October 30, 2019

Paris in Spring

If you know my husband and I, you know that we are adventurers at heart.  We go on trips any chance we get and have moved all over with each other.  One of the promises we made when we first started dating was to always make time for adventures, even when life gets in the way.  Ryan had promised me before we were even married that he would take me to Europe before I turned 30 and well, the clock was ticking.  He made good on his promise, and we spent a week in Paris last May with 5 months to spare!  Follow along as I recap the trip, from how it came to be, to where we went along the way.  I’m also mixing in my iPhone photos because some days I didn’t want to lug around my camera, so excuse some poor quality images.

Trip Planning  

Like I said, we had a promise looming over us, but no real plans.  In the summer of 2018, we had started an envelope for spare cash to start the ball rolling on the Europe trip.  We weren’t sure where exactly we wanted to go other than maybe Italy, maybe Greece, maybe Paris or London?  I was scrolling AirBnb one night last fall and stumbled on a listing for a house boat on the Seine.  It was perfect!  I booked 3 nights and now had a reason to make this promise a reality.  A few months later, I found a killer airfare deal ($800 roundtrip for two!) and then a few months after that I found a great hotel deal for the second half of the trip.  We cash flowed everything and kept on our tight budget the whole trip.  I’ve had a lot of people make comments to me that they wished they could afford a trip overseas, and I’m telling you, it’s no more expensive than a vacation in the states.  You just have to watch for deals and be careful about spending, just like anywhere else.  Our trip cost us less than if we stayed on the beach in Florida for a week.

Ryan hoping the Dramamine works. Both of us excited for our first European trip. Our overnight flight gave us a gorgeous sunset to watch from the sky.

Day 1: Travel and Bike Tour

We survived the long flight and layover in London, and took the train from the Charles de Gaulle airport into the heart of Paris.  The train system in Paris is very easy to figure out.  Everything’s in french, so you have to do a little research ahead of time with Google, but we figured it out without any trouble.  If you’ve ridden public transit in any city in the US, it’s the same thing.  We took the trains everywhere during our trip.  I will say, the trains are much cleaner in Paris than any other city I’ve been in.  The photo below of the Eiffel Tower  peeking up over the souvenir stands was the first thing I saw when we came out of the train station!  Our houseboat was just a half block away.  Such a great location for sight seeing.  Fair warning: the food around the Eiffel Tower sucks.  Our AirBnb host told us you need to walk at least 15 minutes away from the tower before you find anything good to eat.  Much to Ryan’s dismay, he forgot that he agreed to a 3 hour bike and boat tour for the first night we arrived.  It turned out to be one of our favorite things we did on the trip!  We didn’t get back to the houseboat until about 11pm that first night and were so exhausted, but it was worth it!

View of Paris from the sky. My first glimpse of Paris as we stepped out of the train station near the houseboat.
The houseboat we stayed on is the red roof closest to the sidewalk. We were only a block away from the Eiffel Tower! It was such a cool, once-in-a-lifetime experience to be visiting Paris and sleeping on the Seine. The owner lived in the front part of the boat, totally separate from us, and we had the back cabin. The doorway was hidden under a little kitchen cabinet that folded up to reveal stairs. a hidden closet held the shower and the opposite side had the toilet and small sink. It was really lovely.
After taking a little 2 hour nap, we walked to the starting point for our bike tour. We stopped for dinner along the way and had the worst meal of our lives. It was very tricky finding good food in the area we were staying because it was so touristy. Here was one of our breaks on a bridge over the Seine. You can see Notre Dame in the distance.
The bike tour was a great way to get a feel of the layout of the city, which is why I wanted to do it on our first day. It helped us for the rest of the trip so much with knowing the basics of where everything was. Ryan even loved it! The last hour of the tour was on a boat and it was cool to see everything from the river. We actually took another boat tour later on in the week because we enjoyed it so much.
Sailing by the Eiffel Tower all lit up with my husband was pretty surreal! It’s a night we won’t forget.

Day 2: Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, St. Chapelle, Notre Dame

We hit the ground running on our first full day and took the train up to the Montmartre neighborhood.  The Sacre Coeur Cathedral is on the top of the hill here and it was breathtaking.  Ryan was in awe and we decided to just walk into any church we walked by to admire the architecture.  The streets immediately near Sacre Coeur were VERY busy and there were definitely pickpocketing scams going on all over at the foot of the church, which I thought was very ironic.  But once you turned the corner, it was a very calm part of the city.  Montmartre is very “old world” Paris, and looked like what we all think Paris would look like.  It’s where artists like Van Gogh, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and a hundred other famous names lived.  I was following along in a brochure of famous artist sites like Van Gogh’s studio, but gave up following along because it was just literally every building we came upon that was significant.  Later on, we went down along the river again.  Since the Notre Dame fire happened a month before our trip, we weren’t able to go near it, which broke my little art history nerd heart.  But we still walked all around it, and also toured Saint Chapelle to see the intricate stained glass.

