France. It invokes thoughts of food, wine, the beautiful countryside & vineyards, the busy, elegant city of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and so much more. I’ve wanted to go to France for as long as I can remember, and during our 3 month trip we spent a quarter of our time there. 3 weeks still weren’t enough, I believe I could happily move to France!
Our first stop in France, Paris, was just as I imagined. We did have to survive the trip to our accommodation first though. After managing to buy train tickets, catching two trains at peak commuter time, and a bit of a walk, we wound up at Hotel Pavillon Montmartre. Located in Montmartre, it was near the famous Moulin Rouge & the Sacré-Cœur, surrounded with plenty of wonderful cafes around and made for a great, affordable base for our 2 initial nights in Paris. Our first night we went for a wander, and enjoyed Moules Frites (mussels & fries), a Belgian dish we saw everywhere. Those small, sweet mussels are deceiving, and made for a filling meal, along with a French cider.
The following morning we found most restaurants served a breakfast of café (coffee), orange juice, a croissant & a baguette with jam. This set us up for the majority of our breakfasts in Europe, consisting of coffee and a pastry… such a hard life! Breakfast is Petit Déjeuner in French… directly translated to Small Lunch, it was fitting in this case.
After breakfast we explored Paris, jumping on a Hop on Hop off bus. We found on our travels that Paris had some of the most affordable Hop on Hop off buses out of all the places we visited, at only €25 (approx AU$34.50). From the bus we saw all the famous tourist attractions, including the Notre Dame, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and of course, the Eiffel Tower.
Heading through security at the Eiffel Tower, we noticed a VERY long queue. This was to take the elevator up. We opted to walk, knowing that we would need all the exercise we can get on this trip! With almost no line, we were soon heading up the stairs to the first level of this famous tourist attraction. We enjoyed some incredible views, and a walk up to the second level, before continuing our site seeing.
That night we did as the Parisians do, and dined street side at a bistro on traditional French dishes, with a glass (or 2) of wine each, enjoying each others company & people watching. We also got our hands on some Camembert made with lait cru (raw milk) and a bottle of red wine for dessert (if its after dinner, its dessert!).
After our 2 nights in Paris, we picked up our little rental car, the Seat Leon destined to be our portable home base for the next 3 weeks. Tip – don’t organise to pick up your rental car right in the heart of Paris, especially when you’ve never driven on the right side of the road! Our GPS wasn’t working, we had no map, there was plenty of traffic (of course, its Paris!) lots of one way streets, and when we pulled over to check the map I was confronted with a rather large gun held by a very serious looking man who did not speak much English. It turns out we decided to stop one street over from where a terrorist attack was being attempted (and luckily thwarted by the French police!)
Fortunately we soon found our map and were on our way. Unfortunately, this way involved driving down Avenue de Champs-Élysées, and heading around the famous Arc de Triomphe. I was very proud of myself in successfully navigating our little car 3/4 of the way around this ’roundabout’, without being in or causing any accidents! After this excitement, we were soon on our way to Normandy.
Three weeks later, we found ourselves in chaotic Paris traffic again, this time to drop the car off. I missed that little car… I did not miss driving in French cities. This time it was only one night in Paris, before we headed to Munich, Germany.
This time we booked Airbnb, and stayed in the complete opposite side of Paris, in the 14th arrondissement. The location was chosen based on its proximity to the one other tourist attraction we wanted to see, the Paris Catacombs.
To skip the queue for the Catacombs, which goes all around the block, I booked our tickets online for only an extra few Euros. To arrive at the time on the ticket, and go straight to the front of the queue felt like a bit of a luxury, and was worth it to bypass spending hours wasted baking in the sun.
The Catacombs are a result of existing underground tunnels caving in, and overflowing graveyards. Human bones started being transferred in 1786, and now the Paris Catacombs contains the bones of over 6 million people. The bones have been stacked very well, with femurs and skulls used to make patterns. A bit disturbing, but definitely fascinating.
Descending 19m underground down a narrow spiral staircase adds to the mystery. We opted for the audioguide which I recommend, it had lots of information that wouldn’t have been included otherwise. It was cool & low in the tunnels, and a bit damp, both to be expected. I was glad of my short stature! I do highly recommend the visit, it’s history that we can’t even imagine in Australia and New Zealand.
For our last night in Paris we dined as we did when we first arrived. On a small table with only two chairs, halfway out into the footpath at a French bistro, wine in hand. More traditional food, ordered slightly easier on the last night than the first, with a small improvement in our French.
As they say, J’adore Paris!