travel guide: paris, part II

To the people of Paris: I wrote this before the tragic events of 11.13.15. It feels frivolous now. However, I’ve decided to post simply as a thank you. Thank you for so graciously sharing your city with my husband and I. We were delighted by all that is Paris. You and your city will delight many more in the brighter days to come–the City of Lights will never go dark. Love and Prayers to you. x

So I’m convinced that the magic of Paris comes not only from it’s beauty, but also from it’s unique ability to make lovers feel like they are the only two people in the entire world. Whether you’re strolling through peaceful streets you’re sure only you have discovered, or making your way towards the frequented Eiffel Tower, you’re always able to capture a sense of quiet that allows and encourages romance.

On our third day in Paris (read about the first two days, here) we began at the Sainte Chapelle and Conciergerie. For some reason we had some trouble locating both of these buildings–while their structures are significant their entrances can be easy to miss, so don’t be afraid to pull someone aside and ask for directions. The Sainte Chapelle is as amazing as it looks–it’s stained glass, to the max. I am not sure there are many other places in the world where you can be surrounded by that type of meticulous artistry. The Conciergerie, the old prison where Marie Antoinette and several others were held, is also worth a look. While it feels more reconstructed than other prisons we have been able to visit (undoubtedly by necessity due to it’s age), it was still fascinating to walk through and imagine the role the building played in French life hundreds of years ago. In researching, we thought touring these two would take up our entire morning; we were through in about an hour or hour and a half–though I am sure this could vary based on interest.

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Since we had so much of our day still left, we decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower. Although a few miles away, we followed our natural inclination as New Yorkers to walk everywhere– which was good considering the amount of croissant we were consuming in Paris! I can’t imagine all the little curiosities we would miss if we ducked into a taxi or public transport every time we were headed to a new site. Also, remember that romance I was talking about? Never–and I mean never, say no to a walk along the Seine; it’s far too lovely to miss.

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So the Eiffel Tower has the same effect as the Freedom Tower in NYC in that it always seems like you are closer to it than you really are. We had no problem with this as we were happy spending our afternoon leisurely making our way there; it was sort of fun to forgo Googlemaps and just follow the tower. However if you are especially tired or in any sort of a time crunch, this effect could get a little bit frustrating–finding a taxi might be your best bet.

We found a peaceful spot in the park area surrounding the tower and sat and people watched for a while. I especially loved watching the joggers–people come from all over the world to see this structure they pass daily on their morning run! Neither of us had any real desire to go up into the tower. Every tour guide we spoke with mentioned the same thing about the viewyou can’t see the Eiffel Tower! Plus/ we just had no desire to deal with the cost or the lines, especially considering our first experience going up for a view in London (feel free to read about that, here). Whether it’s climbing up to the top of Montmartre in Paris, or looking out over the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC, our experience says, the best views are free.

Speaking of views, taking a cruise along the Seine is an absolute must. We took one after dinner and were again swept away with that “only two people in the world” feeling. I didn’t even capture any pics to share, that’s how engaging it was! You can buy tickets online here that you can use on any day or night you are there. Trust me, it’s a magical way to end an evening.

The next day we were eager to meet up for our second tour with Sight Seeker’s Delight. This time we were really lucky to get a private tour of Pere Lachaise with the company’s founder and owner, Karen. I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I have developed a fascination in finding old prisons and cemeteries whenever we travel; Paris did not disappoint. Pere Lachaise is the largest cemetery within the Paris city limits; it’s beautiful and haunted with so much history; there’s so much to see. I would never suggest coming here without a guide unless your aim is just a scenic stroll. There are remarkable stories behind every tombstone so if you go without someone who knows those stories, you’re really missing out.

We were so lucky to have Karen whose wealth of knowledge was so evident and abundant, we had random people slyly trying to follow and listen along with us. It was a thrill to visit the graves of famous artists such as Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Moliere. But more than that, Karen deepened our knowledge of the city of Paris through the stories of the people buried in it’s most famous cemetery. When you go for your tour, ask her about secret meetings in the cemetery during the war–if you’re like me, your imagination will take off as you wander down the cobblestone lanes.

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We spent the first half of our last day in Paris in Versailles, which I highly recommend. Versailles is such a great day trip because it only takes a short hour on an easy train to get there. Once you are there, you can easily get lost in the gardens and spend the whole day exploring, or you can see a ton but still have time to head back to the city for the second half of your day.

I sought out tons of advice from fellow travelers before our trip. If I hadn’t, we may have skipped Versailles–too many of the forums I read assured that the crowds and long lines for entry made it more of a headache than it was worth. Luckily I listened instead to so many of my friends that insisted it was a “must-see”. Now I insist as well–you can’t miss it. Buy your ticket online before you travel and get on an early train so the lines aren’t too long. We did this, and although there was already quite a bit of a line when we got there (it had not opened yet), it moved fast once they started letting people in.

The Chateau is beautiful but that’s where it’s the most crowded. I recommend touring there first–the rooms are amazing but there are so many of them the opulence starts to get tiring (if you’ve seen the movie Marie Antoinette you’ll start to nod your head as you go around and think, “Wow, I get it, enough”). Once you break out of the crowded house and into the gardens you’ll feel like a wild animal that’s been captured and then set free. There’s no fear of claustrophobia here, just miles and miles of beautiful land to discover.

I have to say the biggest mystery to me is how they get everyone out of the gardens at night when they close; it seems impossible due to the vastness of the property. My husband and I went off into our own little world; there was even a time where we were so far out, we didn’t see anyone for 10-15 minutes. We even had a small ballroom dance party in the woods.

We both kept thinking, “Wow, you could have the most intense game of hide-and-go-seek in here, EVER!”.

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These gates were locked so we climbed over the wall and jumped down–probably one of my favorite memories of our trip.

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When you go, make sure and visit Marie Antoinette’s estate–a private Hamlet she had built just for herself and her lady companions. It opens a bit later than the rest of the gardens and is a bit of a hike to get to. If you time it just right, you can beat the crowds and get a nice quiet tour of this country house–it’s such a contrast to the Chateau.

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Like I said before, you could easily spend an entire day here. If the weather is nice, a picnic on one of the huge lawns in front of the water would be idyllic. Just pretend you’re a wealthy Parisian sneaking off to your fabulous Chateau for the day. Then hop back on the train to return to your equally fabulous city for a romantic evening.

I think that’s what Paris is all about. If you actually went to go live there I am sure the bubble would burst; reality would set in and everyday life would not look quite like the fairy tale you imagined. But if you’re just visiting, keep the fairy tale alive. Walk around imagining the enchanted life you would lead; let yourself feel surrounded by all the beauty that might turn that walk into a prance, or that like into a love. Let yourself be swept away. I promise you won’t regret it. Bon Voyage.

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