Get ready, this is gonna be a long one.
This weekend I went to Paris, and it was absolutely beautiful. I went knowing that it would be pretty, but it really exceeded my expectations. Everything is so monumental and so picturesque, it was truly unreal. You cannot rely on movies or other media to capture its beauty– you have to go there and see it for yourself.
The first day I got there in the late afternoon, and after dropping my stuff off at the hostel I went to meet Carolyn and her friend from her program in London (who goes to Penn State as well). We met by the Eiffel Tower and walked along the Seine toward the Louvre. It was a beautiful, sunny day that made it perfect for a long walk. All the bridges, museums, churches, gardens, parks (literally everything) that we passed were so amazing I could not stop gasping and stopping to take it all in (and take a pic, of course).
Carolyn and I
We got to the Louvre around six, went in and were pleasantly surprised to learn that we get free admission since we are students. In fact, all museums in Paris are free for students studying in Europe. I didn’t realize that part of the museum was actually inside the glass triangle, so I thought that was pretty cool. We didn’t have time to see the entire thing so we focused on the Greek and Italian sculptures and of course the Mona Lisa. I think it’s a taboo to say this but the Mona Lisa was pretty underwhelming. Maybe it was because it was surrounded by a mass of people all trying to make their way to the front to get a picture, but I thought the other pieces of art were more impressive. It was actually a little sad to see all these people with their phones/cameras out, not even taking the time to look at the painting itself and only worrying about getting a picture as a souvenir.
After the Louvre we crossed the bridge over to a French restaurant on Blvd Saint-Germaine. It was a cute little place with a funny waiter who kept making fun of us for not knowing French. It was refreshing for me, since this would never happen in the Czech Republic (waiters barely talk to you there). I tried escargot for the first time, which came with scary utensils that looked like eyelash curlers. They have the same texture as clams, which I like, so naturally I liked the escargot as well. I had to ask the waiter to help me pull out one of my snails though, which did not help us debunk the American stereotype. Luckily he was nice about it, which I appreciated. For my main dish I tried “moules,” which is mussels and fries. And when I say mussels, I mean mussels. I think my bowl had about 50 of them in it. And I ate them all, of course. For dessert I tried the apple crumble. Needless to say, I loved it (it’s really hard for me to dislike a dish, as you can tell). After dinner we were exhausted from a day of walking so we parted ways for the night and I headed back to my hostel.
The next morning I met up with Carolyn and Sarah to catch the train to Versailles. It’s only about a 30 minute ride so it’s pretty easy to get to from the city. The palace was even more stunning than I imagined it to be. I was shocked at how shiny the golden gates were. They must polish them or restore them or something (I don’t know how these things work) quite often. The inside was even more spectacular– each room was so immaculately and purposefully decorated. It was cool seeing rooms I’ve learned about in history like The King’s Chamber. I cannot even begin to imagine all the money and time spent building that palace. The Royal Gardens were just as impressive as well. They were so vast and well-maintained. I could probably spend all day walking around the property and still not see the entire thing.
Outside of the Palace
Hall of Mirrors
After Versailles we went back into the city and had lunch at the famous Cafe de Flore. Apparently lots of famous artists and writers eat/ate there and it is now a cultural hub. It was nice enough out that we got to sit outside, which was great. I felt like I was getting the true Parisian experience. I had the eggplant gratin, which was cheesy and yummy.
After lunch we headed to the Notre Dame. Oh my God this place is ridiculous. First of all, it is ginormous, and the architecture was overwhelming with all its detail and grandeur. However, I only saw the exterior since we didn’t have enough time to see the inside as we wanted to make time for other sites as well.
We walked over to the Sainte-Chapelle Cathedral, known for its massive stained glass windows. Like the Notre Dame, this cathedral is Gothic. The stained glass windows were really beautiful and interesting– each of the 15, 50 foot tall window tells a different biblical story. Part of the church was undergoing restoration so we couldn’t see all of it, but the parts I did see were well worth the visit. Now that I’m taking an architecture class and have some knowledge of architectural history, it’s nice to be able to apply what I’ve learned.
Next we went to the Love Lock Bridge. This bridge puts all the other Love Lock bridges I’ve seen in Europe to shame. Every inch of the bridge was covered, with multiple layers, in locks. Some of the locks were inscribed, which I thought was a little excessive but to each their own. Carolyn and I bought a lock and put one on for fun. I’ll be interested to see if I can ever find it again if I go back to Paris. The whole process of buying the lock, writing our names and the date, finding a spot on the bridge to place it, and throwing the keys into the river was a lot of fun.
Throwing the keys into the river
After that little adventure we walked on toward the Champs-Elysees, the famous shopping street, for our final stop: the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped by Laduree (a macaroon/pastry shop) along the way. The place had a line that spilled onto the street of people waiting to get their hands on some of their world-famous macaroons. There was a separate line for those that wanted to sit down inside the restaurant. We opted for the latter since we were tired. The interior design was really pretty and classy. It was apparently inspired by the Sistine Chapel. I had the coffee eclair (had to get an eclair in Paris) and a raspberry macaroon. This was my first macaroon, and it wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought the outside would be crispy and crunchy, but it turned out to be soft and delicate. The inside was a delicious jam-like filling. It was very sweet and I liked it very much.
Arc de Triomphe
With our bellies full of delicious pastries, we went back to the hotel to wind down and research some restaurants for dinner. We ended up taking the metro to a neighborhood called Montparnasse and randomly picked a restaurant on the main street. It turned out to be more of a bar than a restaurant but… oh well. I had a salad with smoked salmon. It definitely wasn’t the best meal of the trip but I wasn’t really that hungry either so it was okay. It came with free French bread (as does every meal in Paris), so that made everything better. I am an easy one to please.
The next morning we met up to go to the Luxembourg Gardens. Before going into the gardens we decided to have brunch since there were a lot of cute cafes in the area. The cafe we chose had outdoor seating, and it was a lot of fun people-watching as we sat chatting and munching. This brunch was one of the best meals of the trip– fresh croissants, toast with apricot jam, eggs, and ham. Not to mention the fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee. Just remembering it all now is making me hungry. As far as last meals in Paris go, I think we did pretty well.
The gardens were really lovely; all the flowers were in bloom and it had a large fountain with little kids running all around (and old men playing with their remote-controlled toy sailboats). There were women doing yoga on the lawn, and lots of people jogging around the garden. It was such a pleasant atmosphere and I didn’t want to leave. I had a flight to catch, however, and had to go to the airport a little past noon. It was so hard saying goodbye not only to Paris but to Carolyn as well. I’m so glad I got to spend time with her and explore Paris with her this weekend.
Final thoughts: I love Paris!!! The people, the architecture, the atmosphere, the food… everything was amazing and I want to go back again sometime. I would live there if I had the money to afford it. Maybe one day. I didn’t think I would love the city as much as I did, but how can you not love somewhere so breathtakingly beautiful? Readers (all three of you), if you haven’t been to Paris, you must take the time to see it. Just take my word for it. You won’t regret it.