Paris

September 2016

Since she was a little girl, Sarah has dreamed of visiting Paris. For her 35th birthday, I decided to surprise her with a very special gift - a whirlwind 3-day trip to the City of Lights!

After recovering from her initial shock (she honestly thought it was a joke at first) Sarah began to get excited for our trip and we started to come up with a plan. Since we would be in the city for less than 3 days (it was essentially a long weekend in Paris), we wanted to make sure that we prioritized the sights that were most important to us. We knew that it would be a crazy few days, but we were up for the adventure!

Departure and Arrival

Having had such a good experience flying Icelandair on our visit to Iceland, we decided to use that airline again. Iceland acts as a perfect midway point for trips between the East Coast of the US and Europe, and the cost of the flight was much cheaper than going direct.

Our flight took off from Boston at 9:30pm on Wednesday evening. After a 5-hour flight, and taking into account the time difference, we landed in Iceland at 6:00am. Our 90-minute layover was just enough time for us to grab some Skyr and have a quick breakfast. While waiting for our flight, Sarah struck up a conversation with a pair of teens from Germany who were on their way back home after spending 5 weeks hiking through Iceland. My goodness does that sound amazing!

Pre-flight drinks in Boston
Skyr for breakfast in Iceland

Boarding our next flight, we took off for Paris. This leg of the trip was just over 3 hours long, and by this point Sarah and I were exhausted. Although we had tried to get some sleep on our first flight, neither of us do well sleeping on planes and we were pretty much dead on our feet. Thankfully we did get a little sleep on this second flight, because we knew that once we landed the adventure would really begin.

We arrived in Paris at 1:30pm Paris time. Grabbing our luggage, we made our way outside. I had paid a little extra to get a shuttle to our hotel so we wouldn’t have to deal with a taxi, which we had been told can be very expensive in Paris. Obviously, since we were only in the country for 3 days and our plans had us sticking to the city, we didn’t rent a car. This was a good thing since just looking at the traffic in Paris gave me anxiety! I can’t imagine having to actually take to those roads behind the wheel of a car.

The shuttle ride took about 30 minutes to get us from Orly Airport to the center of Paris. Our hotel was the Hotel Pullman Paris Eiffel Tower, which is right in the shadow of Paris’ most famous landmark. Sarah was nearly jumping out of her skin with excitement as we pulled up to the hotel and she saw the Tower standing before her. I could see all the years of dreaming about being in that spot fully realized at that moment and I was so thankful to have been a part of it.

Checking into the hotel, we dropped our bags off in our room and marveled at the view from our balcony room. Obviously there was only one option for our first stop in Paris. We needed to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The view from our balcony
The view from our balcony

Day 1 – The Eiffel Tower and the Paris Catacombs

After stopping at a small café for a quick lunch of crepes and a ham and cheese baguette (pretty stereotypical French cuisine, but they were quick and they were delicious), we made our way over to the Eiffel Tower. Since this was right next door to our hotel, the walk took us all of 2 minutes. My honest first impression of the tower was that it was much, much larger than I had expected and definitely more impressive.

For Sarah, the Eiffel Tower somewhat represented Paris as a whole. Since she had always dreamed of visiting Paris, seeing the Eiffel Tower became the epitome of that dream. I did not feel the same. I’ve honestly never understood why people make such a big deal about the Eiffel Tower. To me, it just looked like a big metal tower. That may sound harsh, but I am not alone in that sentiment. A tour guide that we met during our time in Paris explained to us that, at first, Parisians did not like the Eiffel Tower at all. They thought it was “ugly” and they were afraid it would actually fall down on them! Obviously, Parisians’ opinion of the iconic landmark eventually changed, as did mine as I stood and looked up at this marvelous structure. You really cannot grasp the size or the incredibly beautiful workmanship of the Eiffel Tower unless you are there in front of it. Pictures just do not do it justice. Standing there marveling at the sight, I immediately understood why this landmark has become one of the most visited spots in the world.

Sitting in the park in front of the Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower

As we made our way towards the Eiffel Tower, one thing we could not help but notice were the squads of French soldiers that were patrolling the area. Groups of 4 soldiers, each of them carrying a rifle, slowly made their way around the perimeter areas of the Eiffel Tower. Passing through security, we saw more soldiers stationed here. It was a sight that we would see repeated at all the other popular locations throughout the city (the Louvre, Notre Dame, etc.).

With the state of the world today, especially in light of the horrible attacks that Paris has seen, the need for this heightened level of security is obvious. It was also something we would think deeply about later in our trip when we experienced our own terror scare on our last full day in Paris (more on that later in this piece).

Moving past security, we made our way towards the lines to go up the Tower. There are two lines – one if you want to walk all the way up and another if you’d like to take the elevator. Prior to coming to Paris, we had been told to expect to wait in line for hours if we wanted to take the elevator. The stairs were supposedly a good option if you wanted to skip that line, but looking at the height of the Tower, that climb was not one I wanted to tackle on just a few hours’ sleep! Thankfully, there were only about 15 people in front of us for the elevators. We essentially walked right up and bought our tickets. I have to assume that this was because we decided to go to Paris during their off-season. Had we visited during the summer instead of mid-September, I expect we would’ve found those unwieldy lines before us.

The elevator ride up to the second level of the Tower was pretty quick. One thing I will say, those Parisians know how to pack an elevator! There was basically no wasted space as we went up. They made it a point to get as many people into that elevator as possible.

