Limi and I were married April 28th, 2012. This past week marked our 6th wedding anniversary and we had the huge opportunity to make a trip to Paris to celebrate it! We were so fortunate to have received Bonus Sky Miles with Delta (ask me about it if you're interested!) so we only paid $43 per flight per person! Travelling to Paris and back for less than $100 total? Yeah, I'll take it!
The boys stayed home with their grandma, so that gave us a week to ourselves, to explore the area or just relax at our apartment (AirBnB) and FaceTime the boys at every opportunity. Neither of us speaks French, but we quickly discovered that it is pretty easy to manage in Paris without understanding French. There are lots of signs in the metro with English subtitles, and you will always run into someone who speaks English. We also discovered that Google Maps can locate you even when your phone is in airplane mode. This became incredibly helpful as we were navigating our way through the city.
I don't really know where to begin to describe how wonderful our experience was! The best I can do is to give you the day-by-day breakdown (excluding travel time) and hope you can get a feel for it all. If you want to know all the details, scroll through the pictures to reach the detailed portion of this post (prepare for some serious parenthesis action). Otherwise, enjoy the pictures (unfortunately mostly iPhone pictures, due to the rain) and brief descriptions when you click on some photos.
We arrived in Paris the morning of our anniversary. We did our best to navigate the transportation system, and ended up taking a bus from the airport to our apartment. But when we got there, the owner wasn't there to meet us as we expected. We waited for about 15 minutes, but we were outside the building, on a busy sidewalk, with all our luggage. It wasn't a great setting to wait. Our phones were still in airplane mode, since we didn't want to pay for international phone fees. That meant no calls, texts, emails etc. Limi tried to walk across to the metro station, to get Wifi so that he could call her, but had no luck. Similarly, he tried finding Wifi from cafes close by, but still was unable to connect to call her.
So we gave up, and turned on cell service for his phone. We called her number (which was a UK number, by the way) and tried emailing her, but were unable to reach her. Finally, after about 50 minutes of waiting, she called us back, and explained that she lives in the UK, but we should have received a text with codes to enter the building and apartment. We hadn't received them, because we had been on the flight, but she was able to resend them. Finally we could go in and drop all our luggage. So in hind sight, we probably should have verified entry instructions before boarding our flights, but you live and you learn.
Codes in hand, we went into the building and discovered a micro-lift. Yes, the elevator couldn't have been much more than 2 feet by 2 feet. It was just barely big enough to fit Limi and I both, or one of us and our suit case. Interestingly, it said the maximum occupancy was 3 people! I am not sure at all how you would fit 3 people, unless they were 3 small children. And there was a sign saying that if you touched the door while it was closing, you would very likely be stuck inside the lift. It was a pretty good motivator not to over-stuff the elevator.
If you walked up the stairs to our apartment, you would go up 5 flights of a tightly wound spiral staircase, with French windows halfway up each flight. It was so quaint, but only feasible without luggage. Our apartment was a clean and classic European apartment. It had white walls, classy herringbone wood floors, a French windows with shutters and an iron gate and a teeny tiny bathroom. Everything was updated and it was a really nice place!
Despite the fact that we hadn't eaten yet that day, we were so tired that we just crashed and napped all afternoon. Then we cleaned up and went out to find some dinner. We had plans to find a nice restaurant, since it was our anniversary, but we were so hungry that we just caved for the first cafe we saw, on our street. It was a cute little cafe, with a red awning, tables and chairs out on the sidewalk and what we thought seemed like a classic French atmosphere (later we figured out how touristy the cafe was). We ordered a ham crepe, and I got roasted chicken and fries. We both got water and paid at least 5 euros for one small bottle to share. The chicken was good, and I loved the ham inside the crepe! I am not a huge fan of ham, but the kind they use in Paris is so different! It tastes more like corned beef - the fresh kind, not from a can.
After tanking up, we went out to explore the area. Our apartment was about 2 blocks from the Eiffel tower, so we headed there first. We just walked around it, and chatted, but neither of us wanted to wait in line to go up. Instead we just enjoyed the view of the Eiffel tower itself. Walking and talking has been a favorite activity of ours since we first met (really, our first conversation happened while we were walking through the library!) so once we walked around the perimeter, we just kept walking (mostly in the 16th arrondissement, which became our top favorite place to be). We walked along the Seine then crossed the bridge and walked toward the Trocadero. I really wished I had brought my camera out on our walk, because there were so many perfect photo spots, but I promised Limi I would take the photographing easy for a little bit. So I just used my phone for all 500 pictures. ;)
Again, jet-lag got the better of us, so we slept pretty late into the morning. Then we climbed back into the mini elevator and headed down to the street. We found a cafe close by, selling fresh crepes. Limi got ham and cheese, and I got banana, nutella and coconut (which Limi liked better). We ate, fell in love with them, and vowed to eat crepes there every morning during the rest of our stay!
