Ahhh France! Our trip to Paris has long been a dream of mine- I’m talking straight up bucket list material since, well, forever. In fact before I met Jeff my bedroom was entirely decorated with pictures and decor of Paris. So when we found out we were moving to Germany we knew we had to go there!! It took us one full year of living in Germany to make the trip to Paris though. We’ve been to France a few times, mainly to a few towns that are right over the border from Germany like 2 hours from us. Paris, on the other hand, is about a good 6 hours away. So that was one thing that kept us from hitting the road to the City of Light ASAP. The other thing was cost- where would we stay, would we drive or take the train or bus, and how much were food and activities going to cost us? In budgeting for this trip however, we got super lucky when we were hiking with one of our neighbors earlier this fall who invited us to stay at her apartment in Versailles with her for a weekend in December… SCORE!! It’s a great trade off because we watch her cats for her while she is away on business trips, and in turn she offered for us to join her on this weekend in France. So two weekends before Christmas the 3 of us took the road trip together to Versailles on a Thursday night. It was a fun ride and we got to take turns driving as well as sharing the cost for gas and road tolls (which can really add up if you’re driving there by yourself – one toll alone was over 20 euro!!!). We arrived at her apartment super late that night and crashed. The next morning she gave us a little guided tour of her neighborhood in Versailles – super cute! Conveniently located right outside of her gated community was the train station, and walk a block or two down to get to the grocery store, the bakery, the weekend farmers market, and some other quaint little shops.
After exploring the area and having some breakfast (authentic French croissants baked fresh from the bakery anyone?) we headed for the train station and set off for Paris! Versailles is about a 45 min drive from Paris, but by train it can take as short as 30 min to get there, depending on where in Paris you’re going. Here’s some pics of the train station outside our friend’s apartment and the actual train itself, which was surprisingly clean I must say!
Our first stop was to the Notre Dame Cathedral! It’s free to go inside and look around, and it’s absolutely astonishing. Towards the back of the church they even have a wall with a timeline and pictures from when it was first constructed starting in 1163 all the way to how the cathedral got to be how it is today. Pretty cool info on the French Gothic style of architecture and all the renovations the cathedral has had over the years. Of course my favorite thing about the cathedral, as with most churches and cathedrals, is the stained glass windows… breathtaking!
When we finished checking out Notre Dame, we decided to walk around the city for a while and just take everything in. We had plenty of time to do that since our tickets to see the Eiffel Tower weren’t until 5:30pm. I highly recommend getting tickets online for the Eiffel Tower – it’s about 15 euro per person and you don’t have to wait in the super long line to buy tickets when you get there. Anyhow, we saw a lot of cool stuff on our long walk from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower…
On our walk we got to see the Love Locks Bridge! We did not add our own lock to it, mainly because in my research prior to the trip, I learned that you can now be fined for doing this because the bridge has been compromised by the weight of all the locks. In fact they are now boarding it up so that people can’t add more to it unfortunately. But it’s still neat to check out!
When you make the trip to Paris, you have to be prepared for LOTS of walking. It’s about a 3 mile walk from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. You could take the metro, but then we would have missed out on all the beautiful Parisian scenery along the way.
In the last pic above, we finally saw the Eiffel tower in the distance and the “Tour Eiffel” sign! The Eiffel tower really is huge… as you are walking to it it just gets bigger and Bigger and BIGGER!
I purposely chose an early evening tour of the Eiffel Tower because that way we got to see it during the day, at dusk, and at night. When the sun starts going down, the Eiffel Tower lights up… but the best part is that at the top of every hour the Tower Sparkles!! In the last 3 pics above you can kind of see where the different lights light up to make it shimmer, it’s truly amazing to watch!
After this, we got in the ticket holders line to wait to get in. It was still a little wait to get in, but NOTHING like the line you wait in if you didn’t preorder your tickets! Unfortunately, while we were waiting, the weather held out no more for us. The winds picked up and the rain came down pretty heavily. So much so, that by the time we got into the tower, they had closed the top so we weren’t able to go all the way up. Kind of a bummer. We got to the second level but that’s as far as they would allow any of us to go. And since it was crazy windy and torrentially down pouring, our pictures didn’t turn out so great either. We hope to go back one day and make it to the top next time and get some better pictures!
That last shot there is one Jeff took as we were dashing in the rain from the Eiffel Tower to the Train Station to get back to the apartment and meet our friend for dinner. I take pretty much all the pictures on trips, but I gotta give credit where credit is due! Jeff turned around to take one last pic, and it’s a beauty!! Til we meet again Eiffel Tower!!
