Paris is one of those cities that most people experience at least once in their life. Like London, Barcelona, Dublin, Bangkok, New York and Milan, it commands our attention. Indeed, the French capital is the third most visited city according to Mastercard in 2018. 30 million flock to it every year although it didn’t feel like that in May. Paris’s boulevards are so wide, it’s square so huge and attractions so plentiful that there is space for all of us.
‘A travel state of mind’ - Eurostar
I first went to the place they call the City of Lights over 20 years ago and it was the lure of Eurostar (AKA god’s gift to travel) that pulled me back in 2019. Also, given how much of the world we’ve seen together during our eight years, it felt odd for the beloved and I not to have been to what’s deemed as the most romantic city. For me, it’s just one of the easiest places to travel to from England. For the first half of 2019, we’ve been in a state of limbo waiting to move house and so we decided on short trips. First Berlin, then Paris and next sweltering in Madrid for our anniversary.
We arrived late on a Saturday evening with just enough time for quick exploration of our bustling neighbourhood. Turns out our bit of 11th Arrondissement is the place to go for bars. Therefore it stands to reason that everyone is sitting outside, despite a little drizzle, smoking, drinking and eating into the night. On a school night! I do feel like I’m passively smoking a cigarette just by walking one block although they smoke no more than the UK, it’s just that Parisians are all outside.
We snack up from the local supermarket and I await my deluge of croissants for breakfast the next day.
However, there were none in Oni Coffee so I just chose an iced bun although it happily came with the yummiest Americano I’ve had in years.
On every other day, I had a feast to prepare me for a day of exploring Paris. First up, a hearty breakfast served to me in Neighbours in the form off the very much English sourdough crumpets served with eggs, colourful, salsa made with the mini tomoatoes I like, and a generous helping of herbs.
And then my fix of a French breakfast of le Petite Dejeuner style in Cafe Oberkampf around the corner from us. Topped with some delicious bakery treats from French Bastards boulangerie - only in Paris - to keep us going. On the last day, Loui’s Corner served up similar although I opted for American pancake alternative and explore the Canal Saint Martin neighbourhood while there.
Remarkably, I never had croissants for breakfast once. Perversely, in Antwerp last, we were offered them every day. Maybe because we didn’t opt in for the hotel breakfast – I figured it’s going to be easy to find breakfast in Paris and being hungry gets us out earlier every morning.
So no French toast or croissants the whole trip but I finally got crepes saturated with chocolate from the Creperie Elo on the last night.
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Saved the best #coffee till last and finally got the banana bread I'd been craving. Turns out this coffee shop is on the street where Macron hangs and opposite the British embassy. Good taste. Also first time I've had a coffee served without the unnecessary teaspoon. That's a sign. #Paris #France #traveltheworld #traveladdict
le dejeuner or dinner
We had some healthy meals n Paris to counteract the many sweet treats. One of the best came in the form of some nourishing bread, salmon and cream cheese combo accompanied by the sort of salad that makes you glow with health by just looking at it. This was in The Stray Bean in Versaille where we decided to stay after enjoying their excellent coffee. Even Bio Burger provided a fast, inexpensive sit-down meal with sustainable ingredients and I’m never far from thai food and Thai Street Food provided just that. If you get stuck in a pricey tourist area, look for Lyon, is a good chain that served up an agreeable 3 course (late) lunch.
It’s still pretty tricky to grab a fast bite in Paris as street food is pretty rare. We managed to find pizza by the slice once, in a residential area. I spotted a couple of Pret’s and M&S Food halls which I had to go in just to get a comparison and they are pretty pricey. However, if I had to be in Paris for any length of time, I’m sure I’d succumb. Or Eurstar to London every couple of weeks to top up on my favourites. There are plenty of fast food restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops, which are your best bet for a snack.
As with most large cities, coffee is pricey, touching £5, so this was a daily treat once we’d left the hotel. There was never a bad one though in Shakespeare Cafe, Oni Coffee which set the tone for the fine Americanos in this city
Rude Manners is also a bike shop so I was surprised to hear funky jazz instead of the predicable heavy metal. The name of the shop refers to coffee names rather than the impeccable service we received. The Stray Bean was an uplift after this whole Versailles debacle.
The best coffee experience came on our last day. We hadn’t clocked that getting there would mean walking past the Elysee Palace where the President resides, which would explain all the police and cars with blacked out windows for a couple of blocks. Hidden away, just opposite the British Embassy is the delight that is Honor Coffee. For this one, the sun shone and we sat outside watching the comings and goings of the designer shops all around us.
