For me, one of the best parts of living in Barcelona thus far has been how easy and cheap it is to travel. Almost everywhere that I have ever dreamed of traveling is within 4 hours by plane, and these flights are so cheap (Thank you, RYANAIR!). Before I came to Barcelona, I wrote out a bucket list of about 25 cities that I am planning on visiting before I leave. London, Dublin, Madrid, Ibiza, Lisbon, Budapest, Prague, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Munich are all cities that were included. Also on my list, naturally, was Paris, France.
Growing up, I never really had the same strong desire to go to Paris like I did other places in Europe. However, because it is basically on every “MUST SEE” city list ever written, and is only a 2-hour flight from Barcelona, I felt almost obligated to visit in order to say that I had been there and get the experience. However, truthfully, I was not as pumped to visit Paris like I had been to visit the cities that we went to on my trip in December for the following reasons.
- I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this, but whenever I have talked to different people and asked about their favorite cities, those who say Paris have 90% of the time been the most insufferable. Just because you have visited Paris and have seen the Eiffel Tower in person and eaten CROISSANTS near the Seine doesn’t make you a cultured, knowledgeable expert on all things French and European. Therefore, I automatically had a negative perception of what Paris would be like, because if these completely irritating people adore this city so much, then I, on principle, would not. **End Rant**
- “Boujour” and “Au Revoir” are the extent of my French. Thankfully I am living in Spain, and speak decent Spanish, and in the other countries I have visited, most people did not mind when I was not able to speak their language and were understanding and helpful. However, during my trip to Nice in December, some of the French people that we encountered were not so nice and took offense that we did not know their language. I was not looking forward potentially repeating that experience in Paris.
- I HATE waiting in lines, and had heard that it is typical to wait for hours to get into many of the famous sights in Paris. That is basically my nightmare.
- I was expecting Paris to be an ostentatious, crowded, and loud city, which is not usually my cup of tea.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that none of my negative preconceived notions about the city were true; the culture, architecture, and way of life in the “City of Light” made me realize why Paris deserves all of the hype.
Two weeks ago, my friends Hanna and Jessie invited me to tag along on their weekend trip to Paris. We bought cheap flights that left Barcelona early on Saturday morning. Thankfully, the girls planned an itinerary of things that they wanted to see and do in the city. Because they planned everything, it made my life a lot easier, because I was down to see everything on their list and I didn’t feel as stressed about the trip. Their list was very extensive, but thoroughly planned. I was doubtful that we would get to do everything, but was excited to make the most of the 2 full days that we had to explore.
When we got off of the bus after arriving in Paris, we decided to get started with our adventure right away. We had all brought backpacks and because some of the sites were within walking distance from the bus station, we decided to save time and visit a few places before we dropped our luggage off at the hostel. We walked to the Arc de Triomf first, which was HUGE and gorgeous (this will be a theme from this post). Barcelona also has an Arc de Triomf, but it is very small compared to this one. It was difficult to get a good picture of it because it is surrounded by a busy road, but I tried my best.
We continued walking down the famous Champs-Elysées in order to find food, and stopped in a famous macaroon shop named Ladurée to take a gander at some of the desserts. On the way, I saw this restaurant called the Deauville Café, which made me LOL because the Deauville is a beach bar in Strathmere, New Jersey near Sea Isle (which still might be my favorite place on Earth). Even when I am across the Atlantic, I still can’t get away from the Jersey shore.
At this point, we were starved and stopped in a French sandwich shop on the way to our hostel to grab a cheap lunch. Like I said before, I speak zero French, and while Duolingo says that Jessie is 47% fluent in French, that basically meant that all of us were in the same language predicament. Of course, the sandwich menu was in French. Hanna and I both ordered the Sandwich Poulet, which we figured was chicken since it is similar to the Spanish word “pollo”, but Jessie decided to be adventurous and order the SURIMI, hoping that it was salami. Alas, it was not salami but large, thick slices of a crab-like substance that was actually fish paste that mimics the texture of crab or lobster. BLECH. Needless to say, she was very surprised when she went to bite into her sandwich, but thankfully she has a great attitude and made the best of it and said it was good. We all had a laugh, continued on our way, and learned an important lesson: never assume you know what the sandwich ingredients are if they are in a different language, particularly when you are hungry because then you could be SOL.
After dropping our stuff off at the hostel, we took the metro to the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was a sight that we were all excited to see. It was spectacular! It was my childhood, Esmeralda-loving dream to visit the home of Quasimodo of the Hunchback of Notre Dame fame.
