Our trip to Paris was the most spontaneous thing we’ve ever done. While Steve was studying abroad in Prague, we seized the opportunity to spend three days in Paris.
Thanks to Kayak, we found $105 round trip plane tickets. With about 48 hours to plan, I scoured Pintrest and made a list of all the things we wanted to do. I mapped out how close attractions were to each other in order to maximize our time. In an effort to save money in a famously expensive city, I found out what attractions and museums had discounted tickets. At The Musée d’Orsay, we saved 3 Euro by entering after 4:30pm. At The Louvre, people under 26 can enter on Fridays after 6:00pm for free. We also paid a reduced rate at the Catacombs of Paris for being between the ages of 18 and 26!
We rented this airbnb and while we were en route, there was a terrorist attack in Nice, France. When we landed, the airport was more than chaotic. We don’t travel with cellular data access (we use the AT&T Passport Plan). So, inside of the airport, we were told that there had been a terrorist attack, couldn’t connect to the wifi, and hadn’t done enough research about how to get from the airport to our Airbnb.
While trying to make a plan, a charismatic man walked up to us and said quickly, “Taxis are this way” and we followed him in our nervous and frustrated haze. He said, “Where are you headed?” and when we told him, he said he could take us there. We hopped in his cab relieved to be on our way. He turned to us and said, “This trip will be 200 euro, ok?” and started driving. Steve and I exchanged panicked looks. We had a tiny bit more than 200 euro for our whole trip. Who were we to argue? What if he kidnapped us? What were our rights in a foreign country? He got us to our Airbnb, we paid him, and we spent the night dwelling on our naïve mistake; we fell asleep to the sound of Bastille Day fireworks outside of our seventh story apartment.
The plan was to make our way from the Arc de Triomphe to The Louvre while stopping at a number of attractions and monuments along the way. We had been walking a lot in Prague so we knew we could handle at least 10 miles on foot.
The Arc was magnificent; the weather was light and breezy. A French flag was hung and flowers were displayed in honor of the victims of the attack. After the Arc, we walked down The Avenue des Champs-Élysées. There were gold plated gates, manicured gardens, shops, and large storefronts. The UEFA Euro Cup had just passed and we window shopped for discounted soccer jerseys. We made our way to The Tuileries Garden and we were surprised by how sandy the gardens and parks were in Paris.
We stopped at the famous Angelina for an eclair and a much needed coffee. Then we happened to stumble upon the love lock bridge. My favorite part of traveling and wandering is finding something iconic that we didn’t intend to find.
The Musée d’Orsay was nearby so (as we had planned) we got in line to purchase tickets. A nice French man, who had purchased one too many tickets, approached us and said he was giving us the extra. Maybe this was Paris apologizing for the rough start. With our free ticket, we purchased the second and explored the historic museum. We saw paintings we hadn’t planned to see and had another view of the city from the outdoor balcony. After the museum, we stopped at a crêpe shop and split a Nutella crêpe that was divine.
As we waited for the time to get free tickets at The Louvre, we took photos outside of it. Right when we got to the very front of the line, alarms went off and The Louvre was suddenly evacuated. The crowd was resistant to move out of the way, but in a foreign country that had a terrorist attack the day before, we weren’t taking chances. Needless to say, this is all we experienced at The Louvre.
Steve is a big fan of Yelp and he had done the dining research for this trip. We ate dinner at a place called Louise that had great Yelp reviews. I had a rather plain (but delicious otherwise) pasta, and Steve had ravioli. The customer service there was much better than it had been in Prague; the staff was entrigued that we were from New Orleans.
We hadn’t planned to see The Eiffel Tower on our first day, but with a little extra energy, we trekked to find it. We anticipated seeing the tower become illuminated in the famous shimmering gold, but it was red, white, and blue. With a full day and a couple of sizable blisters, we headed home. By the end of our day, we had walked seventeen miles.
We wised up and bought metro passes; our plan was to start at Notre-Dame Cathedral, see the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, walk through the Luxembourg Gardens, see the Luxembourg Palace, explore the Catacombs of Paris, and picnic under the Eiffel Tower for dinner.
Notre-Dame was absolutely packed so we settled for only observing it from afar. We took a few photos and then wandered across the street to Shakespeare and Co. This was a heartwarming moment for the English major that I once was.
While planning, I had read that Eric Kayser bakery was the top notch place to get an authentic baguette. As we were walking in pursuit of the bakery, we happened upon a little farmers market. We bought a small slice of Brie for our bread. We purchased the baguette from Eric Kayser and sat down on the curb to eat our 3 euro meal. We then got fussed at by a French woman for eating in front of a church.
Thanks to our taxi mistake, we were running low on cash. We went to an ATM where my debit card was promptly sucked in and not returned. Paris was literally stealing my money.
We silently walked toward the Luxembourg Gardens and Palace. My frustration turned to joy as I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this place. The gardens were like a scene from a Disney movie. Everything was perfectly manicured and accented with pink flowers, there was green garland hanging near a pond, and a beautiful palace. Of all the places and things we saw in Paris, this was my favorite and the most peaceful.
We sat near the palace to take a minute and relax together. It was these moments in Paris that were necessary to stay balanced and positive. We were getting ready to head to the Catacombs of Paris and as we had been warned, the line for the catacombs was wrapped around the whole block. Thankfully, there was a nice couple behind us who talked to us the whole time while waiting. We’d been kind of lonely while traveling so it was comforting to talk to some Americans while waiting to see the bones of 6 million Parisians.
The catacombs were cold, wet, and so worth the wait.
We hopped on the metro, got off near the Eiffel Tower, grabbed a pizza, and picnicked as planned. On the lawn surrounding the Eiffel Tower, there are men constantly selling things. They would approach us and say what they had to sell, “water water beer beer one euro very good price beer beer cigarette very good champagne yes yes.” The lawn surrounding the Eiffel Tower was surprisingly dirty (see the background of the photo below) and it was difficult to set up a super picturesque moment, but it had been Bastille weekend. I mean, I’d hate for anyone to judge New Orleans after a Mardi Gras parade.
On our third and final day in Paris, we explored the artsy neighborhood of Montmartre. We shared a croque monsieur, drank a tiny cup of coffee, and watched Parisians and tourists pass by. We poked around cafes, tourist shops (still in search of a soccer jersey), took selfies at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and found the Wall of Love. Before leaving for the airport, we purchased a couple of caramels from a chocolate shop and shared a Coca Cola to which Steve exclaimed, “This tastes like America!”
There had been a palpable sense of tension while we were in Paris. Maybe it was because of the attack in Nice, but if something would make a noise that was unfamiliar or a little too loud, the whole crowd would jump. We frequently saw security guards and police with machine guns which made us feel safe but as if there was always a threat.
We left France happy to have had the adventure, and relieved to have done it together. Paris was a place we dreamed of visiting. It was spontaneous and reminded us of the accessibility of travel on our own continent. Some of my favorite moments were sitting on benches just looking at what was in front of us.