When we embarked on our London adventure, I told the husband that my one traveling priority was to take a weekend trip to Paris. Only a 2.5 hour ride on the Eurostar , it’s an easy trip from London. Fast forward a month, and we both fell so in love with our pub-hopping, show-catching, and Sunday-roast-eating weekend ritual in London that we significantly pared down our travel plans. The husband kind of hated Paris when he visited with a friend after college, so it fell from being a priority, to being off our weekend travel list altogether.
Though I’d visited Paris in high school on a trip with my mom, I still wanted to go again while living so close. Enter cheap, middle of the week train specials. Tickets on the Eurostar can be expensive, sometimes even more than an airline ticket to the same destination. However, if you’re on vacation, or have flexible travel plans, you can get really cheap tickets during the middle of the week. I grabbed a winter weekday special, and for £59, secured a round trip ticket to Paris from London’s St. Pancras train station. I considered staying the night, but the idea of taking a trip to Paris just for the day was, for some reason, very appealing, not to mention cheaper, so a day trip it was.
I headed out on the earliest train of the day and was in Paris before 10am. Using the Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Paris, I planned my day on the train (amidst some napping). Having been to Paris before, and knowing that I was traveling alone, I had a general idea of where I wanted to go before hopping on the train, but no formal plans. After waiting in line to get a ticket on the metro for a really long time, I was on my way to my first destination, the Sacre Coeur.
The Eurostar just after arriving in Paris
Like London, many of the most famous sites in London are free, which is a welcome treat for an American like me, who is used to paying to enter every place I visit. The Sacre Coeur is located on the summit of the butte Montmartre, the tallest point in the city, and offers some of the best views of the city. It’s a fair number of steps to get up to the top and it’s not for the faint-hearted, or for those who don’t want to be approached by people selling things.
Avoiding the hecklers
I took the steps up on the right side of the church and avoided the heckling from vendors selling items that one neither needs nor should want. There is supposedly a funicular for those with limited mobility, but I can’t say that I saw it. After a quick tour of the inside, I headed to the front steps to sit and enjoy the views, both of the city and the basilica itself. The stones used to construct the basilica are made of stones from Château-Landon, and when it rains, the stones react with the water and secrete calcite, which acts to bleach the stones. This leaves the church a beautiful white color, providing beautiful contrast against the (hopefully) blue skies behind it. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure it would be black, since I found Paris to be number one on the list of most polluted cities I’ve visited list (no, I’ve never been to LA).
View over Paris from the Sacre Coeur
The next stop on my whirlwind tour of the city was the Champs-Élysées, more specifically, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, set on the Western end of the famous street. The arch honors those who died during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. I can’t say that this is my favorite site in Paris, and is probably one that I would skip next time.
I risked my life by standing in the middle of the street for a crappy photo!
Up next was Paris’s most iconic site, the Tour Eiffel. I approached it from an odd angle, and I have to admit that, when I saw it for the second time in my life, my reaction was, “oh, that’s it?’ It could have been the 80’s style building in the foreground, or the fact that all the clouds seemed to roll in at that moment, but I can’t say that I was super impressed by its beauty (I know, who am I?). Given that I’m afraid of heights, and that the husband, who makes me suck it up when we travel together, was back in London working, I skipped the visit to the top. Plus, it was pretty freezing at ground level, , so I could only image how cold it would be at the top.
No caption needed
I next headed into the heart of the tourist-y area of the city to the Notre Dame Cathedral. After wandering the streets for a bit, soaking in the local culture, and looking for a vibrant side street I’d loved on my first trip, but not finding it, I went into the cathedral for a quick tour.
In my opinion, the prettiest view of the Notre Dame Cathedral
No, I did not add a lock to the bridge
After more walking through the city streets, enjoying the smells of the food from the street vendors, and marveling at all of the macaroons and their flavors, I headed over to the Louvre, just to take a look (it’s closed Tuesdays, the day I visited).
