9 Aug 2018

Paris: Full and Hot

One of the few things I felt strongly about while planning the trip was that we schedule plenty of time in Paris. I had never been and had heard so many great things that it seemed important to have the chance to really settle in. We ended up spending 10 days in the city, which felt like just enough time to see what we wanted to see at a relaxed pace and eat plenty along the way.

We stayed at an Airbnb on the top floor of an old apartment building in the Folie-Méricourt area, which ended up being a really convenient location for getting everywhere we wanted to go. Plus, the six flights of stairs every time we got home helped us work off some pastries! We got pretty lucky on the weather, which was very hot but not completely unbearable and really enjoyed ourselves.

I’m not sure Paris would be high on my list of places to travel back to ASAP, just because it’s expensive and didn’t feel that different than a lot of our other European stops, but it’s definitely a nice place to experience.

Paris is pretty.

What We Did in Paris

Getting Around

After having a lot of fun biking around Copenhagen and Dublin we were excited to find out that Paris has a similar bikeshare service that we could both use for a full week for only 15 euro. Unfortunately we didn’t look into it further as we would have found out that since the contractor running the program switched earlier this year it has become completely unusable, with broken bikes and nonfunctional locking stations pretty much everywhere. It is so bad they have started refunding all subscription fees, but only for residents, not tourists…

We ended up taking a grand total of two short bike rides across 7 days when we happened to come across two working bikes, but otherwise took the Metro all around the city. We spent nearly 45 euro on tickets, but it was well worth it for how convenient it was. We didn’t exactly limit our walking either, averaging 9.2 miles by foot per day during our time in Paris.

We walked around a lot–the map on the homepage is interactive and can be zoomed-in.

Tourist Sites

Before arriving, we did our best to plot out all of the places we wanted to see and things we wanted to do so we could tackle clusters of them at once. We were semi-successful, though did end up visiting the nearby Roquette neighborhood of the 11th arrondissement at least three times since it was convenient to both our Airbnb and a number of the places we wanted to either see or eat at. We have really enjoyed food markets throughout our trip, so we also made sure to hit a number of them in Paris, where they rotate through different neighborhoods appearing for a day or two of each week in a certain place.

Our first day, as usual, we stocked up on groceries and explored our neighborhood a bit before going for an evening walk along the Canal Saint-Martin, joining it at the point where it comes back above ground after going through a long tunnel. It was fun to watch some of the tour boats use the lock system to come up out of the underground tunnel, and we fit right in having a little picnic on the edge of the water. I’m not sure I would ever get used to how late sunset is in northern Europe during the summer, but we were back home exhausted well before it got dark at 10pm…

The view from our take-out dinner on the banks of Canal Saint-Martin.

Our first stop the next morning was the nearby Marché Popincourt, a typical outdoor market that appears in that plaza on Tuesdays and Fridays and the first of many markets that we would stroll through while in Paris. I’m amazed at how much of what Parisians eat every day seems to come from these markets rather than a supermarket–every single one we walked through was busy with locals buying produce, fresh fish, and cheese. The largest market we encountered was the Marché Bastille (Thursdays and Sundays), but even the smaller neighborhood ones like Marché de Belleville (Tuesdays and Fridays) very much had their own flavor, with that one overflowing with flea market stalls in addition to the food vendors.

One of the many Parisian markets we wandered through.

The Marché d’Aligre is the only one we visited with an indoor area open most of the week, though when we went on Sunday morning most of the customers were roaming the temporary outdoor stalls and ignoring the permanent ones set up inside. Since we had already stocked up we enjoyed the atmosphere but didn’t buy more than a snack or two at any of the markets we stopped at. We did enjoy walking along La Promenade Plantée nearby, which is Paris’ version of the “high line” in New York City and is a nice relaxing place to enjoy the outdoors.

Notre Dame and the Archeological Crypt.

After our first market stop, we then made it down to Notre Dame, which is somehow less impressive (though still beautiful!) when viewed up close, compared to seeing it from up in Montmartre where you can appreciate how it towers over the Île de la Cité. We didn’t bother with the line to enter the cathedral, but did go underground into the Archeological Crypt of the Ile de la Cité, a small museum that showcases the historic foundations of long-ago settlements on the site which were uncovered when excavating for a new parking garage a few decades ago. It wasn’t much, but it was a nice introduction to how long Paris has been a center of power and influence in the region.

