Paris: 7 things that “stuck” after a year

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.

The GRANDNESS

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?

Categories: France | Tags: , , , | 40 Comments

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40 thoughts on “Paris: 7 things that “stuck” after a year

  1. Thanks for the beautiful blog post Caroline. Paris is such an enchanting city.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Paris. Food, sights, fashion, activities… the city scores in everything. Your wonderful photos have brought back many fond memories. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lia! Thanks so much for stopping by and reading my post. I’m glad it brought back good memories. I’m happy you mentioned food and fashion. I focussed on sights, but Paris really does score on many dimensions.

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  3. Caroline, I love the approach you took with this post! It’s so personal and that makes it even more interesting. Like you, I love Paris and have visited many times, but each time I discover something new. I love architecture, but I didn’t know about the Haussmann renovation. That answers so many questions! Thanks for filling my knowledge gaps. 🙂 ~Terri

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  4. wow! My eye was turned by the dining area there at the Musee D’Orsay – I wished I’d known about it! it looks out of this world. I remember I did eat there though, on the second floor, but it wasnt this kind of dining area!

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  5. I feel a bit ashamed to say I have not spent more than a few hours in Paris. Even prior to the pandemic the idea of the huge crowds did not appeal to me. I think your jet lag early morning outing would be a perfect solution. It certainly does look grand and Paris remains on our hope to see list one day.

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    • Don’t be! Honestly, before going I mostly thought of Paris as a staging spot before and after our bike trip. I too didn’t like the idea of a crowded, hectic city. But as I’ve mentioned to others in my comments, Paris exceeded my expectations and there are definitely ways to minimize the frustrations of crowds. Next time, I might even consider going in the really off season (like Alison below)—weather can’t possibly be worse than Vancouver! Hope you get to see it.

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  6. I’ll go with “seductive.” Paris draws me in like few other cities, even when it’s cold or gray or crowded or occasionally unfriendly. I find its attraction irresistible. I have been lucky enough to see Paris quite a few times, and the main benefit of that has been the ability to simply roam and take in all the enchantment without having a set list of “big” things to see. Like you, I relished wandering behind Sacré-Coeur and seeing the Eiffel Tower at odd times or just sticking up in the skyline rather than standing in line to actually get in. The Haussmann architecture, the large and small parks, the bridges – it’s all free and walkable – my favorite characteristics! I’ve taken the lessons I’ve learned about visiting a famous city from my times in Paris, and now I don’t press myself to see the tourist biggies wherever I go; that’s the best way for places to “stick” years after a visit!

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    • Everything you say Lexie rings true for me, and seductive is a great descriptor. I hadn’t done a lot of pre-planning for Paris because I was so focussed on organizing our cycling trip. I think that worked to my advantage as I didn’t have a list of must-sees and was content to mostly roam (and when I got over-zealous, thankfully Mike slowed me down). For some reason, I hadn’t expected Paris to impress me as much as it did (had only been once before in the mid 80s), but it totally seduced me. I too like the fact that you can see/feel so much of Paris by simply walking—without paying a cent, going inside a building or standing in a line. Let’s hope we can both get back to Paris soon.

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  7. My visit to Paris in 2007 was way too short for such a big city. It was mostly cloudy throughout my three-day stay, but even so the city really did impress me with all of its grandeur. I remember walking around was a lot more exhausting than in Vienna, though, thanks to those wide boulevards which later I learned were created to prevent Paris’s streets from being barricaded by its own inhabitants whenever protests erupted. Musée d’Orsay is among the places I want to see the most when I return to this city one day. Back then, I only walked pass it on my way to the Louvre.

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    • Except for a short stay in Paris during my student backpacking days in the 80s, this trip was the only other time I’ve visited Paris (crazy how time flies). I hope it doesn’t take you as long to visit Paris again. I’m sure you will love the Musée d’Orsay. I was impressed with the exhibits, and the building itself is incredible. Those wide boulevards take a lot of extra steps, and as you’ve mentioned they serve purposes other than just to impress. I’m trying to think of other cities that have this magnitude of wide streets in their downtown core. In North America we certainly have the huge multi-lane highways but the inner-city streets tend to be more “normal” size. By the way, I want to get back to beautiful Vienna too.

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  8. Uncool Cycling Club

    Haven’t been yet, but love your angle on it 😎

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am impressed by all that you have managed to see of Paris in just a few days. It’s true that it’s a perfect city for walking, there’s always something to see and be surprised by, even if you know it well. Now Paris has been the capital of France for many centuries with rulers with wide powers, able to impose their views. Great perspectives are not only pretty to the eye, they also make it easier to maintain order during unrest. And this was one of Baron Haussmann’s mandates following all the revolutionary years.

