Tuesday, April 16, 2013

First Day in Paris

We just returned from a whirlwind tour of Paris! It was my first time in "The City of Light" and it was amazing. Our last-minute plans put us in a budget hotel, the Adagio Access Paris Tilsitt. It's across from the Belgian Embassy, 150 yards from the Arc de Ttriomphe and 300 yards from the Champs-Elysees. It was a
Arc de Triomphe
great choice because of the location and, most importantly, the rooftop terrace that provided superb views of the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower in the distance.

We arrived in the late afternoon on our first day. The drive from Reims wasn't long but we left the car at Disneyland Paris since the parking rates are much more reasonable than those within the city. It's an easy 40-minute train ride from Disneyland into Paris. We emerged from the Metro right under the Arc de Triomphe. In all honesty, it really took my breath away. It was a great moment and the perfect way to begin our weekend in Paris.

After we checked into the hotel we got right down to sightseeing. I'm sure you already know this, and I think I probably also knew this before I visited Paris, but it didn't really hit me until I was actually there; Paris is HUGE! Perhaps I thought the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur (and on, and on, and on....) would all be in a neat little row. They aren't. And we decided to walk to all of them. If you plan to do the same, allow me to assure you of this: Those delectable baguettes, croissants, and chocolates won't go anywhere near your thighs because you'll burn the calories off as fast as you eat them.

The first stop, of course, was the Eiffel Tower. It was still cold during Easter, so cold in fact that snow flurries were blowing around when we came out of the Metro. One of my top things to do in Paris was to have a picnic at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. I don't think this sort of thing really becomes popular until the weather is warmer but we did our best by grabbing some jambon et fromage baguettes and sitting on a park bench enjoying the tourists' cacophony from a distance. It was really nice, even though we were shivering.

We decided to forego the visit to the top of the tower this time. The line was insanely long. Very fortunately for us, we'll have at least one more opportunity to visit Paris again and  wait along with everyone else. And when I say everyone, I literally mean everyone in Paris (at least every tourist in Paris).

Lunch gave us the energy to continue our stroll/power-walk. We made it to Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris. During the French Revolution it was called Place de la Revolution. At a guillotine in the center, 1119 people were beheaded over just a few years. Notable victims of the guillotine include King Louis XVI and Marie-Antionette. The obelisk in the center of Place de la Concorde is called Cleopatra's Needle. It's from the temple of Ramses II and was installed in the 19th century.

Cleopatra's Needle

View from Montmartre
We continued on to our final destination of the day: Montmartre. A friend suggested that we grab a bottle of French wine, pizza from an outdoor vendor, and find a spot on the hill to have dinner atop Paris. We took the advice to heart and climbed the steps to the the top of the hill with our pizza and Beaujolais in hand. We watched as the sky darkened and the City of Light came to life. There was an older French couple on the bench beside us having the same dinner and that made us feel très Parisian.

Sacre Coeur
Sated and buzzed, we decided to get lost in the cobbled streets of Montmartre. There were so many shops, bars, and cozy restaurants tucked into small alleys. There were still a lot of tourists but it was a little quieter away from the hill. We could see the Basilica of Sacre Coeur from almost every spot and it was majestic, its stark white facade softly illuminated against the dark Parisian sky. We found a charming little piano bar off the beaten path. The Vin du Mois (Wine of the Month) went down smoothly and was an affordable surprise at only 5 Euros per glass.

Since it was late and cold we took the Metro back to the hotel. On the way, we detoured over to that most famous of cabarets, the Moulin Rouge. We didn't see any shows but we did stand outside long enough to snap some very touristy photos.

At the end of my first day in Paris, I had two important observations:

1.) It's filled with tourists! It's one of the world's most visited cities and it certainly feels that way. Granted, we were there on Easter weekend so we were vying for sidewalk space with spring breakers and other vacationers, but I can't imagine the crowds dwindling over the next few months and I don't think I would ever want to visit in the middle of summer.

2.) I'd heard so many horror stories about how rude the French are and that all of them are unwilling to speak anything other than French. I took three levels of French in college so I wasn't too concerned about being about to navigate, even if it was clumsily. Much to my surprise, we didn't come across one rude Frenchman. Or woman. They weren't only kind and accommodating; some even switched to English once they realized it was our native language. Maybe it was a fluke, or perhaps the Parisians have an unfair reputation.

The visit isn't over just yet...

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