Paris has never been in my top ten travel spots. If I’m entirely honest, I don’t think it would have made my top 20. But when you’re gifted some tickets to see Ed Sheeran at the Stade France, you’ve gotta run with it right? So off I toddle for a two night escape to the city of lurve with one of my besties.
Let me say that I was really impressed from the get-go. The Eurostar is clean, spacious and air conditioned… it was pretty good start. (The French side not so much.) We arrived in Paris relatively refreshed (and ever so slightly inebriated thanks to M&S pink gin tins) and navigated to the Metro. It’s just like the London underground – bit dirty, cramped and smelly but if you’ve survived the tube, you’ll be fine. I love listening to the people talk in their native tongue and have this unfortunate affliction of wanting to join in. Unfortunately my French is limited to a long gone GCSE which – if I’m honest – I largely achieved through the coercive prompts of a very kind teacher who took pity on me during my oral exam and fed me answers! Still, I delivered bonjour and merci with gusto – my way of ingratiating myself with the locals. In reality it’s a little cringeworthy as I’m far from a natural linguist, but it’s a compulsion and it sounded good in my head at least!
We stayed at Hôtel Le Notre Dame Saint Michel on the banks of the River Seine, at the edge of the Latin Quarter. It promised a lot more than it delivered but at the end of the day, unless you’re willing to spend hundreds on a room for the night, you aren’t going to get much for your money in a major city. It was clean, the bed was comfy, the shower worked and it was in a great location, which is all I ever really want from a city hotel. Notre Dame was literally on our doorstep and while enjoying petit dejeuner with that amazing view each morning, I did have to pinch myself. I’m not fancy and I’m not clever, but in that moment, I bloody well felt cultured!
Okay, let’s be clear: you will be hard pushed to do all the key Paris sights in just two days. We bought a Paris Pass and I can categorically tell you it was a waste of our money. We were quite happy either walking or jumping on the Metro (a tip from a friend was to buy a book of metro tickets upfront – great advice and they are dirt cheap) and we only made it into one museum using the pass. What I can also tell you is that I didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower BUT I’m actually glad I didn’t; the Mona Lisa was incredibly underwhelming (boo hiss to my uncultured self); and my best architectural site was free to enter.
So the reason I’m glad I didn’t go up the tower is because, by night, it is far nicer to watch it twinkle from below. Every hour on the hour, it has its very own light show – like it’s covered with a million diamonds. It is truly a sight to see. In between the light show, it looks like it’s made of tons of little chip sticks (typical of me to reference food). It really is a surreal experience seeing it first-hand, and something I’m unexpectedly delighted I’ve done. I don’t feel that I’ve missed out by not going up. In fact, quite the contrary. Someone said to me that they paid to go up and once they were there, they realised the only landmark they really wanted to see was the one they are standing on. Makes sense really. Plus by day it looks totally different. Greyer, darker, more opposing and not nearly so elegant.
In my view, the Paris Pass is a waste of money unless you specifically follow one of their planned tours or plan to visit several museums in a very short space of time. Yes we used it to visit the Louvre Museum but that’s basically the only value we got from it. If you’re an art buff then you could lose days in that museum. And even if you’re not, it’s easy to find yourself captivated by the sheer size and story telling of the artwork. Personally, I find it really disappointing that people want take pictures and film inside. There a million images available online nowadays. What you can never get online is the value of seeing something with your own eyes. Maybe I’m a bit archaic in my thinking but many of the people huddled around the Mona Lisa were more interested in taking pictures than absorbing the image first hand. An image that I was genuinely underwhelmed by. There are so many more interesting paintings – some the size of my house – that I lost myself in while trying to decipher the story they told.
It’s impossible to go to Paris and fail to notice the architecture. Sitting in a little bistro sipping coffee and taking it all in was amazing. Probably my favourite building was Notre Dame and – even though you have to queue a little – it’s totally free to enter. Inside there are artworks, sculptures, carvings and the most incredible stain glass windows. Truly spectacular.
Paris Eats + Treats
Ahhh…now, the food. 48 hours is nowhere near enough time to truly sample the delights of Parisian food, but we did literally stumble (after walking until our feet bled) across a really cute little bistro called Cocorico on Rue du Bac. I couldn’t let the trip pass without trying snails and frogs legs. Quite the revelation – the escargot (snails) taste like garlic mushrooms. Much to my amusement, they are in fact slippery little suckers (ala Pretty Woman). Picking them up is tricky, but it’s worth it. Just don’t think about what you’re eating and you’ll be fine! I found the frogs legs tasteless. Like tiny chicken legs but with no real flavour other than the garnish. A fabulous little bistro though – the sancerre was cold and the service was great.
If you head up to the Montmartre area (which is a little run down and being close to Gare du Nord station, seemed to have the most migrants), the view from the Sacré-Cœur is worth taking in. While there I highly recommend visiting Maison Georges Larnicol. This traditional Parisian chocolatier has a vast array of decadent chocolates but that’s not the reason to visit. It’s the macarons…oh – my – gosh…those macarons. Sweet little meringuey morsels that literally dissolve in your mouth. IN-CRE-DI-BLE.
I also fell in love with French rosé on this trip. I hate the cheap, sweet, fake-berry pink stuff that people class as rosé in England. But in Paris – ooh la la, that rosé is delicious. Still mildly fruity but dry and crisp and beautiful blush colour. Perfect with, well, pretty much anything really. And one of the sight I found truly charming was all the Parisians sitting by the River Seine with a little cloth, a baguette, some cheese and bottle of the fabulous pink stuff, enjoying a balmy evening with friends. Genuinely, this is how they spend their evenings. Very few phones, no laptops, just wine, food and friends. Heavenly.
The best momento of the trip is something that I hope my son will treasure – a tiny wind-up music box. There are lots of little tourist shops selling them around the Latin Quarter and I just thought they were adorable. It was so nice to bring back something more meaningful than a dodgy fridge magnet and he played with it for days. Imagine by John Lennon seemed apt and is now nostalgic of a fabulous little trip.
You betcha. In summer, Paris is hot, it’s busy, perhaps a bit dirty, but it’s a city. And it’s teaming with history, some seriously cool architecture and is packed full of wonderful eateries. I think timing is key for appreciating it fully. Ten years ago, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did now. Or I would have enjoyed it for very different reasons anyway. The culture, the history and the stories are what make it special and I don’t think I would have really got before. Next visit, top of my list is the Shakespeare Bookshop – a tiny, crumbling but historic book shop that was heaving every time we passed it; and Musee D’orsay – an incredible collection of the most famous impressionists art work, set in an old railway station. I can’t see me being underwhelmed by that. Then again, I didn’t like the Mona Lisa so who knows…