Basilique du Sacré Coeur

The other church we made a point of visiting was the Basilique du Sacré Coeur, which was the amazing viewpoint in Montmartre where you can see Notre Dame from afar, as well as the rest of central Paris. It’s a beautiful building, and entrance is free, though the exterior and the views are really the best part. Afterward we enjoyed walking around Montmartre, stopping by Moulin Rouge to take a couple photos, and having lunch nearby.

Left: La Baignade. Right: Thunderstorm!

After a nice walk through the riverside Tino-Rossi Garden, we biked along the Canal Saint-Martin until we reached La Baignade, a temporary free swimming pool set into the Seine for the hot summer months. After waiting about 15 minutes to get into the packed area we found a spot for a towels and took a very refreshing dip in the water to help us through the 95-degree day, but didn’t end up staying very long as it was so overcrowded it wasn’t enjoyable. Luckily we got back to the Airbnb just in time to watch a big summer thunderstorm roll in across the roofs of Paris and then hammer us with dime-sized hail. Luckily for us that helped break the heat and the next few days were much more enjoyable outside.

Luxembourg Gardens

We also spent a lot of time in gardens and parks throughout Paris, using them as a place to find some shade to escape the heat, picnic, maybe have a little nap, and recharge before continuing on with our day. My favorite was probably the famous Luxembourg Gardens, which we visited twice because it was such an enjoyable space to relax in. The Jardin des Tuileries was also a multi-visit destination due to its convenience to so much of the rest of Paris. Right next to the Louvre and the Musée de l’Orangerie, and with an outpost of what turned out to be our favorite macarons (Pierre Herme) a block away, we really enjoyed it. The annual summer carnival in the northeast corner of the Tuileries was active while we were there, though we didn’t go on any rides as they averages 10 euro per person per ride(!). The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont was probably the most striking green space we visited. A bit out of the heart of downtown it is super hilly and has a big lake surrounding a small, tall spire of an island that has striking views across Paris from its top. We also of course walked through the Esplanade des Invalides and the Champ de Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, which were both nice once the sun went down but not shady enough before then.

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

I managed to keep our museum visits down to just two during our time in Paris. Our first stop was Musée de l’Orangerie, which has two amazing oval rooms with giant Monet waterlily paintings running the lengths of all four sides. After a couple of visits previously, it may be Amy’s favorite art museum in the world and it didn’t disappoint despite being fairly crowded. The rooms are exactly as Monet intended them when we began painting the eight huge works, and it really makes it a different experience than a normal art gallery.

Musée de l'Orangerie

We did not end up climbing the Eiffel Tower as a result of some indifference on our part and then a strike by the operating workers for our final couple days in Paris that prevented us from trying to go. (They were supposedly striking because management made protocol changes that made the lines even worse, but who knows…). We did enjoy spending dusk one night at Jardins du Trocadéro, the terraced garden overlooking the Eiffel and central Paris. The views are amazing and its easy to wander down from there, around the Eiffel, and to a place on the lawn to watch the hourly sparkly-lights show that only lasts a few minutes but is kind of fun.

Perhaps our most disappointing day was our day spent exploring the 16th arrondissement. We packed a picnic and took the metro over to Bois de Boulogne, a huge green space on the west end of the city. Unfortunately it took us over two miles of wandering around the park to find somewhere we were actually allowed to picnic, as most of the grass you were prohibited to walk on. Overall it was probably the least-nice park we went to in Paris and we wouldn’t return. We then made the long walk from there to the Arc de Triomphe and all the way down the Champs-Élysées back to central Paris and the Tuileries. I was pretty disappointed by the walk after all the hype about how the Champs-Élysées is the most beautiful street in the world–it felt like just another pretty avenue full of international chain stores and lots of tourists. Oh well!

Left: Picnic in Bois de Boulogne. Right: Movie night at La Villette.

