Paris Trip Recommendations and Tips

Back at home! Thank goodness for Daylight Savings because I felt less guilty about waking up at 5 a.m. due to jet lag (it was actually 6 a.m.!). Our last day of the trip was a travel day – and not much to report on there. Icelandair made our plane to Boston wait 15 extra minutes so we didn’t miss our connection. We made it home around 6:45 p.m., proceeded to make a frozen pizza and then pass out around 9 p.m. Not bad, considering our bodies were thinking it was 4 a.m.

Because there is so much to do in Paris (I didn’t even get to check everything off my list!), here are some of my recommendations/tips:

Getting Around: Buy a metro card for whatever time you’ll be there. They sell these in daily, weekly and monthly increments. When you land at CDG, follow the signs to the metro (the line you’ll be taking is RER B). When you get to the station, you will see kiosks. Don’t go to those, you need to purchase a pass from the office, which is the enclosed glass area to your right. Someone will likely be on the floor to help you too. By all means, keep your metro card and the plastic sleeve they give it to you in together. Do not separate them!! Or you may end up like me and have to pay 50 euros. The card also requires a small photo (like a passport photo but even smaller – probably 2 cm by 1 cm) to adhere to it. I’d bring one along and affix it as it will just save you a lot of headache if you are stopped.

Keep these two items together! Everything you are handed at the Metro station shouldn’t be separated. It’s bulky and won’t fit in your wallet but it’s required.

Sign up for a Walking Tour: Usually James and I like to explore cities on our own, but there are some neighborhoods in Paris that are so rich in history and facts that will remain secret unless you find someone to tell you. We opted for Discover Walks, which is free, but it’s customary to tip your guide at the end. It was one of the highlights of our trip, and better than any museum.

View of the city during our Montemarte walking tour.

Rent an apartment: Want to get a feel of what it’s like to live in a city? Rent an apartment. We’re frequent users of AirBnb but there are plenty of other rental services out there. Not only will you save money on accommodations (the entire week was less than $600), but you’ll have the opportunity to cook at home too. We ate breakfast at the apartment every single morning and four dinners (I know, we were in the city of food, but sometimes you just want a break from all the butter and duck!). If you’re into cooking, it’s also fun to explore the neighborhood grocery stores and markets. I made a lot of recipes I would do at home, but with French ingredients, and a baguette and cheese as a side dish to every meal is not a bad way to end the evening.

In case you are wondering, this is the place we rented. Location was excellent – the size was a bit tight for two people, but we made it work. My real gripe was the kitchen, but this is my fault, I should have known that cooking on a hot plate was going to be tricky!

Don’t waste money on the Moulin Rouge: It’s tacky. The dancers aren’t coordinated. Spend your money on a play or opera (if only I knew what I knew today!).

Take the opportunity to visit another country:¬†Europe is really not that big, and it’s fairly easy to take a train to neighboring countries. We did a day trip to Brussels – a 90 minute train ride through the French countryside. We could have gone to London too. Or the south of France. Explore your options! Train travel in Europe is nothing like it is in America. It’s enjoyable, relaxing and you see parts of the country you never would have otherwise.

The reflection was so bad I couldn’t snap a pic of the countryside, but then I thought this was a hilarious selfie ūüôā

Skip the Louvre and Versailles and check out smaller museums:¬†Both the Louvre and Versailles were beautiful – and I’m glad I went, but ultimately I don’t feel that my life is any richer because of it. If you really want to go, go! You won’t be wasting money, but in my opinion, it is not as satisfying as some of the smaller museums that are in the city – such as¬†the¬†Mus√©e de l’Orangerie,¬†Mus√©e des arts et m√©tiers, the Paris sewer system museum and the Catacombs. Also, if you are there on a Sunday, check to see if your museum is free. The first Sunday of each month is free to the public. Arrive early (as in when they open) so that you don’t stand in line for too long.

Learns a few French phrases: In Spain, James and I felt pretty comfortable getting around, because we spoke enough Spanish to understand the locals, read menus and maps/signs. French is another story. We listened to Michel Thomas’ introduction to French series. I highly recommend this. It’s about two hours long and you’ll be able to make your way through the country with less anxiety. But, all being said, learn to say hello and goodbye, please and thank you and ask if they speak English. Typically, as soon as we said “bonjour” they switched to English. Having an accent is quite helpful! I even tried ordering a glass of wine in French (thanks Michel Thomas!) and the waiter switched to English immediately, but you could tell he appreciate my efforts.

