Fall Vacation '16 (Part 1): Paris
Nick and I finally make Europe a reality!
Several things that we had to get done before leaving:
-calling debit and credit card companies regarding our travel plans
-making copies of our passports
-checking to see if visas were required for the countries we were visiting
-booking tours in advance so that we follow a loose itinerary
-having a hard copy of our itinerary with our phone numbers, emails, addresses of the places that we were staying at for our parents
For our safety, Nick wore our passports around his neck along with a money belt. As for me, I used my PacSafe cross body bag which is designed for traveling with locking mechanisms and RFID blocking. I was able to manipulate my phone cover to attach it to a lanyard, since I knew I was going to take lots of pictures and didn't want to keep unlocking and locking my bag to do so.
Nick and I took with us a luggage, hiking backpack, and small daily backpack. We had separated all of our clothes amongst the three in case our luggage was lost or our airline forced us to check in our hiking backpack.
Our exchange currency for the day that we left was 1 USD = .9193 Euro.
Tuesday, October 25th
See you later, USA!
Our last picture before we head to Europe!
Wednesday, October 26th
Our first time in Europe!
I love to travel but I hate long flights. Our flight was direct from Los Angeles to Paris.
After 10 hours and 40 minutes, we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport. One of the most inexpensive ways of transportation would've been for Nick and I to take the RER train into the city, but there was no way Nick and I were going to haul our belongings on the train. We were really hoping to take Uber to get to our Airbnb as it would've been around 32 euros. However, after losing internet connection over the wifi, we took a taxi for 50 euros. Luckily we were informed by one of the airport security that Paris airport taxis are subject to charge a flat rate of 50 euros from CDG airport to the right bank of the Seine. We remembered from our NYC trip to always walk directly to the official airport taxi line. Nick and I were approached, at least, twice by 'taxi' drivers before we reached the official airport taxi line. We just ignored them and kept walking.
We finally made it to our Airbnb.
We stayed in arrondissement (district) 17 of Paris. Arc de Triomphe and the metro station were a five minute walk away. Champs Elysees was a 10 minute walk. Our Airbnb had two sets of security doors, so I felt really safe, to the point where we slept with our window open all four nights. Of course we were on the second floor also but still.
Our first night in Paris and we had to go out and sightsee even just for a bit. We walked over to Arc de Triomphe and was immediately in awe. Nick was surprised that the flag was out because he remembered seeing on Rick Steves' show that the flag isn't flown everyday.
I was a little hesitant to give my phone to a stranger to take our picture but that was the risk I was willing to take.
That traffic circle is INTENSE. Majority of the car accidents that we saw were at the traffic circle.
Since the Arc de Triomphe is at the beginning or ending, whichever way you look at it, of Champs Elysees, we decided to grab dinner there. Our first meal was... McDonald's! We definitely needed some comfort food that was quick and easy. Unfortunately, their large size drink is our medium size. Nick and I shared a "large" coke and were beyond dehydrated but the ordering system was long and tedious so we didn't get in line for another drink. For dessert, we had macaroons from Laduree and forgot the flavors that I ordered.
Thursday, October 27th
Someone pinch me, I'm actually here.
Months ago Nick and I decided we were going to take our engagement pictures in Paris at the Eiffel Tower. With the help of Instagram and hashtags, we found the perfect photographers, Kiss Me in Paris and immediately booked our session. I will do a separate post under our Wedding section with our engagement pictures after the wedding.
We arrived at our meeting location with about 20 minutes to spare so Nick and I decided to utilize our time and get our metro pass. We got the Navigo pass which is an unlimited pass that is valid from Monday through Sunday. Since it was Thursday, the lady behind the counter gave us a look, but we knew that that was the most inexpensive route to go since the metro was going to be our main source of transportation. We thought our passport pictures were going to be sufficient for the pass but she said she needed a copy of our picture so we ran over to the photo booth and quickly took our mugshots.
Here's a little teaser of our morning.
After our photoshoot, we went back to the flat and changed. We had our Eiffel Tower tour at 2:00 so we had some time to get a quick bite to eat or so I thought.