While traveling, we generally tire ourselves out while exploring throughout the day, cook dinner in (so we have a chance of staying on-budget), and spend the night figuring out what we will do the next day/week/month. With so little trip left to go, we did enjoy a few evenings out in Paris, including a lovely one at La Villette, up in the 19th arrondissement, where Paris runs a free outdoor theater nightly for most of the summer. We got there shortly after 8pm, found a spot on the lawn to enjoy the picnic and wine we brought along, and then once it got dark around 10pm enjoyed Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary about a 1970s singer from Detroit who was a superstar in apartheid South Africa–unbeknownst to him until the documentary-makers tracked him down, told him, and got him to travel to South Africa and play some sold-out shows. We picked that night because it was in English, but I ended up enjoying the movie much more than I expected to.

The Louvre

Left: The underground entrance to the Louvre when we arrived 20-minutes before opening. Middle: Leonardo da Vinici's The Virgin and Child with St. Anne. Right: The Louvre courtyard.

We also of course visited the Louvre. Similar to at London’s National Gallery I was eager to see the Leonardo da Vinci works on display after having read a book about them, so we showed up a little before the 9:00am opening time and were able to spend some time in front of his works without crowds of selfie takers suffocating us. (Not the Mona Lisa though, people literally run there at opening and it is instantly crowded, though not quite as crowded as it gets later in the day). I was honestly disappointed by the curation of the rest of the museum–they really went for sheer quantity over any sort of coherent story to be told about the art or how it evolved. The most similar experience was at the Vatican but at least there they had interesting exhibits showing the change in styles over time and how different artists influenced each other.

Left: Shortly after entering at 9am. Right: Shortly before leaving at noon.

Eating Our Way Around

We were obviously very excited to get to Paris and eat as much of its amazing food as we could. We’ve also been feeling the weight (literally) of having enjoyed so much food over the past year so may have been a bit less zealous than if it had been our first stop in Europe. I also recently read a mystery series set in the Brittany region of France, which goes into great detail about some of their regional specialties, and made me look forward to french food even more.

Our most quintessentially Parisian meal was probably at Chez Gladines, a small local chain (gasp!) of bistros that really hit the sweet spot between having all the classic french food we wanted to eat while not being super expensive or incredibly snooty to people who don’t speak French. We really enjoyed their Escargots Persillade, their Cassoulet basque, and their Confit de canard (duck confit). We were totally stuffed by the end, but it was by far our most satisfying dining experience while in Paris.

Chez Gladines

We also enjoyed some fine French meals at Restaurant Le Trumilou and TarMac, both of which had affordable (meaning less than 20 euro) lunch set menus that were plenty to happily fill us up. TarMac is a bit more modern than anywhere else we ate, though their salmon ceviche starter was both great and made us nostalgic for our time in South America.

I did some research before we arrived and sought out recommendations for the best crepe places in Paris, two of which we ended up trying: La Crêperie de Josselin and Crêperie Brocéliande. We enjoyed our experience at both, though for opposite reasons. At Josselin, the galletes (savory crepes, with some Breton influence) were the best we’ve ever had, especially Amy’s chevre cheese and honey one. Unfortunately they initially delivered the wrong crepe to us and when we politely rejected it they started treating us quite rudely. At Brocéliande, the service was impeccable but the crepes were only so-so.

La Crêperie de Josselin

We also enjoyed some non-French food while in Paris. My clear favorite, obviously, was Hakata Choten ramen, which we ended up eating at twice because of how (1) great; and (2) convenient it was. A serious challenger to ramen we had in Japan, it made me really happy after I got completely tired out at the nearby Louvre. We also went to the apparently-famous L’as du Fallafel, with a line of tourists stretching down the block for take-out, and I was quite disappointed in their signature falafel pita, which doesn’t even have any hummus in it! (Amy liked it though.) Amy even got to use her Spanish skills a final times at El Nopal Taqueria, a take-out window near the Canal Saint-Martin that serves some seriously-good quesadillas to eat on the riverbank.

Left: Mediocre at L'as du Fallafel. Right: Amazing at Hakata Choten.

