C'est la vie - Paris 2017
Ahh, Paris. The city of lights and unofficial city of love. Glad we're all painfully single and can sub in as each other's boyfriends. Despite the mixed reviews we've heard of Paris, we genuinely had an amazing time. All the locals were overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming and we loved the city itself.
While we usually like to travel pretty authentically by staying away from the tourist traps and experiencing the city like the locals do, our time in Paris was a little different. As none of us had been there before, we really wanted to do all the cliche touristy stuff. We shoved so much stuff into our 4 days that my Fitbit was screaming at me after 36,000 steps in one day. C'est la vie, right?
We pulled into Gare du Nord in the 18th Arrondissement and had no clue what to expect from the neighborhood we were in. We quickly realized it was young, hip, and everything we like to pretend we are. After dropping our bags off at our hostel, we immediately set out on a quest to find wine, cheese, and multiple croissants. This was the beginning of a carb-fueled four days.
Where We Stayed
Smart Place Paris - We stayed in the Montemarte district about 20 minutes from the center of the city. Our hostel was cozy and comforting, which was everything we wanted after a crazy night in Brussels. The fact that it's only a 10 minute walk from a major train station is pretty clutch, as you pretty much have to take public transportation everywhere in Paris. Read on here for more about our time at Smart Place.
What to Eat
For our first dinner, we were recommended a small local restaurant by the hostel. We were happy to see that we were pretty much the only tourists in the room, so we knew it was going to be a great meal. The menu was full of French classics and unique twists, including massive salad bowls the size of my head topped with full rounds of cheese. Please let me know if it gets any more French than that. Highly recommend La Marmite if you want to stray away from the Hard Rock Cafes of the world.
Pomme de Pain
This was a cute little chain that we stumbled upon while walking home one night. We were all cranky and hungry and couldn't be bothered to wait for food at a sit down restaurant. This perfectly satisfied our grumbling tummies. While it isn't anything groundbreaking, the sandwiches are good and cheap (and come with a dessert!!). I wouldn't say go out of your way for it, but it's definitely a good choice for a quick lunch. Try the Lyonnaise sub with pickles, ham, and butter. Sounds odd, tastes divine.
This is a pretty obvious inclusion, but it really is important. Crepes are good for literally any time of the day and there's something really indulgent about a 2 Euro crepe overflowing with Nutella. Get therm for every meal. Seriously.
What to Do
Yes, it is a classic tourist trap, but it's really something you just have to experience. The catacombs were created in the 19th Century when the city of Paris was facing severe flooding. All the grave yards started to deteriorate and bodies were floating up to the surface. In an effort to fix this, the city chose to create a mass grave in the old mining tunnels under the city. The bones of nearly 600,000 people are arranged in the tunnels into different artistic decorations like crosses and stars. It's truly an incredible sight. We were lucky enough to meet the kindest tour guide strolling through who took us under his wing and showed us the more hidden gems of the catacombs. These included skulls with bullet holes and bones that were crystallized from the moisture. Morbid, but really f'ing cool.
Seriously, do not spend any amount of time in Paris without taking the subway over to Montemarte. This hip and fun neighborhood sits under the watchful shadow of the Sacre Coeur Basilica and basks in the light of the famed Moulin Rouge. There are a staggering amount of cool bars and cafes. When walking through here on a Friday night, the streets were full of 20- and 30-somethings socializing, drinking, and smoking (classic Europeans). Absolutely take the hike up to Sacre Coeur after sunset to see the view of the district and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. This was the last thing we did on our last night and it was a beautiful way to see the city off.
The Palace of Versailles
The most memorable part of our Parisian adventure was the love affair we established with my boy, Louis XIV. While I remember learning about him in school, nothing could have prepared me for the true scope of this man. The sheer gall and pretentiousness of this man is honestly unrivaled throughout history. I could go on for hours, but long story short, he put France into bankruptcy just so he could have the most impressive palace (which, mind you, used more water than THE ENTIRE CITY of Paris in one day). Cue the French Revolution.
If anything, go to Versailles to learn about how ridiculous Louis was. Stroll through the gardens free of charge and try to find all the fountains. They only turn them on on certain days of the year, but they're all still powered by gravity and the original pipes, so that's pretty cool. If you want to see inside the palace, it's about 18 Euro for the entrance and audio tour. It's worth it just to see the Hall of Mirrors, which is the most opulent glorified hallway you'll ever see. While you're there, grab lunch at La Flottile, the restaurant right next to the Grand Canal. Beautiful view and reasonably priced, good food!
This shop/cafeteria has quickly become a not-so-secret hidden gem of Paris. For the best view of the city, head up to the 9th floor of this sprawling Printemps store. There's a self-service buffet and, once you fill up your plate, you can head outside to the picnic tables and eat at what feels like the top of the city. All the landmarks can be found in this panoramic view of Paris. Do this instead of paying to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomph.
Easily one of the best parts of our trip was our tour with Interkultur Tours. We got to stroll through the hidden alleyways of the Bastille district and meet a local wood artisan. Even if you don't do the tour, go to Bastille just to walk along the streets. The vibe is really friendly and there's some amazing shopping. If you plan it well, you'll stumble across the Marché Bastille. There's fresh fruit, cheese, wine, clothes, scarves, and pretty much anything else you can think of. We got these incredible Lebanese sandwiches that were pretty much a unique version of quesadillas. They were so good I could cry. If you attempt to speak in French to the vendors, they'll be really nice to you and even offer you free food (speaking from experience). You can see all about our tour of Bastille below.
Another great way to see the city is by taking a river cruise. I know it's painfully touristy, but there's really nothing like floating down the Seine with the city lit up all around you. Paris is known for its bridges, and this is the best way to get up close and personal with them. It's even better if you bring a bottle of wine or champagne with you on the boat. Just make sure you come prepared or you might end up being suckered in to spending 20 Euro on shitty wine being sold on the side of the street.....Oops......
Steph has loved Moulin Rouge since she was in the womb, so naturally we had to make sure we visited the landmark before leaving. On our last night, we took the subway back from The Louvre (and the wildly underwhelming Mona Lisa) and proceeded to have a full scale photoshoot in front of the club. Unfortunately, the whole street is full of less glamorous, much sketchier strip clubs. We learned the hard way that the people who hang around here aren't exactly our type when we were approached by two men on our walk back to the hostel. In broken English, the one looked at Brooke and pointed to the lovely, reputable establishment behind us. He said "Moon City. Sex Club. Us?" and gestured to his friend and the three of us with a little winky face. Brooke tried to maintain her composure but Shannon gives zero f*cks and laughed out loud in his face as we walked away. Maybe we're really missing out but I guess we'll never know.
Check out the video recap of our trip to Paris!