I travel on the Eurostar quite often for work so I have joined their frequent traveller programme, which opens you up to a whole bunch of interesting special deals and flash sales. One of these happened November last year and I managed to bag return tickets to Paris for Mr O and I for only £40 each! Of course with that kind of ticket there are always limited times when you can actually travel so I ended up booking for the middle of the week just for a quick one night visit. I haven’t been to Paris for ten years so it was all really exciting.
We arrived at Gare du Nord, Paris’s biggest mainline station at about 4pm. There was a massive queue for travel tickets so we decided to walk down to our hotel in the Latin Quarter. It took about 45 minutes but it gave us an interesting look at the city and we got to take a couple of pictures of Saint Jacques Tower en route. The Gothic tower is almost 600 years old and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998.
We stayed in the Hotel Agora Saint Germain, a cute, cosy little hotel really close to the Notre Dame, which was our first stop once we’d dumped our bags.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most well-known Paris landmarks and considered one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture. The Cathedral is free to visit but as it is a functioning church one is expected to be silent and respectful indoors. While the outside is pretty impressive the inside is even more amazing, filled with some of the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen as well as many interesting statues. My favourite was one of Joan of Arc.
Of course once you’re outside you can pretend that you own the place and pose on one of these bollards. Although be warned they’re not that easy to climb on and if you’re as clumsy as I am you might end up with some serious shin bruises #justsaying.
By this time it was starting to get dark and we were getting hungry so we wandered in towards the Louvre and found a cafe for coffee and a snack. Mr O went straight in for a salami baguette and I picked a traditional crepe with butter, sugar and lemon. It was delicious.
On the way back we passed Hôtel de Ville, the Paris town hall, which had an ice rink set up outside. As everyone knows, Paris was the victim of a terrorist act a couple of weeks ago and the town hall was still wearing it’s Nous Sommes Charlie banners. It was really touching to see.
It was freezing so we headed back to the hotel to warm up a bit before dinner. There were loads of generic restaurants near our hotel but we wanted something a bit more authentic so we headed down a few side roads until we found, Beaurepaire Café Restaurant which serves traditional Basque food. While everyone claims that Parisian service is terrible and everyone is really rude, we found our servers to be charming and the food was delicious. Mr O had pork and I had a stew that contained the best duck leg I have ever had, a giant country sausage, bacon and vegetables. We couldn’t resist finishing off with some traditional French cheese which was gloriously stinky and served with unlimited fresh bread. Like everything in Paris it wasn’t cheap but it still felt like good value for money.
In the morning we headed to the Paris Opera House to join the walking tour we had booked in advance, through Discover Tours. Because we had limited time we went for the Paris Landmarks tour. In the end we were the only ones who turned up. Our guide, Astrid, suggested that it was probably because it was the middle of the week and 0 degrees. We weren’t complaining though because it was great to get a private tour.
Astrid, who was born and raised in Paris showed us around some of the city’s most famous sites while sharing tidbits about the French revolution and Paris’ place as a centre of culture throughout history. The most interesting part was learning more about the Parisian spirit and how the residents of the city mounted several rebellions against anyone and everyone who tried to control them regularly tearing down and rebuilding their own landmarks. She showed us some of Paris’ most opulent shopping areas and hotels as well as the Tuileries, The Louvre Palace and the Eiffel Tower… which was built as a temporary installation for a technology fare. Parisians hated it and it was supposed to be torn down but it never was and has become Paris’ most famous landmark.
After the tour we stopped off for lunch before heading to Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, which was the one place Mr O desperately wanted to visit in Paris. The cemetery was built in 1804 on the site of a former Jesuit retreat and is today one of the world’s largest and most famous cemeteries. It houses the graves and monuments of a number of famous artists, scientists, writers and inventors including Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, which we particularly wanted to visit. Wild’s grave is a popular site for pilgrimages and so many people have kissed his monument that a glass barrier has been erected around it to prevent it from being eroded. Whether you are interested in particular graves or not, the cemetery is a fascinating place to visit and some of the monuments are spectacular. Below are some of my favourites.
By the time we had finished investigating the cemetery it was almost time to head back to Gare du Nord but not before we found a patisserie to buy some snacks for the journey back. After all Paris is known for it’s amazing bakeries and cakes so it just wouldn’t be right not to indulge.
Although our time in Paris was very brief, Mr O and I loved our trip and wouldn’t definitely go back again – next time probably in Summer or Autumn because it was so cold! I still want to see Versailles, make a return to Musee d’Orsay, check out Musee Rodin and many more. Several people warned us about the rudeness and arrogance of Parisians but we found everyone to be friendly and welcoming but focused in the way that people in a big city generally are. It definitely helps though if you can muster a teeny bit of French and not assume that people speak English, so get out the phrase book and brush up before you leave!