Monday Travel Memory: Paris

Notre Dame, Paris

It might be cliché, but I truly believe there is no place like Paris. It remains one of my favorite cities in the world. No matter what season, it still captivates. In the few times I have visited, I loved finding new angles of famous structures (like this one of a wintery Notre Dame) and exploring some of the lesser known areas to escape from tourist routes. Exactly one year ago, we were there with my parents. One of my favorite memories was tucking into a tiny, candle-lit bistro in the chic Levallois-Perret neighborhood for a beautiful and classic French meal. We were lucky enough to be celebrating my mom’s birthday there.

I will always treasure those great memories. And while it can’t be Paris every year, I’m still wishing my mom a very happy birthday today.

xxx

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Jesus take the wheel: Girls’ road trip to France

Hey kids. I keep talking about how behind I am with my posts and not actually doing anything about it. Until now. Time to stop being polite and start being real and posting on a regular basis. …Once I catch up with all my old stories for you. So hold on to your butts seats, time to get you up to speed on a recent adventure with two of my very best friends from Chicago, S & L. Here they are:

My darlings

These two darlings came to Amsterdam in May for a visit. And, naturally, we carpe diem-ed that shit and made the most of their time here by also planning a little side trip to Paris!! How many best friends do you know that can just casually go to Paris together? How lucky are we!? Ah yes, the benefits to living in Europe. You may remember that I was in Paris recently with my parents. Truly a dream come true to be able to experience that with my family. But now with friends?? Almost too good to be true. Until it wasn’t.

Let’s dive in, shall we? It started off innocently enough, we had printed off all our Google map directions, had plenty of fuel (no, not gas, although we had that too.. I mean, more importantly, road trip snacks), and a sense of adventure. Nevermind the fact that we had celebrated Cinco de Mayo the night before, which may or may not have ended in a chugging mango salsa vodka disaster and we could barely open our eyes let alone walk…..

But, hey, Paris was waiting.

So Jesus took the wheel (as he did many times throughout the trip) and got us going in the morning on Sunday. Everything was going smoothly for about 5 seconds. Then Lizz, my dedicated directions-reader, had to read the first street name to turn on. Ruysdaelkade. You can imagine how this came out of her mouth. Now that I can read/speak Dutch, hearing my poor friend try to sound it out was hilarious. And also so confusing for me. By the time we figured out what street it was, we were already ‘lost.’ As in, not at all following the directions. Since I never drive in Amsterdam, I have no idea where snelwegs (highways) are and how to get on them. So! After about 45 minutes of torturous hell fun & laughs, we got out of Amsterdam and on the road to Paris!! Fast forward 5 hours and 1 stop at McDonald’s later, we were ‘in’ Paris. And got lost in about 10 seconds. After trying to figure it out on our own for about 45 minutes, we gave up, called our host, had her meet us at a metro, and guide us to the apartment. We stayed in a nice flat in Pere Lachaise (20e). While the flat was nice, the area was not so hot. All homes and no patisseries or shops makes a Parisian hood a dull one. Since we still had a bit of daylight, we checked out Notre Dame and the Louvre, and then we went to that magical place as soon as dark set in.

Hey, I know you!

That’s right, the Eiffel Tower. As I mentioned in my other post about Paris, first timers just have to see the grand Eiffel Tower on their first day… preferably their first night when she really shines! I think it really helps get everyone in the mood. A Parisian mood. S&L loved it, right then they realized they were really in Paris! Of course, getting there included someone running through red lights, breaking her purse strap and nearly getting hit by a car, but it was worth it. Right? (Jesus took the wheel there.)

Day 2. Completely revitalized from a sober decent night of sleep. Time to hit the Louvre! We metro’ed over to it after some croissants and lines were surprisingly light for a Monday (it’s closed on Tuesday so I’d expect Monday to be super busy). Checked out the heavy hitters: Mona (always underwhelms, btw), Venus, and some others. I’m always struck by the Greek god/goddess statues, I dono why. After we Louvre’d, we lunched in Jardin du Luxembourg. This was my favorite part of the trip! Munching on cheese, baguettes & sandwiches, sipping white wine in the sun… it was the perfect afternoon!

Cheers to Paris!

After our lunch, we headed over to Les Invalides to see a must do on Stacy’s list – The War Museum or Musée de l’Armée. We wandered around Napoleon’s tomb for a minute, confused about were the museum entrance was and by the time we found it – they wouldn’t let us in! I guess we only had 10 minutes before closing and needed “at least” two hours. C’est la vie. 

So, we hopped back on the Metro and headed to one of my favorite hoods – Monmartre. Here we are having wine in Painter’s Square:

American girls in Paris

Eventually headed over to a place we had read about for dinner to find out it was closed! Again, c’est la vie. We ended up at this other cute place nearby where we had onion soup and foie gras. Oops.

The next morning, we went back to the War Museum. A few things: It is massive. Way bigger than I expected. We only walked through WWI and WWII and it took over two hours. There are a bunch of other war stories in there as well! I was really impressed, they have so much memorabilia and information- It was a lot to take in. Highly recommend! After a speedy lunch of crepes and vin, we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. Since we were already on the Champs Élysées, we hoofed it to the top of the Arc du Triomphe for some amazing views at sunset!

Arc du Triomphe

It was my first time up there and I’d say it’s the best view of Paris. Better than Notre Dame, Eiffel or Sacre Coeur, but that’s just me. Had dinner that night in the Latin Quarter, which is on par with the Istanbul/Barcelona/Marrakech chaotic dining street scene. Hosts harrassing you to choose their place, etc. Great for people watching (even the crazies that troll around). Decent enough food (although I was disappointed in the onion soup). But most importantly, wonderful conversation with my girls. Le sigh!