The cathedral did not disappoint. The building looked just as I imagined it would, very old, with gothic architecture, which is a stark contrast to the whimsical, light and airy architecture that I have become accustomed to since I live in the city made famous by the architectural designs of Gaudi. Below are a few pictures of the exterior of Notre Dame, and of me being a total geeky tourist (a common theme in many of my travel pictures).
We waited in line for about 20 minutes to walk up what felt like a million steps (in reality, there were around 400) to the top of the cathedral, which had spectacular views. It was a shame that the day was so gray and cloudy because the view would have been unbelievable from the top.
I also got my Quasimodo on and attempted to touch the massive iron bells at the top of the cathedral. We learned that the bells are only rung on holidays now.
The best part about the exterior of Notre Dame for me was undoubtedly the gargoyles and chimera that adorned the building. The chimera below was definitely my favorite, and I obviously had to take a picture, because I know my mom would have appreciated it too. He’s cute, right? 🙂
Our next stop was inside of the cathedral, which had no line thankfully (this was a common theme throughout our trip too –no lines 🙂 ). The inside of the church was dark and more somber(ish) than I am used to (again compared with the interior of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia), which added to it’s charm in my opinion. The stained glass windows were absolutely breathtaking. Back in the States, it is not very common to see huge, complex stained glass windows in the modern churches. These beautiful windows have become one of my favorite things about all of these ancient churches in Europe. Here are a few pictures of the stained glass windows in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Next, we headed over to Sainte-Chapelle, a chapel that is renowned as one of greatest architectural achievements during the Gothic Period. I, of course, had never heard of this place because I don’t know anything about Parisian history or art. Thankfully, Hanna, our little art history major, was on top of it and insisted that we go. Thank god we went, because it was GORGEOUS. The chapel is known for it’s amazing, huge, colorful, ornate (the list of adjectives could go on and on) stained glass windows. I was in awe; my pictures do not do this magical place justice. Below are some pictures of Sainte-Chapelle.
Next on our list of destinations was the Pantheon, which is a massive building that serves as a mausoleum for important French citizens. I thoroughly enjoyed this place. It was not only massive and beautiful, but it was interesting to see who was considered “important enough” to be laid to rest here. When we began walking through the underground crypts, it was so cool— legends like Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Dumas, Louise Braille, Rousseau are all buried here. But, when I discovered that Marie Curie was also buried here, I had a “girl power” moment and was so glad to see that brilliant, badass females are also buried here too and it isn’t just a boy’s club.
After we were finished at the Pantheon, we decided to walk to the “Roman Ruins” of the Latin Quarter, and passed by this beautiful church. I took a picture of it by chance, and learned later that it was St. Etienne Du Mont, the church that contains the remains of St. Genevieve who is the patron saint of Paris. The front steps of this church were also featured in the movie Midnight in Paris if anyone has seen that (I haven’t).
We continued on to the “Roman Ruins” in the Latin Quarter to take a look around and then headed to meet Hanna at Shakespeare & Company. On our way, we saw this French pastry shop that sold these massive, colorful meringues and thought “When in Paris!”, and stopped in. They were almost the size of my head, and I was fascinated. We chose the praline/hazelnut flavor to try. It was not the texture I was expecting. They look like fluffy clouds, but in reality are hard versions of cotton candy, if you can imagine that. It was a very strange texture, but sugary and delicious.
We finally arrived at Shakespeare and Company which is this tiny little bookstore across the river from Notre Dame. The store sells only books written in English, and is filled floor to ceiling with tons and tons of books. There were so many people in there, so I only ventured inside for a little bit to check it out. It is a tradition that when you buy a new book there, they stamp it with the Shakespeare and Company logo. While I did not buy a book since I have my kindle here, Hanna and Jessie did.
The last sight that we saw on Saturday was the Eiffel Tower, which was by far my favorite part of the entire trip. I now understand why it is considered the most iconic symbol of France and arguably the most famous monument in the world. That thing is MASSIVE, and beautiful. I did not have any desire to go to the top since I am not a fan of heights, but viewing the tower from the ground was more than good enough for me. Because the day had been so rainy and cloudy, the orange-ish lights on the tower that night made the sky look orange too. It was very cool.
We walked back to our hostel and passed the heck out since it had been around 40 hours since we had last slept.
