As some of you will recall, Mike and I did a cycling trip in Brittany and Normandy in September 2019. That trip was bookended by several days in Paris. I hadn’t written about the French capital figuring that the blogging universe doesn’t need another “what to do in Paris” post. But I can’t shake Paris from my daydreams. And now, more than a year after our trip, the same images keep surfacing. This gave me an idea for a post. Instead of my usual approach of combing through my travel notes and photos, this post is inspired by my daydreams. It’s a collection of moments, impressions and learnings that have stuck with me from our time in Paris.
The Eiffel Tower at dawn
Sometimes jet lag can be helpful. The nine hour time difference between Vancouver and Paris had Mike and me awake when we should have been asleep. We decided to take advantage of our predicament and set out from our little hotel in the 16th arrondissement in the pitch black of early morning. It was a short walk to the Place du Trocadéro, the famous viewing platform across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The normally jam-packed square was deserted. We waited patiently. As the sun started to rise, the golden statues around the square came to life, and the iconic monument and a lone custodian were framed in shades of pink, orange, purple and blue.
Lunch at the Musée d’Orsay
Don’t get me wrong. One should visit this wonderful museum for more than lunch. The museum contains the largest collection of Impressionist masterpieces in the world. It is housed in a former railway station: the Gare d’Orsay, built in Beaux Arts style—this in itself is reason to visit. But lunch in the main dining room is what I remember most. We felt like royalty sitting underneath the frescoed ceiling and dazzling chandeliers in a grand, statue-filled room. It was a superb midday indulgence. The food was great, and surprisingly, the bill was reasonable (for Paris).
Walking, walking and more walking
It’s not difficult to get in your recommended 10,000 daily steps in Paris (most days we were closer to 30,000). We walked along the Seine, over exquisite bridges, down grand boulevards, through chic neighbourhoods, past impressive monuments, along bohemian side streets and through stunning gardens. Paris is an eminently walkable city. When we got tired we jumped on the Paris Métro.
One short promo: I highly recommend Discover Walks. They offer fun, informative walks for free (by donation) through many Paris neighbourhoods.
The back view of the Sacré-Coeur
Sacré-Coeur Basilica, sitting on top of Montmartre hill, is one of Paris’s most striking landmarks. The view of Sacré-Coeur from the front is majestic, but it’s a busy place with visitors jostling to take photos and long queues to peek inside the church. It was all a little off-putting until we walked around to the back and found a small park. The serenity and greenery provided the perfect environment for taking in the incredible structure.
Side note: If you visit Sacré-Coeur, take time to stroll through the charming Montmartre neighbourhood. Its cobbled streets, arty boutiques and bohemian cafes are an interesting contrast to other parts of Paris. Be warned though, it’s busy.
The Haussmann renovation
During our wanderings through Paris I was continually impressed with the graceful uniformity of its cream-coloured apartment buildings and the grand nature of its boulevards and public spaces. It was not until one of our walking tours that I learned about Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the man responsible for the “renovation of Paris” between 1853 and 1870. Paris’s old infrastructure could no longer handle the growing population. Haussmann was essentially given carte blanche by Napoleon III to demolish much of the city and start fresh. You can imagine that this stirred up a lot of discontent, and even today some bemoan the destruction of parts of “old Paris.” But what a makeover! The Haussmann renovation is synonymous with the creation of modern-day Paris and is, in a large part, what makes the city so unique, so aesthetically pleasing, and so grand.
What I would give to do a Haussmann renovation on the miles of ugly strip malls in many North American cities!
The public spaces/gardens
Downtown Paris is a busy place and all that walking and gawking is exhausting. The city has many beautiful public spaces—large and small. We gratefully rested in many of them. My personal favourites were the enormous Jardin du Luxembourg, with its manicured gardens and ponds; the lovely Place des Vosges, hidden in the chic Marais neighbourhood; and the Jardin des Tuileries, smack in the middle of big attractions and a great people-watching spot.
You’ve probably noticed me using the word grand a lot. It is the defining word for me when I think of Paris. While Haussmann is the architect of much grandness, there are imposing monuments, buildings and bridges that pre-and-post date his efforts. There is no escaping grandness in Paris. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, though you really need to go there to experience the splendidness of Paris.
Have you been to Paris? Do you have an overriding memory of Paris? A defining word for the city?