They say that you can’t choose your family, but if I could … I’d choose my mom, obviously. She’s caring and thoughtful, she’s stylish and intelligent, she’s well travelled and informative and… she took me to Paris for my birthday and Christmas gift combo this year. She also took me to New York two years ago as the same type of celebratory event – but that’s a story for another time.
My knowledge of Paris was limited and gleaned primarily from movies, pop culture and hearsay. I knew the city was supposedly glamorous and beautiful, but ask someone to define for you why and you’ll find them at a loss for the right words or rambling on for hours – I am proud to be one of the latter.
I adored the movie Anastasia when I was a little girl and there’s a scene when Dimtri takes Ana to Paris that my mind recalls when trying to summarize all things Paris. You can watch that scene here but don’t blame me when you can’t get the chorus out of your head. As you may have noticed, I love movies and Moulin Rouge is another of my favourites – it’s romantic, a musical and stars Ewan McGregor, so what’s not to love? I’m not ashamed to admit that most of my desire to visit the City of Lights came from this film. But enough babbling about what I thought and why I wanted to go… it finally happened.
We flew WOW Air to Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris with a stopover at Keflavik, Iceland. WOW Air was definitely affordable but there were several delays on the way there and on the way back, so prepare yourself for this if you plan on flying WOW.
The concept of time zones has always messed with my head a bit. Take our trip for example, we flew forward in time. I’m not in a sci-fi film or a futuristic romance novel but yet I’ve managed to take a trip to earlier in the day than my boyfriend back in Toronto – it’s weird.
We took a car from the airport in Paris and after a less than scenic car ride, which I spent with my nose pressed to the window trying to absorb the culture and class of Paris in a 40 minute drive through side streets. We arrived at our hotel and took a quick nap and then, it was straight to the Eiffel Tower! (We don’t waste any time).
Seeing the Eiffel Tower was surreal, which is a word I’ll struggle not to repeat in this post as you’ll come to see. It’s HUGE! And so intricate at the same time. The design and creation of the tower gives the impression of a massive metal structure seemingly made of lace.
Somewhere along the line I developed a fear of high, open spaces – which is a pretty rationale fear for a mammal that can’t fly and is subject to gravity, so please don’t make fun of me – so going to the top of the Eiffel Tower when it was cold and rainy was a bit of a challenge. The view of Paris from the top is phenomenal. One of my favourite parts of the architecture in Paris is that in 1977, the city enforced a height restriction on buildings so most of the structures in Paris are the same height, allowing you to gaze at the winding avenues of alleyways and roads obstruction-free. It’s a maze of cafes, culture and creativity everywhere you look.
After the Eiffel Tower, we had our first “brasserie” experience, which is essentially a bar or restaurant. I ordered a cheese penne dish and was surprised to find it was LITERALLY cheese and penne, an insanely rich concoction of five different types of luxurious cheese. A bit TOO rich for my taste but that was a sign of things to come from the cuisine in France. But the wine! Oh, the wine. I don’t think I had one meal without at least a glass of wine, and if that’s not a vacation, I don’t know what is.
Petite dejeuner was the first meal of the day and consisted of a baguette, toast, coffee and orange juice. Starch-heavy, but delicious.
Next up was a walk to some sights that weren’t included in our Paris Pass (a touristy one-stop shop ticket to a bunch of attractions) including Shakespeare & Co, a famous bookstore just off the Seine, Luxembourg Gardens and Paris’ network of incredible bridges.
Our next official sightseeing stop was the Catacombs of Paris, a winding tunnel of paths bordered by intricate displays of bones that were transferred there from overflowing cemeteries in the late 1700s. The result is chilling. The remains of 6 million souls are stacked for the passerby to appreciate and revere.
Later that evening, we took trip on the Bateaux Mouches, a night-time cruise of the Seine where you can view Paris’ most iconic structures and attractions from the water. It was chilly but I really love boat tours so getting my bearings in such a wistful and romantic way early in our trip was perfect!
We jumped on my absolute favourite, most touristy thing to do in every major city – the famous Hop-On, Hop-Off bus! Bear with me here hipster-ish, I-want-to-explore-the-city-and-discover-it-for-myself-types! I have a mediocre to above-average sense of direction. The reason I love the Hop-On, Hop-Off is that it’s an incredibly easy way to get your bearings in a new place, while seeing the Coles Notes version of the best attractions without stressing about driving, cabbing or taking transit to figure it out. After a loop on the Hop-On, Hop-Off I have a solid idea of the location of the Eiffel Tower in relation to The Louvree, the Grand Palais in relation to D’Orsay and all while relaxing on an open top bus, zipping through the city bundled up in a hat and scarf, completely stress-free. You can figure out which attractions you want to see in more detail, and where you have to venture to get to them. If that doesn’t convince you of the benefits of the Hop-On, Hop-Off, I’m sorry I let you down but at least I know which direction Notre Dame is from the Champs D’Elysse.
