Monday, March 17, 2008

[Feature] Long Weekend in Paris

A couple of weeks ago, I had the most awesome opportunity to travel to Paris for a couple of days with my friend Stella. Being that it was my very first trip to Europe (and to Paris, no less!), I was very excited. Rich with culture and diversity (so cool to see all sorts of people speaking 1 language, other than English), I fell in love with Paris, and I wish everyone the opportunity to visit it at least once in their lifetime.

I’m a nervous traveler, as I don’t particularly enjoy going to places I’m not familiar with. But despite the fact that I’ve never been to Europe, speak French, nor am I an expert on travel, Paris, or being abroad, my trip was FANTASTIC. And so I’ve put together some must-see places to hit and some tips, just in case a trip to Paris is in the near future for you.

Don’t Miss:
Eiffel Tower (at night)

The Eiffel Tower is not one of the 7 wonders of the world, but it should be, in my opinion. One of the most recognizable structures in the world, the great iron tower is a
magnificent sight to behold in person, especially when it’s lit up at night. Stella and I practically used the Tower as our North Star, to guide us to places when we would get slightly lost.

I would recommend taking the lift up to the second level and not the very top, as you get a pretty great view of all of Paris from the second level. At night, the lights also blink for 10 minutes on the hour, every hour, making you feel like you’re in the middle of a Christmas tree if you happen to be in the tower at the time. I love glittery, shiny things, which is why I loved the blinking light display. But beyond all of that, and beyond all the pictures you have seen, there really is nothing like seeing the Tower in person.

Musee DOrsay

When you think of museums in Paris, you think of the Louvre. Rightly so- the Lovre is a huge, encompassing, magnificent museum, the most famous and most visited art museum in the world, and the home to the great Mona Lisa (the painting is so much smaller in real life, by the way). The Musee DOrsay often plays second fiddle to the great Louvre for all of the said reasons, but it was my favorite museum in Paris, especially as a modern art lover. The museum is best known for its extensive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works, located on the upper level.

Seeing Van Goghs self-portraits (whose works always move me to near-tears), Monets famed Cathedral of Roeun series, Edouard Manets controversial Olympia, Edgar Degass Dance Class as well as my favorite L'Absinthe, Renoir's Bal al moulin de la Galette (on the right) and many many other works familiar to a student of modern art history, this was one of my favorite experiences in Paris. Even if youre not a fan of modern art, the museum itself is housed in an old train station, and the building (with the huge grand clock inside) is definitely worth visiting.

Sacre Coeur & Montmarte

Stellas and my absolute favorite part of Paris was the little town of Montmarte, and the Basilique du Sacre Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart). The town has a bohemian village feel to it, with its cobblestone streets and cute shops, bakeries, and restaurants. Montmarte is also an artists haven, and there is a flea-market type set up in the middle of the town, with artists selling their artwork and painting away as visitors peruse and buy.

Montmarte is also where the great Sacre Coeur is, one of Pariss most recognizable landmarks and located on the highest point in the city. The basilica itself is spectacular, kind of shaped like a wedding-cake of sorts. However, the panoramic view of the city sprawled out from the spiraling steps outside is what really attracts tourists, with a view that rivals that of the one from the Eiffel Tower. It's what really makes the Sacre Coeur and the town of Montmarte a must-do.

Some more places to see
Notre Dame (A masterpiece of French gothic architecture, the inside is as beautiful as the outside.)
Arc de Trimomphe (Located at Place Charles de Gaulle, from which 12 boulevards radiate. Don't play real-life Frogger and try to outrun the crazy coming traffic to get to the Arc, there's an underground tunnel that will lead you right to it)
Champs Elysees (The most prestigious and broadest avenue in Paris, leads straight to the Arc de Triomphe, and is known for its specialty luxury shops. Visit the 2-floor Louis Vuitton store.)
Saint Chapelle (The awe-inspiring stained glass windows depict scenes from the Bible, and bathe the chapel in light, and for those reasons the inside is so much more fascinating than the outside.)
Galeries Lafayette (10-stories department store, with over 75,000 brand name items, a serious-shopper's dream.)

WALK. Stella and I got around to most of the attractions by walking. Most of Paris is definitely manageable by foot, and really, walking along the Seine River and taking in the beautiful buildings all over, you can't not do it. Plus you'll be saving tons of money on transportation. Have a map handy, and don't be afraid to use, "Excusez moi, parlez vous anglais?"

Bike around. Paris has a number of spots where you can rent bikes (like the way ZipCars work here), so if walking isn't your thing, at least there's that option. From what I could tell, lots of people (natives and foreigners alike) do it, and there are tons of bike paths/roads to make it easier.

Exchange money there. Make sure you have enough euros to get you from the airport to your hotel/hostel (usually 60 euros, max), but other than that, exchange money when you get there, and preferably from a bank/ATM machine, not at the airport or hotel. The exchange rate will be lower, and you need every cent you can get, with the atrocious dollar-euro ratio.

Spend money, do it wisely. I think most stores (like the big retailers, not small shops) offer a Global Tax Refund, which means that if you spend more than 175 euros, you get 10% back at the airport before you leave France. It's an incentive to get people to shop and contribute to the economy. You can get that 10% back in dollars or euros, make sure you go with the latter option as it will benefit you more.

Do as the Parisians do. Paris/France is known for: pastries, wine, coffee, baguettes, crepes. Try it all. These indulgences really don't cost much, and I think one of the highlights of my Paris trip was getting a baguette and walking around with while munching on it. I saw so many people do it all over the city that I had to as well. Let me tell you, it was gooooood. I didn't need fancy restaurants/meals, you can totally get by and be happy on cheap sandwiches/crepes (with nutella!), and pastries galore!

In conclusion, I LOVE Paris. I hope my mini-guide somewhat helps you plan your next vacation there. While you're at it, take me with you, thanks.


Julia Park said...

Ooh .. Paris never really interested me, but after reading your post, I so want to go! *_*

Anonymous said...

if you're going to translate sacre coeur as sacred heart, you might as well call basilique a church.

jlc said...

awww... good post. Glad you had an amazing time!

And of course, you have fallen in love. :)