We decided to try L'As du Fallafel in Le Marais which is the most famous Jewish quarter in Paris. It was definitely a Jewish community because as we were standing there eating our falafel, a rabbi came up to Nick speaking yiddish! This happens to Nick all the time for some reason. The line for L'As du Fallafel was long but it moved quick. I actually left Nick in line and run over to L'eclair de Genie for some dessert for later.
I honestly thought we were making good timing until I realized that we were meeting at a location near the Eiffel Tower and not the address that was linked on my app, TripIt. Long story short, we were late for our 2:00 tour and I thought we were going to miss out on the whole tour. I called Viator on the verge of tears and the first person was really rude to me. The second person was a lot nicer and said that we can wait until the next tour at 4:00 and if they have room, they will be able to accommodate Nick and I. Missing our tour was a blessing in disguise because we had almost two hours to enjoy this beautiful view.
While we were walking around Champs de Mars, the lawn area in front of the Eiffel Tower, there were lots of women walking with a piece of paper asking people if they spoke English. I don't know if this is politically correct or not but let's call these women"gypsies". So be aware of the damn gypsies. We ignored anyone walking up to us whether they were speaking English or not.
The tour that we purchased was the 'Skip the Line: Eiffel Tower Summit, Louvre Museum and Cruise'. The only part of the tour with a tour guide was at the Eiffel Tower. Then our tour guide distributed our tickets for the Louvre Museum and Seine River Cruise to go at our convenience. Because we were with our tour guide, we were able to skip the ridiculously long line through the two security lines, line to purchase our tickets, line for the lift to take us up to the 2nd floor. With a tour guide or not, be prepared for lots of lines at the Eiffel Tower because we still had to wait in line for the restroom, lift up to summit, lift down from summit, then lift from 2nd level to the bottom. Our tour guide was a really cute French girl who truly loves her city. Nick and I learned a lot and were glad we stayed for her quick 20 minute tour.
Nick and I took forever to decided what we were going to have for dinner. We ended up getting Uber Eats and ordering Big Fernand for burgers. Yes, I know... we're in Paris eating burgers but let me tell you, Parisian burgers are 100% times juicier than any American burger I've ever had. Our meal came with a cheeseburger of our choice, pomme frites, drink, and mousse. For some really fit people, they eat a full meal.
October 28th, 2016
Unlike yesterday, we wanted to start our day early and get as much done as possible. Since the sun didn't rise until around 8:30AM, it felt like Nick and I were awake before the whole city was.
Our first stop of the day was Du Pain et des Idees for breakfast. This place was on Anthony Bourdain and justifiably so. I got the L'escargot raspberry cream cheese and it was delicious and quite a big portion too! My mouth is salivating just thinking about it right now. Also don't be surprised if there are no actual snails baked in ;)
We definitely didn't want any mishaps of missing our tour today so we set a limit to be at the Louvre for two to three hours at the most. Luckily Nick and I arrived via metro to the Louvre because we were able to get into the Louvre through the underground shopping mall. As we were entering the line for security, we somehow ended up with an Asian tour group and ended up in the priority line with them. Don't enter through the pyramid entrance, I read that that will have the worst queue to enter.
I'm definitely not a museum person as I've mentioned in my NYC blog, but this is the Louvre, the world's largest museum and 2nd most visited. And it only houses a very expensive $780 million dollar painting, but that's about it ;)
As I'm sure you've heard, the Mona Lisa is not all that big. The funny thing is that our tour guide from yesterday at the Eiffel Tower pointed out that the smallest painting will also be facing the largest painting in the museum.
Another place that I heard really great reviews of was Angelina's for their hot chocolate. Their hot chocolate was super rich and thick, perfect for the chilly weather. It was nice to just sit, relax, and enjoy the ambience before rushing off to find more paintings and sculptures.
Next spot on our itinerary was the Catacombs of Paris. Nick was looking forward to the Catacombs most. He said we couldn't go to Paris and not visit it.
A little about the Catacombs is that in the late 1700s, the cemeteries were overly populated so the Parisians decided to place the dead underground. Of course there is a lot more history but that's as far into detail as I will go as I don't remember much after that. I do remember that due to these tunnels, lots of homes in Paris have had cave-ins which is another reason why the city of Paris will not have a lot of tall buildings. Our Eiffel Tower tour guide stated yesterday that each building in the city can only be six stories high. So anything higher than six stories is on the suburbs of Paris with the exception of this one building that she stated looks like the 'middle finger' of Paris which you can actually see from our Eiffel Tower pictures. It's that black building standing by itself.
