I don’t remember if it was the croissant that was flaking in my, now buttery, hand or the sound of velvety soft syllables coming from those around me speaking French, but suddenly it hit me: Paris. I was actually here.
The idea for this trip (which seemed spontaneous other than the fact that we booked it 8 months ahead of time) came when I noticed a few non-stop flights from Chicago to Paris for less than $400. Since it seemed too good to pass up, I called my mom and we both decided not to pass it up.
Fast forward to October and here we are, on the Champs Elysées, with the previously mentioned croissant in my hand. A few things were overwhelming for this trip:
- Paris has a lot of pressure around it, since it is a frequently visited place by friends and family. I felt like we had to do it right or else we would miss out on a lot of things.
- We were only going to be there for five days…how on earth would we see this entire city?
- We don’t speak a lick of French.
But no matter, we dove right in.
Day 1: A Brief Tour of the Entire City
While this seems extremely difficult to do, but thanks to Fat Tire Bike Tours Paris, we were able handle it. Battling a bit of rain (that eventually resulted in glorious sunshine), we oriented ourselves around the city with the help of a witty and knowledgeable tour guide. If you ever are in Paris, Barcelona, London, Berlin, or Rome, I HIGHLY recommend this tour! You can find more information about their tours here.
Honestly, this was the best way to start our trip because it helped us understand the layout of the city and helped us pick out places to come back to visit. Not to mention, I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and was completely awe struck. This. Is. Paris.
The best part about the city, I think, is how easy it is to walk through! Two miles from our Airbnb to breakfast or back to the apartment after a night cap seemed like nothing when you’re surround by such beauty, and a very sparkly show at night…
Day Two: Our Tourist Day
Dressed in our Parisian outfits (all black, of course) we headed out to experience the once in a lifetime lunch reservation I had found: lunch at the 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant on the first landing of the Eiffel Tower.
I say once in a lifetime because, while the food was lovely, the push and shove to get up the tower, look over the side, use the bathroom, etc, was a lot. While we were trying to feel like posh Parisians (because they definitely eat there…), we started to feel corralled and packed in like sardines.
In order to gain back some of our free will, we left after lunch to head to the area near the Champs de Mars, where many adorable boutiques can be found. Wandering these tight, winding streets helped us feel like we were right back where we belonged.
If anyone knows my mom and I, they also know that we love to shop. We could be considered Varsity Shoppers. The exhilaration of finding a pair of perfectly fitting shoes or a lovely lace dress was even more exciting since it was French! And there is nothing better than when someone asks where you got your dress and you shrug and nonchalantly say “Oh, this little thing? I picked it up on my most recent trip to Paris”.
But one of the highlights of our trip? We took another Fat Tire Bike Tour, but instead, saw the city at night! We couldn’t even understand the loveliness of the grounds of a deserted Louvre or a hauntingly beautiful version Notre Dame until we saw them for ourselves. Not to mention, our ride ended with a boat ride along the Seine included in the tour price (and plenty of free wine!).
Day Three: Let Them Eat Cake (or Macarons)
Ahhh the famous Chateau de Versailles. Famous for its grandeur, long lines, elegantly well preserved rooms, absolute massive crowds of people, history, difficult to find bathrooms, Marie Antoinette, and did I mention absurd amounts of tourists? We even went in the off season and our sanity was quite tested.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Did I wish I had planned it better? Absolutely. Here’s happened:
Things that went well:
- We arrived early in the morning after navigating a few trains, thanks to directions from helpful locals (honestly the French are not the rude, arrogant people that everyone makes them out to be). Because of that, we were starving and I had read a tip that the Hotel Ibis, across from the Versailles train station has a lovely 10 euro breakfast buffet. The warm pastries, fresh fruit, and coffee were enough to fortify us for the day ahead.
- Buy your tickets in the tourism office that is located just before the entrance to the grounds. You can’t miss it and there is rarely a line to purchase!
- We downloaded the Rick Steves Versailles Audio Guide rather than buying the official audio guide. This allowed us to listen to our own headphones on our own devices and it had a really nice flow through the palace. I am also just a huge Rick Steves fan.
- We spent extensive time touring the lovely gardens and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet, a little town which she had built so she could escape there and pretend she was a peasant. We also visited the smaller palaces on the grounds as well: Trianon and Petit Trainon, where Marie Antoinette spent most of her time.
What I would do differently:
- Instead of arriving early to the chateau, I would suggest visiting later in the afternoon. The tourist groups load up their buses around then and really clear out the place. It is so much nicer when you actually have space to breathe in the rooms rather than being pushed along with the crowd (I’m not kidding, if you mess with the flow, you will get shoved).
- If you would rather show up early, go to the gardens and grounds first. Allow the morning rush to filter through the palace before entering. It might still be crowded, but not nearly as it would be if you had started with the Chateau itself.
The best tip I can give: make sure to see everything, because it is an overwhelming day trip to take again someday if you missed anything.
Day Three (also): Fueling My Inner Foodie
We decided to be a bit ambitious on this day and made reservations at the 93rd Best Restaurant in the world: Le Chateaubriand. It is a big deal, because the business casual, retro-classic looking dining space has a prixe-fixe, 10 course tasting menu for 70 euro, and every single thing we ate was delectable.
Also: this is a semi-casual restaurant. So a nice blouse and jeans is perfect. If you happen to show up in an off the shoulder, black, ballet length dress, you will look fabulous, but also overdressed. If that happens: c’est la vie, you’re in Paris!
Above you see (from left): The menu (naturally), the artisan cheese puffs, seabring with spinach and scallopini mushrooms, then (my favorite), pear sorbet with smoked cream cheese and walnuts (absolutely delectable)
The only misleading thing: 10 courses sounds like a massive meal. So we made sure that we were very, very hungry. The problem: each course, as you see, was about the size of a thimble. So after a delicious world class meal, we made the executive decision to stop by another world class joint: McDonalds for a cheese burger and fries.
And oh was that a great way to close out our third day.
This was a brief summary of the first three days of our trip click here for the second half of our city trip and more recommendations on what to do when visiting!
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