This weekend, my program had an organized trip up to Paris! What an incredible city – so chic, elegant, historic, and full of absolutely delicious food. I was especially looking forward to the trip to finally see the other side of France. I had heard so much about the differences between the north and the south of the country, where the low-key Provençal life style reigns supreme. And of course, you cannot travel to France without seeing Paris! Throughout the weekend I felt really lucky because I have another trip planned to go back for a week at the end of May; this definitely took the pressure off in terms of feeling that I needed to see every attraction in France’s biggest city.
We packed our bags and left Aix at 9am this past Friday, taking the high-speed 3 hour TGV train up to Paris (it is about 7 hours by car). I slept the entire way on the train; the little nap served me well for the long weekend ahead! We arrived at Gare de Lyon and then made our way to the hostel to drop off our suitcases in the luggage room. This was my first time staying in a hostel, and I was impressed with both the cleanliness and the free breakfast! It was located in the 4th Arrondissement in Le Marais, a very historic district of Paris.
Anna’s (my roommate from Vanderbilt) twin sister studied abroad in Paris last semester, and recommended a bunch of restaurants and activities to do around the city, so I started with this list right away by recommending a lunch spot. We went to L’As du Fallafel, where there were people already lined up all along the sidewalk. After getting some food in our system, we walked past the Centre George Pompidou (a really cool modern art museum) and just around the city a little bit to get a better feel for the culture and history. We saw the Notre-Dame, which was probably one of my favorite places we visited. It was definitely a steep contrast to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, with a much more classic feel from its Gothic architecture. We met at a little church in le Marais, where we got a group tour from a guide who specializes in the less well-known parts of the city and reveals secrets that most Parisiens don’t even know. We learned about King Henry IV and his wives, as well as more stories of Louis XIV. Then we had some meringue treats from Les Merveilleux, a beautiful patisserie in the area, before walking around a little more.
Our whole group went to see a show Friday night called “How to become a Parisien in one hour” at the Théâtre des nouveautés. It was funny to see how Parisiens see themselves and their behavior in the context of being with other people. He talked about how to shop in a clothing store, order at a restaurant, dance at a club, take public transportation, and find an apartment, among many other tips. The most interesting part was when he asked which countries people in the audience were from – there had to be representatives from at least 10 different places! After the show, a few of us headed to dinner in Le Marais. We sat outside with the help of a heat lamp, and it definitely felt like a French dinner. Afterwards we headed back to the hostel for a quick second and then went to a bar in the Latin Quarter, which is known for being a place for young people.
Saturday we woke up bright and early again, with my alarm buzzing at 8am. We had a little light breakfast of a baguette and a croissant (yes, both) from the hostel. It’s funny – even though we wanted to get a lot done during the day, we still took about 35-40 minutes to eat. This is much more than I would ever take at home, and we all had a nice time together to get our day started instead of scrambling out the door.
Our first stop was Le Louvre; however, we didn’t go in because it would have taken multiple days! We took some cute pictures outside before walking by the Opera House, Musée l’Orangerie, and Les Jardins Tulleries. We explored inside Musée D’Orsay, which I absolutely loved (it ties only with the museum we saw in Montpellier). There were so many exhibits within its walls, and I think we could have easily spent and entire day there. At 12:15 we reconvened at the front, but all unanimously decided we needed more time to wander. I realized that I had missed the entire Impressionist exhibit, one of the most popular ones! I found where the crowds were! When I got there to look around for a little bit longer, I fell in love. Monet was definitely my favorite with his gorgeous color schemes and scenery choices, but there were works from Renoir, Pissaro, and Aix’s pride and joy Cézanne that blew my mind as well. We left the museum and went to Crêpes d’Or, another suggestion from Anna’s twin sister. Delicious crêpes! We had another little tour of le Palais Royal and la rue de Valois, as well as all of the other little galleries/indoor shopping that was there from the very beginning of Paris’ history. We finished the tour at À La Mère de Famille, the oldest chocolate store in Paris – it is older than the US! We each tried some bonbons there, then started our next afternoon adventure to the Eiffel Tower. It was all that I expected and more J We had a little photo shoot there (of course) and sat on a bench just taking in fact that we were finally there. It was incredible to get up close and personal with the iconic landmark that I had seen so many times before!
After seeing the Eiffel, we headed back to Le Marais where we had dinner at an adorable little French restaurant called Louis Philippe. Like a true French meal, we indulged ourselves in an entrée (which is an appetizer in French; very confusing!), a main dish, dessert, and of course, wine. I had mozzarella and tomatoes for an appetizer, grilled duck breast for a main coure, and crème brûlée for dessert, following the extra bread I ate. In addition to that, I tried frog legs, esgargots, and foie gras (honestly, I didn’t like any of it — the frog legs were okay but why not eat chicken?!). Aside from the new things I tried, all I can say is YUM. Thank you to Vandy and the program for spoiling us for dinner! We walked back to the hostel for a quick second to charge our phones and take a bathroom break before metro-ing to the Eiffel Tower. It was already almost midnight, and we had wanted to see the lights sparkle as they do for the first five minutes of every hour. So, when it turned 12:03am and we were within sight of it, we absolutely SPRINTED out of the metro stop and up the stairs to catch the last 2 minutes. I haven’t laughed so hard on the trip – people became more intense than I had ever seen them before, and it was funny to watch everyone run. We went to a higher point to look at the Tower a little more, before heading back to the hostel. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was but we were definitely not painting the town red that night.
My alarm went off at 7:45am Sunday morning, because I knew that some people were doing morning activities. I debating getting a few more minutes of sleep so I could get through the day, but I decided to be courageous! Three friends and I went to the Love Lock Bridge (where all the locks have now been cut off an replaced by a Plexiglas barrier – sad) and then went to Sainte-Chapelle. We had to go through security, and I thought it was no problem. This was the first time our bags actually went through a metal detector, and it went off for my purse. The security guards told me I had a knife in my bag – what?! After a moment of surprise I realized that it went off because of my Swiss Army Knife from Lea (my Swiss friend from Drexel)!! Always prepared, but it got me in trouble here! A funny moment. Security held onto it until I came out, where I successfully got it back. Anyways, I think Sainte-Chapelle was my favorite thing in Paris. It is an incredible chapel from the 13th century, and tells the full story of the Bible from Genesis to the Resurrection, with 1,113 scenes depicted using beautiful stained glass. I couldn’t get over the story it was able to tell using such a fine and delicate medium – definitely a great memory. Early bird catches the worm! However, during our group boat tour, I was definitely nodding off because of how tired I was from getting up! It was still nice to see all of the landmarks in Paris that I had seen over the weekend in addition to hearing about a few more that will be on my bucket list for when I get back (like La Concierigie – Paris’ old prison).
After exploring La Seine by boat, a few of us went to Les Champs-Élysées to meander and see the Arc de Triomphe. I still remember hearing about this famous street when I was in French class in middle school. We stopped at Ladurée for macaroons. I got a chestnut one, just to try – since trying Vermicelle with Lea in Switzerland, crème de marron (chestnut cream/purée – sounds better in French) has become one of my favorites! After our little treat we headed back to get some Fallafel for lunch again, and pack up our bags. We left around 2 and took the train back to Aix!
Another incredible weekend in the books. This Wednesday we are going to Marseille again for a class (which I am really excited about – it will be warmer and we will get to see more of the old city than we did the first time we went), then next week is February break already!! Myself and 4 other girls on the program are doing the Berlin – Prague – Vienna – Budapest tour. We should have about 2-2.5 days in each city. So excited, can’t wait to share more adventures!
À bientôt !
Gros bisous xx