What is most interesting is that there is currently 2.244 million people living above ground in Paris and 6 million people buried underneath. We had to take a spiral staircase of about 160 steps to the catacombs, it honestly wasn't too bad but definitely not recommended for those that are claustrophobic. Our tour guide said that only the skulls and femurs were organized and stacked neatly while the rest of the bones were tossed behind.
I honestly didn't feel any paranormal activity going on around me because I tried to stay as oblivious as possible. During one of the pictures that Nick took of me, he swears that there was something hovering over me to the point of him not being able to take the picture. I think it might have been because my phone was trying to focus on me and with the poor lighting and new update, it takes longer to focus? I don't know, that's my reasoning behind it but I'm sure a lot of these people haven't really accepted their fate either.
Since this was a must see for Nick, he definitely enjoyed it even though he felt uneasy at the same time.
After all that walking, it was finally time for food. Since we had several places recommended to us, I starred all of the restaurants on google maps and whichever restaurant we were closest to, that's where we were headed. Originally, we wanted to get Le relais de l'entrecote for their steak and fries but they were closed when we got there so we walked over to Cafe de Flore.
We picked a table inside and were given the English menu, thank goodness. This was the first restaurant that we have ate dined at that served foie gras so I had to try it. I got the La Terrine de Cafe de Flore par Gilles Verot, which is basically veal, chicken breast, and duck foie gras mashed up to look like pate. Nick kept his order simple and got the Club sandwich. My pate came out with salad and baguette but I found it a lot easier to eat the pate with the baguette.
When using restrooms even at the restaurants, bring a few coins. I didn't bring anything with me to use the restroom as I figured I was dining at their restaurant but the attendant still gave me a really dirty look when I thanked her.
Since we were within walking distance to Jardin du Luxembourg, we figured we should check it out. It was close to closing time and since we have been running around all day, we didn't walk too far into the garden. I just wanted to be like the Parisians and sit and lounge around while people watching.
Since the Notre Dame Cathedral was a 15 minute walk, Nick and I decided to cross that off of our to-do list. Surprisingly we got into the Notre Dame without much of a queue. It was really beautiful to see it lit up at night. What was really shocking to Nick and I was that the church is still an active church. We entered the cathedral while a mass was going on and decided to stay for the mass. We sat in awe the whole time, we were here in Paris attending a mass at one of the most famous churches of the world. Notre Dame does offer readings in English on Sundays but majority of the masses are in French.
Our next stop was heading to Berthillon for some ice cream. Both Rick Steve and Anthony Bourdain talked about this place, so Nick and I had to try it. We walked from Ile de la Cite to Ile St. Louis (the only two islands located in the Seine river) and found out that Berthillon was CLOSED! I was really disappointed but we kept walking and realized that there were cafes that also had their ice cream.
Our ice cream was definitely delicious and lives up to the hype. I just wished we had lived the whole experience of standing in a long line and gotten it from the original. I know, I'm strange.
For dinner, it was like deja vu. We got Big Fernand's through Uber eats with some French beer to go with our meal.
Saturday, October 29th
Our last day in the city
Another early morning for Nick and I. Since we were heading to Versailles and there's only a train every so often, we wanted to be on one of the first trains out of the day.
Versailles is beautiful. Nick and I weren't planning on staying for most of our morning at the Palace but once we got to the garden, we kept walking and wandering. We were floored by how grand everything was from the Palace to the garden and thinking of the upkeep of the place. Here we are in 2016 and we are looking at this place like 'whoa this is beautiful and humongous'. I can't imagine living back in the late 1600s and seeing this place with all the gold and little details sitting on 2,014 acres of land. I'm really glad we visited Versailles because we definitely would've missed out if we hadn't. I'm even more glad that we went early because the line to enter was out to the main gate when we were exiting.
Back into the city, Nick and I tested our luck and went back to Le Relais de l'entrecote. Luckily we got there in time before they closed for their afternoon break. There was a line but we didn't wait for longer than 20 minutes.