The next morning when we got up it was still raining… and it proceeded to rain pretty much for the rest of the time we were in France. Such is life! But of course, we made the best of it! Cold and damp as it was, we bundled up and decided to spend the day in Versailles. Our primary destination for the day was the Palace of Versailles!
This Grand Chateau started out as a hunting lodge in 1624 for King Louis XIII, until his successor King Louis XIV decided to turn it into a palace. And a fancy one at that! Known for its ornate paintings and decor, hall of mirrors, and spectacular gardens, it really is a sight to see. About a 30 minute walk through the gardens leads you to a few other buildings on site apart from the palace- the Grand Trianon and the Marie Antoinette House. Both are cool little places to check out, but of course not nearly as large and fancy as the main palace! We literally spent a full day on this site. And because we went on a rainy Saturday, it wasn’t too crowded. Our neighbor told us that Sundays can be crazy busy here. I would recommended doing the audio tours throughout, as you get to learn some pretty cool things. We made a full day of being here, but it can be done in shorter time. And honestly, if it were nicer out we could have stayed longer to scope out the gardens. We were there in December, but I hear that the gardens are just out of this world in the summer – everything in full bloom and sometimes they even do a water fountain, lights and music display with fireworks! That would be great to go back and check out too! But it was still rainy and getting colder by the time we finished our visit there, so we left the Palace in search of dinner.
Walking around these little French towns at Christmastime is pretty magical though! The lights, the decor, the music… it keeps you warm no matter how cold it is out!
Our final stop for the day was to a little place called Creperie Sarrasine. We originally picked out another crepe place to eat at that was recommended in our guide book but when we got there it was closed! I was bummed, and starving. But luckily my amazing husband and his quick thinking found us another crepe place in town to eat at not too far of a walk away. Best husband ever!! So we sat down at this quaint little place and tried dinner crepes for the first time. It’s made with a different type of crepe than the dessert crepes most people know of. Jeff has one with eggs and veggies and mine had one with eggs, potatoes, and sausage. Pretty tasty! Oh yeah, and we shared a nutella crepe for dessert of course haha. All this talk of crepes and croissants reminds me to tell you that while I follow a primarily gluten free diet, this weekend in France I did not! Now, I can get away with that temporarily because I have a wheat intolerance in my esophagus, as opposed to a wheat allergy or full on Celiac Disease or something. So from time to time, I am able to “cheat” on my gluten free diet, but the sooner I go back to being gf the better I feel. In this case, I was making the most of my trip and sampling all the finest pastries and dishes France had to offer me that weekend, and it was amazing!
The following day was our Museum Tour day! Still raining of course, we bundled up and hopped the train to Paris. Our first stop was the Musée d’Orsay, then the Musée de Louvre, and finally the Musée de l’Orangerie. Now, we did our museum tour “out of order”. It is recommended that you start at the beginning of the art displays which is the Louvre. Then you do the d’Orsay, and finally the Orangerie. All 3 museums take you through art displays in chronological order with the Louvre showing art from Ancient world to 1850, the Orsay from 1848-1914 and the Orangerie from 20th century to today. We went in the order that we did because the Orsay was a convenient train stop for us in the rain. Afterwards we crossed the river over to the Louvre and then not too far of a walk away is the Orangerie. Here are some of the incredible things we saw at these museums:
From ancient Egyptian works, to Monet and Van Gogh and the Mona Lisa, it really was incredible to take in so much of our history and culture in one day! We also lucked out in that it stopped raining for a bit! So we took that opportunity to walk down the Ave. des Champs-Élysées and head to the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way on this 2 mile or so walk, we got to see the Eiffel Tower in the Fog, the Rue de Paris Ferris Wheel at sunset, and we even got to walk through the Paris Christmas Market!
It was a cold and crowded walk, but there was so much to see along the way! We finally made it to the Arc de Triomphe and we were able to check out the little museum inside as well as walk all the way to the top to see the view! Again, it was foggy out so we didn’t get the best views, but it was still pretty cool. And on our way out we caught the ceremony honoring those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napeoleonic Wars. Below that area is where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies from WW1.
It was getting kind of late at this point and we were starving after all that walking that day and stair climbing so we headed back down the Champs-Élysées in search of dinner. We ended up stopping at the George V Cafe and were pleasantly surprised by the menu offering English descriptions of it’s meals, friendly English-speaking Staff, quick service, and excellent food! On my continued enjoyment of French cuisine, I got the Beef Bourguignon for dinner and Jeff enjoyed a pasta dish with a nice glass of French wine!