Then our first real experience navigating the transportation system began. We had looked up the rout to Tombeau de Napoleon ler (Napoleon's Tomb), which said we should take RER C. We thought it was a bus, and knew that it came every 4-8 minutes. We walked to where we thought the bus stop would be and waited (in the rain for about 12 minutes. Still no bus. Only then did we realize that the sign for RER C was actually a metro stop - below us. We were happy to get out of the rain, and quickly figured out how to navigate the metro station for RER C.
Although Napoleon's Tomb was the location on the agenda, we came to realize it was within the Musee de l'Armee, which was such a beautiful sight itself. All the light colored stone and incredible architecture had me completely enchanted. So we took a long detour to explore the museum in addition to Napoleons Tomb. We learned that there were 2 churches built in the same vicinity. One was built for the soldiers (and it was absolutely beautiful) and then a more impressive and expensive one was built for the more powerful figures in Paris. This is where Napoleon was later laid to rest. But it almost looks like a temple of sorts, with gold leaf, marble and stone carvings everywhere. The details in every square foot of the place were unbelievable.
The next place on our agenda was the Musee d'Orsay. It would have been just one metro stop down, so rather than paying again, we decided to walk. The streets between the Musee de l'Armee and the Musee d'Orsay (the 6th arrondissement) would probably have to be our second favorite area that we visited during our stay in Paris. The streets were quiet, but still had the old world charm that I love so much! We didn't end up going inside the Musee d'Orsay, because the lines were long and we suddenly set eyes on the Louvre. So we walked there instead, to see the famous glass pyramid. Then we walked past a few tourist shops and a few seriously high-end shops (the Vendome area which has the most expensive shops in Paris) before deciding we were too cold and wet to continue on. So back to the metro and our own hood to get dinner.
Once again, we stopped at one of the cafes on our street. We tried escargot, which tasted surprisingly like overcooked shrimp scampi - I say overcooked because it was firmer and chewier than shrimp. Limi didn't love that they were still in the shell, since he grew up eating snails that had been removed from the shell and cleaned. I didn't mind it, overall, and I'm happy that we tried it, although I am not sure it would be the first thing I order next time we go to a French restaurant. As far as our entree, Limi had pizza, which featured a slightly runny egg in the center - he wasn't a fan - and I got gnocchi with ham and mushrooms. And again, we paid for our bottle of water. It was slightly bigger this time, although still probably not more than 18 ounces, and we paid 8 euros for it.
Months before out trip, we booked a tour though AirBnB, called "Secrets of the Louvre". It was a bike tour, exploring less known areas near the Louvre. We were really excited about it, but when we woke up it was rainy and super cold. Since we had already paid for the tour we didn't skip out, but we were definitely rethinking our determination to participate. We met in Place Vendome, which I previously mentioned has the most sophisticated (read: expensive) shops and hotel in Paris, including Chaumet, Torrente, and The Ritz Paris.
When the guide arrived, he told us about the history of Place Vendome, which is that during the reign of Louis the 14th (I might be wrong on which one) the aristocracy and bourgeois had a problem with thieves when they went out to socialize. So the king created this city square, which was entirely closed in, except a narrow entrance on 2 sides, where guards were placed to prevent unwanted individuals. So it became a popular place for the rich people to gather. Since then, the reputation of the place has continued.
In the center of the square is a monument placed by Napoleon himself after one of his battles, the Battle of Austerlitz, which has become known as a tactical masterpiece. The guide told the story very well, and I remember the highlights, but you can certainly look it up on Wikipedia if you want more details.