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    • Yes, I’m quite sure walking in Paris would never get boring. You sound like you know a bit about Haussmann. I’m very keen on learning more and would even like to write a post about him and the creation of modern Paris. I find the whole story endlessly fascinating, and as you mention there were definitely military considerations in the planning. Thanks for your comments!

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  10. Oh I did so enjoy this post! It brought back many memories of our time there in February last year – no problem with crowds then! Wonderful photos Caroline, especially the last one for its unique perspective. Finally – if I ever get back to Paris I will be lunching at Musée d’Orsay!
    Alison

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    • Thanks Alison. Yes, I’m sure February is a good time to visit Paris without the crowds. I even noticed a thinning of the masses when we returned after our cycling trip in late September. You should definitely check out the eating options at the Musée d’Orsay. The café is also lovely. I’m glad Mike pushed for the lunch. I tend to get overzealous in my explorations when visiting a new city, but I have to admit that it was very pleasant lingering over lunch.

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  11. What a great place to bookend your cycling trip. As everyone, I love Paris. You’re pictures and stories make me feel like I’m there again. Grand is a great word, I can’t think of a better one, but luxurious or sophisticated come to mind. The morning shot of the Eiffel Tower is priceless. I didn’t know about the history of the Haussmann buildings. It’s funny that people today are complaining, I bet the Old Paris that was torn down (before they were born) was not as lovely as these! The fountain behind Mike is so funny, what was it doing? Maggie

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    • Thanks Maggie! We had a fabulous guide on one of our walking tours who got me turned on to Haussmann—quite the visionary. Change is always challenging. There are plans to “revitalize” our community of Horseshoe Bay. It absolutely needs a facelift but people are stressed about the changes and the inevitable construction frustrations. When all is done, I’m sure it will look fabulous. Funny, I don’t remember the weird statue when we were there but it sure is noticeable on the photo, and the poor thing really does look like he’s unwell.

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  12. Greetings. I’ve been fortunate to have visited Paris several times. The most recent visit was in 2016. What impressed me the most from that trip were the incredible Monet water lily paintings at l’Orangerie museum. They are among the greatest art works I’ve ever seen.

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    • Hi Neil! Thanks for sharing this. We also went to the l’Organerie and I agree that the massive Monet water lily displays are fantastic. We did this right at the end of a very long day and I think we squeezed too much in, plus the museum was super crowded. Next time we will go early in the day to get a better appreciation of these masterpieces.

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  13. I really enjoyed reading this! I feel like all anyone ever talks about in Paris is the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, so I don’t know much else about the city. This was a fun tour!

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    • I’m glad you liked the post Diana. I was in the Louvre years ago and honestly I was completely overwhelmed by its size. I much more enjoyed the Musee d’Orsay, which was more manageable, and we limited ourselves to select exhibit rooms (live and learn). I discovered too on this trip that I much preferred just wandering and taking in the sights as opposed to checking off the “must see” attractions. Even if you don’t go inside one museum/church or climb to the top of a monument, Paris is awesome to just look at.

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  14. Great photos and wonderful memories. We were in Paris the last week of August in 2019. We have pretty much the same photos as you do. One thing that stood out for us was doing a bike tour. We covered a lot of ground in 3 hrs. We now add a bike tour to every place that we visit. Like you we walked a lot as well, over 25 miles in 4 days! Great post!

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    • Thanks guys! We might have walked by you in Paris. I believe we arrived on Aug 29, stayed a few days, and then visited again at the end of September. Very cool that you did a bike tour. We did this in London and thoroughly enjoyed it. Walking/biking are such great ways to see a new place and there’s no guilt about a little extra food and wine.

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  15. This brings back such fond memories of when we were in Paris nearly a decade ago. I’m glad you decided to make a post about it and highlight your favourite memories and moments. Paris does have a lot of parks and public spaces, and Jardin du Luxembourg was one of our favourites too.

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    • I’m glad my post brings you good memories of your own trip to Paris. Isn’t Jardin de Luxembourg amazing? We couldn’t get over the size of it and the flower gardens are stunning. I also like that there are so many pleasant seating options around the ponds. Here’s to dreaming about Paris!

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  16. Some great memories and photos you’ve shared here!

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  17. EC

    Thanks for sharing these amazing shots!!! You really captured an amazing view from Pont Alexandre III !!! My last trip before all the lockdowns started was a weekend gateaway to Paris and I ended up walking some twenty kilometers on a Saturday…It was so peaceful for me. So I think I’m going to go with the word “peace” for defining the city:)

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    • What a great word! As I was writing my post it also occurred to me that despite all the visitors and the busyness of a big city, it did feel peaceful to walk through Paris. Pont Alexandre III is so beautiful. I kept on wanting to walk across (think I drove my husband nuts). It’s nice that you have this pre-lockdown memory of Paris. Thanks so much for visiting.

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