Back from our belated honeymoon, which saw Paris as our first stop. This is our trip report (from a first-timer's perspective) and my tips. I think I'm in love.... loved loved loved the city and its people. :) Warning this is a rather long report...
Arrived at Charles de Gaulle early in the morning. First impression of the airport was that it was very old and a little rundown. My first interaction in French was at the immigration counter, and it was more than a simple ‘Bonjour’. I actually had a short conversation in French with the officer. Very exciting!!!
After collecting our luggage, we changed into more decent clothes and freshened up. I was worried the hotel room would not be ready in time for us to freshen up as we had to be at Tour Eiffel by 3pm. Exiting the airport, there wasn’t a huge crowd of people waiting for taxis. We were approached by 2 taxi drivers asking us if we wanted a taxi. I got a bit apprehensive and asked our driver if he went by the meter, to which he replied ‘yes, of course.’ Poor guy probably wondered why I gave him the third degree. It was a wonderful ride into the city. Our driver spoke perfect English and he was very friendly and pointed out all the sights. He also explained to us how to distinguish between a busy and free cab. Unfortunately, I was too excited and wasn’t paying much attention and don’t remember what he said. It had something to do with how there were old and new taxis, and how some of them have 3 lights on the roof while the others only have 1, hence the difference . When we drove past L’arc de Triomphe, I was very excited. The traffic however was crazy. There were no less than 10 lanes all going at once, with no line markings, and cars weaving in and out. Crazy!!! We also drove down Champs Elysees. Pretty soon we were at our hotel in Le Marais. The entire ride from the airport took about half an hour and it only cost us about 70 euro, including bags (you have to pay extra for luggage). In later days, I will come to realize how much more pleasant this was in comparison to my initial plan of braving the train and metro to get to our hotel.
We stayed at Hotel Caron on rue Caron in the 4th Arrondissement during our stay in Paris. Like most small hotels in Paris, the reception staff speak adequate English but I decided that I was going to speak as much French as possible throughout our trip. So on our arrival at the hotel, I was in French mode. All those lessons were starting to pay off. As I expected, our room was not ready. So we left our luggage at the reception and decided to explore our neighbourhood. Hubby was impressed as the entire exchange between me and the guy at the reception was in French... :)
The first thing we did after we left the hotel was to find a place to eat. I had read about a pattiserie called Pain de Sucre and was keen to find it. We made our way to rue de Turenne only to find that the address I got off the internet was incorrect and there was no pattiserie in sight. My disappointment didn’t last too long b’coz I discovered a cute little shoe shop called Les Petites Parisienne. The sales assistant was really nice and helpful and before I knew it, I had made my first purchase in Paris – a pair of emerald coloured sandals. Tummies still rumbling, we decided we would stop by at the nearest cafe for breakfast. The next cafe we saw was Le Royal Turenne. As with all typical French eateries, there were tables and chairs outdoors, with views of the street. We decided to stop for a quick breakfast. The place was fairly busy, and there was one poor waiter running around serving everyone. I was quite surprised that he was very patient with my stodgy French. We had a baguette each, and some coffee. The coffee was good and the people-watching was superb. It was our first taste of ‘vivre comme un Parisien’ and we loved it. The French people love to sit down and have a coffee and watch the world and people go by. It was refreshing to see that in a city as busy as Paris, as opposed to the fast-paced hustle and bustle we are used to here in Melbourne. However, this meal was also an introduction to how the French are irresponsible dog owners who don’t pick up after their dogs. While we were having our meal, we saw 2 dogs do their thing in the middle of the sidewalk, and their owners did nothing to clean up after them.
After breakfast, we headed over to the Hotel de Ville metro stop on rue de Rivoli. We needed to purchase our Navigo Decouverte passes. There was a photo booth next to the ticket desk, so we both took the photos we needed for the pass. The ticket desk was quite busy as it was a Monday morning and there were lots of people buying or loading up their passes. Hence the lady at the ticket desk was not very friendly or patient with my French. She told me in English that she did not have a pair of scissors (to cut the photos) and that I would have to do it myself later. There was however a lady with a little information counter at the entrance of the metro, giving instructions to people on how to use their tickets, or how to get to where they wanted to go. She was friendly but she didn’t have scissors either.
