Welcome to part 3 of our European Holiday recap! Part 1 detailed our stay in Berlin; part 2 was all about Florence. Let’s pick up the trail with our travel from Florence the afternoon of Thursday, September 29, to our final stop, the City of Lights: Paris, France.
Our airport transfer from Divina Apartment was scheduled for 1 p.m. for a 3:50 p.m. flight to Paris via Air France. While standing in line for check-in, it hit me: I was going to Paris. PARIS!!! I could hardly contain my excitement (and some of it may have squeezed out my eyeballs). My excitement, however, was deflated once we reached the counter. The attendant informed us we had been “selected for a later departure” because the 3:50 p.m. flight had been oversold. We would have to check back 45 minutes prior to departure to see if no-shows would free-up seats for us—otherwise, we would be bumped to a later flight. Needless to say, we were rather perturbed. Several answers were given, none that satisfied. Good news is that we did get seats! And just as we handed over our luggage, we got to participate in an airport fire drill. For real. It was just like grade school. Sirens squawked and everyone was told to leave their bags (um, isn’t that a security issue?) and head outside until the all-clear sounded—all flights were now on a 30-minute delay. It was rather amusing (made more enjoyable considering we had just checked our bags AND we had seats on our original flight!). Plus we had a few more minutes breathing in the glorious Florence air. After all these unexpected happenings, the flight itself was uneventful. By the way, Air France wins for the best on-flight snack—a fudgy little brownie. It restored my excitement for Paris.
We checked into at the Hotel Madeleine Plaza by about 7:30 p.m., ready for some food and rest. The Plaza was exactly what I would expect for a French hotel: old building, small rooms, large windows that opened to the street. And I loved it because it did not feel like a U.S. hotel. For dinner, the hotel clerk recommended Chez Papa, a little place nearby serving hearty French fare. It oozed warmth and was a perfect first meal in Paris. The appetizer was some sort of toasted bread loaded with peppers, onions, chorizo, and cheese. The entrée was a beef bourguignon stew with a side of potatoes and bread. Both dishes were extremely rich, tasty, and satisfying.
Friday morning we wandered to Rue Cler, a pedestrian street with little shops where locals (supposedly) buy their daily bread, cheese, and meats on their way home from work. It was perfect. We sat outside at Café du Marche for breakfast (Mike had eggs; I had a toasted baguette with butter and jam). It was delightful and relaxing, and then we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. I had heard reserve tickets are best, since more than 7 million people visit the Tower each year and it can be packed. Online tickets to the summit were actually sold out when I check in early September, but we did get tickets to level 2. Supposedly, if crowds are low during your visit, you can buy summit tickets at level 2, so we were hoping for that.
When we got to the Tower, hardly anyone was there . . . so I’m not sure if reserve tickets are limited or what. There were no lines and no crowds. Up we went to level 2, and the view was spectacular. Level 2 actually has an upper balcony, so as we took in the view from each side, there were tour groups just below us, and we got to hear all sorts of history from the guides, sort of like a free tour! We actually didn’t feel compelled to buy summit tickets, so we took the stairs down for a quick peek at Level 1 before exiting the Tower to find some lunch. Rue Cler was calling, so we found another outdoor café where we ordered traditional French sandwiches: a croque monsieur for me, and a croque madame for Mike. It’s basically a toasted ham and cheese sandwich (with a fried egg for the madame version)—total comfort food, fitting for a gray and chilly day. We spent the afternoon walking about the city until it was time for coffee and macarons (because France) at Fauchon. (I could easily adopt this coffee and macaron routine here at home.) Learn the difference between macarons and macaroons, here (fodder for a future Which Word Wednesday!).
Saturday morning began at Angelina, a tres chic tearoom and bakery. I had the BEST brioche toast slathered with butter and jam (raspberry and apricot). It almost brought me to tears it was so yummy. Then it was off to the train station because we had tickets to Château de Versailles. (eeekkkk!!) I recommend purchasing Versailles admission tickets online to avoid that line on-site. FYI, we chose Saturday tickets because in-season weekends showcase the fountains running with classical music piped throughout the entire garden. So dreamy!