Next morning we bid adieu to Paris, hopped back in the car and got to the Champagne region (without incident). Epernay first. What a cute little town! Of course we enjoyed some a dis:

Champagne in Champagne

At a cute restaurant with al fresco seating. After strolling through town for a bit, we realized it was sort of… deserted. Not in a spooky way, just in a quiet, mysterious way. We ended up driving over to the big houses (Moet & Chandon, Perrier Jouet, etc) and it was just so quiet. So we humbly entered the tourist office and asked where small houses were that we could check out. He pointed us toward Rheims (where we were headed anyway) and off we went through magical fields of yellow flowers, and of course, rolling hills of grapevines.

Along the way, we passed through many small villages and, while beautiful and charming, none seemed to be catering to tourists at that time. Maybe we miscalculated our timing (I did forget my guidebook after all), but it was weird. We stopped in Mailly for a tasting, but it was a ghost town so we chugged our bubbles and split. And by split, I mean left. Not the mini bottle. 😉 Once in Rheims, we walked the streets and went into the shops. It’s an ordinary French city with shopping, dining, etc. Had a nice dinner on a pretty square with a fountain then it was time to make the long trek home. Luckily, we did NOT get lost and all got home in one piece. Even the car. Phew!

We hit France like a tornado. Not the kind that drop houses on witches, more the kind that is in your bathtub as the water drains out. We floated around the whole city in a constant whirlwind and just like that, we were gone. And now my friends are gone too! Up and back to Chicago …why I oughta. Was hoping they’d stay. ❤

xxx

J’aime Paris

Hello! We took a few weeks off from traveling (for fun anyway), but this past weekend, we were back at it with… Paris! My parents were visiting and we thought it would be a nice surprise to book a long weekend in Paris for the four of us. Obviously, they were thrilled. It was Jaro’s first visit too! We decided to be budget-friendly and rented a car & apartment. This is the way to go, hands down (or up, waving wildly about, perhaps?). Far more reasonable than a train or plane or hotel. And much more flexible too.  We used the housing rental site HouseTrip and had a great experience. Highly recommend!

So moving along to the actual trip… On Thursday afternoon we headed out of Amsterdam and were in Paris in about 4 hours. So fast! So close! Why haven’t we gone before?! It’s my favorite city!! But I digress. We got to our cozy Parisian apartment (isn’t that fun to say? Parisian apartment?) and scurried out to the first (and arguably most recognized) site in the city (and arguably the world) – The Eiffel Tower.

Jaro meets Eiffel (it was love at first sight)

Traveler Tip: I don’t care what they say, THIS is the first thing to go see when you are in Paris. So you feel like you are really there. After walking around the area for a bit, we headed back to the apartment for a very proper dinner of French cheese and wine and passed out because we had a busy day ahead.

While Jaro worked on Friday (hey, his life isn’t all a vacation), my parents and I hustled over to Versailles, the chateau to trump all chateau’s. After all, it was built in the 17th century to show off the power of the French monarchy back in its hay-day. I hadn’t gone out there when I visited France in college, so it was great to share this experience with my parents. In a word, it was… oh wait, I’m speechless. I can’t think of just one word. The sheer size and insanely glam decor of the place blew me away. Not to mention the massive gardens (not in bloom – must go back in summer) and Marie Antoinette’s separate Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon & Hamlet off in the distance (also worth checking out if you have the time and the energy).

Dad & I in the Hall of Mirrors

Mom & I at the Grand Trianon

We were there for about 6 hours. Absolutely worth the long, expensive quick, super cheap train ride out there. Seriously. Traveler Tip: Go.

We returned to the apartment to meet with the Jaro and then headed to another favorite area of mine – Montmartre. It’s filled with picturesque cafes, bistros and is home to this bad boy:

The majestic Sacre Coeur

Traveler Tip: You can wander inside Sacre Coeur fo free. We then strolled around the neighborhood, stopping for wine and to watch portraits being done in Painter’s Square. It was lovely. We wrapped up the day with a casual meal at a Lebanese place that was surprisingly delicious.

The next day was “Tour Paris’ main attractions” day. Since we had such a short time there, we thought it was best to do our own walking tour of all the major highlights in the City of Light. We started off at the Arc de Triomphe, meandered down the Champs-Élysées, along the flea markets on the Seine’s banks, to the Place de la Concorde and then something coincidental magical happened. We stumbled upon Paris Fashion Week mayhem inside the Tuileries Garden. The hoards of paparazzi was really something. But the fashion. The fashion. For a faithful Vogue reader like me, it was pure heaven. I couldn’t pull myself away. I think I instantly stood up straighter and considered my casual wardrobe choices since moving to Amsterdam, where fashion is extremely laid-back and muted. And then we saw a smurf Katy Perry, laughed, and went to lunch. Le sigh.

After a quick bistro bite, we walked over to the Louvre, considered the magnitude of going inside and passed. Next time. We kept moseying down the Seine and eventually reached this:

Love (locks) and Notre Dame

Traveler Tip: It’s free to go inside! Worth checking out; the architecture is stunning. Later that night, we dined in a cozy neighborhood bistro serving traditional Lyonnaise dishes. Perfection.

On Sunday morning, prolonging the inevitable, we had a leisurely breakfast of bakery items from a little shop down the street:

Back on the road by eleven, we stopped in Gent, Belgium for lunch and then natually were greeted with rain once in the Netherlands. All in all, it was the perfect little weekend escape. Can’t wait to go back (now that I’ve realized how dangerously close/easy it is…).