In my most recent post I teased an upcoming vacation. Well, that vacation has come and gone, and now it’s time to recap it!
John and I went to Paris, then two different towns in the French Alps, and ended with two days in Geneva, Switzerland. Because our trip was nearly two weeks long, I’ll split my recap into a few parts. These recaps will still be long, but I’ll attempt to keep them as brief as possible. 😛
First up: Paris.
My First Time in France
Before I dive in, I want to note that I’m not an experienced European traveler. When I was 11, my family went to Switzerland, Germany, and Holland (we went skiing and visited some family). Then when I was in grad school I went to London for a conference. John and I spent two weeks in Italy on our honeymoon in 2014. And that was the extent of my European travel prior to this trip.
I took French for 10 years in grade and high school, but that was a long time ago. This January, I started using Duolingo to brush up on my French and have not missed a day of practice. It has helped re-awaken the French in my brain. But I’m far from fluency or even being able to understand locals when they speak to me.
Traveling to France with some basic French knowledge did make me feel slightly more confident. That said, many folks speak a little English and are happy to oblige if you greet them with “Bonjour” and ask “Parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?). This is especially true in touristy areas—Paris of course has a lot of English speakers.
Paris: Day One
To kick off our vacation, we took an overnight flight from Dulles to Paris. We wanted to attempt to avoid jet lag, so we both downloaded an app called Timeshifter. You input your flight itinerary, typical sleep and wake schedule, etc. Then it spits out a plan for you to start adjusting your circadian rhythm a couple days prior to your flight. It’s all about getting certain amounts of light at specific times of the day, when to use caffeine, and when to sleep. We followed the plan as closely as we could, and we didn’t experience jet lag too badly. I do recommend trying the app for international travel!
Upon arrival, we took a taxi from Charles de Gaulle to our hotel, the Marriott Champs-Élysées. We didn’t overthink where to stay because we used points, and we were only staying for three nights. The Champs-Élysées is certainly not the coolest or more interesting part of Paris. IMO, it’s akin to staying on Broadway in Soho, with tons of tourists and shops. But three free nights were worth sacrificing staying in a more interesting neighborhood. The hotel itself was quite nice, and they upgraded us to free breakfast—a money-saving perk. European hotel breakfast buffets tend to be way nicer and more varied than those in the US.
I needed caffeine, so we found a cafe nearby named Paul (a Parisian chain) and I grabbed an espresso. We wandered a little and then returned to the room to shower and try not to fall asleep.
For our first Parisian dinner, we went to a bistro named Morny that we had passed in the taxi on our way to the hotel. We saw that they had pizza and burgers, which was all we wanted at that moment.
I had pizza with mozzarella, goat cheese, tomato, and honey. It TOTALLY hit the spot after a long travel experience. A glass of rosé was also necessary!
It was hot out—there was an unfortunate heat wave during our stay—and we were tired, but after dinner we strolled toward the Seine. All of a sudden, the Eiffel Tower was in front of us as the sun was starting to set. Magical.
After taking in the beautiful view, we made our way back to the hotel to crash for the night.
Paris: Day Two
We took advantage of our free hotel breakfast buffet, which was impressive. They had a wide assortment of pastries, honey dripping from honeycomb, fresh fruit, yogurt, local cheeses and charcuterie, and more. You could also order made-to-order omelets. And they had a juicer with fruits and veggies so you could make a custom juice. Fancy.
After breakfast we navigated the Metro to the Louvre, which we had purchased tickets for in advance. John had been there before, and I’ve heard that it’s kind of a touristy shit show. However, I couldn’t not go to the Louvre on my first trip to Paris.
We had tickets for 9:00am (the first time slot of the day) and queued up with lots of other tourists prior to the museum opening its doors.
We only had to wait for about 15 minutes before being allowed into the museum. Once inside, we decided to make a beeline for the Mona Lisa because we know she’d be a big draw. Indeed, she was.
Here’s the scene in the Mona Lisa room around 9:20am…I’m sure it was probably a madhouse later.
The above photo shows the scale of one of the world’s most famous paintings; it’s smaller than you’d expect given its acclaim. Also, it’s roped off and protected by some kind of plexiglass so you can’t get near it to throw tomato soup at it or whatever bullshit climate change activists are doing to priceless works of art these days.*
The Mona Lisa is great, but I also loved this De Vinci painting called A Woman of the Court of Milan. You can get much closer to it than the Mona Lisa, and it is exquisite (also protected by a clear material).
From there, we began wandering the absolutely gigantic museum and found plenty of areas that were very quiet and less bustling with tourists. One of my favorite areas was the room with the French Crown Jewels, which included some breathtakingly detailed vessels made from gemstones.
Also, don’t sleep on the ceilings in the Louvre…always make sure to look up when you enter a new space in the museum. Such as this one:
I also loved the decorative arts of Europe section, as well as Napoleon III’s apartment (the former president of France, not Napoleon Bonaparte).
These snuff boxes were tiny, intricately enamelled masterpieces:
Napoleon III’s parlor…check out that ceiling:
Here’s Napoleon III’s dining room…see what I mean about the ceilings?
