Thursday, October 8, 2015

le weekend à Paris

For some reason, I've been struggling to write this post. What can I possibly say about a weekend in Paris that hasn't been said a million times before? How in the world do I begin to describe the beauty of my favorite city, the familiarity with which I walked the streets even though I'd only been there once before, the sheer awe and surprise of turning the corner into the windowed room of Sainte-Chapelle, the comfort of indulging in meals so rich, savory, and buttery that they should have been deemed pure gluttony, the cosmopolitan independence I wore as I sauntered down the Champs-Elysee with shopping bag in hand, or the thrill of being asked for directions in French and then answering correctly, also in French???

The answer is, I can't. Tomes have been written about the joie de vivre one discovers somewhere deep in the winds of Montmartre, and though I often like to don a large bowtie and handlebar mustache and nibble on some madeleines, Proust I am not. I was in Paris for nearly three full days, but I felt as though I were there for months. That's probably due to the fact that we trekked to every sight and overlook on both sides of the Seine, but I like to think the elixirs of rosé we slowly sipped over a late afternoon lunch on the Ile Sainte-Louis had something to do with it.

Thanks to some serendipitous scheduling and a cheap inter-continental flight, I was able to tack a trip to Paris onto the end of my week in Ireland and meet two of my New York besties for a much-needed girl's weekend. Kristen was finishing up her own family vacation in the British Isles and Claire was just beginning a three month audition tour for European operas, so it was only natural that we set our monthly wine and cheese night a bit closer to the source of said wine and cheese. With the click of a few buttons and even fewer emails, we reserved an Airbnb, kind of coordinated our arrival times, and agreed to meet on a random street in the middle of the city. And somehow it all worked out perfectly.

We sat in front of Notre Dame and contemplated it's history and architecture. I led us all on a walking tour to find Satie's house. We napped in front of the Eiffel tower, and then helped Kristen complete a life-long goal of ascending to the top where were witness to one proposal, five very drunk Russians, and three zillion selfie sticks. Claire sketched in the Rodin garden while I practiced my high school French, and then we sat on the banks of the Seine and ate gelato even though it's an Italian dessert. With blue skies and perfect temperatures for all three days, the only way our weekend could have been more clichéd is if we had put on berets to meet Alexander Petrovsky in a smoky café.

I was not ready to leave Paris. While I fully understand that visiting a city for a few days is entirely different from actually living in a city, I felt such a sense of "livability" that I very nearly started researching European work visas. But since two weeks is more than enough time for my unemployed self to be spending on an opulent vacation, I dutifully made my way to the airport via the Metro I had gotten so good at using. But not before taking an extra lap around the block and ordering one last pain au chocolate, making sure to converse with the shopkeeper entirely in French.

If you go: Paris is one of the most-visited destinations in the world and I only spent a few days there, so I obviously don't think I'm an authority on the subject. That's not going to stop me from giving my opinion though!
Museums to visit: Unless you have an entire day to kill, skip the Louvre. It's too big and crowded and overwhelming for a quick trip, and you'll regret it if you do the two-hour highlights tour. Instead, get your Impressionist fix at the Musée d'Orsay and grab a breath of fresh air in the surprisingly affordable gardens outside the Rodin Museum.
Churches to see: The options are dizzying, so stick to the biggies - Notre-Dame because it really is that impressive in person, Sacré Coeur because the views from the plaza are stunning, and Sainte-Chapelle because I've never before gasped out loud at a church's beauty.
Restaurants to try: We splurged on two big meals (and by "splurge" I mean spending around $30 for one meal) - the touristy yet tasty La Brasserie de l'Isle Sainte-Louis, and the sublime Jeanne B in Montmartre. I also ate approximately four pain au chocolates each day and have no regrets.
On the Eiffel Tower: Go to the top if you must, but know that a.) it's pricy, b.) the wait to get tickets is nearly an hour unless you buy them ahead of time c.) it's INCREDIBLY crowded and claustrophobic at the top, almost to a prohibitory level - and I normally do just fine in large crowds.
Some more good advice: Get yourself a guidebook! I highly, highly recommend Rick Steve's Paris - his walking tours are incomparable, and the description of each sight and location is infused with such fascinating facts that you'll consider yourself a history buff by the end of your trip. A little information never hurt anyone, and knowing the importance of the church or monument you're visiting makes the experience that much richer.
Where to stay: We needed to save our pennies for more pastries, so we booked ourselves an Airbnb property near the Luxembourg Gardens. It was cute, clean, and in a great area - I'd stay there again in a heartbeat. Are you planning a trip yourself? Use this link to save yourself $20 on your first Airbnb rental!
I was neither sponsored nor compensated for my travels, I simply share my thoughts and opinions because they might help you out on your next trip to Paris!

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