The next morning we woke up at around 7am, ate a quick breakfast, and took an early train to Versailles. That place is actually insane. The palace alone is massive. The grounds are so large that you cannot even see where they end. We first walked around the gardens before exploring the inside of the palace. Because it was cold and wet and cloudy, the gardens were not as spectacular as I am sure that they are in the spring and summer when everything is in bloom. The gold fountains and the large statues looked very stark and lonely without all of the vegetation growing around them. I am definitely going to have to make another trip when the weather is nicer.
The inside of the palace was gorgeous. We toured all of the apartments and staterooms inside of the building. My favorite room was the Hall of Mirrors. The art on the ceilings and the walls was spectacular, and the chandeliers were so beautiful. That room definitely deserves all of the hype.
We didn’t end up heading out to Marie Antoinette’s domain because we wanted to do more exploring in the city, but we did have time to stop at this restaurant inside of the palace called Anastasia’s. There are a few of these restaurants around Paris and we had been talking about trying to find one in order to try their hot chocolate. Thankfully, we just happened to run into one at Versailles. The hot chocolate was so thick and rich it almost felt like I was drinking fondue. It was good for about 3 sips but then got to be too sugary. Hanna and Jessie tried some macaroons there too, which they said were delicious.
Our next stop was the Louvre, where my only mission was to get the photo of me touching the top of the pyramid because I think it is a hilarious, touristy thing to do. However, there was zero line when we got to the museum, which is apparently unheard of, so we felt obligated to go in. I am not a fan of museums and have actively avoided them throughout all of my trips so far, but I made an exception for the Louvre. That museum is so freaking large that it would take weeks to see everything, so we went in to see only the Winged Nike statue and the Mona Lisa, but, of course, happened to see a few other things that were photo worthy along the way.
The Mona Lisa is a lot smaller than I imagined, and I cannot understand why she is so famous. It is definitely not what I imagined the most famous painting in the world would be like. But, we took selfies with that betch anyway.
There are moments in my life where I say something or do something and think to myself, “AH, I am DEFINITELY the daughter of Mabes”. This happened multiple times this trip and made me LOL every time I had this realization. As soon as I saw this large statue (below), I knew I had to pose with it. I immediately began laughing because I knew my mom would have had the same idea if she were there too.
Our final tourist stop of the day before dinner was Père Lachaise Cemetery, which is the largest cemetery in Paris. Yes, we visited another place with more dead people than live people, but no, it wasn’t as morbid as it sounds. It is actually the most beautiful, peaceful place I have ever been. It is so quiet, with beautiful, large trees, tons of greenery, ornate stone statues and monuments, and thousands upon thousands of tomb stones and mausoleums.
It is said that over 2 million people have been buried in this cemetery. Two of the people that we sought out their grave sites were literary legend Oscar Wilde and music legend Jim Morrison. I wanted to see Jim Morrison’s specifically since his music is so classic, and some of his quotes about fear, inner strength, and friendship are so timeless and true.
“Expose yourself to your deepest fear, after that, fear has no power … You are free” and “A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself… That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is” are two of my favorites. It’s so amazing that he had such a large impact in only 27 years and such a shame that his life ended so soon.
Our final stops on the last day of the trip were a famous French bakery called Broken Biscuits, where I ate the most amazing brownie ever, and then dinner in this famous French neighborhood, Le Marais.
By end of Day 2, we were exhausted, as between the 2 days we had walked something like 36 miles according to Jessie’s fitness tracker. Yes, 36 MILES. I wanted to chop my feet off because they hurt so badly, and was so happy to finally be able to sit, relax, and rest my tired legs at the hostel. We met some new friends there who told us about their travels and experiences abroad. They were very impressed with how many things we had done in 2 days, which made us feel like we had been productive.
The next morning, we woke up early for our flight home and said Au Revoir to Paris before returning to Barcelona.
All in all, I had a great time in Paris. The city was not as flashy as I imagined it would be—it was understatedly elegant and blew my expectations out of the water. The French people were very kind and helpful which was also unexpected, and a very pleasant surprise.
From this trip, I learned not to travel with many expectations or assumptions about certain places; in particular negative ones, because I am so ridiculously lucky to be able to have this opportunity to travel and see the world. Even if it had been the absolute worst trip in the entire world, I would 30984905379043 times rather be having a terrible time exploring Paris than sitting at a desk in Philadelphia. Thankfully, I had a wonderful time, went to a ton of new places, tried new foods, and met new friends.
I don’t have any more trips planned at the moment, although I’m sure I will soon. For now, my only plan is to do more exploring in Barcelona, but I will keep everyone updated. Until next time…. adios amigos!