Here’s a view of the Louvre pyramid and courtyard from one of the galleries:
We also swung by the Venus de Milo, another world-famous piece housed at the Louvre:
After spending a couple hours in the Louvre, we decided to call it. The museum is so massive that it’s impossible to see the entire place in one day. And honestly, a lot of the artwork there isn’t really up our alley; we are drawn to more contemporary work. But it was still worth a visit!
We tried to take the Metro back to the hotel, but the station was closed due to the rugby World Cup being in town. So we walked a mile back in the heat, which I was really not happy about. I needed some rest time in the room after that adventure.
Later in the afternoon I did a bit of skin care shopping at a French pharmacie (I’ll do a separate post about my vacation shopping haul). French pharmacie shopping feels so much fancier than going to CVS here in the States. I also stopped in at the Sephora that was two doors down from our hotel, but it was a madhouse and they didn’t carry much that you can’t find here in the US.
Around dinnertime, we walked down the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe:
From there, we took the Metro to the Trocadero for a prime Eiffel Tower viewing spot, as seen in the first photo in this post. We also took more selfies, because you can’t have enough Eiffel Tower selfies when you visit Paris:
From there, we wandered around trying to find a place for dinner and settled on an Italian bistro on Avenue Kléber called Corso. We grabbed a table indoors next to a fan, which helped immensely with the heat. I know I keep harping on the weather, but I don’t handle heat well and it makes me super cranky. Most restaurants in Paris apparently don’t have air conditioning, and they leave all the doors and windows open. So it’s tough to find a place where you can dine comfortably when it’s really warm.
Anyway, we had a nice dinner at Corso (I had a pizza-like flatbread starter because I wasn’t very hungry), then went back to the Trocadero so we could watch the Eiffel Tower lights sparkle. Each evening starting when the sun goes down, the tower lights up for five minutes every hour on the hour. So we got to see the first light show of the night. It was brief but beautiful…here’s a short video I took:
When the light show ended, we Ubered back to our hotel, ordered a glass of wine from the lobby bar, and sat in the air conditioning watching the beginning of the first rugby World Cup game before heading upstairs for bed.
Paris: Day Three
Our third day in Paris was by far my favorite. Prior to our trip, I bought us timed tickets for the Paris Catacombs, which I had read sell out quickly. They make tickets available online seven days in advance, so I made sure to set a calendar reminder to try and get tickets a week before we would be in town. Fortunately I was able to get tickets, so after our hotel breakfast we hopped on the Metro and made our way to the Catacombs visitor center to line up for our time slot.
The ticket includes an audio tour, available in multiple languages. First you descend a long spiral staircase and wander some tunnels while learning about how the tunnels were formed (they served as quarries). Then you enter into the catacombs, which is an ossuary comprised of the bones of six million Parisians. In the late 1700’s the city’s cemeteries were overflowing, and due to public health concerns, officials decided to move human remains from above ground to the tunnels below. The bones were later organized as a museum of sorts, and the ossuary now stands as a very fascinating and popular tourist attraction.
Here’s a slide show of my photos from our visit, which lasted close to an hour:
Interestingly, my phone seemed concerned that I had been abducted and taken underground. During the tour, this message popped up in my notifications:
I’ve never received a notification like that before on my phone! Thanks for the concern, iPhone, but I went deep underneath Paris on purpose. 🙂
This was the perfect activity to do on a hot day because it was cool and dark underground. And it felt like an ideal experience for the start of spooky season. I was so happy that we had the opportunity to visit the Catacombs!
After the Catacombs, we hailed a taxi back to the hotel and I rested while John went for a walk. In the evening, we took an Uber to Rue Cler, a cute street he had discovered on his walk earlier. We sat on the patio for dinner at Le Petit Cler, another adorable bistro:
Honestly, the food was nothing special, but we enjoyed the setting and drinks so we didn’t mind. After dinner, we decided to have another drink on the sidewalk at Cafe Central, another spot just down the street.
We ended up sitting next to an American couple and chatting with them for quite some time. There’s something about meeting Americans while traveling in a foreign country that feels more exciting than meeting new folks at home. I feel like, at least for me, it has to do with being able to easily communicate versus the effort it takes to speak with someone who isn’t fluent in your language.
Our final night in Paris ended up being a really enjoyable night! We had to pack and get ready to head to the Alps the next morning, so this concludes my recap of our Parisian visit.
Maybe this is a (semi-literal?) hot take, but I didn’t love Paris. Much of my feeling about the city was due to the heat wave, though, and it’s on me that I chose to let it bother me so much. Also, big cities tend to sap me of energy so I prefer taking them in small doses. Three days in Paris barely scratches the surface of the city, so I’ll return someday and discover more of what it has to offer.
The part two recap of our vacation will be coming soon!
*Opinion Alert! Climate change is a legitimate threat to our planet and humanity, and I know that a lot of changes needs to be made in order to help preserve our planet. But IMHO, desecrating famous artwork in museums is not the way to get it done. Has any lawmaker ever heard about one of these protests and said, “You know what? They’re right. I’m going to vote for climate change initiatives now.” I don’t think so. In fact, I might hazard a guess that this type of protest has the opposite effect on the lawmakers that need to absorb the climate change message.