica itself is very nice.
Quick note: This Basilica is called the Sacré Coeur (Cu-ur) not Sacre bleu (which is one of my little brother’s go to phrases when badly impersonating a frenchman). Try to remember this as it can help prevent extreme embarrassment in the future.
Luxembourg Gardens: Mary and I decided to go to the Luxembourg Gardens rather late in the day, so we only had about an hour to explore them. They were quite pretty, although I imagine they would be ten times prettier in the summer, and a great place for some photos.
Pantheon: After being kicked out of the Luxembourg Gardens (because it was closing—not because we were obnoxious), we kind of stumbled upon the Pantheon. It is a very impressive structure from the outside, and since it only cost seven euros to go inside, we decided to give it a try. There were some crypts, including Madam Curie’s (fun fact: Madam Curie was actually born in Poland), and an impressive, spacious main floor. Although it was cool to see the inside, I wouldn’t consider it a ‘must see.’ If you have time, go, but If you don’t, don’t worry about it.
Quick note: The bathroom looks like it is for both men and women, because the sign for both is placed at the entryway, but if you keep walking there’s actually two distinct bathrooms.
The Catacombs: Oh, the catacombs. Mary’s probably still a little salty about that one (for those who are not familiar with the word ‘salty’ it basically means ‘peeved’—the more you know, right?) Anyways, my parents had told me that the catacombs were a must see, but because we were visiting Paris in the winter and planning on getting to the catacombs early in the morning, I didn’t think it was necessary to get tickets ahead of time. I was wrong, very wrong. We ended up waiting in line, in freezing weather, for about an hour and a half. By the time we finally went down into the catacombs, I was afraid for my health, both because of the fact that my toes felt like they were falling off and because of the dirty (playfully dirty, I like to think), looks I was receiving from Mary. The catacombs were basically just a vast sea of bones. There were so many that it seemed to go on forever, especially if you shined a flashlight into the crevices. I’m not sure how I felt about it. I mean, it was almost as if all the bones were sticks or just plastic props. It was very hard to picture the pile as actually human remains, and it just made me think of my inevitable future as a corpse (I know, super happy). As Mary put it, I had a mini-existential crises. So, overall, I’m glad I went but I wish I had bought tickets ahead of time.
Quick note: The floor of the tunnel leading to the catacombs is basically a death trap. I twisted my ankle like three times. Also, a warning to my fellow tall people, the ceiling is quite low at points.
The Louvre: Before leaving for France, one of our Spanish friends told us that unless you have a lot of time on your hands, The Louvre isn’t worth it because you can’t even begin to see everything. Well, she was right about the fact that we barely scratched the surface, but I think that even if you only get to see a fraction of what the Louvre has to offer, it’s still worth it.
Quick note: The Mona Lisa is fine, but what’s really impressive is the painting right across from the Mona Lisa. It’s called The Wedding at Cana and it’s absolutely huge.
The Circus: The friends we were staying took us to go see a circus with them, as it was a show that their young cousins would enjoy and we would understand. I had never actually been to a real circus before, and I felt like I had been transported back in time. It was a fine way to spend an evening, quite entertaining. With that being said, however, I don’t think I would pay to go back, I think it’s probably a lot more magical for younger children.
The Eiffel Tower: On Sunday morning we headed to the Eiffel Tower. The Tower is so iconic and beautiful that even though it was a little chilly, it was quite full of people. Mary and I decided to go all the way to the top. The line on the ground level took about 30 minutes, but the wind wasn’t too bad and it was sunny. After we got into the elevator, I thought we would go straight to the top, but you actually stop on the second level, get out and take another elevator. The line for this one was really long and to make matters worse it was freezing, like Chicago freezing (my fellow Chicagoans you know what I’m talking about). The line took forever, but we finally made it to the elevator and got all the way to the top. On the top level you can see the entire city and you can peek into Eiffel’s apartment where there are wax replicas of Eiffel himself, Thomas Edison and Eiffel’s daughter. Overall, it was worth it. I would like to return one day, but only in warmer weather.
Quick Note: Knowing good time-wasting games can help pass the time in line Also, if your friend doesn’t like your singing, try to refrain from humming continuously while standing next to them. Trust me, they don’t like it.
Île San-Louis: This isn’t really a tourist monument or destination, but I thought I would include it because it was so cute. Despite the freezing weather, our host family took us to get some ice-cream and walk around the shops. I definitely wish to return when I’m not shivering my butt off.
Quick Note: For all you romance-lovers out there, this Island is definitely a romantic spot. I would imagine it’s absolutely incredible in the summer, crossing over bridges, eating ice-cream and listening to the bells of Notre Dame…*sigh* I’m definitely coming back.
Notre Dame: Mary and I went to mass in the Notre Dame. It was huge and quite beautiful, but I still think my favorite church is in Madrid (Catedral La Almudena).
Quick Note: The sermon is in French, but they give you a program that has sections in both English and Spanish, which is nice because trying to read along in French is hard!
Arc de Triomphe: We only saw the arc from the outside and didn’t spend the money to go to the top. From what I’ve heard, you have a very nice view of all the different avenues coming together, but it’s rather unnecessary if you’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower (that’s just what I’ve heard, so correct me if I’m wrong!). With that being said, it’s a lovely spot for some pictures.
Grand Palais: Again, Mary and I didn’t actually go into the Grand Palais, but it is absolutely beautiful from the outside.
Quick Note: Does anyone know if there was something special going on this weekend? Because there were a bunch of vans full of older police officers lining the street next to the Grand Palais.
Pont Alexandre: Lovely bridge, great for photos!
Quick Note: The bridge decorations reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones (a fact that isn’t really useful or helpful for you but I thought I’d just let you know anyways—you’re welcome).
Galleries Lafayette: O.K. So the Galleries of Lafayette is actually a giant shopping center (similar to the Water Tower Place in Chicago). We honestly had no idea it existed until our French friends told us about it. We decided to go to check it out and it. was. awesome! The entire mall was decked out for Christmas and there were also different ‘Christmas stations,’ for example, a Santa Claus (I wanted to get a picture but we didn’t have time), a fortune teller, and a virtual roller coaster (so much fun!). So if you’re in Paris around Christmas time definitely give the Galleries Lafayette a visit.
Quick Note: The clothes were super cute too. So if you have money to spend and love fashion, this place is for you.
Well folks, those are all the big monuments and typical tourist attractions we saw. We did a lot more, including, but not limited to the following: watching a documentary on whales in the iMax theater, eating at numerous, delicious, french restaurants, walking through the Tuileries Garden, seeing the Eiffel Tower light up at night from our bedroom, and eating Thai food.
Before I sign off, I just want to give y’all one last tip. Before going to Paris I had heard that the Metro system was really complicated and hard to follow, but I found that to be very untrue. Even Mary, who has almost never used public transportation in her life, could easily figure it out. The only aspect of the system that might be a little confusing is how often you have to switch trains, but it is extremely easy to follow the signs. So don’t be afraid to use the Metro. It’s cheap, quick and really useful!
P.S.–Berets are always a good investment
P.P.S–check out Mary’s blog and Flicker pictures (a lot less of me and more of, you know, Paris)