Paris, ma cherie!
by Heidi Obermeyer
While Erik was here two of my friends from Munich had planned on going to Paris for a few days of break. Erik had never been, and I hadn’t been back since a brief trip through in 2008, so we decided to join them for a serious 5-day stint in the city of lights. It was a really interesting trip because I’d already done the major touristy stuff one usually goes to Paris for- the Louvre, climbing that big TV tower that’s in the middle of the city for some reason, Notre Dame, and St. Chapelle. I even had a tacky sweatshirt to prove it.
So the challenge on this trip for me was finding super Paris-y things to do without hitting any major (or expensive) repeats, and I’d say I was pretty successful! Some of our activity highlights included the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie for some impressionist painting, Sacre Coeur, eating amazing food all over the place, the catacombs, and walking from the Arc de Triomphe down to the Louvre. It was also a tough balance doing girly things (Musée de l’Orangerie, where Monet’s gigantic water lily paintings are) for me and manly things (the Catacombs, which is a creepy and extensive walk through a ridiculous number of human bones about 80 feet underground) for Erik.
What I find interesting about Paris is that, of all the European cities I’ve visited, it above all others holds an unusually huge amount of appeal for Americans. Our hostel was chock full of ’em, and whenever we were at major touristy sites (Versailles, Notre Dame, etc.) the place was crawling with, well, our fellow countrymen! I always think it’s funny how we decide that we simply must go and visit a city, or church, or palace, or whatever, even though their significance might only be in our heads. I think that Paris’ reputation as a city of romance and grandeur makes the divide between the tourist experience of the city and the daily life of the people who actually live there (who, let’s be real, we hardly saw any of unless we were at dinner) much more pronounced than in other large cities in Europe. It probably doesn’t help that Americans in particular are provided with incredible amounts of movies (okay, I admit it, we did watch Midnight in Paris the night before we left) and books that romanticize Paris as the be-all-end-all of the European experience, even though it’s just one city in one country (and one that I don’t think I would pick as my top European destination).
That being said, this trip was different from my past ones to Paris. It was nice to take a more laid-back attitude and to employ our skills at finding “real” (aka, non-touristy) places to eat in Munich in another city where it can be difficult to sort out the good eats from the convenient ones. The French people that we encountered while we were eating in these not-too-hidden-gems were so kind and appreciated that we appreciated and marveled at the food we were getting. The language barrier is France is more difficult than in Germany, and we really were ordering and communicating in French for most of the time. It was almost more fun than being able to speak English- I hadn’t spoken much French since high school, and it was a nice mini challenge to get to do some review and be able to pick out some words here and there.
Erik and I got in a few hours before Morgan, so we decided to do a little walk from the Arc de Triomphe down to the Louvre (it’s a straight shot and a really cool view as your walking to see the arch getting small and the Louvre slowly materializing in front of you). Here’s Erik lookin’ mighty small in front of the arch!
The first night there was a well-rated restaurant from Yelp! right next to our hostel. We got some typically delicious French dishes, but the desserts were incroyable! Look. There’s one that’s even in a jar. It was so exciting.
After dinner we decided that we ought to go explore the city since it was only about 7 or so. We left the hostel at 8 to go check out the Eiffel Tower at night. Our journey took way longer than expected, which meant that when our train finally got to the station at about 8:59 the sparkles were about to start! Ahhhh! So cue a hustled sprint past the guy playing accordion in the station, the creepy men with rings of tiny Eiffel towers to buy, and finally rounding the corner at the École Militaire to catch a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower sparkling in all its glory. It was a great moment. Here’s a picture of it on the night of our picnic.
On our way over to Notre Dame the next day, it was finally getting beautiful outside and everyone was out in the sunshine. It was really charming to see all these people lounging on the steps next to the Seine.
We, of course, drank our fair share of charming coffees…
And ate our fair share of Croque-Monsieurs, a casual French meal that’s basically an egg and cheese sandwich. Quite tasty!
We also went to Musée Rodin, where we mistakenly thought Monet’s water lily paintings were. The museum itself was closed for rennovation, but the gardens were open for free, so we got to see “Le Penseur” (the thinker) and a bunch of other beautiful sculptures by Rodin. Everything was just a few weeks away from blooming… it’s easy to see how beautiful all these places will be once there are real flowers all over the place!
Morgan found us a really cool food market to go to. If there’s one positive thing I can say about the French, it’s that they love their food. Who can hate them for that? I always find the colors that you encounter at these things so pleasing.
I also have an unnatural fascination with fish stands. I think it’s so weird and interesting. It’s probably because I grew up in a landlocked state. Other consequences include loving literally any type of boat ride and thinking that aquariums are the best.
Bread anywhere in Europe is amazing. I wish there were bread tours you could do. Rick Steves, get on it!
While were were waiting to climb up the towers at Notre Dame, I got a little nutella crêpe to hold off hunger 🙂
We also visited the Sacre Coeur, where you’re supposed to have the best view of the city. I honestly wasn’t too impressed with it, particularly because it felt like you were going to get your purse snatched at every turn. The church is quite beautiful from the outside and worth a quick trip, but the area overall was a bit too touristy for me.
One of my favorite things about Paris is the vendors along the river banks selling used books and art prints and stuff. I had meant to pick up a little souvenir, but never found something exactly right. Browsing was fun anyway.
Far and away the absolute BEST thing we did in the city was organize ourselves a little picnic at sunset under the Eiffel Tower. We got a few bagettes, some cheese, a bottle of wine, grapes, and a box of cookies and just settled in. We had a great time just chatting, fooling around, and relaxing after a long day of running all over the city. We hung out until it got dark, watched the tower sparkle, and just generally lounged in the awesomeness of the moment. Surprisingly, we didn’t see anyone else doing the same, even though the police passed us several times and we didn’t seem to be doing anything wrong. I highly recommend doing this if you ever find yourself in Paris! It’s my favorite memory from the trip.
Anyway, that’s Paris! We were actually there for quite a while and did a lot more than what’s pictured here, but you can’t take photos in the museums and I’ll cover Versailles in another post (it certainly deserves its own). We also visited Napoleon’s tomb and the French military museum (insert surrender joke here). I don’t think I’ll be back in Paris for a while- I actually checked off everything I can think of that I want to visit there from the list! I’m going to do my best to see other parts of France in the future, which I think I’ll like better than the noise and crowds of the capital city.