Alex had been kind enough to organise a pretty epic trip to Venice for my birthday in December, so when April rolled around, I had to think of somewhere equally as cool to go. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, tickets everywhere were incredibly expensive. I will blame school holidays. Anyway, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking ‘I would love to go back to Paris’ but didn’t mention it to Alex as he doesn’t like going back to the same place twice. Thank goodness he makes an exception for Paris and suggested it himself. The Eurostar tickets were booked that day, and in a month we would be heading back to the world’s most beautiful city.
If I haven’t mentioned this enough, Eurostar is my favourite mode of international travel. At 9pm we reached La Ville Lumière, quickly checked into our hotel, and headed straight back out into the city for our favourite activity – people watching from a cafe on the Parisian sidewalk. Each time we have come to Paris, we have started our trip this way, grabbing a vino, and observing the city.
In the morning, we decided to carry on our other Paris tradition, and head to our favourite family-run bakery, Paul, for some delicious breakfast pastries and espresso that we would take to the Louvre courtyard (on a side note, the family-run bakery thing was a joke from when we first arrived in Paris as we thought we had discovered a tiny shop run by a little French family – now we know it is a bakery chain that has stores in every country we have been to, trying to be ironic with that name. I did google it and found out that it is still in fact family run. Love it!). When we got to the Louvre, our favourite courtyard was closed for renovations so we ate our breakfast in the larger courtyard overlooking the glass pyramid.
Soon after breakfast, we ventured east towards Notre Dame. On the way, there is a tiny cathedral called Sainte Chapelle that we had not visited on our previous trips to Paris. This little cathedral is situated on the Île de la Cité, and to get to it, you need to pass through airport-style security as it is within the Palais de Justice. This little cathedral is famous for a couple of reasons, firstly because it contains a number of passion relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns, and secondly because of the beautiful stained glass windows. I was not too interested in seeing the Passion relics as they don’t really mean much to me, so was not very disappointed when it turned out they were actually in Notre Dame as part of a special exhibition. The stained glass windows are absolutely worth the visit alone. They almost seem to defy gravity, as pretty much three sides of the chapel are stained glass, with only the slimmest stone pillars supporting the rest of the structure. It becomes even more impressive when you think about the fact that it was constructed in the 13th century.
For the remainder of the morning, we just wandered, taking in the beautiful sights, including a visit to Notre Dame (we were so close, so why not) and the Jardin du Luxembourg. Paris is such a stunning city, I feel like the best part of the day is always wandering with no particular destination in mind.
After lunch, ending up at the Musée de l’Orangerie. The main reason we were both keen to visit this museum was the large Monet water lilies paintings. This museum was particularly impressive in the way they had set the paintings out. Usually, we feel quite overwhelmed when visiting galleries and museums as there is so much to look at and we (generally) know nothing about what we are looking at, so it was refreshing to go to a place where the space was designed around the paintings with plenty of room to appreciate the one that was in front of you.
As it was Alex’s birthday, we did a bit of research into where we wanted to go for dinner. He settled on a traditional bistro in the 11th arrondissement. This was a bit of a walk from our hotel but we didn’t mind as we love walking through Paris. This was until we came across a crazy sight at the Place de la République. The whole square was full of rowdy protesters, rubbish, graffiti, and a heavy presence of riot police and soldiers. To say this made me feel very nervous was an understatement. With the general state of unrest in the area, I would have preferred to avoid large crowds conflicting with authorities, but there is was nothing much we could do about it once we were there and managed to scoot around the edge as quickly as possible, making it to our dinner destination unscathed.
The bistro Alex picked was called La Pharmacie, which as you may have guessed was an old pharmacy turned into a restaurant. It was so cozy inside, a great escape from the hectic atmosphere outside. The reason we picked this restaurant was that it served traditional, seasonal food which is something that really appeals to us. Our waiter was extremely entertaining and helpful. Once I had explained my nut allergy to him, he was very knowledgeable about the menu. When he brought our wine over he said “this does not contain nuts, but it will make you nuts” which I thought was hilarious. We both loved the food we ordered as it was quite rustic and very tasty. Alex’s highlight was dessert of mascarpone ice cream with candied fennel.
The next day turned out to be an absolutely stunning day. We made the most of this by heading inside to visit the Paris Opera House. To be fair, we had planned to do this on Sunday as the weather forecast said that it would be raining. As we have travelled a lot in Europe, we should have known not to trust this.
The Opera House is well worth a visit in my opinion. This building dominates central Paris, and as impressive as it is on the outside, it is nothing compared to what is inside. Palais Garnier was built in the late 1800’s, taking it’s name from the architect. It is most famous for being the setting for the musical The Phantom of the Opera. We saw the Phantom of the Opera in the West End after this visit to Paris and it was so cool to see how much the set represented the actual Palais Garnier. The inside is just as opulent and over the top as you would imagine. This is also one of the only places in Paris where they provide English information cards around the building alongside the French ones, this was greatly appreciated, as they were very informative and interesting.
My favourite part of the Opera House was the theatre itself. The reason being it was not what I expected at all. When you walk in, you are greeted by the opulent gold leaf and maroon velvet decor that adorns many of the old theatres, but when you look up, the ceiling is painted with a very contemporary and colourful fresco. We later learned that this was painted in the 1960’s and depicts opera scenes from 14 composers, including Mozart and Beethoven.
After the Opera House, we strolled over to the Jardin des Tuileries by the Louvre for a spot of lunch. I know this is extremely touristy but to be honest, we really felt like sitting in the beautiful outdoor cafe under the trees, away from the streets. Our rose went down a treat, and the food wasn’t bad either.
Any trip to Paris would not be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower, so in the afternoon, we strolled down the Seine and soaked up a bit of sunshine. No matter how many times I see the Eiffel tower, I don’t think I would get sick of it. It is what you dream about visiting when you are a child, and I think it is just as beautiful and magical when you see it in real life. It is really a time when you reflect and remember just how amazing it is that you are over the other side of the world seeing everything you ever dreamed of.
After the Eiffel tower, it was back in towards the Arc de Triomphe and along the Champs-Élysées to make our way back towards the hotel and then on to the train station ready to catch the Eurostar back to London. Every time we visit Paris, we become more enchanted with this city. This is one place that I will always want to return to. I don’t think the magic will disappear.