Day 1: Highlights: We reached the most romantic city in the world, by taking a direct flight from Chicago. American Airlines we find has good connections from Chicago to European cities. The Paris airport information center was very helpful and we got a 3 day train pass for zones 1-3 for 20 Euros and a 2 day Museum pass for 32 Euros. Both are very useful and cost effective if you plan to stay 3 days and love visiting museums. We switched two trains to get to our hotel, Eiffel Kennedy. The subway and the local trains in Paris is very easy to use. The hotel was small but charming, situated close to and across the river from the Eiffel on rue de Boulainvilliers. Since it was past noon by the time we got out of our hotel, we grabbed delicious crepes (one cheese and tomato and a banana Nutella) from the street cafes and made our way to the magnificent Eiffel Tower. The walk to the Eiffel was beautiful, along the Seine and past the Pont du Bir-Hakeim. Very Paris and very romantic.
There was a long line to get to the top of the tower and the top level of the tower was closed that day, but the views from the 2nd level were breathtaking. The Eiffel Tower was designed by Gustave Eiffel and built between 1887 and 1889. It was the tallest structure in the world till 1930 till my favorite building the Chrysler Building took over. It is still the most visited paid monument in the world.
The Eiffel’s entrance fee is not covered in the museum pass. There is a never ending debate about whether the Eiffel or adds to or subtracts from the beauty of Paris but for us there is no question. Its magnificence makes Paris what it is. It is both graceful and a hunk of metal at the same time. Our next stop was the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, or sacred heart church, which is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. It is relatively a newer church having been consecrated only in 1914. There are rows of small stores on the way to the Basilica and it has a touristy feel. Entrance to all churches are free in France. We also climbed the bell tower adjoining the church for more breath taking views of the city. There is a 3 Euro entrance fee for the 300 plus steps climb to the top. It also turns out the Sacre-Coeur has featured in many movies and music videos and is one of the most recognizable monuments in Paris. As nightfall hits, the area around the church and the steps turn into a congregation for local artists to perform and for the young and hip to hang out.
We ended the day with a walk down the famed Avenue des Champs-Élysées. The avenue was beautifully decorated and filled with tourists. We returned to our hotel leaving the Arc de Triomphe for another day.
Day 2: Museums: This was the day for a marathon of museum visits, so we started the day early. Our first stop was the Musée d’Orsay and we spent 4 magical hours viewing some of the master pieces of the Impressionist and Post Impressionist eras. Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Caillebotte, Manet, Degas and a special exhibition on the works of James Ensor. Plan to spend a few hours as you will need them. Lunch was a quick bite at a cozy cafe near the Orsay museum. Being vegetarians, though our options were limited, it wasn’t hard to find food. The salads are amazing and there is always the “French” fries to rely back on.
Stop number 2 was the Cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and stands impressively in one of the natural islands of the Seine, Île de la Cité. The cathedral’s construction was begun in 1163 under the leadership of Maurice de Sully the Archbishop and was built and enhanced over the next two centuries. It is free to enter the church which has some great stained glass windows and beautiful sculptures.
The South Rose Window is especially impressive. The museum pass includes the entry to the great bourdon bell, Emmanuel, located in the South Tower. As we climbed up the 350+ steps to the bell, which was central to the novel Hunchback of Notre Dame, we tried to imagine the life of Quasimodo. Again the views from the top of the tower were spellbinding. Make sure you take a look at the gargoyles on the tower and cathedral roofs.
No visit to Paris is complete without a visit to the Louvre, which was stop number 3 for the day. The museum is open late on Wednesdays and Fridays and that worked well for us. 5 hours is just about enough to see most of the highly recommended exhibits (around 20 and spread across the museum).
We are huge Da Vinci fans and the Mona Lisa, true to the hype, impressed us. Michelangelo’s Gallery of Slaves, Antonio Canova’s Cupid and Psyche and the Winged Victory of Samothrace are must see sculptures. For an understanding of scale check out Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana painting right opposite the Mona Lisa.
These are just a few of the over 35000 art objects under the ownership of the Louvre. The museum which opened in 1793 is housed in the Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre) which was built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II. In 1672, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection. Today, it is one of the biggest museums in the world, and is the most visited.
After viewing the master pieces we left the Louvre just in time to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (11 pm closing). The night views of Paris and especially Champs-Élysées were to die for. It was so romantic and we felt like the lead pair in the movie Titanic :-).
The memorial for the unknown soldier in front of the monument is solemn and yet grand. Every hour at night the Eiffel turns into a light show with various patterns and lights being lit in sequence and again irrespective of all the debate over its beauty and need, it is a must see sight. The Arc de Triomphe turned out to be the perfect spot for the nightly spectacle though in November it is cold. We ended the day with a meal in one of the restaurants on Champs-Élysées with a glass of champagne.
Day 3: Versailles: Our vacations are always packed. No time to sleep in and relax in the hotel and the day started early with our friend meeting us early at the hotel lobby for a day trip to Versailles. It was a rainy day but we didn’t care. The Palace of Versailles, or Château de Versailles is about twenty kilometers southwest of Paris and can be reached by the RER C train. Until the French Revolution, Versailles served as epicenter for politics and power. The Chateau built over decades in mid-17th century was home and office for Louis XIV who wanted to distance himself from common Paris. The chateau has 700 rooms, and today serves as a museum for thousands of paintings and sculptures in its collection and the architecture and gardens of the chateau itself is a must see. It does take a while, so give yourself half a day or more. The walk through the chateau will take 2 hours and the gardens even longer. There are nice restaurants in and around the chateau so grab a quick lunch before you head back.
Back in Paris, we headed to the Place de la Madeleine to find Fauchon, a highly recommended dessert shop. To our surprise we found the Église de la Madeleine, a church that was originally designed in its present form as a temple to the glory of Napoleon’s army.
It was completed in the 18th century. The church is huge and holds your view through most of the walk around the square. A block away is the Place de la Concorde, known for the Obelisk erected in the center. After lunch we ate the most sinful desserts at Fauchon and at 6-10 Euros a piece, we made sure we let each bite stay and tickle palates for as long as possible. We then headed to the banks of the Seine to catch the river cruise, a perfect end to our quick trip to Paris. As we sailed past all the sights, as we saw the Eiffel stand tall and shine through the darkness, and as all the monuments were being washed by the rains we knew that this is our city. Paris has firmly taken its place as our favorite city.
Not wanting to end our last night in Paris early, we headed back to the hotel, freshened up and headed right back to the Latin Quarter. We stopped at the Notre Dame for another view and then headed into the district known for its night life. We found a great restaurant, walked around in the crowds, and mixed with locals and tourists and became one amongst them. Paris gets to you, it has gotten to us, body, mind and soul. We will go back.