Paris – Timeless, Magical and Full of History
In creative arts and pop culture, Paris has repeatedly been painted as a timeless, magical place with an amazing history. Whenever friends and family returned from Paris and told me about all the amazing sites they saw, I knew it was a place I needed to explore. For most, one trip was seemingly never enough.
I often wondered if Paris would live up to the hype, or if everyone’s stories and experiences were merely a romanticized version of a magical city they had merely fallen in love with the idea of. I quickly learned that Paris was an amazing city and it did not disappoint.
In 2013, my mom and I flew to Paris on our way to Portugal. We had just shy of 3 days to explore the city before we had to fly out to Portugal. The great news is that my mom and I are fantastic self guided power tourists. Our mission, to pack in as many Parisian historical sites as possible, and do it all by foot.
Paris Sunrise to Sunset
My mom and I flew from Seattle to Paris on a direct flight overnight, landing at the break of dawn, 5 a.m. As we were driving to our hotel, the sun was coming up. It was an amazing site. When we arrived at our hotel, I was so excited! It was beautiful. We stayed at the Hotel Bradford Elysees, a charming, authentic Haussman-style hotel with a modern touch. Our room was on the 7th floor and we had a view of the Eiffel Tower from our window. Since the hotel was only a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, L’Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées, so we cleaned up a little bit, loosely mapped out our route, and started exploring the city.
This is a pictorial review of our route in case you decide to follow in our footsteps.
Paris Day 1
L’Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle.
The Arc de Triomphe should not be confused with a smaller arch, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which stands west of the Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
Passerelle Debilly (Debilly Footbridge)
You get a nice view of the Eiffel Tower from the Passerelle Debilly. Something to be aware of in Paris are the gypsies. We really only ran across some gypsies while crossing the bridge, and even then, we weren’t bothered too much. I do recall a man walking up to me saying I dropped my necklace. 1) he came from the other direction and 2) I don’t wear necklaces or jewelry when traveling. Sorry buddy, I don’t think so!
This bronze sculpture, a replica of the one topping the Statue of Liberty, and was placed here in 1987 as a symbol of friendship between France and the USA. More famous is its location, above the place d’Alma tunnel where, on August 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car accident.
We then made our way to the Eiffel Tower, which was surprisingly not as big as I thought it would be, but an amazing structure nonetheless.
After the Eiffel Tower, we made our way along the River Seine and back towards the the Champs-Élysées admiring the architecture and doing a little bit of shopping. We then grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest. The view of the Eiffel Tower at night was beautiful. I had no idea the whole tower lit up and sparkled each night until midnight!
Google map of our walking route Day 1
Paris Day 2
Total walking distance (including the Louvre was almost 15 miles)
We woke up early with a solid game plan. First stop, tour the Louvre. From our hotel, it was about a 2 mile walk to the Louvre. On our way, we were able to view the majestic architecture Paris is known for.
Before reaching the Louvre, we passed through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
Arrival at the Louvre
Plan for touring the Louvre:
- Arrive right at opening
- Head straight for the Mona Lisa
- Tour the rest of the museum.
It is surprisingly larger than expected. Because the Louvre is so huge, to walk the perimeter of the Louvre you would have to walk 3 miles/4.8 kilometer, you have to walk and walk and walk to finally get to the Mona Lisa.
Sure everybody appreciates art differently, but when you finally manage to be in front of the Mona Lisa, there is no jolt of amazement or a sudden instant of wonder, she just looks exactly like she does in the art books. What I also found surprising was the fact that the size of the painting isn’t very impressive either, it’s only 31 inches by 21 inches. Even the reprints they sell in the Louvre gift shop are bigger. I can now say I saw the Mona Lisa though.
Once we checked the Mona Lisa off our list, we were then able to tour the Louvre at a slower pace and take in all the beauty the art had to offer. By starting our day early and having a game plan going in, we were able to miss the lines and business. When we passed the Mona Lisa on our way through, the room that was empty when I was there was now jam packed.
In all, we spent a few hours in the Louvre, and then continued our exploration of the city.
Ma Salle à Manger
The next stop was to grab some food. We made our way to the small island called the Ile de la Cite in the middle of river Seine. This is where the Cathedral Notre Dame is, so it just made sense to move in this direction.
Unfortunately in school I studied Spanish instead of French, and the two languages are completely different. The restaurants in this part of town were few and far between, and most of the restaurants we ran across only had menu boards in French. When we passed Ma Salle à Manger, I recognized salmon and decided since my mom is a little bit of a picky eater, this was our spot. I ordered the paella with roasted chicken on top, and my mom ordered the house smoked salmon. It did not disappoint. Granted, when my mom ordered the smoked salmon, we didn’t realize smoked salmon in France was raw. My mom doesn’t have a palate for raw fish, but I do, so we traded dishes. Everyone was happy and the food was wonderful!
After lunch, our energy levels were restored, our feet were rested and we were ready to continue on. Next on our list was a tour of the Sainte Chappel. I have never seen something so beautiful in my life.
This Gothic chapel was built in just seven years, and was intended to house precious Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns, acquired by Saint Louis. The stained glass was a true thing of beauty. Arranged across 15 windows, each 15 metres high, the stained glass panes depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris.
Cathedral Notre Dame (850th Anniversary Year)
Notre Dame Cathedral which can also be called “our lady” is still in use today by the Roman Catholic Church for mass and it is the seat of the Archbishop of Paris.
There was a mass going on while we were touring, which was awesome to experience.
Also inside the Notre Dame Cathedral, among so many historical artifacts, is the notable 17th century organ with all of its parts still functional. Fun fact, there are also drawings, plans and engravings which showed the old and hidden mysteries of several of the church developments and how the city of Paris came into being.
A statue of Joan of Arc can also be found inside the Cathedral Notre Dame.
Le Comptoir de L’Artoise
With it nearing late afternoon, we knew we had a long walk back to the hotel, so we made our way back and also found a quaint restaurant for dinner that was just around the corner from our hotel, Le Comptoir de L’Artoise. It’s a local French restaurant with good pricing and the owner was hilarious and very welcoming. I’m pretty sure he tried to marry me off to his son. Too funny!
Google map of our walking route Day 2.
Paris Day 3
After all of our waking the past couple of days, we decided that we should go do something a little unconventional, we decided to visit Disneyland Paris! I grew up in California and going to Disneyland, so I needed to see the park. We walked down to the train station and boarded the train to Disneyland. It was about a 45 minute train ride to the park and we got to see some beautiful scenery on our way there.
When we arrived at Disneyland Paris, it was the 20th anniversary. While the tourists seemed very similar to Disneyland California, there were some fantastic differences with Disneyland Paris. The most unexpected surprise was that Space Mountain was more of a true roller coaster in the dark, looping upside down and all! I’m glad we didn’t know ahead of time or my mom may not have gone with me. We had a blast! We spent all day at the park and then took the train back to our hotel.
Thoughts on Paris
While Paris is not magical in the sense that you can see things you wouldn’t believe were possible, what you do find is a city with unique, distinctive character, as manifested through its architecture, culture, cuisine and so on. For real magic, head to Disneyland Paris.
Looking back on my short visit, there is so much more left to see and I look forward to my next visit back to Paris.
Stay tuned for my blog post on Portugal shortly.
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