So we headed back to our hotel. When we got back, we were told that our room was ready, so we took our bags up to the room and had a shower before heading out again. Our first stop for the day was Tour Eiffel. I had pre-purchased tickets for the both of us to get right to the top, which meant that we had to be at the foot of the tower at 3pm. We took Metro Line 1 to Franklin-Roosevelt, then changed to Metro Line 9 and stopped at Iena. The metro was quite easy to take. The only thing we had to look out for was the direction in which the train was heading, and to take the correct exit. Also, the signage was all in French so again I was grateful for those French lessons.
Upon arriving at the foot of Tour Eiffel, I was horrified to see the longest queue I have ever seen in my entire life. It snaked right around the four pillars of the tower. Thanks to our pre-bought tickets, we headed straight to the gate. We were there early, so we were told to come back at the designated time. Hubby was feeling a little peckish so he decided to join the queue to purchase some food. 15 minutes later, and he came back with a drink and a bag of chips. It was time to get to the gate so we shoved the food down as quickly as we could. Once we were through the gate, there was a short queue to get into the lift that would take us up to the first level. It took us about 10 minutes. Arriving at the first level, we walked round the platform admiring the view and taking photos. And then the nightmare began. There was another queue to get on the lift that would take us all the way to the top. So we joined the queue. And from then on, it was sheer hell. It was back to back queuing to get on to the lift, to get to the top of the tower, to walk round the platform, to get back to the lift to get down to the first level, and to get back to the lift to get down to the bottom. Imagine a hot and sunny day, with people in front and behind you, all squished together and shoved into a tiny space. It was almost two hours of that non-stop. When we got right to the top, the view wasn’t that much better than the one from the first level.
B’coz Tour Eiffel took over an hour more than I had planned, we decided to forgo our plan of walking down rue Montaigne and rue de Fauborg St-Honore. We headed straight for avenue des Champs Elysees. Heading out of the metro station, we decided to stop at a baguette place to grab a bite. We were both starving by then. It was like the French equivalent of Subway. The girl who served us at the counter spoke perfect English and told us to be careful with our money, while indicating to a group of dark-skinned youths lounging around the entrance to the shop. Immediately, I was on full alert. My French tutor had told me to be careful in the metro and on Champs Elysees. Our next stop was FNAC where I had to pick up our tickets for a concert at Saint Chapelle that we were going to the following day. I had pre-purchased those tickets on the FNAC website. Trying to get my bearings, I pulled out my Paris Mapguide to see if we were heading in the right direction. As soon as I did that, a gypsy beggar girl walked up to hubby and started asking him for money. I gave her a stern ‘Non’ thinking she would leave us alone. Hubby was still a bit stunned. But she wouldn’t leave and kept harassing us for money. I dragged hubby’s hand and started walking away quickly. Instead of leaving us alone, she started chasing us. Eventually we lost her in the crowds of people. Thankfully, we found FNAC without any further incident. I picked up our tickets from the desk without any complications, but when I tried to purchase the Paris Museum Pass, I was told that they only had the 6-day passes.
Undeterred, we made our way to L’arc de Triomphe. I knew I would be able to purchase our Museum Pass there. The Arc was beautiful even from the ground level. I made my way to the ticket desk where I was told that the Museum Pass that I wanted to purchase was sold out for the day. So we headed back down avenue des Champs Elysees. I decided to try our luck at Louis Vuitton’s flagship store. I wanted to check out the exhibit (of course, I wouldn’t have said no to a few purchases either) but it was not to be. There was a long queue of Asian tourists waiting to get into the store. We weren’t prepared to queue again after our experience with Tour Eiffel.
Champs Elysees was not going the way I envisioned it to be. We decided to stop by at a nearby restaurant for dinner. Being the Champs Elysees, the food was mediocre and over-priced as expected but I did get my first taste of L’Orangina. Sitting there, having my dinner, I was amazed at the endless number of cars driving around the Arc at Place Charles de Gaulle. There are no line markings and over 10 lanes of cars all driving at the same time in one roundabout.
After dinner, we decided it was close enough to sunset and headed back to L’Arc de Triomphe. Climbing the steps to the top of the Arc was so worth it. The view was beautiful. Looking down at all the roads and buildings, you have to admire Baron Haussmann’s planning and vision. In my opinion, the view from the top of the Arc was much better than the view from the top of Tour Eiffel.
