After a way too brief two days in Paris in 2015, I added five days in the city to 2016’s summer itinerary. It was a decidedly less local experience this time, since I wasn’t sleeping in a gorgeous church this time around, but I knew I needed more time to see the city. I wanted this trip to be more about random wandering and pretending to be Parisian, because yes I am obsessed with Paris just like everyone else. To be totally honest, it wasn’t as amazing as I had anticipated. There were amazing moments and perfect days, but I was just down in the dumps for some of the trip.
I think it was caused by not really meeting anyone – usually, I arrive in a city and decide whether I want to experience it alone or with people. If I want friends, like I did in Paris, generally I just find them. That sounds weird to say, but there is nowhere better than a hostel for making a friend. This time though, I just couldn’t. I did hang out with some people I had met in Edinburgh (more on that later) but my hostel was very antisocial and my room was full of a rotation of vaguely creepy 30-something guys and pairs of American friends travelling together. Nobody clicked!
I pride myself on never getting lonely and loving being solo, but there are some days when you just need girl talk. I was lonely. Also, it was raining. Which is the worst.
However, it’s hard to have a bad time in Paris. I think a lot of first-time visitors are taken aback by how grungy Paris can be. It’s a massive city and sure, it can be dirty and crowded and overwhelming, but it’s still possible to find somewhere that gives you that feeling of “Oh my god I’m in Paris.” These are my five favourite places in Paris, and the places where I get that special Paris feeling. (How many times can I say Paris in one paragraph?) Also, I probably could have written an entire post about each of these places, so this blog post is insanely long. Sorry.
One day at university, flipping through a Paris guidebook instead of doing anything legitimately productive, I saw the words Phantom of the Opera and I’m sure I gasped. I LOVE musicals, and particularly Phantom, so when I read that you could go see the ‘setting’ of the story (despite it being fictional) I knew I would be doing just that. You can book a spot on a guided tour in French or English for €15.50, or €11 with a student ID.
I sometimes like to go on French tours (I did at the Opera House in Budapest) because the groups are often smaller and the language practice is awesome, but this time the timing of English worked out better. I must say my tour guide’s English abilities left a lot to be desired – I think I spoke French better than she spoke English.
You can also get into the Opera House without a tour, but you still have to pay €11 (€7 for students) so I figured the tour would probably be worth it for 4 Euros more. I was totally right – like I said, my main reason for going was to hear about the Palais Garnier’s connection to the Phantom of the Opera, and my guide did a great job of telling us about it. For example, did you know that a chandelier actually did fall and kill somebody and there actually is an underwater lake?
During the construction of the building, rumours were swirling about everything that kept going wrong with the construction – Gaston Leroux grew up hearing these rumours, and they inspired his famous story.
Even if you’re not obsessed with the Phantom of the Opera, the building is absolutely breathtaking. My neck was sore for days from straining to look at the incredible ceiling in the auditorium.
If I had visited the Galeries Lafayette when I was 16 or 17, I would have been in heaven. This was during the peak of my shopping addiction, when I shudder to think how much money I spent on crap that I don’t even have anymore.
I’m so glad I started travelling and found this much more worthwhile outlet for spending my money – so when I visited the Galeries Lafayette, I barely even looked at the gorgeous items on offer. I was there for the architecture and the view from the terrace! The first time I went, I actually completely forgot to see the terrace because I was so distracted by how gorgeous la coupole (the dome) was – it’s covered in stained glass and is worth fighting through the crowds of shoppers to view from multiple levels.
I went back to my hostel and immediately realized I had forgotten the main attraction. The next day, I worked my way back to the 9th Arrondissement and made a beeline to the terrace. And oh my god was it worth the extra trip. Now there are a lot of places to get incredible views of Paris, but a lot of them are expensive, crowded, or both. The view from this terrace, however, is completely free, and one of the prettiest I’ve seen.
And the best part? It’s practically empty. I was there on a gorgeous sunny day in May and there were only 10 other people there.
THE BANKS OF THE SEINE
One night in Paris, I met up with two other Canadian girls I had gone on a pub crawl with in Edinburgh for some more adventures. Along with a few of their friends, we had an amazing night in the Latin Quarter partying the night away and finally giving me my first taste of Parisian nightlife.
But before we ventured out to any bars, we grabbed some wine and found a spot on the banks of the Seine to chat and drink. It smelled a little bit like pee and I was chilly, but it couldn’t have been more perfect. Sitting and laughing with brand new friends on the riverbanks of one of the most magical cities in the world, I couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome life was at that moment.
Around 2AM we decided to head out from the Latin Quarter. Everyone else was staying nearby, but my hostel in Montmartre was going to be a struggle to get back to with the subways not running anymore. In hindsight, Paris obviously has night buses, and I’m sure they’re not that hard to figure out, but at the time I really wanted to walk home. How long was the walk home, you ask? Almost two hours.
It may not have been the best idea to walk home alone at 2AM in Paris, but I never felt unsafe and I knew the way. The way the buildings sparkled at night was just breathtaking and strangely, these were two of the most peaceful and beautiful hours of my life. I know Paris isn’t the safest city in the world (sorry Mom, but I’m fine!!) but ah well. I did it, and I would do it again.
THE EIFFEL TOWER AT NIGHT
It’s definitely worth going to see the Eiffel Tower in the daytime (best views any time of day are from Trocadero), but it is infinitely more magical at night. It’s always crowded, but at night it’s easier to pretend you’re all on your own and the Eiffel Tower is glittering just for you.
My last night in Paris I was feeling a bit disheartened about the city, so I treated myself to a glorious Italian dinner, at a restaurant with great ratings three blocks from the Eiffel Tower, which was somehow empty. The waiter turned out to be an owner and was one of the kindest people I’ve encountered in Paris. We spoke a mix of French and Italian and the food (and obligatory wine) was amazing. I read my book, caught up on my journal, and soaked up the atmosphere.
When I finally motivated myself to leave, I timed my exit perfectly to catch the Eiffel Tower’s first light show of the evening. From sunset to 1AM, every hour on the hour the tower puts on a sparkly show and it’s still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Everybody gasped in unison as the first glow started and for five minutes, I couldn’t take my eyes away. There was nothing particularly special about this night (except that you know, I was in Paris) but everything lined up for one of those serendipitous feelings of happiness that lasts for days.
SACRE COEUR IN THE EARLY MORNING
During my first trip to Paris, we visited Sacre Coeur, the basilica watching over Paris from Montmartre (I wrote about it here) and I fell in love. When I was trying to decide where to stay this time around, I pretty much never considered anywhere other than Montmartre. Because it’s so awesome, the neighborhood is also very touristy and I knew I wanted the chance to experience it while the world was still waking up, and after dark – when it might feel a bit more like the literature and art hub of centuries past.
I made the right choice. I’m generally a morning person, so for several of my days in the trip I got up before sunrise and wandered the area in solitude. In those hours, it was easy to imagine myself as a artist or writer living in Paris’s golden age. Sitting with a coffee on the steps of Sacre-Coeur and watching the sun rise over the sprawling city is just a wonderful experience. You can’t see the Eiffel Tower from the main steps, but you don’t have to.
Later in the day, Sacre Coeur becomes a hub for tour groups and touts. One guy pulled the bracelet trick on me – putting a bracelet on my wrist and then trying to get me to pay for it even though I obviously didn’t want it. I knew what he was doing but made the mistake of shaking his hand, and he literally wouldn’t let my arm go. He actually hurt my wrist – don’t shake these people’s hands. Darn Canadian politeness, always trying to get me in trouble.