Shine Bright Like the City of Light
Since the events of November 13th, when Paris became the center of the world, special attention has been given to the French capital. The city of light and love has been granted worldwide regard, and everybody agreed to say that nobody knows how to enjoy life better than French people do. And I’m proud to say that it’s true.
Before October 26th, 2014, I had never set foot in Paris. As a French student (former erasmus) I had the luck to visit other capitals before that of my own country. With my sister and my best friend, I went for a 5 day trip to a life-changing city.
If you’ve read my previous articles you may know that I don’t really have a slow pace. When I plan a trip, I plan everything, from the early morning to the late night, and this time I decided to visit every single spot Paris had to offer during the 5 days we had.
On our first day, a Sunday, we left Toulouse for Paris Orly early in the morning. We landed in the capital at 8 AM. Leaving the airport was difficult. I don’t know exactly how we managed it, but we took the tramway until the terminus, where you can access the metro. We were staying at Novotel Porte d’Italie (very classy, but expensive), and once we unloaded our belongings we headed straight for Notre Dame. To get there, we took the bus for the first and only time of the trip. Taking the metro would have been a better option, even if special care must be given to pickpockets.
We finally reached the Cathedral square, where there was a long line of people waiting. Fortunately we could enter Notre Dame rather quickly, and for free. We did not have the same luck when we tried to access the towers. We waited for around an hour to climb the 422 stairs, but as students and under 18s we did not pay for it. My sister felt that we should have been paid to climb all those stairs, but it was worth it; the point of view was impressive despite the bad weather.
We then left the Cathedral to get some lunch at the Saint Germain quarter. Despite all the new restaurants and shops, you can still feel the old atmosphere of Paris, the true one: Free Paris, passionate and breathtaking. We kept visiting this area, walking by the Sorbonne and the Pantheon, going to the Jardin du Luxembourg for a little bit of rest (it looks like Regent’s Park in London). The Montparnasse is also here, though we did not visit it as it was rather expensive.
After that, we took the metro to head to Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge. If you’re still an innocent traveller, get yourself ready – you’ll never get a better picture of free Paris than there. Moulin Rouge is also quite shiny and impressive, even though you get easily distracted from it, especially if you keep walking and reach Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur at twilight. The Parisian atmosphere here, a bit stronger than at Saint Germain, is intoxicating, and will make you feel like a true Parisian. A bohemian and sweet evening you can get for free just by walking. There wasn’t any better way to end our first day in that beautiful city.
On Monday, we had another early wake up (and they’ll be earlier and earlier), but our plan did not properly include visiting Paris that day. We headed to Disneyland and spent the day there. Way too expensive. (As a student, I paid 52€ to access both parcs; my sister, who was 15 and not a student, paid 72€ for a single parc.) The park was overcrowded and we had little time to do anything besides Space Mountain and Jack’s house, which are the only attractions that seem worthy of attention. I would expect to meet Mickey Mouse himself for the amount of money one pays in entrance.
On Tuesday, we took the metro to reach the Louvre (once you get it, using the metro is the easiest way to move around). I was sadly surprised that the famous museum is closed on Tuesdays, and I had to change my plans at the last minute. But the good thing with well planned trips is that when things like that happen you can reorganise everything quickly. We decided to head to the Eiffel Tower, despite the cold and sunless weather. We crossed the Jardin des Tuileries, full of early-morning runners, and the Avenue Montaigne, where you can go shopping – if you’ve got the wallet to match the will, of course.
We reached the Alma Bridge, where Princess Diana died. Finally, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower by the Champ de Mars. The cold did not prevent a lot of people from queuing to access the elevator or the stairs. We decided to climb the 700 stairs for two reasons. First, it’s cheaper (4€ instead of 8 or 12), and second, you get to see much more. And you climb at your own speed. I don’t have to describe the picture you get once you’re up there. I’ve hardly ever seen something as beautiful and impressive (once again, despite the bad weather, I must remember).
After that we went for a bit of rest during a ride on the Seine (Bateaux Mouches), a lot less expensive than what I thought (around 13€ for an hour). I was really cold but we headed to the Pont Alexandre III and the Pont des Arts (I’m not really sure you still can put a locker there, but it was gorgeous). We wandered for some minutes more, and then we went back to the hotel. Walking that much was exhausting.
On Wednesday we headed to Versailles. I had heard so much about the Castle that I wanted to visit it badly. If you’re going there by T.E.R, be careful with your ticket, although the control staff will likely notice if there’s an issue. Also, you should take your ticket back, right when you reach the station – you’ll have more time and be less rushed when you have to leave Versailles.
Luckily for us, it was easy to find and we could enter it for free, but it was as crowded as I expected. (Foreign backpackers are advised against bringing stocks of French cheese they then leave for hours in a stuffy cloakroom, for obvious reasons.) We left our backpacks at the cloakroom and went into the Castle. I thought it would be more impressive (except the beautiful Galerie des Glaces), but it was worth the visit. I was disappointed by the gardens, which were not all that breathtaking. Autumn was to blame for this.
Then we came back to Paris and wanted to visit the Catacombs, but when we reached the entrance it was so so crowded that the line was around the roundabout and would take three hours from back to front. We were advised to try again the next morning.
We went instead to the Louvre, open this time. There was a line there, too, of course, but we reached the entrance quickly. It was very crowded, but the paintings were beautiful. Very inspiring, but I’ll advise you to choose what to see; you could easily spend a week there. We spent a few hours, after which the night had already fallen.
On Thursday we followed the advice given by the Catacombs keeper and went there at 8 am, two hours before it opened. And we were the first ones there! This was definitely one of our best outings. A little bit scary for the first ones to slide underground, but really cool and original. Definitely worth the wait. And we did it for free, too.
When we reached sunlight again we headed to the Trocadero, the small freedom statue (facing the American one), and the Bir Haikem bridge (the one in Inception). We wandered close the Arc de Triomphe and did a bit of shopping on the Champs Elysées, where you can find expensive and accessible shops. I made a quick stop at Laduree’s (my Mom loves Macarons) and even though they’re rather expensive (the smallest gift box sold for 16€), the showcase is a masterpiece to see. We wandered for hours on the Faubourg Saint Honoré, the Galeries Lafayette, the Opéra Garnier and the Musée Grévin. It was our last day in Paris and, excluding the Père Lachaise’s cemetery, I believe we saw almost every touristic spot the city had to show us.
We left on Friday morning. Paris was a wonderful place to be. No other city in the world shines as brightly nor is filled with as much love and freedom as Paris. Many people, like me, may have heard that French people are unpleasant, rude and always too in a hurry to help. It’s all a lie. I have not been welcomed better than any other stranger, nor worse. I have been welcomed like a guest, a curious watcher thirsty to understand why Paris is so special. I still don’t really know yet. I am not a Parisian, but like everybody else that ever came here, I wish I was.
By Kelly Videira
Edited by L. Gaertner
Image: Meyan Brenn/Flikr