A word for the wise; don’t try and do Paris in 72 Hours.
Stay for a week, two weeks, hell, stay for a month if you can. Do whatever you need to do to get to know Paris intimately. Breathe in her smells, get drunk on her wine, and fall in love with her art. Don’t do what I did and only plan a measly three days with her. She’s a lady, she deserves more than that.
But, unfortunately, I’m a bit of a tease, and due to crappy scheduling on my part I only gave her a meager 72 hours of my precious time.
Is this personification starting to get creepy? I can never tell.
Anywho, my first time in Paris was a mere taste of what the iconic city has to offer, and as the title of this piece suggests, it felt like the doomsday clock struck midnight when I had to leave. Well, not really, but I can not wait to return!
My Eurobus pulled into Paris Gallieni at 1:30PM and I immediately took the metro to Anvers, in Montmartre. I was woo’ed from the start. As I wrote in my journal that day, “Paris, as has been written about for centuries, has an undeniable charm. It is a beautiful city with a diverse population and an incredible history.”… and then I wrote a little Bordeaux bashing but I’ll eloquently leave that part out.
From Anvers, I walked the ten minutes to my hostel (I stayed at Woodstock Hostel, which, although comfortable enough and totally up my alley in any other setting, was about the most un-Parisian place I could have possibly chosen), dropped off my stuff, then plopped myself down in a diner a few minutes’ jaunt away.
I was in Les Oiseaux for a couple hours, writing in my journal and picking at what was the better part of an entire chicken, before my friend, and tour guide on this mission, Trellawny showed up. Trellawny moved to France from Canada a few years ago when she met her France-born husband, Julien. It was an amazing setup as not only does she know the city well enough to show someone around, she still is new enough to the country to have enjoyed and contributed to an extremely touristy itinerary.
Sacre-Coeur and The Sinking House of Paris
After an awkward attempt at communication with my waitress at Les Oiseaux in which I asked where the Salle de Bain was instead of the Toilette (the room with the shower opposed to the one with the toilet, there is a difference in France), Trellawny took me to our first stop, Sacre-Coeur.
We slowly climbed the many steps up to the cathedral, taking in the increasingly awe-inspiring view as we went. We saw scammers and tourists, businessmen and locals. A smattering of everyone, poised against a most beautiful backdrop.
About halfway up, I noticed a lesser-known tourist site, but a fun one nonetheless. The sinking house of Paris.
I had seen another blogger mention it on their Instagram account a few months prior, and subsequently forgot about it entirely. That is, until I was in Montmartre gazing off into the distance and noticed a house that looked oddly familiar. I cranked my head a little to the right and, voila, there it was, the sinking house.
The house isn’t actually sinking of course, it just sits behind a grassy hill that, when photographed, can be rotated to look as if it is on it’s merry way to China.
Cafe Des Deux Moulins & Moulin Rouge
After a while traipsing around the Sacre Coeur, Trellawny and I headed down the hill to Cafe Des Deux Moulins to meet up with Julien.
If this cafe isn’t familiar to you, then let me explain. Cafe Des Deux Moulins is the cafe made famous by the 2001 French movie Amelie. And although the movie was filmed in over 80 Parisian locations, this cafe carried a great deal of plot significance. Upon entering, it looks like any other cute Montmartre cafe, but upon a closer look, it is evident that Amelie was there.
I ordered French Fries and a glass of red, the latter of which is cheaper than water in France.
Next on the itinerary was the infamous Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge cabaret in the district of Pigalle was originally built in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, and was rebuilt in 1915 after a fire in the original house. Since its inception, the hall has gone from Cabaret to Theatre to Movie Theatre to Music Hall. However, although it has an incredible history no matter the decade, it was in the early Cabaret days that the Moulin Rouge first became notable.
The Cabaret’s were champagne-fueled extravaganza’s in which erotically dressed female dancers would titillate their male clientele with risque dance moves. In fact, it was in this spirit and time that the famous Can Can dance was invented. The going’s-on at these Cabaret’s were stimulating enough to inspire works of notable artists Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Yet, despite its amazing history, all I did was stand outside and take photos. C’est la vie.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery was high on my Parisian to-do list. I’m not ashamed to say that I first clued into the gorgeous burial grounds the moment I found out that The Lizard King, Jim Morrison of The Doors, was buried there. After that day, I began to notice that more of my favorite creatives were too laid to rest there.
However, Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise is worth a visit whether you dig a cemetery or not (See what I did there? I’m the worst.) The tree-lined cemetery gardens are lush and fresh, and the old concrete juxtaposed against the fresh greenery is to die for (Once again, I hate myself.)
Read more about my venture to Pere Lachaise here.
A quick ride on the metro, and Trellawny and I were on to our next tourist attraction, Notre-Dame Cathedral. I’m not going to lie to you, 90% of the reason I wanted to go to Notre-Dame was so I could slip in as many Hunchback of Notre-Dame references as I could muster. The other 10% was because, you know, it’s one of the most gorgeous and historic cathedrals on the planet.
We slipped into the building with not a soul in line ahead of us and I immediately imagined I was at Napoleon’s coronation. Because I do that kind of thing.
Shakespeare and Company
Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise
If you retain any personal information about me at all, please let it be the fact that I love a good bookstore. Like, more than I love record stores – my love is serious. So, it was a given that I had to visit Shakespeare and Company on my first ever trip to Paris, which is just a nifty hop, skip, and a jump away from Notre-Dame.
Shakespeare and Company was originally opened in 1919 by American Sylvia Beach. Though it was originally situated at 8 rue Dupuytren, it moved to a larger space at 12 rue de l’Odéon in 1922. It was at this second location that writers such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and Ezra Pound would gather. However, this second location was closed in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened.
Then, in 1951 George Whitman opened his own bookstore at 37 rue de la Bucherie in the 5th arrondissement. This bookstore was originally called Le Mistral, but was renamed to Shakespeare and Company in 1964 in honor of Sylvia Beach.
Today, Shakespeare and Company sells both new and second-hand books, is a free library, and houses aspiring creatives in exchange for their time helping out at the store. In fact, since it’s opening, the shop has slept more than 30 000 people in the beds tucked between the bookshelves.
I could have spent hours in this bookstore with its creaky floorboards, rich array of literature, and warm atmosphere. And so could the other million people who were there when I was, or so I imagine. Yet, as touristy as Shakespeare and Company is, it is absolutely worth the trek.
And what novel did I buy when I was there, you ask? Oh, just a little something called ‘A Moveable Feast’ by Ernest Hemingway. I’m told that this book will break my indescribable dislike of Hemingway; third time’s a charm right?
Midnight In Paris Steps
If you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge fan of the Lost Generation scene, as well as a huge fan of the movie Midnight In Paris. Like, it’s my favorite Woody Allen film (and probably Irrational Man too but I’ll save my musings about that for another day.)
In Midnight In Paris, a nostalgic-for-the-1920’s young American screenwriter, Gil, takes enchanted late-night walks through the streets of modern day Paris. Around midnight, he sits on the steps of the Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church, and as as the bells chime 12, an old-fashioned car drives up filled with flappers and takes him back in time to the era of which he is so fond.
During his midnight treks through time, Gil meets notable characters such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and even gets Gertrude Stein to read his manuscript.
I may not have been there at midnight, but sitting on these steps was worth a shot, right?
When I first met up with Trellawny, I asked her point blank, “In your honest opinion, which is your favorite art museum in Paris.” The answer, Musee D’Orsay.
Despite my superhero-level ability to pull off extreme touristy adventures (minus the fanny-pack and visor, may I add), I had no real desire to see the Mona Lisa surrounded by pushy foreigners, and I knew that my best art museum experience would be when my guide was in her zone. And in her zone she was.
A die-hard fan of Vincent Van Gogh and all things related, Trellawny took me from painting to painting in Musee D’Orsay spelling out the history behind her favorite pieces, and how they all tied into one another. I learned about the objects in Van Gogh’s paintings and how they related to events from his childhood to his death. I learned about Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and his adventures at the Moulin Rouge. And, as a treat through a special exhibit, I learned about many famous’ artists visual connections with nature – which included pieces by Canadian’s The Group of Seven. It came full-circle.
Although I could easily have set aside an entire day to wander Musee D’Orsay, in the spirit of this trip such a thing was not in the cards for me. Plus, I had a date.
That is, a date with the most iconic structure in all of Paris.
It was all that I imagined and so much more. The grandiosity, the intricacies, the military men with machine guns and the pesky men offering to sell us overpriced wine and roses. I can smell Paris just writing this.
My lovely tour guides.
