Yes, yes. I know this is beyond ‘late’ and irrelevant to our current location. BUT I don’t like to leave things unfinished where possible, so we shall resume the blog, and that means PARIS. We couldn’t have our travel postings not include the ‘icing on the cake’ of our European adventures. Unfortunately, in the time that has lapsed, the site updates have deleted the near-complete draft of this, which means the memories may be a little hazier than intended. So…
We originally only planned for a few days in Paris, but after finding an apartment to rent at a great price and our travels being cut short for a move to Asia, we decided to enjoy a week there to have a special finish to our trip.
We spent our first night very comfortably courtesy of a leaving gift, staying at the Hotel Waldorf Madeleine. It was good to start off there and get a bit of advice from concierge to get our bearings. We then moved in to a little studio apartment with a nook kitchen and bathroom, which was a perfect solution to the expensive hotels, and a great location in the 2nd arrondissement. The metro stations were a short walk, and the all-important Laundromat in the next street.
I think we’d been given advice that if we saw a clear day, head up the Eiffel Tower. When our first day dawned with blue sky it was an easy decision to wander in that direction from our hotel. We took in some of the amazing architecture and enjoyed the sights of the riverside on our way. Seeing La tour Eiffel for the first time and standing underneath the spans was a surprisingly cool experience. Given the queues for the elevators and lack of queue to walk, we chose to take the scenic route up. I of course counted all 704 steps, and we couldn’t see why you wouldn’t walk if your legs worked, as you get to enjoy more of the view on the way up with no crowds. It certainly is the spot for taking in what an incredible city Paris is, and the gorgeous rows of buildings and houses.
Continuing the big must-dos, we headed the next day to the Louvre. And stayed for nine hours! The grounds, buildings and glass pyramids were enough to take in, let alone the amazing collection inside.
Definite favourites were some of the massive sculptures, and we spent a long time with ‘Venus de Milo’ and ‘Winged Victory’. Of course we tracked down the Mona Lisa (or the deep crowds surrounding the Mona Lisa? I hope people go there to look at more than just her!) and were also quite taken by ‘Liberty Leading the People’.
We know very little about art other than a couple of years of high school knowledge, but it was still great to see so many fascinating paintings and attempt to identify techniques or moments in history. And what an amazing building – we finished the night touring the Napoleon III apartments. These rooms gave new meaning to the word grandiose, and we were totally transported to another time.
A bonus and great coincidence was being in the city at the same time that cousin Jo and Brent were doing a stint living there. It was neat to see familiar/family faces! Knowing we were skipping winter for the heat of South East Asia, we had sent any overly warm suitcase items of clothing home. Which would have been fine if a cold snap hadn’t come over Paris just as we arrived. We did our best to layer up (sometimes comically), but on the day we were to meet Jo and Brent at the Musee d’Orsay, we were perilously underdressed and chilled to the bone by the time they met us in the courtyard. Relief came once we entered the doors, and admired the locals removing their smart and appropriate jackets at the coat check, their feet comfortable in various winter boots versus our canvas slip-ons.
As was common in Paris, the building was gorgeous (an old railway station, if you have not been). Seeing the impressionists and post-impressionists, whom we novice art gazers are probably most familiar with, was definitely a highlight. We followed up all of the intellectual staring with a hearty pub lunch in the Latin Quarter, and took a walk to the famous little-but-crammed Shakespeare and Co. You could really lose an afternoon searching through the floor to ceiling shelves of books. I can see how simply roaming the streets of Paris could be such a pleasurable past time. There’s so much to soak in, from shops to architecture to culture to people watching.
Later that afternoon having still not recovered from the cold start, when we saw the length of the queue to the Notre Dame with the huge plumes of foggy breaths from rugged-up people it was a little off-putting. We couldn’t hack the outdoors any longer, and headed back to the apartment to warm up and add any more available layers! We’ll have to put a visit on our next trip’s to-do list, along with the catacombs and a few others.
Alex had the (what turned out to be) brilliant idea of taking a bike tour to see Versailles. The company we used had kiwi connections (Bike About Tours) and had a great system set up. We met at the Notre Dame train station and travelled together to collect our bikes from Versailles station. First stop was the local farmers market and it. was. awesome. We were told to buy a picnic lunch to eat in the grounds of the chateau, as well as a strong recommendation to eat as many crepes as possible for breakfast from the infamous Crepe Dude. ‘Speculoos’ spread is wondrous stuff, and we certainly got our fill of both sweet and savoury crepe varieties. The colour and freshness of the markets were such a delight, and the servers were all friendly and generous, throwing in freebees when they discovered we were from NZ, not England.
The biking really was the best mode for getting about. We saw so much that way, as well as it just feeling stupidly quaint/cliché amongst the tree-lined streets on a crisp day, with baguettes sticking out of our backpacks. We had a look around the gorgeous grounds of Marie Antoinette’s village, then made our way to the breathtaking view up the grand canal to the chateau.
The grassy banks of the canal were our picnic stop, and we enjoyed both the food and the entertainment of tourists attempting to row dinghies on the water. All in all it was a really fantastic day out.
Later in the week we met Jo at Angelina’s, with all of us keen to try out the hot chocolate, which was apparently worth queuing for. The queues weren’t wrong, and we had a lovely afternoon cup of thick, thick chocolate together. After this we hit the extensive English bookshop next door, keen to stock up before our next adventure. Jo and Brent also kindly hosted us for a home cooked meal at their apartment – a welcome change as we tucked into a roast which included kumara, just like home.
Amongst all this we also managed to browse some of the amazing shopping stores and streets, such as Printemps and Gallery Lafayette. We walked the Champs-Elysees, the Tuileries Gardens and stood at the roundabout of chaos around the Arc de Triomphe.
Paris was also home to a few slightly more random errands, like trying to get immunized for typhoid (which we managed to do on an adventure out into the suburbs to find the American Hospital) and browsing engagement ring possibilities (slightly more fun than the former). We unintentionally succeeded, and now have an immensely special reminder of what a great time we had in this city, and what I have said is now a reason to have it on the list of places for a big anniversary!
Looking back I feel extremely grateful/lucky/blessed/(spoiled?), you name it, to have enjoyed such a wonderful four months of travelling in Europe. What a contrast we were about to face from the style, culture, civilization and chilly days of Paris!