If you know Ryan, you can imagine his “oh no” when he saw the crowds we’d have to walk through to get up to Sacre Coeur.
Sacre Coeur is built right at the top of the hill in Montmartre, and the views of the city were great.

Inside Sacre Coeur. Look at the people in the pews to get a sense of scale. It was really awe inspiring and we both were enamored with the detailed mosaics.
Had to light a prayer candle at St. Michael’s feet.

Thankfully the crowds were not heavy in the rest of the neighborhood. We had a great time just strolling the streets and enjoying the neighborhood.

The only vineyard inside Paris.
A cemetery hidden between buildings, one of the famous windmills (only a few remain, Moulin Rouge being one of them), one of the pastry shops we stopped in for lunch.
I’ve only seen Saint Chapelle in my art history books and assumed it was a huge cathedral like Notre Dame or Sacre Coeur. I was so surprised to see how small it was. Saint Chapelle is known for its delicate stained glass windows. It’s gothic architecture is significant because of the engineering feat of the vaults that allows the walls to be dedicated to glass instead of structural stone.
Notre Dame. This was as close as we could get.
Streets closed off around Notre Dame. I was so sad we couldn’t go in but it is kind of cool we were there during an historically significant time.
View of Notre Dame from a side street.
The scaffolding was already there before the fire for a renovation. If you look closely, you can see how it’s all melted together after the fire.
The Seine River near Notre Dame

Day 3: The Louvre

The first thing I did when planning our itinerary was block off an entire day to see The Louvre.  Ryan wasn’t so sure it would fill the whole day but about 30 minutes in he said, “okay, we are definitely spending all day here.”  We were there for about 8 hours. It also spawned a new photography series that I’m going to be contributing to along our travels.  I was floored by all of these people surrounded by masterpieces that would walk up, take a picture of the art, and then walk away…without even pausing to actually look at what they were seeing.  There really is a difference to be in the presence of great art and it was fascinating to me to watch hundreds of people just rush through to take a picture they will never look at again.  So included some of those photographs that I will probably be contributing to for the rest of my life.

That night was our last night on the houseboat, so we ate a nice little dinner from the grocery on the houseboat patio.  Then I wanted to just walk along the riverfront and enjoy the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night.  It sparkles for 5 minutes at the top of the hour at night, so we found a good spot for our love lock across from the tower and then strolled down to sit by the river and wait for the tower to light up.  As we were heading back to the boat, we had to walk through a huge crowd that had gathered by the Eiffel Tower and as we were walking through, a light and laser show started.  Most of it was pretty cheesy and we aren’t huge fans of crowds, but finally I made us stop to just enjoy because when is this ever going to happen again?  Just as we stopped, they began playing Debussy’s Clair de Lune as the Eiffel Tower turned purple and blue.  It was so beautiful, we both teared up.  When we got back to the houseboat, I looked it up and apparently it was the Eiffel Towers 130th birthday.  So cool that we were right there!

Venus de Milo. This is what sparked my photo series.
Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss

Winged Victory of Samothrace
Mona Lisa
People taking pictures of the Mona Lisa

Ryan found is namesake cologne. The local grocery had great bread, cheese, roast chicken and potatoes. We often stopped for pastries or fruit to eat for lunch or dinner, which was a great way to save some money while we were there. High quality wine and cheese is the same as 2 Buck Chuck and Kraft slices here.
The view from our houseboat. The Eiffel Tower is one block to the right.
View from the bridge where the Eiffel Tower is. You can see the bridge where the houseboat is parked to show how close we were. The little food stand down there made good Nutella and banana crepes.

I’m glad my friendly moon made an appearance for me.
The famous “Love Lock” bridge doesn’t exist anymore since the weight of all the locks compromised the bridge structurally. You can find bunches of locks all along the river, though, so we found a spot we can maybe find again someday.
The purple Eiffel Tower as Debussy was playing over the speakers was seriously magical.

Day 4: Finally a good french meal and Musée de l’Armée

In the morning we left the houseboat and rode the train to our hotel in the Montparnasse neighborhood.  We could tell this was where actual Parisians lived and we enjoyed being away from the craziness down near the river.  Our hotel also had a big giant soaking tub in the bathroom, which was so nice after showering in a tiny closet that we couldn’t fully stand in on the boat.  We took our time walking from our hotel to the Army Museum (Musée de l’Armée) and stopped in a restaurant with a lunch prixe fixe menu.  We had been disappointed in the food so far, but this meal was delicious.  I had a duck confit dish and Ryan had an asparagus risotto and they were both so good.  I don’t remember the appetizer or dessert specifics, but those were also so good.  We also walked through the St. Germain neighborhood and enjoyed one of the public gardens.  We were pretty tired from moving lodging and being on our feet, so we enjoyed bread and cheese in the room for dinner.

