Originally published on 3 February 2013.
Walking through Paris, I got the strangest case of déja vu, as if I’d seen it all before. And then I remembered… I have seen it! Before it was only in movies and descriptions from books and friends tales of visiting this city. But now, I’m actually here! Ready or not, Paris, here we come!
We’d planned to go on a walking tour of Parisian landmarks, but even with my phone’s GPS and a map, we still had a tough time finding the Opera House where the group was supposed to meet! Along the way, we met a couple of rude and uppity French folks, walked around a giant Ferris wheel, and looked on, dumbfounded, at the confusing maze of Parisian roads—it was nuts!
Oh, and a man with stopped us and tried to give us what looked like a gold wedding ring someone had lost. It was, of course, a scam to try to make us give him money. Beware! We figured it out quickly, though, and went on our way. By the time we got to the Opera House, the group had already left, but no problem; there was loads to see on our own!
Looking at the map, we made our plan: follow Boulevard Haussmann back to the Arc de Triomphe, walk down the Champs Elysees, take pictures in front of the Louvre, and make our way to Notre Dame! Will we make it? Come along with us and find out!
Once we figured out which road was Haussman, we began our trek. After a few minutes of walking we came to a traffic circle that didn’t seem to match up exactly. Oh well. We found Haussman again and went about our business. Again, we stumbled upon a traffic circle. Again, things didn’t seem to match up, but we found our way. Again with the traffic circle… And at long last, we found it! The Arc de Triomphe! It DOES exist!
Bianca didn’t care to go up, but I sure did! It was 8.50 Euro well worth it! (Approximately $11.) Though it was overcast and beginning to drizzle, the view from the top was spectacular! The Arc is tremendous—maybe about 20 stories high or so. It’s much bigger than I thought it would be, and you can’t cross the busy traffic circle to get to it. You must take the underground tunnel, which I think is pretty neat!
I climbed all the way to the top, which is 284 steps up one side of the Arc, and 284 steps down the other side. The view from the top was misty and lovely! I could see all around Paris from a bit of a different vantage point than the Eiffel Tower, which I could also see from where I stood. What’s funny about that is the day was so cloudy, only the bottom 2/3 of the Eiffel Tower showed; the rest was up in the clouds! It was kind of mystical!
Onward! Back down I went to meet up with Bianca to begin a misty stroll down the world famous Champs Elysees! We saw many expensive stores, but the only store we stopped in was a coffee shop! Bianca and I needed something to warm us up so we each got a hot drink (Bianca got a macchiato, but I got another chocolat chaud) and a snack. Bianca’s brownie looked delicious, and my chocolate-covered, chocolate-filled éclair was divine! I felt quite Parisian. The only thing that could have made it better would have been if the day had been warm and dry enough to sit outside on the sidewalk!
After our coffee break, we walked around to find the Louvre and made our way to Notre Dame Cathedral! We walked over a bridge called Pont des Arts (“Bridge of the Arts”), which is famous for its padlocked sides. People come from all over the world with their significant others and hook a padlock to the chains on either side of the bridge. Some had their names written on their locks in sharpie, and others had their names engraved on them.
Keep it up! We looked around and followed signs for Notre Dame, but we couldn’t seem to find it! We found a tower with gargoyles on it, but that wasn’t it. We walked past the Bastille, and then… there it was! Looming above the street in its medieval magnificence. The Cathedral began construction in 1163 (can you imagine?), and took 200 years to complete. This year marks its 850th year!
We walked in just as it started raining again—perfect timing! We walked around the grand cathedral, looking at the stained glass windows and statues. A few minutes into our visit, a mass started, so we got to see the priests and such walk in procession to a place for prayer, and then into the place where everyone participating in the mass was seated. We didn’t stay for the whole thing, but now we can say we saw a mass in Notre Dame!
Up to the top again! Can you tell I like seeing the views from high places? I bought an English copy of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, originally titled Notre-Dame de Paris, or Our Lady of Paris. I can’t think of a better way to remember the experience! And it’ll keep me occupied on my flights home next weekend. Bianca went up with me this time, and we took the winding staircases up to the first lookout point. We both thought that was it! We got up-close and personal with some gargoyles and took some nice pictures, but then, on our way down, we realized there was another staircase up!
I’d forgotten that someone told me there was a second staircase, so it was like a big surprise! (There are 402 steps total.) The view from there was even better than the one below! They’ve put panels up there with lines from the book; lines about the streets and skyline of Paris in 1482. It’s hard to imagine now, but if you squint, you can almost see it! Quasimodo was in hiding, so we didn’t see him. I’ll have to look for him again next time!
And now to find a snack and be on our way! We stopped at a fabulous-looking sweet shop so Bianca could get an éclair. I waited patiently for my turn and planned on getting a couple of the macaroons. And I waited. I took my money out so they’d get the hint I was ready to buy something. And I waited. Five minutes later, I told Bianca we could go—if they don’t want my money, I don’t want to give it to them! Perhaps they could tell I was an American?
We decided to take the metro to the Hotel de Invalides, where Napoleon is buried. We had lost track of time up at Notre Dame, so we didn’t quite make it. That’s something for the next trip! We at least made it to the building, which is worth seeing all by itself! And then it was time for dinner. We decided on crepes!
Bianca made fun of the way I say “crepe.” I say it like a Southern girl, “crape,” but Bianca thought it sounded more like I was saying “crap!” We walked in the direction of our hotel and asked a man working at a shop where we could get good crepes. He was very kind and even introduced himself and complimented me on my pronunciation of “Bonjour!” He pointed us in the right direction and we found a creperie! Bianca got one that looked yummy. It had cheese and tomatoes, maybe? I don’t remember what all was in it, but it smelled good! I got one with ham and French cheese. For dessert Bianca got a nutella crepe, and I got one with chestnut butter, which I’d never had before. It was delicious!
Full and warm, we decided it was high time to hit the hay! The hotel room was small—though not as small as the elevator!—maybe about 12 feet x 12 feet. The beds were narrower than twin beds, but plenty comfortable enough for us! I loved the décor: framed winter scenes from France and Switzerland, wooden and carved furniture (headboards, armoire, chair, and a small desk), even the funny red-and-green Christmas tree drapes and bed comforter seemed to fit in with the theme! Bianca and I were both pleasantly surprised to see that our beds had been made and toiletries had been replaced—that doesn’t happen often (as in, not ever) in the budget accommodations I’ve stayed in before! Having our own bathroom was nice, too!
Next up, the flight that almost wasn’t… This is one of my favorite travel stories to tell! Stay tuned!