We even managed to take in a couple of fine beers at BBP (Belgium Beer Project) and Bon Esprit
I’m so thrilled to make it in the Louvre. I learn this is the world’s largest museum rightly attracting over 10 million visitors every year. We added to that one weekday morning and they sure have got it sussed and our pre-booked tickets took us just ten minutes to get in.
The Eiffel Tower amazed like I didn’t think it would. It truly is a wonder to behold every time you spot it up close or from a distance. We viewed the light show which bursts into action on the hour every hour from the Trocadero like everyone else.
Arc du Triomphe – or Marble Arch as I kept calling it - is another free one to visit unless you want to take the lift inside.
After the effortless joy of the Louvre, we were visiting the Palace of Versailles mainly as a nostalgic trip to rekindle the beloved’s childhood memories of the sheer vulgarity of the place. We pre-booked tickets as before, however, this time there were no signage or staff wanting us to visit. Instead, we saw 100s of people in a snake-like line we presumed were ticket-less only to find after walking to every corner of the square in the hot sun that they, in fact, had tickets. Luckily there were two of us as one could wait in line getting me more furious by the minute watching people much-less able-bodied waiting rather than being waived in, while the other found out there were no refunds and the wait was at least 2.5 hours.
Fair enough it’s a popular attraction steeped in history, but I repeat, there was no signage to tell us where to go or what the wait time is or indeed notifications when we booked. After nearly an hour of back and forth, and this after getting the hour-long train trip out here which was delayed by 20 minutes, we decided to ditch it with a vague plan of popping back in a couple of hours.
After reading a recommendation that the best time to go was at 4.30, we did go back in the mid-afternoon and went straight in. We were out within the hour. Going into the gardens costs extra.
If you go, do pop into The Stray Bean.
When I first visited Paris in the late 90s it was a with a mate and her buggy-bound toddler. It was hell on the metro (on top of which, pricey to feed ourselves and to find vegetarian food for them). Much of that is still the same and although I didn’t see the floor to ceiling barriers that we got stuck in with the buggy last time, the barriers are still pretty aggressive.
Why there are barriers to come out when you’ve already proven you bought a ticket upon entry? Roll on Vancouver like systems where there is no checking of tickets anywhere – built on trust. Although I appreciate the challenges of keeping everyone moving in one of the most tourist-heavy cities off the world.
Although cheap and easy to navigate, much like London’s Tube, the Metro is still being improved. Their version of the plastic top up card, the Navigo is being launched in June 2019 so the couple of little tickets I found in my purse upon my return are definitely being kept in my travel mementos tin now.
The local train to Versailles was clean comfortable, although did run about 20 minutes late due to people on the tracks.
The little scooters that everyone is racing around town in are excellent. It seems there are different brands and you pop onto the app and enter the number of the one you want to use and off you go. Simply leave it wherever you finish. It’s especially good for cyclists as it saves the faff of looking after your bike all day. If I was used to riding a bike, I would have given it a go. Genius.
Paris looks like Paris, exactly how you see it in films and whichever neighbourhood you stumble across will be worth exploring. Having escaped being crushed by bombs, they’ve continued the theme in newer buildings. And, like most decent cities, they’ve put their taller towers, all in one place far away from the pretty stuff. This includes the Eiffel Tower which of course is best viewed from afar and at night.
I loved going to MontMatre which is the only bit of Paris I remember from my first trip and it’s still as pretty as the print I bought back from there last time. Although watch out for the people hassling tourists at the base of Sacre Coeur. My advice is to hold your bags close, your heads high and your feet fast.
We saw a sign asking people not to relief themselves on the side of the hospital building, Then when walking in the Canal Saint Martin area, there was an actual outside urinal. A little bit of the French stereotype survives, all though for how long. Pleased to see dog poo is no longer the issue it once was. We saw a couple of incidents, not bad considering we were out for 12-14 hours every day. Generally, like most places outside the UK, Paris is exceptionally clean.
Stay. The wonderful Hotel hor les Lumiere looked after us very well during our stay. Anywhere in the central area is good to stay as travel is essential to get around this attractive city.
Just like with any large city, there is plenty going on in Paris when you want to do more than people watch from a café. We stumbled across a bread festival and a regular market which took me right back to learning French during my school days. C'est combien? Avez-vous du fromage? Où est la boulangerie? For our four nights there, I was happy to experience Paris at a gentle pace and just eat, see art, the architecture and of course, look fondly at every dog I came across.
Songs in my head the whole time:
Paris is One Day Away - The Mood. From about 1982, I can describe the record cover even though I haven’t seen it or heard this in decades
Young Parisians – Adam and the Ants