Feeling a little tired, we decided to head back to the hotel. Our room at Hotel Caron was very comfortable and modern. The bathroom was tiny (as was expected) but the bed was firm, and the pillows very comfortable. More than we expected for a 3-star hotel. There was also free Wi-Fi and a TV which could be used as a computer for internet access. We had a good night’s sleep.
Our second day in Paris started bright and early. We left the hotel at 8am. We walked towards Pont Marie. Along the way, we bought some croissants at a bakery and some peaches from a fruiterer on rue de Rivoli. They were delicious!! Hubby is not a fan of breads and pastries but after tasting the croissants, he was converted.
We continued down Pont Marie, with a view of Notre Dame in the background, down the river Seine. It was beautiful in the morning sun. We took a few amazing shots with our camera. We walked down to the start of the rue Mouffetard market street at the square of St. Medard and worked our way up. We bought food for a picnic lunch to take with us – little bright red tomatoes, pain de campagne (country-styled bread), cheeses from the cheese shop. We even found a shop that sold tinned foie gras. We bought a few tins to take back with us (we weren’t sure of the quarantine restrictions – note to Australian travellers – you can bring foie gras back with you as long as it’s sealed in a tin). We loved the atmosphere down rue Mouffetard.
Our next stop was Au Bon Marche. Our plan was to check out the food hall section and purchase our charcuterie selection for the picnic. But enroute, we got sidetracked by the massive ‘soldes’ signs. And then I discovered they had an LV boutique inside the store that was NOT jam-packed with tourist. Woohoo!!! So I went in and purchased the Zippy Organizer in black Epi that I had planned to purchase during our trip. And the entire transaction was all done in French. I was so proud of myself. Hubby was distracted by some Tod’s moccasins that were on special. He didn’t end up purchasing them as he thought he would do better in Milan (he never did and still regrets it). However, a pair of Hugo Boss pants, some Armani and some Ermenegildo Zegna ties soon caught his eye and he was a very happy man for about an hour. (Who says only the ladies take forever to shop?) Loaded with our unplanned shopping haul, we made our way to the Detaxe office to get our forms for our VAT rebate. There was the option at Au Bon Marche to receive the VAT refund in cash on the spot (obviously with the detaxe company taking a certain percentage as commission), and all we had to do was to get the forms stamped on our way out of the EU. So we happily went with cash option!
We finally made our way to the food hall section. It was a gourmet food lover’s heaven!! We spent a good 20 minutes just wondering around, wishing we could buy everything, and also wishing that we were staying at an apartment with cooking facilities. The French love their food and it shows! Finally, we made our selection at the charcuterie section and went on our way.
However, thanks to our unplanned shopping stop, we had to skip my planned visit to some of the shops in the St. Germain Des Pres area. We made a quick stop at Hugo & Victor on the corner of Boulevard Raspail and rue Chomel to pick up some dessert for the picnic before heading down to Ile de la Cite.
Our planned picnic spot was Square du Vert Galant at the tip of Ile de la Cite, but the day was starting to really warm up and we were hoping to squeeze in a visit to Notre Dame after the picnic and didn’t want to go too far. So we ended up at Square Jean XXIII behind Notre Dame instead. There were lots of tourists there, and there was already a ridiculously long queue for climbing the towers of Notre Dame. We found a bench under a nice shady tree and proceeded to set up our picnic. In a blink of an eye, a young gypsy girl approached us. This girl claimed to be deaf and wanted us to sign a petition of sorts. Learning from our mistake yesterday, I gave her a very firm ‘No and go away’ in French and then looked away. For a deaf girl, she had very good hearing and left us alone. Our picnic was yummy – fresh bread with a charcuterie selection, 3 different cheese, some pate, and sweet red baby tomatoes and to finish it off, two slices of cakes from Hugo & Victor and some chocolates. A nice bottle of chilled champagne would have topped it off but we that was something we forgot.
After the picnic, we decided we weren’t up for another round of queuing in the hot sun to get to the towers of Notre Dame. (This is where even having a Paris Museum Pass doesn’t make any difference – you will still have to queue with the others) So we headed back to the hotel for a nice cool shower and a little nap.
