The second leg of our journey took us from London to Paris. We took the Chunnel train, which was surprisingly quick and quiet. Not very scenic though, what with being underwater almost the whole time. We saw a bit of the French country-side on our way into Paris before arriving at Gare du Nord, a much more central location to start our trip than Charles de Gualle airport. We reached downtown Paris around 4PM.
In Paris we stayed at Hotel Edouard VI, a nice hotel just across the street from the Montparnasse train station. This turned out to be very convenient because many different metro lines all run to that station, allowing us to travel the city’s metro system without ever having to make a transfer. We purchased a “carnet”, a set of 10 metro tickets at Gare du Nord for about 13 euros—they had been on sale for 15 pounds in London, so we were glad to have not purchased them there (a pound is about $1.60 USD while a euro is $1.30). Of course we had to wait in a long line in Paris to purchase the tickets, so perhaps it was a convenience fee.
The hotel was very easy to find (probably because this is the first time I’ve stayed at a hotel fancy enough to warrant a large sign outside the building), and cost us about 160 euros per night. We booked it quite late, so there weren’t many good options available to us. Next time, book more than two weeks ahead! Despite that, the hotel was actually a bit cheaper than where we stayed in London due to the exchange rate, and was larger and fancier inside. We also paid a bit extra to get a “courtyard” room, which was supposed to be quieter than the side on the busy Montparnasse Boulevard plaza. As advertised, the room was very quiet, except for the periodic rumbling of metro trains deep below.
Since the London Eye had given us a nice overview in England, we thought we should do the same in Paris. We headed to the Eiffel Tower (AKA “the rusty ladder” as our British immigration officer had named it), and stopped for dinner at Cafe Gustave not far from the base. Megan was adventurous and had the steak tartare, while I had the duck confit. Both were quite good, as was the Pouilly Foumme wine that went with it. It was around 8PM when we reached the tower, still light enough to see, but starting to get dark. However, it was also starting to drizzle, and while we debated whether to climb the hundreds of steps up the tower, the drizzle turned to a downpour. We took that as a sign, and ran, huddled under our single umbrella, for the metro.
Of course, we got a bit lost on the way. Something that we learned even before leaving the train station upon our arrival to Paris was that the French are not very good at signage. Signs are rare, often point in confusing directions, and are generally incomplete. Of course they are also often only in French (even the information signs by the Metro maps explaining how to buy tickets). Around the Eiffel Tower, we couldn’t find any signs pointing to a metro. How many millions of tourists does that confuse each year? Normally I’m content to pull out a map or wander the streets until I happen upon a metro stop, but I’m less inclined to do so when it is pouring rain.
Eventually we did find the metro stop, although after having our tickets validated we were terrified to discover that the only trains that stopped there were the RER regional trains, not the standard metro lines. However, we soon realized that this was just another case of missing signs—if you happened to walk down to the far end of one of the platforms, there was a small sign indicating a tunnel that led to the regular metro stops. Each metro station is like a set of curving caves dug out by mole people. It can take several minutes (and many confusing turns) to navigate from one end to the other. Fortunately, the stations usually do have a map which indicates where each of the numbered exits lets out to the street. That is crucial since, for example, at Gare Montparnasse we could emerge right in front of our hotel, or more than a 5 minute walk (through the rain) away.
On Day 4, we slept in. Then we walked north towards St. Germaine, stopping for a crepe breakfast at a cafe along the way. We then walked to the Musee d’Orsee, a magnificent museum mostly holding impressionist art and statues. There was a huge line outside, so we spent about 20 minutes talking with a family from Minnesota (when we finally reached the ticket window they discovered that the “Paris Museum Pass” they had previously bought actually would have let them cut the line entirely). We paid 16 euros for a pass to both d’Orsee and l’Orangerie, a smaller museum near the Tuileries.
The museum is housed inside an old train station, which provides a massive hall to hold the statues, with rooms of paintings on each side. We skipped some sections because there is simply too much to see (although much less than at the Louvre), but we both enjoyed the impressionist works by artists like Monet, Manet, and Cesanne.