Cruise of the Siene
After we were done mulling about the Eiffel tower, we were set to experience Paris from a whole different viewpoint, the river.
For 15 euros, we glided along the Siene for an hour, listening to our guide tell us all kinds of interesting things about the architecture around us. And then, just as we were about to pull back onto shore at 10PM, our boat stopped, and all of a sudden the Eiffel tower sparkled like it was lit with 1000 diamonds (apparently it does this every night, but I was definitely not emotionally prepared.)
This river cruise of Paris, taken while curled up in a blanket and listening to the history all around me, was absolutely a highlight of my time in Paris. And seeing the tower sparkle in the night sky was the cherry on top.
Writing at Sacre-Coeur
After the best night’s sleep of my life, I decided I wanted to see what else I could of Paris at a slower pace. So, to start my day, I grabbed my umbrella and headed down the rainy Parisian streets back to Sacre-Coeur, where I spent my morning writing in my journal on one of the many benches.
After a whirlwind day, I used this time to breathe and reflect, which was welcomed before heading out for a more delicious adventure.
As our last get-together before parting ways, Trellawny took me to Pierre Herme for macarons. The best macarons in the city, so said she, and at $7CAD a pop, they definitely lived up to their reputation.
Jardin Des Tuileries
In order to spend some more solitary time in Paris and dive in to my fresh box of goodies, I headed to Jardin Des Tuileries. A gorgeous park set along the Siene and not too far from Pierre Herme. It is located between The Louvre and the Place de la Concorde in the 1st arrondissement of Paris.
The park was first created by Catherine de’ Medici in 1564 as the grounds of the Tuileries Palace, and was subsequently opened to the public in 1667.
Wandering through Tuileries Garden and my near-hour walk thereafter was guiding me in the direction of one thing – the catacombs.
The Parisian catacombs are roughly 300km of underground ossuaries that hold the bones of roughly 6 million people.
In the 18th century, Parisian cemeteries were grossly overpopulated. So much so that improper burials, and unearthed corpses were becoming increasingly common. People who lived near these overcrowded cemeteries began complaining about both the smell emenating from the graves, as well as the spread of diseases an ordeal like this can cause.
In 1786, the catacombs were blessed by the church, allowing for the bones of the dead to be moved into them, and by the end of the French Revolution, people began to be buried in the catacombs directly. The catacombs opened to the public in 1874.
Although the catacombs are 300km maze that stretches beneath Paris, only a small portion of this is open to visitors. And even that small portion is not designed for the claustrophobic among us.
I patiently stood in line for the catacombs for over two hours, and after I got in and paid the fee, I began climbing down the winding staircase that would take me to the crypt. At 20 meters underground, there are many secret entrances to the catacombs around Paris, but the common one takes a staircase and then what felt like 20 minutes of meandering down creepy passageways to get to the burial grounds.
And there was a reason it took two hours for me to get into the Catacombs. The people who run the show space groups out so that visitors are not herded through like cattle. The feeling this gives is nothing less than eerie.
It was unsettling walking through the catacombs; seeing the bodies of 6 million piled on top of each other unmarked. There was no way to discern one pile from the next except for markers telling which cemetery they came from. There was no touching the bones, no graffiti, no disrespect.
When I showed my mom these photos, she was appalled (so like, don’t scroll down if you’re disgusted by photos of bones). And I can understand why, what with the way our ancestors were piled one on top of each other without a care or a name. I was faced with a dilemma walking through, “How long after someone dies does it become okay to put them on display?” One hundred years? Two? I’m not entirely sure what the respectful answer is here, but I can also see the other side of the coin.
The catacombs provide a sobering sense of mortality. After walking though, I felt more alive than ever – this feeling was amplified greater than any normal cemetery could give. In the catacombs, the air hung heavy as if to remind you of the fragile mortal coil from which you come.
Maybe you’d be totally repulsed after walking through the catacombs, or maybe you’d be entirely unaffected. Either way, you can’t deny, this place is not boring.
The End, My Beautiful Friend
Alas, my time in Paris was up, over, fini. I gloomily headed back through the refreshing Parisian rain to Woodstock Hostel, spent a quiet night reading in a cafe, grabbed my belongings, and caught the metro back to the bus station. 72 Hours in Paris, and suddenly it was midnight.
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Have you ever been to Paris? What are some of your favorite hot-spots?