Heading back to the hotel, we discovered the worst metro stop in the whole of Paris (in my opinion). Chatelet has got to be the most congested metro station, where 5 different metro lines interchange with each other. There are endless streams of people and so many different exits that it is quite easy to get lost if you don’t have your wits about you. Having to be constantly aware of your belongings and the danger of pick-pockets adds to the stress of having to navigate this metro station. Don’t get me wrong. It’s lively and has lots of character. We stopped for 5 minutes to listen to a small string chamber orchestra perform, while we were trying to find our exit. But I think even the non-local French people find this station overwhelming. A French lady came up to me and asked me for directions in French. Alas, my reply was ‘Je ne sais pas’ as I had no idea where her destination was either.
In the evening, we left our hotel, again headed to Ile de la Cite. This time, it was for our concert at Sainte Chapelle. Our concert was at 7pm but we got there a little earlier in anticipation of having to go through the metal detectors and the possibility of queues (that seemed to be a recurring theme around anything touristic in Paris). But we were pleasantly surprised to find that there were no queues at all. We struggled a little to find the entrance and had to ask around before we were told the entrance was via the Palais de Justice.
The interior of Sainte Chapelle was beautiful. The stained glass was all aglow with the yellow light of the evening sun. It made me wonder what Chartres would look like and I vowed to go there on our next visit to France.
Our program for the night was Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 Trumpets and Orchestra and ‘The Four Seasons’, performed by Les Violons de France and soloist Frederic Moreau. The entire concert was about 90 minutes. The performance was world-class. Even though hubby is a classical music neophyte, he enjoyed the entire performance, made even more glorious by the beautiful surroundings. After the concert, there was an opportunity to meet the virtuoso Frederic Moreau himself. After congratulating him on a fine performance, we purchased one of his CDs and got him to autograph it.
Leaving Sainte Chapelle, we headed towards Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the cathedral was now closed for the day, but there were lots of people in the square in front of the cathedral. Most of them were just out for an evening stroll, or meeting up with friends. We made our way to the back of the cathedral, towards Pont de L’Archeveche. Our Bateaux Parisien cruise leaves from Quai de Montebello. We had pre-purchased our ticket on the internet, so we had to collect our tickets at the ticket booth. The pre-purchased internet ticket is valid for the entire day, and you have your choice of any of the available times. We deliberately chose the second last cruise of the day as we wanted to see Paris by night. When we went to pick up our tickets, we were informed that the cruise timetable had been changed. It was going to be half an hour earlier than planned. So it was a good thing that we were there early.
Because it was the second last cruise of the day, there were only a handful of people on our cruise. We made our way to the top of the boat. The weather had turned and it was starting to get windy and chilly, but the view was fantastic. Paris was all lit up and it was magical. As we past the Tour Eiffel, the lights came on and the view was amazing!!! That was my ultimate ‘I’m in Paris’ moment. Unfortunately, during the second half of our cruise, it started raining and we had to make our way down to the covered section of the boat. By the time we got back to the quai, it was raining rather heavily. We decided to brave the rain and make a dash across the road to the Quartier Latin. By this time, we were starving and drenched. But at 11:30pm, the bars and pubs are packed but the restaurants were closing. Unsuccessful in our quest, we decided to head back closer to the hotel. By the time we got back to Le Marais, it was close to midnight and it was no surprise that we could not find a single restaurant that would serve us food. We decided to head back to the hotel. Even the guy at the reception desk at the hotel could not recommend a restaurant that would be open at this crazy hour. He suggested we tried Place de la Bastille. However, we were too tired, wet and hungry to bother making the trek down there. We decided to order room service. Half an hour and 40 euros later, we each had a sandwich, chips and a drink.
Our third day in Paris began bright and early with our customary visit to the boulangerie across the road on rue de Rivoli for our breakfast croissants. Today, we decided to eat in. So we ordered a croissant with an espresso each, and hubby decided to try a palmier as well. (A palmier is a butterfly-shaped pastry, rolled in sugar and then baked.) It was delicious. And then the rain began. This crazy summer weather in Paris was showering us with rain at least once a day. We were beginning to think we brought the Melbourne weather with us.
By the time we finished our breakfast, the rain had stopped so we made our way to the metro station. Our first stop of the day was Museee de L’Orangerie. We stopped at the Concorde metro station. After the rain, the morning was a little fresh but the sky was beginning to clear and it was shaping up to be a beautiful day. We walked past the Place de la Concorde and made our way to Jardin des Tuileries. Outside the Jardin, we saw two police officers interrogating 2 gypsy girls. They even searched their bags. Hubby reckoned one of the girls was the same girl that approached us at Square Jean XXIII the previous day but they all looked the same to me so I couldn’t be sure. We walked through part of Jardin des Tuileries and it was beautiful and serene. Hard to imagine we were right in the middle of a bustling city. Getting to Musee de L’Orangerie, we managed to just sneak in ahead of a tour group so the queue was minimal. I really liked this museum. It was just the right size, not too big. Monet’s Water Lilies against the white background of the room was very effective, I thought, and the collection of impressionist paintings was substantial. There was also a temporary exhibit of modern art, which hubby enjoyed. We spent a good 2 hours at this museum.
