Beautiful people, sights, weather and food – how could one not be inspired to write a poem? After deciding it would be a ridiculous challenge to expect myself to detail my weekend in Paris purely in rhyme; I have settled with the classic acrostic poem – which although not quite so poetic, still allows me to envisage myself as an authentic artistic Parisian.
Planes, trains and automobiles
The time taken to get to and from the airport is, without exaggeration, longer than the time spent in the air. Although commuting is relatively simple – it does turn into quite a process, and as we found, can also be quite exhausting. Catching the metro to Milan’s Central Station, we then caught an hour long €10 train to Malpensa Airport. From here, a bus took us to Terminal 2 whereby we boarded our plane. Upon arriving in France, we caught a 35 minute train from Charles de Gualle Airport into Gare du Nord, the equivalent of Milan’s Central Station. This cost €9.75, and you could only pay with coins! Thankfully there is a machine exchange notes for coins not far away.
The transport system in Paris is extremely efficient. The metro costs €1.70 per trip (or for students on the weekend it is €3.75 for an entire day) and goes absolutely everywhere. Although on first impression it may look complicated, it really isn’t – and it does not take long to get around Paris. Be warned of the tourist trap when buying metro tickets – the ‘Mobilis pass’ which is designed to appeal for tourists is a complete waste of money – unless you plan on spending your entire day underground! On weekdays when the student passes weren’t available, we found it most efficient to buy two metro tickets at once (costing €3.40) and it would cover us for the metro into town, and then the trip home again at night (as most of the tourist activities are bunched together in town, walking distance apart).
Accommodation away from home
We stayed four nights in Caulaincourt Square Boutique Hostel in Montmartre (www.caulaincourt.com) and it was approximately €21 per person per night. I would not hesitate about going back. It was located right near the metro, Wifi in our rooms, a toilet/shower within each room, and a novelty for me – complimentary breakfast! It is also located in the area of Montmartre – which is a vibrant wee area filled with atmospheric cafes. It has an added bonus of being conveniently close to the Sacre Coeur – the stunning basilica on top of a wee hill.
Restaurants, French food and so much more
One word: delicious. From the crepes to the gelato to the wonderful €10 three course meal we had in the Latin Quarter, our wining and dining experience was nothing but enjoyable. But first things first (and most importantly), were the macarons. Located in almost every French bakery, these wonderful sweet treats are a pleasure to the eye, and in Paris they taste even better than they look. We hunted down La Duree on Champs Elysees, which is well known to have the best macarons in town. And it lived up to its reputation. Over the weekend I tried three different flavours: salted caramel (always a winner), pistachio (a personal favourite) and Marie Antoinette (rose, lime and honey) and each one was better than the one before it. They were also only €1.90, so cheaper than expected (although the prices of everything else in the shop made up for that!).
Crepes – as common in Paris as what gelato is in Italy, you will find creperies on every corner, and they are also frequently indulged upon as a dessert. My chocolate loving self opted for the Nutella flavoured crepe each time, but a wide variety of flavours (including savoury) do exist. Ranging from about €2 to €10 it is worth scoping out the less commercial places, because the crepes usually taste just as good wherever you buy them!
Gelato – one place in particular is worth mentioning: the Berthillion on Ile St Louis (31 rue St-Louis en I’lle) has over 70 flavours of gelato and sorbet available. Although reasonably expensive for a somewhat baby-sized scoop, the flavours and taste make up for it, in a big way. My choice of Roasted Pineapple and Basil exceeded all expectations… and again the first word that jumps to mind is delicious!
Finally, for a wonderfully cheap yet classic French experience the Latin Quarter is a vivacious student (not that we saw any students) area, with lots of lights, people and delicious aromas. A lot of the restaurants down this way pride themselves on being traditional French, and while other cuisines are available eating French food was an experience that we didn’t want to pass up. For €10 (prices varied depending on the type of food on offer) we were able to pick a starter, a main and a dessert off a traditional French menu. Unfortunately my temporary vegetarianism precluded me from devouring both escargots and a steak; however it did present me with the opportunity to try ‘tartiflette’ – which is essentially the French take on a potato bake; very creamy, cheesy and rich!
Individual opinion and One Republic
Perhaps slightly biased by the weather, I found everything about Paris to be astoundingly beautiful. From the moment we arrived there was beautiful cobblestone streets, cute little buildings, lots of greenery planted in and around the city, and of course being based upon a beautiful river always helps. People smoke less than they do in Milan, aren’t quite so pushy, and they seem to be a lot less frantic in everyday life. Because it’s such a touristy city most people could speak some English, and it made communication just a little bit less stressful than what Milan can be at times.