We made it to our hotel! Only a few stops on the train from the houseboat. We took our time unpacking again and just relaxing for a bit.
View from the hotel.
I didn’t take pictures of the yummy food, but here’s proof we were there.
The city is full of little public parks and gardens. This one was fenced in so the sheep could mow. I don’t know how widespread this practice is, but I thought it was pretty cool.
Musée de l’Armée and Tomb of Napoleon. This is the cathedral that houses the tomb.
Musée de l’Armée had amazing displays of medieval armor and firearms. It was really cool to see. The Tomb of Napoleon was massive. Look at the people along the balcony to get a sense of scale.

We were starting to lose some of our steam by this point, so we just had some bread, cheese, fruit and chocolate from the market for dinner in the room that night. And I took a long soak in the giant tub.

Day 5: Latin Quarters and a concert at St. Sulpice

Our days had been pretty jam packed up until this point, so we planned to just explore at our own pace.  We took the train to save our feet a bit, and then explored St. Germain and the Latin Quarters.  The Latin Quarters is an important neighborhood for literary history, so Ryan was excited to see the streets that people like Hemingway used to roam.  It probably used to be cooler, but has now largely become a giant tourist trap, which was disappointing.  Still, it was a fun day and we saw so many beautiful buildings, churches, bakeries and soaked in the city.  I had yet to find a good macaron, so a friend told me I had to find Pierre Herme.  Y’all.  They were so good.  And right next to Saint Sulpice, another gorgeous church with a beautiful fountain and park in front.  We actually attended a symphonic and choral concert at St. Sulpice that evening…because when else do you get to listen to live classical music in a 200 year old cathedral? Another once-in-a-lifetime experience we will never forget.  I didn’t take any pictures, but trust me, we were there.  Oh, we also fit another boat tour in there between walking around the Latin Quarter and the evening symphony concert.  So our “relaxing” day was full of walking for miles, a boat tour and an evening concert followed by a nighttime stroll back to the hotel.

Strolling around St. Germain
There were flower shops all over. I thought it was neat to have all the buckets lined up on the sidewalks.

Pierre Herme
So many pretty macarons. Pierre Herme is a very boutique patisserie and well worth the extra euros for those macarons.
Our complimentary chocolates that came with our macarons. Equally delicious.
The macarons I chose: Rose (their signature flavor), Chocolate, Caramel, Citron
St. Sulpice, where we went to a classical concert. Full symphony and choir.
Outside St. Sulpice
Outside St. Sulpice
Inside details of St. Sulpice
St. Sulpice
Somewhere between St. Germain and Latin Quarters
Somewhere between St. Germain and Latin Quarters
Latin Quarters and a random church we went into. Maybe St. Severin?
A chocolatier somewhere in the Latin Quarters.
More sweets and the Latin Quarters
Shakespeare and Company is a very famous english bookstore in the Latin Quarters. Charming and super crowded.

Latin Quarters
A side street in the Latin Quarters.

Day 6: Musée d’Orsay

Okay, by this point I had a ton of amazing experiences and…I was ready to be home and see my babies.  We were tired, we missed the kids, and we still had a day to fill.  We had been toying with the idea of taking a day trip to visit Monet’s gardens, but decided we weren’t up for heavy travel and went to Musée d’Orsay to see his art instead.  The Louvre really focuses on art before the Impressionists shook things up, and Musée d’Orsay kind of picks up where it leaves off.  I’m so glad we decided to visit, because it was full of some of my favorite artists and the museum itself was really beautiful.  It’s in a restored old train station, which was really cool and a perfect backdrop for the art.  When we finished, Ryan humored me as we tracked down some berets for the kids.  The only time it rained all week was when we were strolling along the souvenir stands looking for the red berets!  We had another nice dinner near the hotel that night and then went back to the hotel to pack.

Right outside our hotel were a bunch of creperies, so we had a nice little breakfast to start our day.
Musée d’Orsay
People checking Facebook at Musée d’Orsay
Musée d’Orsay
I feel you, girl.
Musée d’Orsay
Musée d’Orsay
Musée d’Orsay
Musée d’Orsay

Day 7: Home

Can I just say, flying internationally is freaking fun.  They feed you a lot and you have a million movies at your fingertips in your personal tv to keep you entertained.  It was the best.  And, this cutie appreciated all my efforts for a red beret!