We’d hoped to eat lunch at the museum’s cafe, but the line there was quite long, so instead we headed back out into the rain in search of food. We found it in a cafe inside the Tuileries garden, Megan had a salad and I had a croque mouiseur (a ham sandwich with cheese melted on top). After lunch we continued on to Musee l’Orangerie. The reason to visit the museum is to see Monet’s water lilly paintings, which cover the walls in two large rooms. Each painting is at least twenty feet wide, and shows the lilies floating in water that reflects the sky at different times of day. Quite peaceful.
After the museum, we continued west up the Champs Elysees, a wide boulevard filled with trendy stores and tourists. We stopped at a cafe for a nutella and banana crepe, but we forgot to sit in the front to people watch. Instead, we were stuck watching FashionTV and a tennis match. We continued onward to the Arc de Triomphe, then hopped on the metro to head back to the hotel.
That evening we headed east on Boulevard du Montparnasse in search of dinner. We stopped at La Coupole, a seafood restaurant that was much larger on the inside than we had anticipated from its exterior. It also had pillars topped with artwork, which seemed to be drawing tourists with cameras, so perhaps we lucked out by picking a popular spot. We ate off of their prix fixed menu, and I braved the foie gras followed by a steak. I’d never had foie gras before, and to be honest, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I prefer butter. My steak, however, was delicious, and much better than Megan’s salmon (despite this being advertised as a seafood restaurant). Even so, we enjoyed our meal and the desserts (chocolate cake and peach soup) that came with it.
On Day 5, we finally learned how to prevent sore feet and legs: take the metro. After a breakfast crepe, we hopped on outside our hotel and hopped off right outside Notre Dame… how convenient! Compared to English prices, we were pleasantly surprised to find that entry was free, although we did have to wait in a (fast moving) line for a few minutes. The church is smaller than the ones we visited in London, and not as filled with monuments to dead people, but it did have beautiful stained glass and stonework. A choir was also performing, which really added to the atmosphere.
We walked north off the small island in the Seine that holds Notre Dame and some other palaces (they are everywhere in this city). We followed the river bank and walked through the courtyard of the Louvre. We had decided not to visit the museum because we didn’t have the time to do it justice, but it was still nice to see the outside of the building (another gigantic palace), and the glass pyramid structures. We picked up sandwiches for lunch and carried them to the Tuileries. It was still a cloudy cold day, but it was nice to sit by the flowers and enjoy our meal.
After lunch we headed to the metro, getting off near Montmartre. We made a quick stop at a cafe for drinks and ice cream before riding the funicular (easy on the feet) up the hill to Sacre Coeur. We toured the basilica, which was filled with beautiful decorative mosaics. Afterwards, we wandered through the curving cobblestoned streets of Montmartre, an area that feels distinctly Parisian. We passed artists, silhouettists, and caricaturists. I was tempted to stop for mussels at one of the restaurants in the square, but we simply weren’t hungry enough (a recurring, and deeply troubling problem throughout the trip).
We headed back to our hotel to take a rest and investigate dinner options. With the help of Yelp, we discovered that the nearby Rue de Montparnasse is filled with creperies, one of the best of which is Creperie Josselin. We could not resist the lure of crepes, and we were rewarded with a delicious (and surprisingly affordable) dinner. I had their signature crepe, which is filled with cheese, ham, and mushrooms. Megan had a crepe with tomato and cheese. For dessert, Megan had a banana, rum flambe, while I had salted caramel. It was all quite delicious, and we wondered why we hadn’t found that street sooner! In total, we spent 50 euros for four crepes, tea, and a jug of wine (about half what we had spent the previous night).
After dinner we boarded the metro and took it to the Asemblee stop, near the Musee d’Orsee and the Siene. As dusk fell we walked along the river, watching dinner cruise boats pass us by. As it darkened, the Eifel Tower gradually lit up. We ended our scenic walk at the metro stop by the tower, allowing us to easily hop on the #12 metro and ride it home.