One of the perks of studying at Bossey is that free weekends provide the opportunity to travel and explore not only in Switzerland but all across Europe! Last weekend was just a few days before my 30th birthday, so I figured there was no better time to take a weekend getaway and see Paris for the first time as a bit of an early birthday present to myself! One of my new friends (and a fellow American), Brianna, joined me for a weekend of fun! 🙂
Thanks to EasyJet (the European version of Spirit Airlines but soooooo much better), we were able to find round trip tickets from Geneva to Paris for just over $100 a person. We then meticulously planned our itinerary so that we could fit everything we wanted to see into just forty-four hours. It was ambitious, but when it might be your one and only chance to visit Paris, you gotta make it work!!!
After the quick hour-long flight into Paris Orly, we took the train into the city to our first stop – Luxembourg Gardens. Although it was beautiful even in the fall, I can only imagine how beautiful the gardens are in the spring with all the flowers in bloom! We strolled through the gardens, trying to imagine what life would be like as a Medici in 17th century Paris. Today, the Luxembourg Palace serves as the building for the French Senate. We also walked up the street for a quick visit to the Pantheon and found a little cafe to enjoy some lunch. One of the two stereotypes I’d heard about Paris is that the people are rude, but we found the exact opposite to be true! (The other is that Paris is dirty, also not true…) All of our waiters, especially, were SO kind to us and happy to use what little English they knew (and to let us use what little French WE knew!) to have a wonderful dining experience.
We crossed over the Pont Des Arts Bridge, famously the Love Lock Bridge before all the locks were removed last year, and made a quick stop at the Louvre. Unfortunately we didn’t have time on this trip to go inside, but we at least got a picture outside at the Louvre Pyramid! We then wandered down the streets of Paris for a while, just enjoying the charm of the city, and checking out the gorgeous Paris Opera House before grabbing a happy hour cocktail and checking into our Airbnb.
We lucked into a fantastic apartment in the 17th Arrodissement, not too far from the Montmartre arts district. Being far enough away from downtown Paris, we really felt like local Parisians in the neighborhood rather than tourists. It was such a special experience! Our host, Francis, was so kind and provided us everything we needed. We finished off our first day in Paris with a visit to the famous Moulin Rouge (no, we didn’t go inside…) and dinner at an INCREDIBLE Italian restaurant.
One of the things I am learning to appreciate so much about European culture is the pace of life here. Obviously in the Swiss countryside life is slow and simple, but even in a big city like Paris, people take the time to savor EVERY experience! In America we often grab food at a drive-thru, and even when we do take the time to sit down for a meal it’s often rushed and with little opportunity for conversation and then it’s off to the next important item on the day’s agenda! No judgement here, I’m often guilty of doing this! I’m the queen of eating alone at my desk at work, not even taking a break… But in Europe meals are a social event, and taking time for a conversation over a cup of coffee or tea is almost a spiritual discipline. (We have coffee/tea breaks built into our daily academic calendar at the Institute!) Brianna and I were pleasantly surprised to see the restaurant still packed with people enjoying their food and one another’s company when we arrived at 10pm, and we enjoyed sitting there ’til midnight- sipping bellinis and red wine and savoring the moment.
Our second and final day was a whirlwind! We started the morning with hot chocolates and Nutella banana crepes (YUM!) at the foot of the Sacre Coeur Basilica, then walked up the hill to explore the church, beautiful both inside and out. From the intricate details on the exterior of the building, to the gorgeous murals on the ceilings and the contemporary stained glass windows in each of the small chapels dedicated to particular saints which surrounded the sanctuary, the artwork was just breathtaking. We then paid a quick visit the the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais before walking down the Champs Elysees, stopping for lunch and French macaroons at Laduree and then making our way to the Arc de Triomphe.
We did run into a couple of disappointments in the late afternoon, as things apparently begin to shut down a little earlier in the evening beginning in October (which the internet failed to tell us… I thought the internet knew everything!). So we arrived at the Eiffel Tower just after they had shut down the line to walk up, and then when we decided to move on to the Holy Chapel and see the inside before it closed, we arrived only to find out the last tour had just left. We were sad not get to spend as much time at these spots as we had hoped, but still appreciated getting to see them from the outside!
Perhaps one of the most special parts of the trip was our visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. As we walked in and began to look around at this famous church, we wandered into the seating area – only to be handed a worship bulletin by a lady sitting there! Turns out we had happened to arrive just before mass was scheduled to begin. “We can’t NOT go to mass at NOTRE DAME,” Brianna and I agreed. So we had the incredible experience of getting to celebrate mass along with a couple hundred other people, probably a mixture of faithful Catholics, faithful Protestants like us, and almost certainly some non-Christians too who still knew there was something really sacred about what they were experiencing. It was awesome. Of course, timing always works out exactly the way it’s supposed to. Had we been able to stay longer at the Eiffel Tower or the Holy Chapel, we would have missed out on being at Notre Dame for mass…
Having seen most of the city in the daylight, we couldn’t think of a better way to close our time in Paris than with a nighttime cruise down the Siene! We got to enjoy seeing many of the sights we’d already visited, plus some sights that hadn’t made it onto our itinerary. And we got to see the Eiffel Tower do its sparkly light show that happens on the hour every evening. No matter the time of day, Paris is insanely beautiful!
Tired from a long day of walking and having to catch an early flight the next morning, we wandered back to our neighborhood and enjoyed a delicious French meal and some more delicious French wine, people watching from the terrace and recapping a weekend we’ll never forget.
There are lots of pictures on the Photo Album page from our Paris adventure, so be sure to check them out! Thanks to the Cohens for helping make it possible for me celebrate my 30th birthday with a bang, and to Brianna for being the best travel buddy ever! Here’s to many more adventures across Europe, and to another decade of life with ALL its adventures!