The allure of Paris never pulled particularly strong on my heart-strings. I figured it was pleasant and easy to enjoy, but in reality a little fluffed up, and dare I say overrated. The Pumpkin Spice Latte of Europe, if you will. After a six-day getaway, however, I’m happy to report my inclination was wrong and Paris is worth the hype.
It all started earlier this year, when my parents announced they were coming to visit. While I was really excited to show them around the Netherlands, their arrival was also a great excuse for planning an excursion, and with a Parisian photo assignment on the books, the time was right for the City of Light. After a few Dutch-days with the family, JP and I hopped on the high speed Thalys to Paris…
Three hours after departing from Rotterdam, we arrived at Paris Nord, greeted by my parents. We immediately hopped on the metro toward Montmartre - a vibrant, bustling, artsy and touristy district in the northern section the metropolis. Montmartre is home to the landmark Sacré-Cœur, a Roman Catholic Church situated atop one of the largest hills in the city. The district also has a rich artistic history, with icons like Dali, Monet, Picasso, Mondrian and van Gogh having lived or worked there.
Emerging from the metro, I was blown away by the speed, efficiency and volume of the French Subway system. Seeing a map for the first time was intimidating, but after a bit of studying, it is very self-explanatory and easy way to get around (the rumors are true!). The ascent towards Sacré-Cœur was a visual treat. It began with iconic, white buildings lined with ornate balconies and the occasional red door, and as we approached the outskirts, shops and restaurants appeared in ultramarine and light coral colors. Once at the foot of Montmartre, we climbed over 300 steps to Sacré-Cœur (for those of you less than thrilled with a little exercise, there is a funicular). From here, we enjoyed a spectacular view of Paris and seeing the iconic cathedral up close was stunning – be warned, however, it is crowded (and for good reason). At this point we were getting hungry with a hankering for moules frites (mussels and fries) and headed down Rue Norvins to Le Consulat Restaurant, where the waiters were just the right amount of sassy and I tasted what might have been the best beer ever (a blonde that I wish I’d taken note of). Don’t tell anyone, but I also commandeered several packets of herbed mayonnaise because I couldn’t help myself. I’m saving them for the next time we eat fries.
With bright and colorful buildings, lively street vendors, an ocean of tourists and more cafés than would ever be necessary, this 5-minute walk felt like being on the set of a movie (and it apparently has been, many times). I wish we’d had more time here to lost while getting acquainted with the plethora of bakeries and cafés.
As the sun set, we finished off our second round of rosé and beer, our mussels and fries were long gone and it was time to turn in to our villa near Disneyland Paris.
The Villa was our home base for the first three nights. While the terrain is beautiful and the villa offered ultimate relaxation, the location is not incredibly lively – which is quite a contrast to infectious energy of Paris. Having a taste of the culture from day one, after half a day of reading and taking photos, restlessness to explore hit hard so JP and I took a bus from Marne la Vallé-Chessy (the train/bus station for Disneyland Paris). We were both astonished that this hour long bus ride was only €2, which is comparable to the ride from our Villa to the station!
The journey to Provins was gorgeous and a wonderful opportunity to see the French countryside. With fall in full swing, we passed countless patches of deciduous woods at the height of their seasonal glory. Changing leaves aside, the scenery reminded me quite a bit of parts of California – like flatter version of the Temecula or Paso Robles scattered with antiquated cities and homes.
Once we reached Provins, it felt like being on a movie set but in a completely opposite sense of Montmartre. Rather than walking into a situation with bustling vitality and momentum, Provins is like walking into a museum town, as if the town was frozen hundreds of years ago and modern people just adapt to that paradigm. For reference, I’ve had this same feeling visiting Hearst Castle and California Missions (logical, as all three are built around the concept of preservation).
The architecture and land were picturesque. We didn’t have much of a schedule (ie no schedule) so we just wandered around for about three hours stopping to take photos of random neighborhoods and landmarks like Caesar’s Tower and Saint-Quiriace de Provins. We had a light lunch were I experienced my first café diabolo (for those of you who don’t know, I work for a company based on this beverage) – I chose grenadine and it reminded quite a bit of a Shirley Temple. After lunch we were ready to get back to the villa for wine, cheese, prosciutto and baguettes (side note, I’ve never experienced so many alcohol, cheese and jambon (ham) selections as were available our local grocery store). While experiencing the beauty and history of Provins proved to be an enriching, I was sooo excited to get back to Paris the following day.
Tomorrow, in Part Two, I’ll take you all over the city, highlighting some of the major landmarks as wells as a few hidden gems.