Our third day was amazing because of an elaborate scheme, months in the making that was put into action. A London-based friend of my mom’s, Graham, had contacted me a few months prior to tell me he wanted to surprise her when we were in Paris. He’d told her that he simply could not get away from work to make the trip down to meet up with us and I could tell whenever she mentioned it that she was really disappointed it couldn’t work out. So we formed a plan to surprise her at lunch by telling her I was meeting a friend of MINE before we went to the Garnier Opera house. The look on my mom’s face when Graham walked up the stairs at the restaurant instead of my fake friend was as priceless as the speechlessness that followed.
Graham shares a love of The Phantom of the Opera with our family so he was thrilled to join us for a very educational tour of the Garnier Opera House, the building the famous musical was based on. We saw the box where the Phantom was said to have sat and the elaborate staircase where the well-to-do would see and be seen in a more golden age.
After Opera Garnier, we visited Galleries Lafayette which for us Canadians is like The Bay, if The Bay was for millionaires and required a Black Amex to buy a coffee. Joking aside, this place is crazy impressive and puts our department stores to shame. We ascended what felt like 72 escalators to the rooftop terrace at the absolute PERFECT time. The sun was setting over the city with a flawless view of the Eiffel Tower and well, you know what they say about pictures:
After our beautiful sunset viewing party, Graham had to head back to England but I was so happy to have met him and helped him organized the surprise of the century for my mom. My mom and I headed to the Champs D’Elysse. Our next grand idea was to go on the massive Ferris Wheel, which if you’ve been paying attention goes against my completely rationale and totally normal fear or high, open places. The view was incredible and I managed not to cry at the top, so in my mind it was a huge success!
The Champs D’Elysse is transformed into a massive Christmas market in December, so we spent some time browsing the shops and sat down for an amazing dinner to warm up with some mulled wine and mussels.
Next up, I thought: Hey! The Arc D’Triomphe is right down the street, we should walk there. Spoiler alert, it looked like it was right down the street, when in fact it was a 30-40 minute walk because the Arc is MASSIVE and further than the human eye can tell. When we got to the Arc, we were miffed to see that it had closed early for an impromptu performance of Macbeth, beneath the arches. At least the actors had full costumes and their performance was only slightly marred by the fact they read their lines from smartphones!
The fourth day of our trip was the best because I got to fulfill the dream I didn’t know I had, to spend my day in museums. The Louvre was my favourite place we went in Paris, it took my breath away, moved me and made me feel so surreal (I warned you I’d say it again) to see some of the world’s most famous art in-person. We also visited L’Orangerie and D’Orsay which were unique and wonderful in their own ways but The Louvre took the cake for me. The photos below are from all three museums.
We were given a second chance for the Hop-On, Hop-Off when we realized they had never scanned our passes the first day. What a time to be alive! We took the bus to Notre Dame Cathedral which was beautiful, I’m not even sure how people can build something so magnificently massive but also detailed.
From there we took a trip on my favourite bus to Montmatre to explore the neighbourhood of the Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge is surrounded by a very sexy neighbourhood full of sexy things, specifically stores that sell sex things. But a little further up the hill, the neighbourhood transitions to more artsy and eclectic with shops and restaurants that have more character than most movies.
We also visited Sacre Coeur at the top of Montmatre, which is another stunning cathedral overlooking the city of Paris.
Our last big dinner in Paris was at La Fermette Marbeauf, a very swanky restaurant where we had a three-course meal with a half bottle of wine each as part of a package deal with The Crazy Horse. The Crazy Horse is a burlesque club with a very sensual production full of dancing and not full of clothing. After dinner we made the trip to the club and were served a big bottle of champagne. The show was amazing and very entertaining, the champagne was also amazing and very entertaining, TOO entertaining in fact. Little did I know, champagne in France is much more potent than champagne here in Canada. And so ended my glamourous trip to Paris as the next day I had quite a rough time as a result of all the fun I had the night before!
Paris was breathtaking and classy and blew me away. I knew I’d love it, but I didn’t know it would steal my heart. I can’t wait to get back soon.
Paris was Loved, Actually.