Monday, February 4, 2013

Highlights of Paris

Guess where I am!

  A year ago, when I visited London, I had the same feeling: I hopped on the train and two hours later I was in a different universe. Going from small-town Dunkerque, to one of the largest cities in the world, this time Paris, is always a big adjustment, and always exciting.

Guided Tours, For Once
  Usually while traveling, I'm not one to join a tour group. But this time, I thought it might be nice not to have to 'work' at sightseeing. I had limited time in Paris, and I wanted to see as many 'important' sights and areas as I could.

  In my search for a good tour or two, I came across a blossoming company ( Discover Walks) that offers walking tours (the ONLY way I like to explore a new city) at a very reasonable rate -- whatever you think the tour is worth. It's a relatively new company, and one of its start-up cities is Paris.

The back of Notre Dame.
  These tours turned out to be the favorite part of my roughly 35 hours in Paris. And I learned a whole lot more this time around too. So finding these tours was a great decision!

  The first tour I joined, on Saturday, was 'Notre Dame and the Heart of Paris' with Flora. Notre Dame was celebrating its 850th anniversary, and had just been adorned with brand new bells. Flora shared a lot about the detail and the historical significance of the various statues and artwork that cover the facade of the cathedral: the gargoyles, the main 'scene' of the church, and stories about the architecture.

  We also walked the surrounding area of Notre Dame, where Paris was first said to have begun (though Flora says otherwise). She told some very interesting, eerie, and historical tales about Île de la Cité: the world's 'greatest true love story', a mass murder at a barber shop, and the 100-year flood.

  I enjoyed the tour with Flora so much, that I went on second tour Sunday morning. This time in the Montmartre neighborhood with Rose.

One of two windmills in Montmartre.
  Montmartre was, by far, the trip favorite for me. Even though we were still in Paris, Montmartre had a village feel to it. It was quiet and there was limited traffic on the cobble-stoned streets. It lies on the hillside in the northern part of the city, so once you reach Montmartre Butte and Sacré Coeur, you're rewarded with a beautiful panorama of Paris. 

  We also saw and learned about Moulin Rouge, but that was hardly the highlight of the tour.

  Rose touched on the significance of artists in the the neighborhood. Historically, the area was the home to Van Gogh and Renoir as they were starting out, as well as cursed French pop singer, Dalida.

   After our tour was over, I had a delicious pain au chocolat at an award winning bakery -- Le Grenier à Pain -- only because Rose told us that their 'bread with white chocolate' was amazing. I went to find this deliciousness only to find it was a little too late in the day, and they were all sold out (I guess she wasn't kidding -- that they are amazing)! So I settled for the 'regular' chocolate. 

The view of Paris from Sacré Coeur in Montmartre.
I followed Rose's advice again, and went to the Café des 2 Moulins for a quick lunch. The cafe was featured in the film "Amelie", where she worked as a waitress. I had some yummy vegetable soup with a baguette to warm me up on the cold afternoon.

  So I had two great tours, for a great price. And I learned a lot about each area we toured, and heard some interesting tidbits and stories from the guides.

  Both Flora and Rose were born and raised Parisians (another aspect unique to Discover Walks -- home grown guides), so they were able (and willing) to offer up an insider's view to the city. I think they shared a lot of information that you usually don't get when you're on a guided tour. And since they've lived in Paris their entire lives, if you had any questions, about anything Paris, they were able to give you good answers.

Notre Dame!
  Another perk was the size of my tour groups, a total of two and three people for Saturday and Sunday, respectively. 

A Tourist, Once Again
  Most of the time I'm in Europe, I'm not a tourist. While I am a visitor, I'm definitely not in tourist mode. This weekend gave me the opportunity to get my camera out and put that tourist hat back on. 

  I thought I would be escaping the sometimes-less-than-pleasant Dunkerque weather, but I found myself complaining about the same things as I usually do: cold and windy! If I wanted to see what Paris had to offer, I had to tough through it, and force myself to stay out and see the beautiful city. A tough job, but somebody had to do it!

  So here's a (relatively) quick rundown of some of the other sights I saw!

The Eiffel Tower lighting up the Paris sky.
  Saturday evening, after recharging my batteries for an hour or so back at the apartment I rented in the Latin Quarter, I wanted to head back out to the Eiffel Tower. I had seen La Tour Eiffel, and made the trip to the top, years before when I visited Paris for an afternoon. But I had never seen it at night, with lights illuminating the city.

  Since I was on a tight schedule throughout the weekend, I didn't want to consume a lot of time waiting in line for something I had already seen. Had I been there longer, I definitely would have ventured up to the top of the monde again. 