Our last and final day in France was pretty relaxed. We packed up our stuff at the apartment in Versailles and took the train into Paris and spent the day walking around and grabbing some lunch and shopping before we met our friend and drove the 6 hours back home. All in all, it was a really incredible weekend, one that I will never forget, and is up there as one of our best trips ever in my book! It may have been cold, and often rainy as well, but it was so worth it to be there at Christmastime and enjoy the spirit of the season in France!
Some tips for future travelers:
1) Book things ahead of time if possible. Specifically, the Eiffel Tower tour! If you go in the early evening like we did, you get to see the tower during the day and at night. Make sure you’re there at the top of the hour to watch it sparkle!
2) I seriously recommend getting a Museum Pass. Jeff and I were VERY fortunate that our friends gave us theirs and we were able to use their passes for free. But if you buy one I think it’s like 100 euros total, but don’t quote me on that. They sell them at the train stations I believe. Anyhow, they are totally worth it because you have access to about 60 locations in and around Paris for FREE! Plus, you get to skip most of the lines!! Seriously, Jeff and I barely waited on line at every place we went, which freed us up to see and do so much more and make the most of our time there. We were able to get into the 3 museums, the 3 places at the Palace at Versailles, and the Arc de Triomphe all for free and without waiting in lines at any of these locations.
3) Use guidebooks and maps. Our friends lent us the guide book Rick Steve’s Paris 2014 and it was very helpful. Grab some free maps at the train stations too.
4) Invest in a book of train tickets and another book of metro (subway) tickets. You can decide how many you want or need, but the train tickets at 2-3 euro a piece were great for getting into Paris and back out to where we were staying in Versailles. The metro tickets are cheaper and great for getting places between stops. Say for example you didn’t want to walk the 3 miles from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Eiffel Tower, you could take the metro instead.
5) Wear good walking shoes. Even if you take the train or metro system as much as possible, it is still A LOT of walking. Which is great if, like me, you’re trying to work off those croissants, but not great if you’re in bad shoes. It’s totally do-able though. Even in the cold and rain, even being 6 months pregnant at the time, I hoofed it all over Paris and Versailles and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Know your limits though, if you’re not in decent shape or have trouble walking in general, it’s not going to be easy to get around. Even relying on the metro and train stations, there are lots of stairs and walking to and from platforms.
6) You will CONSTANTLY be warned about pick-pocketing. Be smart and stay aware. Ladies, I wouldn’t even recommend taking a purse if you can do without it. I carried my little coin purse/wallet, and it was safely zipped on the inside of my coat where a pick pocket couldn’t get to it easily.
7). Pack light. I carried a small tote bag with me with our guide book, maps, water and snacks, and umbrella in it. Again, since you’re walking all over you don’t want to be lugging a ton with you too. If you’re buying souevenirs, pick small lightweight things, or just wait til your last day to get them. There is no shortage of places to get souvenirs, I promise you.
8) Another one for the ladies: practice your squats ahead of time, because most toilets look like this:
Where is the toilet seat you ask?! I have no idea. But this “no toilet seat” fad seemed to be the rule, and not the exception in France. Strange… but, the use of restrooms is free all over (unlike in Germany) and there are lots of bathrooms every where which my prego self appreciated!
9) Consider what time of year you are going and the pros and cons of each. Obviously spring and summer in Paris is gorgeous… and everyone else is thinking the same thing, so be prepared for mad lines. On the other hand, we avoided most of the crowds and lines by going in the winter time and got to enjoy the Christmas season there, albeit in the cold.
10) Ditch the diet. This is not the place or time to watch what you eat or drink unless you absolutely MUST. For most people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Enjoy all the chocolate, cheeses, croissants, and crepes you can! Although I obviously couldn’t drink at the time, Jeff got to sample some French wines for the both of us. You will pass by tons of places offering tasty breads and pastries, try as many as you can. The staples will obviously be plain croissants, butter croissants, and chocolate croissants. But there were a few pastries I tried and fell in love with. I wish I could tell you the french name for them but I have no idea. One looked like a large round cinnamon bun but it didn’t have cinnamon. It was glazed and had raisins. The other was a long flat pastry with a lot of chocolate in the middle and was very moist. MMM!
Until next time my friends, enjoy the journey!