The French utilize the space that they have the best they can. Nick and I were sitting elbow to elbow with our neighbors, it was quite uncomfortable. Since there is a set menu, the waitress just wrote down how we liked our steak and moved on to the next table. First came the salad then came the steak and fries. Nick and I were hungry but we were also on the move so we only had one serving of the steak and fries. We probably would've ate another serving but the waitress took a while to get us our second serving. I'm glad we had Le Relais de l'entrecote in Paris since we have it here in LA but with bad reviews.
Our next stop was Pere Lachaise Cemetery, one of the top 10 cemeteries to visit in the world. This cemetery is ridiculously huge at 119 acres and very haunting. Most of these tombs were very unique but very spooky. At one point, Nick and I got separated (don't ask) and I walked through a path that separated the top part of the cemetery from the lower part of it with a homeless guy sleeping in the bush. Great times. Luckily Nick and I both had our cell phones on so we were in constant contact, it was more of us navigating through the graves and going in the right direction.
And finally I reached my destination, Jim Morrison's grave. His grave was much more simple than most of the graves at the cemetery but is one of the most visited graves there. Due to the popularity of his grave, the cemetery placed fences to stop people from getting too close. We then walked over to Frederic Chopin's grave which was more decorative.
Since we had time to kill before our dinner reservations, we took the metro to Moulin Rouge. It was rush hour and we were cramped on the train. I was sitting down and hugging Nick's legs as he was standing. He told me not to touch him because he just felt a hand in his back pocket. I guess he had a map or something in his back pocket and some older lady was being nosey and wanted to grab it. Our first experience with a pickpocketer! Luckily, Nick only had a map and rolled up napkins and nothing else valuable in his pockets. The area that we went through wasn't the best either. Looking out the window, it was like the skid row of Paris with tents all along the graffitied buildings. I mean I'm really glad that we went through there because we got to experience the good, bad, ugly, dead, and life of Paris.
Pictures really do make everything 10x bigger looking. I was shocked at how small the Moulin Rouge was. Nick was really uncomfortable in this area so we didn't ask anyone to take our picture. I know, this trip we trusted in a lot of people to take pictures of us and not run with our phones. However, this area, both our intuitions said to not risk it even with all the tourists.
After Moulin Rouge, we headed over to our dinner spot. We were making good on timing so we stopped by a shopping mall to look for Paris exclusives in the Lego store and then the restroom. Finding the restroom at the mall was like trying to find a hidden gem. The floor numberings were confusing and by then I really had to pee. By the time we found it, I had to pay ,50 euros and there was about 15 women ahead of me. What's most hilarious is that there were only four stalls for whole mall. I'm just a spoiled American, don't mind me.
We had dinner reservations at Le Comptoir de La Gastronomie, thanks Caroline for the recommendation! They are known for their foie gras dishes. I got the escargot and Nick got the French onion soup as our appetizers. The French onion soup was huge and delicious and even better with a baguette dipped. For our entrees, I got the pan seared foie gras with ginger bread and Nick got the foie gras ravioli with truffle sauce. Foie gras literally melts in the mouth and both dishes are delicious. The ginger bread definitely balanced the richness of the seared foie gras, even though I took very small bites because it was a little overwhelming. The foie gras literally bursted once I bit into Nick's ravioli. For our first time in Paris, we had to try foie gras which isn't as horrible as it sounds. As our last meal in the city, this was the best meal to send us off until next time.
Our last to-do for Paris besides Disneyland was the Seine river cruise from our tour tickets. The few nights that we have been in Paris, we haven't had the chance to see the Eiffel Tower's Illumination show. It was the perfect time to hop on the cruise at 9 to see it sparkle and then return at 10 to see it sparkle again as it sparkles for 5 minutes every hour from 8PM to 12AM.
The cruise started at the Eiffel Tower and turned back around once it hit the islands. It was so cool to see the locals enjoying their Saturday evening hanging out along the Seine and waving to us as we were going by.
This city is so beautiful with so much history that Nick and I barely grazed the surface. I'm so fortunate that I had the opportunity to go and finally see Paris and add my first stamp on my passport. Nick and I will definitely be back with our parents and kids one day. Merci Paris! Bonsoir!