Of course, you can’t visit Paris without eating plenty of pastries and we succeeded at that task quite well. While I had been imagining lots of croissants, we only ended up having one (at Tout Autour du Pain, which was quite good) before become enthralled with kouignettes, a butter and filling-packed pastry from Brittany that we bought no less than three times from Maison Georges Larnicol, which seems to be the only supplier in Paris. They are addictive, cheaper than most macarons, come in a bunch of flavors, and are just amazing. I also had an extraordinary blueberry twist pastry (with a French name I can’t remember) at Le Fournil de Mouffetard while we were exploring the regular market along Rue Mouffetard, which was almost good enough to warrant a trip out of our way to try again.

Left: Le Fournil de Mouffetard. Right: Kouignettes at Maison Georges Larnicol.

I also did some macaron research before we arrived and we set out to try a number of the “best” and decide for ourselves. We had:

  • Pierre Hermé - Our decided favorite, their lemon macarons truly tasted like fresh (sweet) lemon, rather than curd or lemon flavoring. They also are happy to let you get as few as you like, and have free cardboard boxes rather than trying to force you into buying a useless souvenir.
  • Sadaharu Aoki - These Japanese-inspired macarons were our first, and had the best cookies and texture but didn’t stand out on taste, except for their specialty matcha tea flavor, which was extraordinary.
  • Ladurée - The most famous of the macaron shops, they’re definitely good and they have a ton of flavors, but we felt like we were paying more for name-brand than awesome flavor.
  • Maison Georges Larnicol - At only 0.80 euro each, these were the cheapest we came across in Paris. I thought their pistachio was the most flavorful we had, but overall we weren’t too impressed.

Left: Pierre Hermé (our favorite). Center: Ladurée. Right: Maison Georges Larnicol.

One unfortunate effect of ending up in Paris a bit later (late July/early August) than we intended (mid-July) is that a lot of the most highly-recommended places were closed up for their summer holiday. There was still plenty else to choose from, but with no online notices it meant numerous times we finally got to a shop we wanted to try only to find out it was closed for a month… sad!

Paris to London to Mauritius and Wicked the Musical

We re-arranged our Europe itinerary, putting Paris at the end, but the last flight on our round the world ticket was still set to depart from London Gatwick Airport. With few flights to Mauritius, it was easier to leave it as-is and take one final European train trip to get back to it. We took the 10:13am Eurostar from Paris to London, arriving at 11:30am, stored our bags across the street, and were in the Victoria neighborhood in time for lunch. After some thoroughly-reliable Nando’s we picked up our tickets to see WICKED the Musical, which I had never seen before and Amy highly recommended having seen it in LA almost a decade ago. We figured spending the afternoon in a cool theater was better than wandering around hot London before a 12-hour overnight flight and got some cheap tickets, so why not?

Unfortunately the theater was… not well air conditioned, so we spent the full 3 hours we were there sweating and trying to stay awake through the performance. It was still fun overall, though just barely, and made our Hamilton experience seem absolutely amazing in comparison. We got out of the show at 5:20pm, took the tube back to the train station to get refunds for our Oyster cards and pick up our bags and made it on the 5:50pm train out to the airport with plenty of time for a relaxing dinner before our 9pm flight departure. While it may not have been a perfect way to spend our last day in Europe, it was pretty good!

Looking toward the Eiffel from across the Siene.

How We Did with Our Budget in Paris

For our time in Paris, we had originally budgeted 85 USD a night for accommodations. We ended up being there a bit later in the summer than expected, and overlapped with the finale of the Tour de France, so it was impossible to find anywhere suitable within that budget. We ended up booking an apartment through HomeAway, which had much better options than Airbnb, for 112 USD a night, which luckily we had plenty of surplus from previous stops to cover.

We had also budgeted 15 USD per day per person for food and 20 USD per day per person for entertainment. Out of that planned 70 USD total, we ended up spending 75 USD per day on average, not including the pricey splurge of tickets to Wicked (119 USD). We made up about half that overage by buying our Eurostar tickets back to London well in advance when they were at their cheapest level.

A typical afternoon during the European portion of our trip (Amy napping in a park...).