It was winter (*Begin: Tour guide sound effects of harsh winter winds*). The battle began with the French army outnumbered. Napoleon had less than 50,000 soldiers, who were weary from a long march. The enemy, the Russians and Austrians, had nearly 100,000 fresh soldiers. In the center of the battlefield was a hill. Napoleon tricked his enemies into marching up the hill, thinking that they would find the French army there. When in reality, Napoleon had hidden his army in a nearby village. With the enemy on the hill top, and an early morning fog blocking their view, Napoleon was able to surround his enemies with his army. When they came down and discovered they were surrounded by the French, Napoleon then had his army fire canons at the enemy. However, the cannon balls went up, and came down, landing in the snow without hitting any of the enemy. The Russians and Austrians might have laughed at the misfire, until they started feeling water on their feet, and realized that they were on ice, which had been broken by the cannon balls. The enemy began to sink into the icy water, drowning soldiers by the thousands, and giving Napoleon the victory. To celebrate this achievement, Napoleon collected the cannons from his enemies, melted them, and built the monument in the center of Place Vendome.
After this exciting story, we were off to collect our rain ponchos and bikes. They were electric bikes - which look like regular mountain bikes except that there is a small box motor below the seat. After one or two strokes on the pedal, the motor takes over and gives a big boost, so the amount of effort you put into your ride is seriously reduced.
Honestly, I can't remember all the names of the places we visited, but the sights were incredible and the history briefs our enthusiastic guide gave were so interesting. We almost forgot about how wet and cold it was. Here are a few locations we visited on the tour (that I remember):
Le Palais Royal - the guide told us that the popular younger brother of Louis the 14th was practically banished from Versailles, because of his favoritism, and sent to live at Le Palais Royal. His new home soon became the social center of Paris, where all the elite of society opted to gather. This brother, Philippe, was also the center of society in Paris. Once, when he and his friends were out late, drinking, they walked through the streets where the butchers worked. Returning home early in the morning, they slept off. When Philippe woke later that day, he was surprised to see all the people in the palace were wearing shoes with red soles. He inquired as to why this was, and was told that it was because HE came in the night before, wearing shoes with red soles (after walking through the blood from butchered animals). As the story goes, that is why the fashionable shoes from Louis Vuitton also have red soles.
Latin Quarter - riding through the Latin quarter (named because it was historically the place of education - taught in Latin) was just beautiful. While still having the lovely buildings and tight streets, it had such a different feel from other parts of Paris. We saw many renown universities and schools, but I can't remember the names.
Le Procope - We passed by the oldest restaurant in Paris, which has artifacts from Benjamin Franklin, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon. Supposedly, when Napoleon was only 17 years old, and before he was a well-known tactician, he stopped at this restaurant for dinner. Unable to pay, he left his hat for collateral, promising to return and pay. He never did return, but the hat was never discarded. Now the hat is proudly displayed, and would auction off for over a million euros today. We also stopped by a nearby Chocolate Shop (Un Dimanche A Paris) for a cup of hot chocolate. It was so thick you almost felt like you were drinking melted chocolate - in a good way.
Arenes de Lutece - an ancient Roman amphitheater, complete with a gladiator entrance and lion cages.
Pantheon - we just rode by, without going inside.
La Congregation du Saint Esprit - this church is the only church left untouched by the French Revolution. It was commissioned by Marie Antoinette about 14 years before the revolution, and her initials are seen within the stained glass windows. During the revolution, the people associated the church with the aristocracy, so they raided all the churches and cathedrals, stealing artifacts and destroying artwork. When the mobs arrived at La Congregation du Saint Esprit, the nun inside became very fearful. She hid in the wine cellar, and shortly became drunk. Hearing the people banging on the door upstairs, she went up and opened the door for them. Then she offered them wine as well. Soon, the mob was too drunk to carry away any furniture, so they left and never came back to finish the job.
Eglise Saint-Sulpice - according to our guide, this cathedral is bigger than the Notredame (although Wikipedia says it is just slightly smaller), also containing the biggest organ in Europe. It is filled with beautiful paintings from famous artists, with intriguing but extensive stories behind them. I wouldn't even begin to adequately recount them.
After our tour we made our way home to dry off and warm up before going back out. I think I hurt my leg while biking, so I was having a hard time walking without a limp. I also had a few fights with the shoes I brought to Paris - one giving me horrible blisters and the other refusing to keep my feet dry, so we went to find a good replacement at a shopping center somewhat close to our apartment. We did grab some pastries on our way to the shops (Limi got a croissant and I got an eclair). We had a horrible habit of only eating crepes in the late morning, and dinner between 7 and 8, when we are super hungry. So after going around the shopping center, we stopped right where we were to find food. Lucky for us, that night we found a little cafe/bar, called Le Relais Charbon) which had one of the best entrees of our trip! It was a little further from the Eiffel tower area, so we thought that it may have catered more to the Parisians and less to the tourists. Any way, Limi ordered steak and potatoes, and I got a chicken and noodle thing, with freshly made pasta! It was yummy, but we traded and I ate his potatoes and he ate the pasta. I think this was actually Limi's favorite restaurant.