Leaving the museum, we walked towards rue Royale. Our next stop was Laduree. We have heard so much about the macarons at Laduree that we had very high expectations, and we were not disappointed. Even in the middle of the day, there was a queue for the macarons. There is the tea room on one side, and the shop on the other. Joining the queue in the shop, I was first asked to pick a box – plain or gift-box, then the number of macarons I wanted, and then the flavours. We decided on Melon, Pistachio, Caramel with Salted Butter, Vanilla, Strawberry, Orange Blossom, Raspberry & Coconut. They were the yummiest things I have had in a long time – slightly chewy, with the most amazing ganache in the centre. The flavours were so natural and not too sweet. Munching on our macarons like tourists, we headed towards Place de la Madeleine. Running short on time (again), we decided to skip shopping at Place de la Madeleine and headed for Lavinia on Boulevard de la Madeleine instead. This was our lunch stop. Lavinia is a massive wine store, with a restaurant right at the top. Hubby thought he had gone to French wine heaven. He fell in love with a Riedel wine decanter and wanted to buy it to take home with us. It was hard work convincing him that it was impossible to pack that into our luggage. Not giving up, he went to the service counter and asked if they would ship it back to Australia. He was very disappointed when they said they couldn’t ship glassware. Eventually, we sat down for lunch. The restaurant was very busy but service was prompt and friendly. The food was surprisingly good. We enjoyed our meal. When our coffees came round, the waiter brought out a glass filled with different types of French sweets and lollies. Some of them were very interesting.
After hubby bid a very sad farewell to his decanter, we wandered down rue Cambon. Coco Chanel opened her first boutique on this street at number 31 and I was keen to visit this iconic landmark. Walking into the boutique, it was not quite what I envisioned. The place was crawling with Asian tourists, many of them on their mobile phones, no doubt deep in conversation with someone else on the other side of the world, trying to ascertain if the store had the Chanel bag they were looking for. The selection at the rue Cambon store was surprisingly limited, and the sales assistant seemed like he had seen way too many Asian tourists (not that I blame him). While I couldn’t find anything I liked, hubby found a tie he fancied. So our purchase from Coco Chanel’s original store was a tie, which was wrapped with the utmost care, and then placed in a massive Chanel shopping bag with rue Cambon inscribed on it. Such is the excess of the French :)
Leaving rue Cambon, we walked down rue St. Honore. Looking at the queues for Musee du Louvre, we decided to leave that for tomorrow, and headed back to Le Marais instead. We spent the late afternoon wandering around the streets of Le Marais. There were some interesting shops around the area. I was keen to check out La Niche by BHV and Un Chien dans le Marais to find a souvenir for our little girl. But I was very disappointed to find that the products available at La Niche was of poorer quality than some of the pet stores here in Melbourne, and while there were lots of Puppy Angel items at Un Chien dans le Marais, there was nothing distinctively French on sale. I was hoping to find a French outfit for our little girl but our search was in vain. We stopped by at Mariage Freres to buy some tea to bring home with us. Their selection of teas was amazing. They would make good gifts.
After a shower and a well-deserved nap, we were ready for our big night out. I had booked a table for the two of us, for dinner, at the 3-Michelin starred restaurant Guy Savoy, 3 months ago. We took the metro to Charles de Gaulle-Etoile, and found we got there with half an hour to spare. Being early, we decided to head to the restaurant for an early drink anyway, but they were ready to take us to our table when we arrived. Trying to find the restaurant on rue Troyon, we walked past it twice without realizing it was there. Unassuming on the outside, the inside was simple, pure elegance. The restaurant was very quietly and simply decorated, but there was an air of luxury about the place. The seats were comfortable, the linen and table setting impeccable, the staff completely attentive. Throughout our entire meal, there was an endless procession of staff floating around us constantly making sure we were enjoying our meal. The service was the best I have ever experienced.