  Unfortunately, I found myself a little bit stranded after making my way back to the Eiffel Tower that night. Little did I know, that the Eiffel Tower is one of the areas of the city that is almost a metro-desert.

  I was frozen after being out for few a hours after dinner, and having just walked through École Militaire to reach the base of the great Parisian landmark. It was late, and it was time to get 'home'. I was tired, and I was cold.

  But there was no nearby metro station nearby! I checked and rechecked the metro map, but my eyes weren't deceiving me. So I kept on walking. I guess I had figured there would be a metro station just next to the Eiffel Tower, but no such luck. So word to the wise for those of you traveling to Paris in the near future -- plan ahead!

  I eventually made it to a metro, and back to the apartment. It just took a bit longer than I had anticipated! (Another note if you're using the metro: you can by books of metro tickets at a discounted rate (carnets), or you can buy an unlimited day pass (Paris Visite). You can buy these, or other options, at a ticket machine in any metro station throughout the city. I chose the book of 10, and it was perfect for my 2 days in Paris.)

  Of course I strolled the Champs-Élysées. I actually tried to buy a few things, but it didn't work out. Since it's 'sale season' here in France, the stores are having rare bargains. (Kind of. In my opinion, things are still way more expensive than what you'd find the in the US.)

  With the soldes in full force, and being on one of the most famous shopping streets in the world, the stores were overflowing. Since the stores were crawling with people, you can imagine how backed up the lines to the fitting rooms were! You know I wasn't about to wait in line to try clothes on, so I passed on most of the sales. 

Was on the lookout for David Beckham, but this is all I saw.
  I still enjoyed the stroll. It was fun to people watch, car watch, and window shop.

  Staying true to form, I had to visit Nike Paris -- on the Champs-Élysées, no less. It actually had some of the best gear I've seen in a Nike store in Europe. Lots of basketball and training attire. And not completely overrun by the futbol department, as is the case most of the time. 

  Two other fun sights were the lovelocks on Pont de l'Archevêché and Pont des Arts (and there's a third collection of locks on passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, but I didn't visit this one). I even saw a marriage proposal on the Pont des Arts (she said yes, I think.).

Pont de l'Archevêché and the lovelocks. Notre Dame behind.
  Apparently these lovelocks bridges have become quite popular worldwide, and a little controversial in recent years. In Paris in 2010, City Hall wanted to remove the locks from the bridges in order to 'preservate the architectural heritage'. Just after, the lovelocks of the Pont des Arts disappeared one night in May 2010. Lovelocks immediately began appearing on the Pont de l'Archevêché, and obviously have since reappeared on the Pont des Arts. 

Fortunate Traveler
  I feel very lucky to have been able to visit three of the world's capitals in the span of a year (New York, London, and now Paris). I'm hardly a big city kind of girl, but I've learned to feel very comfortable navigating the bustling streets and the jam-packed subway systems.

  I spend hour upon hour walking while exploring the new (to me) city. The tired and sore legs, feet, and back are definitely worth the payoff!
The Louvre.

  I had a fabulous weekend in the City of Lights AND, I made it home in plenty of time stay up entirely too late and watch the Super Bowl. It's not quite like the watch parties many of you had, but it's better than not being able to see the game at all!

  I have a second part coming up next time covering more odds and ends from my weekend in Paris. So stay tuned!

.......More pictures below, and some a random tidbit: 

My FuelBand showed the evidence of my exploration this weekend:

Saturday: FuelPoints: 7,199 Steps: 28,288 Miles: 11.61 Active Time: 14:42.
Sunday: FuelPoints: 6,143 Steps: 19,094 Miles: 7.84 Active Time: 13:08.
An average 'off' day w/no workout: FuelPoints: 2,290 Steps: 5,985 Miles: 2.46 Active Time: 6:41.

Notre Dame.
Notre Dame.
The 'main' scene on the front facade of Notre Dame.
The doorway of the home of 'the world's greatest true love story'. Their faces are on the doors.
Notre Dame from the river.
Side facade of Notre Dame.
First glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!
Pont des Arts and the lovelocks.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
The Eiffel Tower from the boat tour.
A downpour is coming.
Cool metro sign, Moulin Rouge behind.
Montmartre. Sacré Coeur on the hillside above.
Sacré Coeur behind.
The 'awful wedding cake', as our tour guide called it.
A tiny vineyard inside Montmartre.
Café des 2 Moulins from the movie "Amelie".
Nike Paris.
Arc de Triomphe, another Paris icon.


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