Take a food/cheese/wine course in the beginning: Our second day there I signed us up for a cheese and wine tasting course through Paris by Mouth. This was FABULOUS.¬†Cheese and wine are plentiful in Paris, but knowing what to¬†buy can be intimidating. I was able to order wines off the menu with ease after that (they name everything by region – so a red Sancerre is always pinot noir and a white Sancerre is always¬†sauvignon blanc). We went to a cheese shop and knew exactly what to pick out and didn’t feel intimidated.

This was a great trip overall. Going in March was perfect – there were almost no tourists, the weather was amicable for walking around (most days were 50 – 55 F) and we had an easy time make reservations and buying tickets to museums. April is likely prettier, as more of the gardens will be in bloom, but I believe that’s when it starts to get busy. One day I’ll go back, but until then, au revoir Paris!

Paris – Day Seven

Our last full day in Paris – also known as the day I was almost arrested.

We had tickets to Versailles, which is outside of the city limits. Lucky for us, the train that runs by the apartment we rented goes straight there. We also had purchased a week pass that would allow us to travel to any zone without paying additional fees. It was perfect. The weekly pass had been incredibly useful all week and I was glad to have something that allowed unlimited train travel throughout the city. Especially when we walked so much and needed a break.

The train ride itself was uneventful. Typically when you leave a station on one of the larger lines (RER B, C, etc.) you have to tap out once you arrive at your station. Today, there were a line of uniformed officers checking everyone’s cards. James strolled up and I heard the person say something to him about needing a photo on his subway pass but let him through. I was stopped by a woman who spoke no English and she wouldn’t let me through. I thought maybe it had to do with the lack of a photo on my card. Then she started rather aggressively yelling at me. I asked if she spoke English. She said no. I asked if her colleagues spoke English. She said no. She was clearly frustrated with me too and I couldn’t imagine what I had done wrong! She started telling me I owed her 50 euros. And then 80 euros.

Eventually I saw the woman that had let James through. She spoke English and explained to me that I was missing a plastic case that my card slipped into. This was punishable by fine because I stole the card and was pretending to be someone else. The case¬†was on the kitchen table at the apartment. It is literally a piece of plastic. That’s it. James had to come back through and pay the fine – and they said we could probably get our money back if we wrote and took a picture of the case and my card together. I was completely shaken up by the experience. It felt like an opportunity to take advantage of tourists. I would rather they had taken away my card. It would have been much less money.

That said, I really didn’t want to walk around Versailles too much. We strolled through the palace, but it was underwhelming (probably because I had been to the Spanish royal palace, which is dripping with wealth). Versailles is empty, most of the furniture is gone, and you’re left with the walls. The outside is over the top in gold, but that was about it. After going through the main palace, I opted not to do the other two houses on the estate. Instead, James and I ate our respective loaves of bread with some leftover cheese in the gardens, and then departed back to the apartment to find that pesky plastic case.

Wanting to bring back some bread with me, we made the pilgrimage back to Helmut Newcake, and purchased two loaves of the GF bread, along with some cookies and a pistachio pear bread, which is cut up and ready to go on the plane with me. We then headed to Montemarte – a neighborhood in Paris where the Moulin Rouge is located. I had signed us up for a walking tour, which was the saving grace for our day.

The group had about 10- 15 people in it, from all over Europe and the U.S. Our tour guide was a Parisian who spent a significant amount of time in the U.S. and currently lived in Montemarte. He guided us through the neighborhood, which is absolutely fantastic. On my own, I would have never discovered the small, winding streets. It was where Amelie was filmed. It was where all of the artists from the 1920s lived and thrived – Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gertrude Stein, etc. There was a hotel that artists used to live in, when they couldn’t afford an apartment, and street art everywhere you looked. We went by a famous windmill that every impressionist painter has painted. The tour ended at¬†Sacr√©-CŇďur, a beautiful white church that was built in the mid 1800s.

Following the tour, James and I headed back to the department stores for one final round of shopping (mind you, we’ve not really purchased a lot here!). I picked up a pair of pants, a blazer, a sweater and a scarf. Since we had dinner in an hour, and it didn’t make sense to go back home, we ducked into a bar nearby for a glass of wine (and a mocktail for James).

For dinner, we went to Le Florimond, a little restaurant tucked near the Eiffel Tower. The food was good – very rustic and homey – and the atmosphere was perfectly French. I had a pumpkin ginger soup, a piece of beef with risotto and creme brulee. James had lobster ravioli, cod and a massive puff pastry tower.

Following dinner, we walked back towards the Eiffel Tower to finally see it sparkle – something we had neglected to do every night we were in Paris because of sheer exhaustion at the end of the day. Following the 4 minute light show, we headed to the train and took it back to our apartment, packed and got ready for a day of travel.