All in all this is the best weekend I have had so far. Surprisingly little money was spent (basically only on food and transport (with accommodation being prepaid)), the company was great, and everything we did went exactly to plan. A little bit of organisation definitely goes a long way.
Our main reason for visiting Paris was to see the One Republic concert at the Le Trianon theatre in Montmartre, and the band themselves were exceptional; resulting in my opinion that is was one of the better concerts I have been to. The crowd however seemed to prefer standing and bopping in their hoodies and jeans, so with or without alcohol, us Kiwi girls (a mere three rows from the front) definitely would have stood out as we jumped along in our dresses, singing along to every lyric!
Afterwards we ventured down to Moulin Rouge – one of those things we thought we should do while we were in Paris. One tip: if you are a girl, do not go here alone! Despite the street being extremely bright and colourful, with the token windmill spinning away, the street was purely lit up by advertisements for sex toys, lap dances and ooooh so much more, and the creepy men that lurked around the outsides of these shops were not afraid to speak their minds as we walked past. Needless to say we weren’t there long. Somewhere definitely worth visiting, although pick your company/time of day wisely!
Sightseeing around the French capital
- Basilique du Sacre-Coeur: located on the hill in Montmartre (therefore walking distance from our hostel) up a countless number of steps, however the glorious views were well worth the climb.
- Canal St Martin: one of the cuter areas we encountered during our time in Paris; we bought dinner and went and ate it next to the canal. It was very picturesque; the water was flat and the streetlights created gorgeous reflections on the water. The absence of liquor bans means that there are lots of people casually sitting along the waterside having a few drinks – which just added to the charming atmosphere.
- Notre Dame Cathedral: Absolutely breath-taking; the building was clearly designed by someone with an appreciation for detail. Although it is possible to climb to the top and see the gargoyles that line the top of the cathedral we were preoccupied with the service that was actually going on within the cathedral during our visit. We were very fortunate to experience such an event, and even left feeling a lit bit intrusive upon such a special occasion. It is possible to walk right around – I would recommend it because on the other side there is the love lock bridge, whereby hundreds of couples have committed their love to each other by locking a padlock on the bridge and throwing the key over the side into the water.
- Louvre Museum: Another well-known tourist attraction, the Louvre sits in a beautiful square with big fountains and beautiful buildings, and is characterised by the classic glass pyramids rising above the ground (and forming the entrance). Because the day was so beautiful we decided against spending our afternoon inside the museum, instead choosing to appreciate its beauty in the sunshine.
- Centre Pompidou: Although we didn’t venture inside, it is worthy of a mention – the entire building was designed to be inside out, so all the plumbing, escalators and wiring etc are on the outside of the building, and supposedly colour coded as to what they mean. Very intriguing!
- L’Arc de Triomphe: Given the quality of the day we did not hesitate about the decision to climb this magnificent archway – and the panoramic views it provided were well worth the €5 paid to climb the 284 steps to the top. Unfortunately renovations to the arch slightly hindered our view of the Eiffel Tower, however it did little to detract from the wonderful photos taken and memories created.
- Shopping: Champs Elysees is a wide open street with great shops and beautiful surroundings (lots of fountains, park benches and flowers). La Duree is located about half way down, so makes for a great pit stop! From Champs Elysees it is possible to walk via the original Coco Chanel store (and her apartment) to Galeries Lafayette – a building that appears very standard from the outside, but contains within one of the most beautiful dome buildings I have seen to date, as well as seven floors of shopping; what more could anyone want?!
- Les Catacombes: Quite the creepy experience; a 2km walk underground through stacks of bones that date back to when the Parisian cemetery ran out of room for bodies during the war. We left feeling rather spooked, especially after hearing about “cataphiles” – people who are found (and fined) for lurking around down there after hours.
- Eiffel Tower: Last admission for the stairs is at 5.45pm during winter, which resulted in the perfect combination of seeing Paris under a blue sky, watching the sun set, and then seeing the lights of the Tower come on as we began our descent. The stairs were €5 (I would recommend); although the lift stays open until 11pm and goes higher than the stairs, it is more expensive, there is about an hour and a half wait (definitely recommend buying your tickets online to minimise this) and the experience is over so much quicker!
Given the length of my acrostic poem… perhaps it would have been more appropriate to have called it a ballad. However in order to give Paris the appreciation it deserves, it needed to be done.