Bonjour! My husband and I spent a week in Paris with another couple this past November, and I felt like a local before the week was out. I feel this was due to the fact we stayed in a condo in Vincennes which is about 6 miles outside the heart of Paris. Every day we walked 1 mile to catch the subway to take us to Paris for our sightseeing adventures. Then, of course, had to repeat the 1-mile walk back to each night but on the way home, we would pass bakeries and get a baguette for that evening and of course pastries for the morning. The next stop on the way home would be a small grocery to pick up some cheese, sausage, and wine which we would enjoy with our baguette every evening. We learned that locals stop by the bakeries on their way home almost every day to get bread to go with their evening meals and many of them go in the morning to get a baguette for breakfast.
Fearing jet lag on our first full day, we stayed in Vincennes and walked to and toured the Chateau de Vincennes. Chateau de Vincennes is a major French chateau built in the 14th and 17th century, an excellent example of medieval architecture. We lucked out when we arrived and got to watch a festival that was happening on the grounds of the Chateau. It was a parade with large mechanical animals, people in costumes, men on stilts, and a fire breather. Afterward, we walked across the street to a small Italian restaurant where we enjoyed pasta and pizza and of course wine. Google translate came in handy when we would go out to eat.
The next day we took the subway to Paris and spent the morning at The Louvre. I was so happy that it was not crowded on the day we went, and we were able to see the ‘must see’ without lines or crowds. Of course, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is on the must see list as well as Winged Victory of Samothrace, The Winged Goddess of Nike located at the top of a staircase. Venus de Milo, Great Sphinx of Tanis and Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, rounded out my must see. We spent 3 hours enjoying the Louvre and felt that we did it justice. As we exited the Louvre, we found ourselves in front of some shops that we browsed through, and I spotted a Starbucks and of course treated myself to a cappuccino. Next, we walked through the Tuileries Garden and even though it was chilly outside (mid 40’s Fahrenheit) the sun was shining, and it was fun to be a part of the bustle of Paris as we headed to the Christmas market. Christmas markets are very big in Europe during the holiday season. To best describe one to you, it is like our local craft fairs. There are booths just like our craft shows that showcase local handmade wares, local food, and the ever-popular Gluhwein which is a warm mulled wine that is very popular at all Christmas markets.
The next day we bought a 3-day ticket for a Hop on Hop off bus which takes you to all of the tourist sights and is a great way to get around when you do not have a car. We went to Notre Dame, and again there was no line, and we walked right in. We rented the audio headset (5 euros) which I would highly recommend as you can then walk thru this magnificent church and hear about all the sights, history, and architecture at your leisure. After we had left Notre Dame, we walked down the right bank of the Seine to take in the local artists with their paintings, postcards, and souvenirs. We made our way to up the left bank to Musee d’ Orsay which houses the largest displays of impressionists and post-impressionists in the world. All of the impressionist works are upstairs in rooms that have large windows to let in the most natural light possible. The first floor is dedicated to major sculptors such as Rodin, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Gauguin, and others. As we left Musee d’Orsay, we jumped back on the Hop On Hop Off bus to take in more tourist sites such as, the Arc de Triumph, the Eiffel Tower and down the Champs-Elysées as we made our way back to the subway stop that would take us back to our home away from home. Again on the way home, we stopped at the bakery and grocery to get our baguette and wine for our evening.
The next day found us taking in Montmartre which is in Paris’s 18th arrondissement. This ‘suburb’ of Paris reminds me very much of San Francisco as an artistic community with many art galleries and boutique type shops. Montmartre is the highest point in Paris. The two highlights of this area in Paris for me was visiting the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur, an absolutely beautiful church that sits high on a hill with magnificent views of all of Paris. In fact, when we stepped out of the church the sun was sitting right behind the Eiffel tower, it was stunning, and we tried very hard to capture on film and yet didn’t do it justice.
After the church visit, we took a food tour of this area of Paris. A very knowledgeable local girl walked us thru the neighborhoods stopping at local cheese shops, groceries, and butchers all the while explaining the French way of enjoying food. To finish the tour we went into a cellar that had been finished and sat around a long wooden table to enjoy the foods and wine she bought. There was another family of 4 and another couple that joined us on the tour that we got to enjoy visiting with while enjoying the food.
I never thought I would, but yet I was intrigued enough to visit the Catacombs of Paris. 236 steps down below ground I found myself walking thru halls and rooms full of bones and skulls of past Parisians. In fact, bones of 1.6 million people are located in the catacombs which were brought about due to overflowing cemeteries and tunnel cave-ins. [Catacombs]
However, we did do one very touristy thing besides of course the churches and museums, and that was we went to Le Lido one evening for dinner and a show. The food, service, and show were all fabulous. Le Lido puts on a cabaret show that reminds me a bit of a Las Vegas revenue only topless. It is a very touristy thing to do as I doubt any locals go to these types of shows, but somehow it felt like a very Parisian thing to do.