Not pictured: freezing cold and strong wind gusts
Finally, I headed over to my most-anticipated, longest, and final stop of the day, the Musée D’Orsay. The museum is located in an old train station (the former Gare D’Orsay, hence the name). The building itself is beautiful. While definitely not free, it’s still worth a visit. It’s most famous for its impressionist gallery, and if you like Monet, Manet, Renoir, or basically any impressionist artist, it’s a must-see.
See what I mean, isn’t it gorgeous?!?
I attempted to take an introductory tour, but in the end, the cashier refused to sell me a ticket. She said that there were no more English tours for the day (despite one of the guides, as well as multiple signs telling me that there was, in fact, an English tour starting at 2pm). There are a number of dining options in the museum, and I opted for the cafe on the top floor with beautiful windows for lunch. There’s also a small cafeteria on the main floor and a nicer dining room a few floors up. I spent about 3 hours in the museum and don’t think I even got through half of it before it was time to head back to the Gare du Nord and home to London.
Beautiful clock in the Musée D’Orsay
All in all, I have to say that I was a little disappointed on my second trip to Paris. I remembered loving the city when visiting with my mom, and didn’t have the same reaction this time around. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great city, it’s just not my favorite among those I have visited in Europe. I reflected a lot on why I loved it the first time, but not the second, and these are a few of the reasons I’ve come up with.
1. It’s a little rougher around the edges than other European cities (read: dirty). It reminded me a lot of Montreal in this aspect, but, compared to London and other cities in Europe, it just wasn’t as clean. Everyone seemed to smoke, too, and I got more than a little sick of walking through those puffs of smoke when passing someone on the street. When I first visited Paris I hadn’t traveled nearly as much, but now that I have, there are lots of places that I like better.
2. I just didn’t love the famous sites like I did the first time. Maybe it was that I visited in January (I first visited Paris in sunny, warm July). It might also have a little to do with the fact that I’m now much more well-traveled than I was the first time around, so what was beautiful to me then just wasn’t as cool in comparison to other places I’ve been now. Given my love of the city the first time around, it’s also likely that I had too high of expectations due to my, likely romanticized, memories from my trip with my mom.
3. I was alone. Paris is one of those cities that I think is best visited with someone else. Much of the culture revolves around food, and I just don’t enjoy dining alone in a new place as much as I do with someone else.
Taking selfies is the worst!
4. I was only there for a day. It’s hard to really soak up the culture of a place when you are only there for a few short hours.
5. I couldn’t find the place where my favorite memories of Paris happened the first time around. My favorite part of my visit with my mom all those years ago was when we stumbled upon a vibrant district full of cafés and locals selling local goods. Fifteen years later, I had no idea where said area of the city was located. The January streets were neither as full nor as vibrant as I remembered, leaving it feeling cold and impersonal.
6. The metro is gross. I encountered more broken ticket machines than functioning ones, and more than once had to go far out of my way when the exits were broken and would only accept Paris metro cards, not tickets. It’s harder to navigate, dirtier, and not as efficient as the underground in London in my opinion.
See what I mean?
7. I happened to encounter the people who give Parisians the stereotype of being rude during my second, but not first, visit. After my first visit, I thought people were crazy when people said that Parisians weren’t nice. This time, I understood what they meant that Parisians are rude. From the people who refused to speak to me in French even when I tried, to the lady who told me that there wasn’t an English tour at the museum when all signs (and the person giving the tour) pointed to the fact that there was, to the man who yelled at me in French for photographing a random building, to the people running into me on the streets, I finally understood where the stereotype comes from. I’m not so naive to think that this means that all Parisians are rude, but I can confidently say that 80% of those that I encountered during my day trip were, in fact, rude. If only I had known that the worker who told me that he loved me as I got off the train in Paris would be the nicest anyone would be all day, I might have appreciated it more.
The photo I was yelled at for taking
If you’ve never been to Paris, I would still recommend going, just set your expectations accordingly. I set mine too high, and was in turn, disappointed. I really should have listened to the husband and set my expectations low—it doesn’t leave room for disappointment.