We woke up super early because I had scheduled a sunrise anniversary photo session at the Trocadero. I also had a hair and makeup artist meeting me at the apartment over an hour before our session. Luckily the rain had stopped, so while being cold, the sky and the light was just beautiful! My leg was still hurting, so I am seriously hoping that I my awkward limp doesn't look obvious in some of the photos where she had us walking or dancing. So after our session we went home so I could let my leg rest and hopefully recover for more walking later on.
Later in the afternoon, we went back out to the 16th arrondissement (remember, I told you this was our favorite area?) and just walked and walked and walked. We stopped at this FANTASTIC place, Restaurant Aero, for dinner. I ordered roasted chicken leg (again) and was so surprised how flavorful it was. I am not kidding when I tell you it made me rethink every "good" recipe I have at home. I would go back to that restaurant in a heartbeat! After walking some more, we stopped at a Boulangerie to grab some pastries to take home. As soon as we spoke (in English of course), everyone in the shop stopped what they were doing an stared at us. This was our first and only experience feeling uncomfortable not speaking French. We definitely tried to keep to ourselves an not be conspicuous, but everywhere else that we had to communicate with English, people seemed warm and helpful when they realized we couldn't speak their language. But for the record, the pastries (mine a tarte aux framboises and Limi's a pear tart) were delicious, without being overly sweet. Also for the record, I walked 16,500 steps by the end of that day (and 16,000 the day before).
Once it got dark, we ventured out once again to see the Eiffel tower with its sparkling lights. We didn't realize that it only sparkes for 5 minutes on the hour, so although we briefly saw it sparkling as we left the apartment, we kept walking (the buildings blocked our view) so that we could get closer and right in front of the tower. But by the time we got there, it was back to its static glow. We definitely loved seeing that as well, but walked around, and got ice cream while we waited for the sparkling to begin at the next hour. We also witnessed several rats near the food stands in the park, and I instantly decided never to eat there.
Our last day in Paris.... again, we slept in and started our day with Nutella, banana, coconut crepes. Then we headed out to Forum des Halles to do pick out a perfume for myself and Limi's mom. The area was so pretty! The mall seemed to be in the middle of where 5 streets (classic French style - narrow and historic) come together. There was also the breathtaking Saint-Eustache next door. So we took a detour and visited the inside of the church. It was absolutely stunning! It was so grand and detailed, and made you feel so small. It seriously think it would be so cool to attend a church service in one of these buildings. I don't know how much I would pay attention to the service though ... I would probably be too distracted by the architecture.
After visiting the church we ventured down one of the streets, and found a suit shop for Limi. Man, European slim-fit suits look so much better than U.S. slim-fit suits. Also, the suit shop had a poster from Sun Valley, Idaho! Imagine, travelling so far to see a "post card" from your home state.
Back again to our home base, we walked once again to the 16th arrondissement to find dinner. And once again, this part of the city did not disappoint! The restaurant, rightly named La Favorite, had a classy feel inside, and classic tables out on the sidewalk. And again, can you guess what I ordered? Roasted chicken leg. It's not because I was hesitant to try anything else (although the menu was almost entirely in French) but because I was now obsessed with the French ways of roasting chicken. As much as I absolutely loved the chicken I ate the night before, this one had to take the cake. It wasn't even served with a "sauce" and yet the flavors were infused into the meat so well that you didn't miss the sauce that wasn't there! I am determined to learn how to cook like that. Also, I'm determined to learn French so that we can go live there one day.
Walking home, the sun was starting to go down, so we got to see yet another look of the Eiffel tower. It was just lightly glowing, in the not yet dark sky, and it was such pretty sight. Pictures don't even remotely do it justice. It was a great way to end the night, and ultimately our trip in Paris.
If we really do make it back there one day, there are a few places I want to be sure to visit:
Carrousel du Louvre
Place des Voges
Berthilon Glacier (okay, it's just an ice cream shop, but a macaron shop would be good too)
Montmartre & Sacre-Coeur
ALL the Chateaus (okay, maybe not all, but definitely a few)