A note on train/Metro transportation in Paris: It wasn’t complicated, but since our experience is limited, it took a bit of time and thought to purchase the tickets and figure out what track we needed. Locals were extremely helpful! Here’s what we did: Les Invalides station was closest to us; you take the stairs down one level and buy tickets at the automated machine, for both there and back. (This step-by-step summary was helpful.) The great thing is that the train you take to Versailles stops there, literally—it’s the end of the line. So there’s no need to get confused by the step-by-step directions I linked to and get off at the second to last stop just because it says Rive Gauche . . . because then you have to wait another 20 minutes until the next train shows up. Trust me on this one. (Mike is a patient man.) Once we actually arrived at the correct, final stop, the rest of the day was fabulous!
Versailles has airport-like security at the entrance, but it didn’t take long. Then we were in, trying to make sense of what life would have been like living in a palace. Massive and opulent are the two words I have to describe it. We probably saw half of the sights in about six hours. (It amused me to see directionals for macarons on the plaquards and on the printed maps. The French take these cookies very seriously!) I loved every bit of this day and would go back again. The tapestries, the art, the history—it was other-worldly and such a good reminder that people of every era are prone to excess when money and power are left unchecked.
Of course, on this European holiday, we too were prone to excess—especially in terms of rich, delicious food. After a full day at Versailles, we stopped at the Laduree tearoom for afternoon coffee and macarons. Then it was back to the hotel for some rest before dinner. Without a Paolo or a Ritz-Carlton concierge, our food selections were a bit more adventurous—Yelp and Open Table were our guides. A search led me to a little place with rave reviews called Le Souffle. That sounded terrific, so we found our way there, arriving at about 7:45. It was packed; I asked if they had a table open for two, and the server said no, that they were booked. I wasn’t sure if he meant booked at the moment or for the night, so I asked if it was booked all night. Maybe my crestfallen face was pitiful enough to garner sympathy, because the guy stepped back, checked the list, then said he could squeeze us in right then. For real. I almost cried. (Do you see a theme here?) I am so grateful he did, because this restaurant was outstanding. The food, the service, the atmosphere—wow. We had cream of chestnut soup with foie gras for a starter, followed by dinner soufflés (Mike had chicken, mushroom, and tarragon; I had beef bourguignon), and finally, we shared a raspberry dessert soufflé. Oh my word, I could eat this food every day. And because my parents are awesome, they treated us to this meal! So very kind.
Our final day in Paris started with a morning run along the Seine followed by a quick quiche and coffee for breakfast before touring the Notre Dame cathedral. The stained glass windows and sky-high ceilings are impressive, and the history is fascinating. But the headless statues and alcove vignettes and gargoyles? hmm. It was hard to make sense of it all. On our walk back we crossed over Ponte Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, built in 1607. And then it was time for afternoon coffee (there may have been macarons and a pistachio pastry involved).
Revived by the caffeine and treats, we were ready for our final stop of the day: the Louvre. Because it was the first Sunday of the month, the Louvre had free admission, so we joined the masses to take in some art. This museum is monstrous. Of course, we found Mona Lisa and the Venus among many other pieces, all grand and amazing. Afterward we strolled through Jardin des Tuileries, enjoying its fountains, statues, and greenery, as well as its crepe stand. I chose a confiture de lait crepe (dulce de leche), and oh my word was it fantastic. After hours of wandering throughout the city—logging more than 12 miles!—we had a very late dinner at the Paris London Café near our hotel, chosen because most restaurants and shops are closed on Sundays. (Be sure to plan ahead for that—we were taken aback!)
Monday morning, October 3, we left Paris at 9:40 a.m. and arrived in Chicago at 11:30 a.m.—travel weary, but hearts bursting. We are grateful for the opportunity and bask in the treat this trip was to us. And thanks for taking in a bit of our holiday via my summary posts!
Paris Step Tally: 84,621 (an average of 24,177 per day)
Weather: cloudy, rainy, chilly—low 50s to low 60s