Paris is a story that tells itself.
Around every corner there’s some kind of gem. From the Louvre to the Star Wars crepery (yes, really), it’s a tapestry you can lose yourself in very easily.
I’m a little sad that it took me so long to get there.
According to Wikitravel, it’s more like New York than any other European city because the people are rude and rushing.
(I couldn’t disagree more. Politer than NYC, less passive-aggressive than London, I found the people happy to help and generally nice and smiley).
We booked the whole trip randomly, based on the fact that there was a Eurostar sale and we could get from Nottingham to Paris and stay for four days for around £180 each.
(Or at least, that was the plan. Unfortunately all the trains got cancelled four hours after we arrived at the station due to a death on the track. We queued with an Australian couple, an English woman who had recently moved to Paris, and a Canadian backpacker. The Australian guy told us stories about his job as a detective and their life in Perth, the Canadian pulled his guitar out and played some blues).
We ended up arriving in Paris Tuesday lunchtime rather than Monday evening. We dropped our stuff off at the apartment, then headed to the 4th district where we had a bakery class booked. After worrying that we’d miss it altogether based on Monday’s train cancellations, we actually arrived about an hour early. There was a lot to see in the nearby area though, so we visited the Mémorial de la Shoah.
(It’s so much more than a memorial. There’s a huge free museum that we wandered around, complete with a map on the floor and video stands attached to particular regions showing old black and white videos. It really brought everything to life).
We really wanted to spend more time there, but we only had an hour before it was time to bake bread at La Cuisine Paris. It was a lovely little place with a surprising number of English staff. Our class was taken by Eric, a pastry chef who had spent a lot of time in both California and Paris. He was fantastic at instructing and helping (and, more importantly, being nice when we got stuff wrong). We learned about the annual baguette making contest held in Paris every year (to qualify for the second round, your bread has to have a certain length and weight), and the requirement for being able to say you’re a bakery (you must make the dough on the premises and not buy it in from anywhere). By the end of the three hour class we were sitting down to the fresh warm bread he’d made during our class, as well as having our own to take ‘home’.
We made baguettes, napkin rolls, and forgasse (French focaccia).
(And I thanked god I have a KitchenAid to do all the kneading for me at home, because doing it by hand is really not my thing!).
After the class was over, we wandered through the streets and over the Seine towards Notre Dame.
The weather was really changeable all weekend; we’d stop in a place or go into the underground and when we came out again it would have started/stopped raining. Fortunately almost all the time we were outside it was sunny, which was great for natural wet-look photos with plenty of light.
(There may have been a brief pitstop for fresh street food; Joe had a Nutella crepe and I had a waffle).
Completely randomly we happened to stumble across a bookshop I’d read about when researching Paris online: Shakespeare & Co. It’s a largely English/American bookstore, and it’s a fantastic place with plenty of atmosphere.
It also attracted a big English-speaking crowd. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take photos inside, so it’s hard to convey the high shelves, old-fashioned ladders, hand-illustrated signs, and all the nooks and crannies that were filled with every kind of book imaginable.
After we’d spent a fair time in there, we wandered through part of the Latin Quarter before heading back for dinner at our little apartment….with extra bread, naturally
When the sun was out it was perfect, but after dark it was bitterly cold so we spent the time relaxing and planning what we were going to do and see. After a well-deserved lie in, we got up fresh and ready to explore more of Paris.
First stop – the Arc de Triomphe.
The first challenge was actually getting to it; it’s in the middle of a massive roundabout with no obvious crossing points. After a few seconds we realised the entrance must be via an underground passage, and finally made it to the middle.
To get up to the top, you go through various museum displays.
And climb 284 narrow spiral steps before you emerge, blinking, into the sun.
And it’s completely worth it.
After walking back down all the stairs, we got the metro to the Opera House (for some reason it seems to have at least three different names, so let’s just stick with that), which was the original home of The Phantom of the Opera.
Sadly it was closed to visitors for some reason and we couldn’t go inside, so we ended up at the Palais Royal. By then the sun was in full force and it was the perfect spot for a picnic lunch (after seeing the cafe prices, 7 EUR for a Coke, we were glad we’d made sandwiches from the delicious bakery bread made just down the road from our apartment).
After that we ended up going through part of the Louvre (unfortunately we didn’t have the recommended two days to devote to it, so decided to skip it altogether this trip), which was stunning.
We wandered along the Seine, passing lots of great secondhand bookstalls and artists, ending up at the Musee d’Orsay.
It’s rated as the top thing to do in Paris by Trip Advisor, and it’s definitely worth a visit. Photos banned almost everywhere, but there’s a wide collection of everything from sculptures to Van Goghs to huge transparent clock faces. It had a great atmosphere too, with art students sitting cross-legged in front of sculptures with their sketchpads, lots of wide open spaces, and a relaxed vibe because there was next to no conveyor-belt style queuing to see the next thing.
After leaving the museum, we stopped at an overpriced and very average cafe – mostly to get warm – before calling it a day. I absolutely loved our time in Paris, but by the end of each day I was completely wiped out!
Our final day came round really fast, and we went to the Pantheon.
The huge dome is currently being rebuilt, and it’s an extremely long and expensive (but necessary) process. There was a small exhibition inside as well as very detailed information outside, which was interesting, and hopefully not the result of people complaining.
At first we weren’t sure whether it would be worth paying to go in, but it definitely was.
There was even a large placeholder image in the ceiling
And a fantastic model which showed us what it looks like when not being rebuilt:
Then we went down to the crypt, the resting place of lots of famous French people including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Marie Curie. Whilst Paris doesn’t quite beat Ankara in terms of museum and gallery lighting, they still do a fantastic job of creating atmosphere and presenting artifacts and sculptures at their best.
All in all, I’d heard mixed reviews about Paris before we went, but it was absolutely fantastic and we barely scratched the surface of what it had to offer. I’m hoping will be able to go back and explore it a lot more at some point. In the meantime, here’s the full Flickr set.