Once we were shown to our table, we were given our menus in French. The maitre d’ arrived at our table with a warm and welcoming ‘Bon soir’ and proceeded to ask if we would like to have the menu explained to us in French. He was very accommodating when I explained to him that hubby didn’t speak French and that my French was very basic, and then proceeded to speak to us in perfect English. He even brought out a postcard and a pen, suggesting that we may like to write a postcard to send home while waiting for our meal. Our menu decision was unanimous – ‘Couleur, Textures et Saveurs’ menu. See this link for pics - guysavoy.com/en/…2
And yes, the meal was as jam-packed, crazy and amazing as it sounds. We ate from 7:30 to 12:30pm and it was pure indulgence from the very first bite, to the last. During our meal, Guy Savoy himself came out of the kitchen to greet his guests at every table.
Our meal began with glasses of pink Billecart champagne. We asked the sommelier to recommend a bottle of wine to go with our meal. Hubby had his heart set on a bottle from Bordeaux. But the sommelier, in typical French fashion, insisted that we must have a bottle of white as the red would not go with our meal. He was adamant and in the end, we had to concede. He chose a bottle of Meursault from Burgundy for us and of course, he was right. It was the perfect accompaniment to our meal.
There was the customary amuse bouche and then the bread cart came around. The bread cart had over 10 different types of bread, and the waiter explained each different bread to us in great detail and told us he would recommend the different breads to go with each course. There were two different types of butter on the table. The array of choices was staggering. The stand out course for me of the entire meal was the lobster – THE best lobster dish I have ever had, followed by the sea bass with its crispy skin and the artichoke and truffle soup was to die for. I thought I had died and gone to truffle heaven. Being a huge fan of caviar and foie gras, it was no surprise hubby also loved those two dishes. By the time the cheese cart came around, I felt like I would explode if I ate another bite. There were over 20 different cheeses on offer. Thinking that we would be done after we finished our desserts, we were surprised again when a dessert cart came around after that. I think we ended up having over 4 desserts in total, before finally finished off with coffee and petit fours. When we finally stopped eating at half past midnight, we could safely say we could not eat another bite. I can say I have never had a more decadent meal in my entire life. A short taxi ride later and we were back at the hotel and it was off to bed.
For our final day in Paris we decided to head to the Musee du Louvre bright and early to avoid the crowds. We took the metro and entered through the underground entrance. My French tutor had told me that this was the best way to avoid the crowds. She was right. A short 10 minute queue and we were in the museum. This is one massive museum. Since we were there early, there were lots of people still but it wasn’t too crowded. We decided to head to the Mona Lisa before the crowds started gathering. With that out of the way, we strolled leisurely through the museum, stopping at sections that drew our interest. Close to midday, the crowds started coming in and it started to get really crowded in the museum. We decided we’d seen enough and headed out. On our way out, we saw the huge line-up at the glass pyramid entrance. We were starving by then and decided to catch a quick lunch at the food court just outside the museum, in the underground passage area. After last night’s meal, our paella lunch seemed meagre in comparison but it was still tasty.
Our next stop was Notre Dame. We wandered inside the cathedral, which I found rather disappointing. It was very dark and gloomy and didn’t have the air of grandeur that I expected. I had read that much of the interior was destroyed during the revolution but I still expected a certain atmosphere. Instead, I found it rather bleak, lit up only by the annoying flash lights of tourists’ cameras. Again, there was a long queue to climb the towers so we decided to leave that for a future visit.
Leaving the Ile de la Cite, we walked over to the beautiful Ile St. Louis. It was a lovely walk. We strolled down rue St. Louis en l’ile searching for the famous Berthillon ice-creamery. When we got there, we were surprised that there were no queues in sight. We got an ice-cream cone each. I had Mandarin while hubby had Salty Caramel. It was delicious! Walking back towards our hotel, we came across a depot vente store at Quai d’Anjo. Wandering into the store, I saw a beautiful, used Louis Vuitton dog carrier. It was so pretty that I was so tempted to buy it. But then practical reasoning took over and I realized our little girl would hate being cramped into that small space. It was not to be.
Heading back to Le Marais, we wandered down rue des Francs-Bourgeois. Most shops had massive Soldes signs on their windows but we found that even with the discounts, prices were not that much cheaper compared to Australia. The quality however was superior. We finally made it to Place des Vosges. It is a beautiful square surrounded by lots of beautiful, old houses. We spent a good half an hour wandering about the square.
