A Long Summer Weekend in Paris
Last July, a whole 12 months ago, I spent a long weekend in Paris with my mother. It has taken me 12 long months to get round to finishing off this blog post, which is definitely a record for me. On a sunny Friday morning we hopped onto the Eurostar at St Pancras and arrived at Paris Gare du Nord just 2 hours 15 minutes later after being treated to a delicious breakfast onboard the train in our enormous seats. (As I write this, I’m currently enduring the cramped conditions on a Ryanair flight and the thought of those Eurostar seats (thrones, more like) seems heavenly!). As I was struggling to get round to blogging at the time, I was relieved to find out that my wonderfully efficient mother had made her own notes from the weekend and she passed them to me. So I can’t claim this blog post to be mine, it was written by my mother who has also starred in another two posts on my blog: Guest Post: An Overland Ambulance Trip to Ghana and Postcard of the Week: Greetings from Ghana. I have been to Paris a couple of times before: aged 11 on a school choir trip and a few years later we popped over for the day to celebrate one of my mother’s birthdays. Here’s what we got up to during our 3 days in Paris and our tips for how to amuse yourself in the French capital, the most visited city in the world.
After arriving in Paris by Eurostar, it took us a little time to orientate ourselves and buy public transport tickets and navigate the route to our hotel. We decided upon a Zone 1-2 day pass and this probably saved us a little money (€6.50/day each vs. €1.70/trip). Fortunately my travel agent (aka V) had chosen a fairly central location for our hotel, the Hostellerie du Marais in Le Marais. To get there we strolled past the picturesque Place des Vosges, which turned out to be very close to our hotel.
Too early to check-in, we set out on our 3-day visit by taking in the chic art shops and the Place nearby. Passing via the quaint Île Saint-Louis, the Berthillon ice cream parlour, the familiar sight of Notre Dame and the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, we walked across to the South Bank and by serendipity rather than intention ended up at Les Deux Magots restaurant by Place Saint-Germain-des Prés. We later discovered that it was the haunt of much of the literary and artistic scene’s finest figures during the 1930s. A lunch of Chablis and salad were perfect for creating a true feeling of Paris.
Following lunch we made our way west along La Seine River to the Musée d’Orsay, a visit to which had been one of my aims for the trip. Taking advantage of our Eurostar tickets we were able to purchase 2-for-1 tickets for €25.50. We opted for a guided tour, costing €6/person, who used a microphone and headset. She was an enchanting art historian and spoke for over 1½ hours on the history and style of the artists at the turn of the century. What was particularly effective was the way one could wander a little away from the group, yet still catch her every word through the headset. What took me by surprise? I loved the history behind the Impressionists, where they got their name from (they adopted a style of depicting their impression rather than try to capture history, a style which pre-dated them). We saw so many famous paintings during that afternoon that I had to remind myself they were originals and not simply prints in a shop.
By the time the tour finished, so were we. (Virginia was even struggling to keep her eyes open at times, such was the calm atmosphere in the museum). After all we had been up since 5am to get an early train to Paris… Making our way back to the hotel, we checked into our rooms and then indulged in a macaroon and a French siesta for an hour. Steeling ourselves out of our reverie we showered and presented ourselves to the world, or rather went on an exploration for a restaurant recommended by one of V’s university friends, Olivia, who’s living in Paris and is something of an expert. It proved to be a gem in the 1st arrondissement: Ô Chateau. (Virginia’s note: I have actually written a review of this wonderful bar-restaurant and would hugely recommend it!)
Ô Chateau is actually a wine tasting bar and your best bet for food is to choose from a variety of meat and cheese platters to accompany your array of wines. We both opted for the exquisite mixed platter which V complemented with the option of “4 personally selected wines” whilst I went for the “6 Tour de France French wines”. With the weather good enough to sit outside on the pavement, our little table looked rather overwhelmed by our 10 glasses of wine all at once! Costing €105 for two people, it’s a little on the pricey side but I think well worth it because of the attention to detail and the charming way each wine was described to us. It was truly a journey of taste.
The next morning we struggled to get up before 9am. However once showered and refreshed by a good night’s sleep, the sun was to our surprise glowing. Our surprise came from the fact that heavy rain had been forecast (so much for weather reports!). We took breakfast on a charming rue from which we could people watch.
Passing via the Place de la Sorbonne we took in the Jardin du Luxembourg, stopping for a picnic in the shade while watching children play with little sailing boats on the pond in front of the French Senate, an absolutely idyllic sight. Neither of us had visited the Eiffel Tower for a couple of years so we took a detour to gaze up at it and also explored the lovely Jardin des Tuileries. Within the jardin is the Musée de l’Orangerie, containing some of Monet’s waterlilies, which had also been recommended by our invaluable local insider Olivia.
Navigating our way via the Metro we ended up in arty, bohemian Montmartre where we tracked down the Moulin de la Galette which apparently was the backdrop to one of Renoir’s famous paintings, Bal du Moulin de la Galette (seen at the Musée d’Orsay the previous day).
It’s a romantic but very hilly quartier so we revived ourselves with a cold drink whilst listening to an Italian opera singer busking in a square. Eventually we wound our way up towards the Sacre Coeur church. Despite our tiring feet (or was it calves?) we climbed the 300 steps to the top of the dome from which we had panoramic views of Paris. Never before had I appreciated the height of this Church above the capital and it’s truly spectacular.
Slowly we meandered our way back down, stopping for a crepe au citron et sucre en route back to our hotel. This time we didn’t tempt ourselves with a rest but rather, following a much-needed shower (since the day had been hot) we went out again and found a restaurant very popular with the French, always a good sign, called Le Bouledogue on Rue Rambuteau where we enjoyed a cocktail, and magret de canard with a good Bordeaux wine. When in France, do as the French, (particularly if not needing to drive home).
Our third and last day in Paris we had decided to visit Versailles, an area I have never had the opportunity to visit before. We booked our tickets on line and this saved much time and hassle on the day (an adult ticket costs €25 including gardens and audio guide, EU citizens under 26-years-old can enter for free, although entrance to the gardens costs an extra €8).
Our journey from Le Marais to Versailles Rive Gauche took 1 ½ hours in total by metro and the REN (costing €6.30 each way). We made the mistake of queuing briefly to get into the Château only to find ourselves inadvertently leaving the grounds to enter the magnificent gardens for the musical water display at 11am. In retrospect it would have been better to visit the gardens first for the display, then queue up for the Château (though the queues are shockingly long). I have never seen such extensive and elaborate gardens on the scale displayed at Versailles and we particularly liked the peace and quiet of the orange gardens to one side. The gardens have an impressive number of water features which are accompanied by gentle baroque music playing in the background, so it well worth making sure you are there in time for one of the two ‘musical fountain shows’ per day (only at weekends April-October, at 11am-12pm and again at 3:30-5pm).
In due course we toured the Château with the use of an audio guide, which is worth having. There’s no doubt that it’s a beautiful and impressive palace, which explains why it draws quite such momentous crowds of visitors. This was, at times, overwhelming and created a few bottlenecks en route through the palace, meaning our tour probably took about 2 hours. Finally we emerged into the hot sun where we enjoyed a final stroll around the gardens before finally heading home.
And so our visit to beautiful Paris was coming to an end. However there was so much to see, do and take in that the time we actually spent there seemed longer. As a general tip if you want to make the most of a short trip, you need comfortable shoes, need to be reasonably fit and do a bit of research before you go, to work out key areas you wish to see. The rest is on offer by the city. You will never be short of somewhere delicious to eat or somewhere interesting to visit since the story of Paris is as rich as the accounts you may have heard.