I met up with my good friend Erica in Paris for the weekend and with little sleep and sore legs we saw almost all of Paris in 36 hours.
When I arrived at the bus station at 20:00 we first trekked to the Arche di Triumph, then went the opposite direction while trying to findthe Eiffel Tower, once we found our berrings, we eventually made it to the tower. The Eiffel Tower is something I’ve seen a thousand times, but to see it in person was overwhelming, I was in awe of its beauty and grandeur.
Erica and I went to our hostel, Le d’Artagnan, at around 0:00 to find our bunkmates sound asleep. The hostel was comfortable enough for the little time we spent there, and it was student friendly at only 23 Euro a night.
The next morning we woke at 6:30, ate our fruit, cereal, and bread breakfast in the hostel cafeteria. First sight of the day: the Louvre. I started shaking when I saw the grand glass pyramid; I love art and history and I was thrilled to be able to see the paintings I had studied in college.
Most Paris museums are free the first Sunday of the month, which happened to be the only day Erica and I were in Paris. We arrived at the Louvre 45 minutes before it opened and there was already a line, but luckily not a long one. The glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre is like the Eiffel Tower, I’ve seen a thousand times, yet it was new to me because I had never seen photographs of the palace that surrounds the pyramid. Palais Royal, the palace that houses Louvre museum, is grandiose and gargantuan with magnificent sculptures and a stunning façade. The original Louvre building began construction in 1100 A.D. and the Louvre we see today was once home to Marie d’Medici of the Florentine Medici family that ruled throughout the Renaissance. In the 1800s the palace was turned into a gallery for paintings and sculpture.
Once Erica and I were inside, we bolted to the Mona Lisa before the throng of people behind us had a chance to catch up. On the way, we saw the glorious Winged Victory of Samonthrace; she stood graciously overlooking the grand staircase, watching us as we passed. When we reached the small painting behind glass, I recalled what my art history professor said about the Mona Lisa, “her smile is brazen because she is looking directly at you, and in that time, women simply did not do that.”
While it was interesting to see the most famous painting in the world, I was anxious to see what else was in the Louvre. We walked hastily through the museum so we could cover as much ground as possible in the little time we had. I told Erica everything I learned in art history as we passed by Da Vinci, Ingres, Durer, Watteu, and more. I was ecstatic about seeing Botticelli, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and David—all my favorite painters and sculptors under one roof.
We carried on to the rest of the museum, painting after painting, and I nearly cried when I saw Lady Liberty Leading the People because it was an image I had fallen in love with in art history, and to see it in person and see the detail in the brush work was too much to take in. I saw Peter Paul Rubens paintings of Marie d’Medici’s love story, and Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, and Venus Di Milo. I found some new favorites like Elisabeth-Louise Vigee´-Le Brun and Peter Paul Rubens. It was fantastic and 24 hours is not enough time to do the Louvre justice, let alone 3 hours.
Next, at around 13:00, we walked to Notre Dame and took photographs of the Seine. There was a large line to enter the cathedral but luckily most people don’t care about cutting in line in Europe, so Erica and I hopped to the front and popped in. The only decorative elements inside are the enormous stained glass windows and large vaulted arches, both of which were an architectural miracle at the time. Latin a cappella choral music rang throughout the church, mystical and eerie, as we sat down to stare at the windows.
After Notre Dame, we went to the Luxembourg Palace to relax in the gardens. We were the only English speakers around, and we were excited to be amongst real Parisians. We sat at a bench and had cheese crepes and wine while we enjoyed greenery and the view of the Palace.
Beginning in July, stores in Europe have great sales until the end of the summer. Erica and I chose to take advantage of this opportunity and shopped in a little boutique by the Pantheon and bought a couple of Parisian dresses–very chic.
Finally we ended up at the Orsay Museum, where Van Gogh and Monet have large collections, unfortunately the museum closed at 18:00 and we arrived shortly after. We wandered around, saw a few palaces and museums from the outside. We took a train at 19:00 to the Montemartre neighborhood of Paris which sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. The bohemian neighborhood is known for the cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried, the Moulin Rouge, and the panoramic views from Sacre Coeur. Erica and I found this adorable outdoor patio of a packed restaurant and happened to get there in time to take a front row table–front row to show that was the sunset over Paris.
I had the Prix Fixe menu, and for 32 Euro I had the most savory meal I’ve ever put to my lips. First a glass of champagne, an appetizer of ravioli in an herb and cream sauce, a main course of chicken and mashed potatoes in a brown mushroom sauce, and for dessert a creme and cheese strainer with raspberry sauce with a digestivo of caffe´. The dessert has become my favorite, it was much like whipped creme, but more substantial and less sweet.
After a leisurely dinner of watching the sunset and enjoying my feast until 22:30, we set out to find Sacre Coeur and take photos. On our way we found Diwali, a bohemian accessory store where we almost bought out the entire shop. The steps of Sacre Coeur were covered with Parisians and tourists drinking beer and wine. I set up my tripod, snapped a few shots, and we headed to Moulin Rouge before the crowd got rowdy.
Moulin Rouge is on the end of a strip of sex stores and night clubs, it’s best to watch your belongings closely in this part of town. The area is a bit seedy, but nothing worse than a few pick pockets and drunkards. We took our photos and were back at the hostel by 1:00 to rest up for our early departures the next day.
Tips: Paris is a walkable city, but you’ll want comfortable shoes. We walked at least 15 miles in our short stay, but there is a fantastic metro system in the city that you can use if your feet are aching. Students can buy a metro day pass in almost any station for only 3 Euro, and adults can get one for about 7 Euro.
Erica and I lived off bread and fruit while we were there because it’s cheap and delicious, but if you’re craving something more filling, then I suggest avoiding major landmarks to find decent prices and delicious food like the kind we found at the restaurant in Montemartre.