Hubby was hoping to find similar bargains to the ones at Au Bon Marche so we headed out to Galleries Lafayette. It turned out to be a bad choice. It seemed like the whole of Paris and all the tourists were out for the sales at the departmental stores. The place was packed and there were queues to go into the boutiques of Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Surprisingly, prices were not as cheap as expected. (We would find much better shopping in Milan later on in our trip) To his dismay, hubby did not find anything, but I managed to pick up a Burberry trench coat at half the price of what I would pay here in Melbourne, so I was happy.
Deciding that the situation would be similar at Printemps, we decided to head back to the hotel. Deciding on a quick dinner, we stopped at a restaurant just outside the hotel, on rue de Rivoli. I knew it was a mistake as soon as I saw English writing on the menu outside the restaurant, but we were in a hurry because we wanted to head back to the hotel to pack and have an early night. The food was rather bad, and at 70 euro in total for 2 mains with a glass of house wine each, not cheap either. After dinner, we went for one last stroll down our neighbourhood, taking in the sights and sounds of Paris as the sun set once more on this beautiful city. Heading back to the hotel, we packed our bags and turned in for the night.
At 6:30, we were up and ready to go. We took a taxi from our hotel to Gare Montparnasse, where we caught a train to St. Pierre des Corps for the next leg of our trip. We were very sad to leave Paris. That city was wonderful and amazing, and so much more than what I had dreamt it would be, and to think we've only scratched the surface. I vowed that we will be back next year. Paris, je t’aime.
- People weren't kidding when they told me the queues for Tour Eiffel were crazy in July. If it's something you must do, buy your tickets online, and only for the first level. The extra queueing to get to the top is so not worth it (IMO). Maybe the situation is different outside the peak tourist season.
- Avenue des Champs Elysees is overrated. If you're short on time, you're better off visiting rue de Fauborg St-Honore or ave Montaigne. In retrospect, I should have taken the advice of my tutor (who studied and lived in Paris for a few years). After reading through our itinerary, she advised me not to expect too much from Avenue des Champs Elysees and that I shouldn't waste my time going there.
- Arriving at CDG, take a taxi to your hotel. It is not as expensive as you think and well worth it. You don't want to be braving the metro, with no idea where you're going, right after a long flight, especially if you have to interchange at Chatelet.
- Be wary of your belonging in the metro and other touristy areas. It's a simple as having your hand over your bag, or inside your pocket and be aware of the people around you. It's common sense really. I do the same when I'm in crowded areas whether I'm in Melbourne or when I'm overseas. But Paris I found, in comparison to Venice & Milan, and even Melbourne, seemed like a really safe city.
- Even if you don't want to learn French, you will benefit if you learn a few phrases, or learn to read important words in French. The French don't believe in having their signs in any other languages apart from their own. Hubby reckons that we would have struggled a bit without my French skills, meagre as they were. Plus, the French are so much warmer and friendlier when you try to speak to them in their own language (I found).
- While planning your trip, take note of a restaurant around your hotel that serves dinner after hours. You never know if you'll need it.
- Bring an umbrella. Yes, even in July. The weather is temperamental. I told myself not to worry and that I'd buy an umbrella in Paris if I needed one. Funny thing is everytime I needed an umbrella, there were no shops around that sold them.
- While you can't avoid all the touristy places, try to include some non-touristy places and things to do. It really is a breath of fresh air. If you have to go to the touristy places, do your research and try to minimize your queueing time. It really eats into the time you have with this wonderful city.
- When approached by gypsies, say 'non' firmly, look away and keep walking.
- Ladies, if you're planning on purchasing LV or Chanel or any other branded goods, stay away from the touristy areas. Head further out where there are no queues and where you will truly have an authentic French experience shopping for what you want, instead of fighting with a group of Asian tourists (yes, I can say that without sounding racist b'coz I am Chinese by ancestry). Also, plan ahead for what you want to purchase, ie. model name, size, material, so you don't waste too much time. If you have your heart set on something in particular, it might even be wise to call ahead to make sure they have it in stock at that particular store.
- Laduree... yes, there's lots of hype and yes, it lives up to the hype. Try it!!!
- Even if you have a jam-packed itinerary, take some time out to sit at a cafe, have a coffee and watch the world go by. It is THE ultimate French experience, IMO.