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Published: June 27th 2019
Tips for traveling in Paris:
1. Download the Paris Metro app - so helpful
2. Do not do Paris when the temperature is in the 90s.
Our first "real" Grand Tour stop was Paris. I had been to Paris twice before but never during high tourist season or when the weather was predicted to climb into the 90s and 100s. This is true of all major tourist cities, but if you can plan your visit not during the summer months, do it. Not only is it tourist season, but France is also hosting the FIFA Women's Wold Cup and starting to prepare for the 2024 Olympics. If Paris is in your travel plans soon, definitely use the Paris Metro app and plan for construction and crowds.
Our first day and a half were was spent with my mom's foreign exchange brother, Ollie, and his family. We enjoyed a lovely meal at their home on our first night, and the next afternoon had lunch at Bouillon Chartier. This restaurant has been in operation since 1896 and serves fast, decently priced meals. The waitstaff like to joke with you - though it helps to understand French or
eat with someone who does - and they keep track of the orders and bill on the paper laid over the tablecloth. The decor hasn't changed in over 100 years, so the atmosphere is also very nice. If you are looking for a nice restaurant that won't break the bank and still serves traditional Parisian fare, take a look at Bouillon Chartier.
After lunch, we explored the area around Sacre Coeur, the large, white basilica overlooking the Montmartre district. While most of Paris is flat, this district is not, so be prepared for some uphill. This area is home to the Moulin Rouge and was - and still is - the artist's quarter. If you wish to buy original art or have your portrait done, the Place du Tertre is the square to look for. There is still one vineyard left - the only vineyard left in the Ile-de-France area if I understand correctly - and it can be seen here.
The next two days were 90+ degrees, which is never good for sight-seeing. There was plenty of shade most places we visited/walked, but no breeze at all. We tackled the Eiffel Tower first. If you intend to
climb the stairs to the second floor - cheaper and really not a bad climb - you cannot reserve tickets online, so get there early (ticketing opens at 9:00). The day we visited, there was a technical problem with at least one of the elevators to get to the second floor, so stairs was the only way up unless you had reserved tickets. The Eiffel tower was perhaps not the best choice of an attraction for a family that has issues with heights and enclosed spaces, but it is a must-visit when in Paris for the first time, as was the case with everyone with me. It is also the 130th year of the Eiffel Tower, which is very impressive since the tower was only supposed to stand for 20 years. We made it to the second floor without any issues, but I knew it would be the top floor that would be the worst for my mother, as she has the strongest aversion to heights. I am no fan of heights myself, but I generally do fine as long as I don't look straight down or stand on the very edge. To get to the top, a glass-sided elevator
is taken, and then on the very top, the sides of the tower are not glass/plastic enclosed but have only wire grating. Also at the top is a room that Gustave Eiffel built to welcome important guests - wax-him sits in there with wax-Thomas Edison and Eiffel's wax-daughter. We got mom away from the center enough to take a picture and then worked our way down.
We then made our way across the city to the Louvre - no going in this time - and then to Notre Dame. Having seen the church before, it was terribly sad to see it now - no spire, no roof behind the towers, and the public completely blocked from getting close. Very tired and very, very, sweaty, we decided to head back to our apartment to refresh ourselves before heading to the FIFA Women's World Cup match between Canada and Sweden. The match was held at Parc des Princes stadium, which is a great stadium because we were as high up as you could go and still had a great view and felt close to the action. The match was great fun with Sweden winning 1-0.
Our final day in Paris
was mostly spent at the Catacombs, but before going there, my cousin and I hoped to see Lafayette's grave. Unfortunately, the historical society or group that cares for the cemetery only has it open from 2:00-4:00, so we were unable to go in - very disappointing. So, the Catacombs. Unless I am remembering things incorrectly from my previous visit, this has become a much more popular attraction. I recall having trouble finding the Catacombs and being one of like 5 visitors there when I did find it. Oh how things change in 8 years. You can buy tickets online in advance - these are timestamped and cost 29 euro, which I find absolutely ridiculous since a regular ticket is 13 euro and a ticket with an audioguide is 18 euro. However, when we arrived, the line was two hours long - better than the four hour line in the morning we later heard - so I can see how some people would be willing to pay 29 euro to skip the wait. Obviously, we were not alone in thinking the online price was too steep. So we waited and drank water and drank more water. Once inside we descended the
spiral staircase down into the Catacombs. The Catacombs were originally a quarry for the stone that built many of Paris's buildings and monuments - like Notre Dame - and were only turned into catacombs in the late 1780s when several of the Paris cemeteries that had been in operation since the Middle Ages became too full and unsanitary - Trinite Cemetery reported "unsanitary conditions, foul odors, and moving of corpses" according to one of the signs in the catacombs. I hope the "moving of corpses" refers to the bodies being moved from their original graves for medical purposes or people just moving them to create more space, not zombies... In 2014, a new section of the Trinite Cemetery was uncovered and has since provided more insight into the health and living conditions of people in the mid- to late-1300s. Most of the bones you can see are skulls, and the straight bones from arms and legs. Any of the smaller bones were piled behind the decorative arrangement of bones, memorial plaques, and plaques carved with quotations about death and mortality.
Later that night, we were to board a Flixbus to Amsterdam from Paris Bercy Seine station. I hope it
is not generally like this for the sake of all bus travelers but it was pure chaos that night. None of the Flixbus buses appeared on the schedule screen - causing at least one group to miss their bus - and the Flixbus representative to run back and forth yelling out bus numbers and trying to guide passengers to the correct bus. All of the drivers were fielding questions they had no answers to. We had to make regular passes through the station and check every bus coming in and we still only made our bus because I followed two bicyclists who the Flixbus representative was helping find the bus to Amsterdam. Our driver, though, was pretty hilarious - definitely more good humored than the rest of us boarding that bus.
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