Coming onto the second floor, we got to see a pretty amazing view of Paris. There were lots of other people at that level, but once again because of the off-season, I imagine that it was not as packed as it would be at busier times of the year.

Taking photos from the Eiffel Tower
The view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower

We eventually made our way back onto the elevators for the trip all the way to the top. This is actually a much longer ascent than just making it to the second level - and it is going straight up (while the first ascent was at more of an angle). I’m not necessarily afraid of heights, but as we went up-up-up, I definately found myself getting a little anxious.

After taking some more pictures and hitting up the gift shop for some souvenirs for our kids, we made our way back down to the ground level of the Tower and off to our next stop in Paris – the Catacombs.

A short ride on the Metro (which is incredibly clean, efficient, and easy to understand) dropped us right before the Catacombs. The entrance to this incredibly unique area is inside of a green, fairly nondescript building. It was about 6:45 by the time we got in line, which we thought was fine since the Catacombs close at 8:30pm. What we did not know was that the line closes at 7:30pm. You need to be in the building by that time or you are turned away. Since we had so little time in Paris, we really did not want to have to come back another day. Thankfully, we made it into the building at 7:26pm - literally minutes before they closed the line.

Purchasing our tickets, we took the 130 steps down into the depths of Paris.

The Paris Catacombs were created in the late 18th century in abandoned unground quarries. According to the pamphlet that I took from the ticket desk as we entered, “the first bones were transferred here from the largest Parisian cemetery at the time, the Saints-Innocents Cemetery.” Because of public safety concerns, and to make way for urban development, more and more bones were moved to the ossuary at the Catacombs over the years, creating what is possibly the world’s largest cemetery with somewhere between 6 and 7 million bodies found within the Catacomb’s miles of tunnels.

Entering the dark of the Catacombs, you first make your way through tunnels with lots of carvings and inscriptions carved along the walls. Much of this underground signage explains how the reinforcements of the tunnels were made, including who made them and when they were added. These carvings create a historical record of the development of the Catacombs.

The 130 steps leading down into the depths of the Paris Catacombs
Some of the carvings along the walls of the Paris Catacombs
Some of the carvings along the walls of the Paris Catacombs
The tunnels of the Paris Catacombs

Eventually, we came to the sign with the inscription Memoriae Majorum, or “in memory of our ancestors.” This is the Ossuary.

Stepping through this door we found ourselves before a tunnel of bones. Skulls and femurs were arranged artfully as far as you could see. The bones actually create walls along the length of the tunnel and behind these walls of bones there are even more bones piled up.

As we made our way deeper in the Ossuary, we found that every so often there would be a large sign in front of a section of bones. These signs detail the cemeteries that originally held the bodies now found in that portion of the Catacombs.

The sign before the Ossuary at the Paris Catacombs
Inside the Ossuary at the Paris Catacombs
Inside the Ossuary at the Paris Catacombs

While the exhibit of bones held beneath the streets of Paris is certainly creepy, walking through those tunnels is also a somewhat spiritual experience – at least it was for me. As I looked at those walls of bones, I couldn’t help but consider how similar we all are. No matter our race, gender, nationality, social class, or any of the other things that separate us in life, in death we really are all the same. Seeing those piles of bones displayed through the Ossuary really drives that point home and it kind of makes the things that divide us in life seem very silly and superficial.

All in all, the entire trek through the Catacombs took us about 45 minutes and we covered 1.5km before taking the 83 steps back up to the surface of Paris.

We ended out first night in Paris at a small pizzeria that we found a short walk from the Catacombs. Most of the other customers we saw coming in and out were Parisians, so this felt like more of a local establishment and a little less tourist-focused than the cafes near our hotel. Still, the waiter spoke perfectly fine English and communication was not a problem - something which bears mentioning here now.

One of my concerns in visiting Paris was the language barrier. Despite taking 6 years of French in high school, I can barely speak a word of the language and I did not know how well I would do with Parisians. I was especially worried since I had been told by many people that Parisians hated it when tourists could not speak French and they would be rude in these instances. I had only been in Paris for half a day, but that was not my experience at all so far. Everyone I met spoke enough English that I could communicate with them and everyone I interacted with was incredibly pleasant and helpful. It was refreshing, and after that first day I was feeling much less anxiety about the language barrier.

Day 2 – The Palais Garnier and the Louvre

Blue skies greeted us on our first full day in Paris. The time difference was still a bit of challenge and we actually woke up a little too late to make a 10:00am walking tour of the city that we had hoped to jump on. Instead of rushing out the door, we took our time and decided to go exploring on our own. Our plan for the day was to enjoy a nice breakfast in Paris and then make our way over to Notre Dame for the first part of the day and then the Louvre after lunch. It was a Friday, so the Louvre was open until 10:00pm that evening. Those extended hours (which are on Wednesdays and Fridays) were something we wanted to take advantage of.

Visiting another of the cafes near out hotel, we ordered some chocolate croissants, coffee, and fresh squeezed orange juice. One thing that was nice about this breakfast, and really all of our meals in Paris, was the relaxed pace. It seems like when we are back home, and also when we are on most vacations, we always rush through meals so we can either get to our responsibilities or back to the vacation fun. That is not what it was like in Paris at all, and since we had already missed our walking tour, we were really not on any firm timetable. This meant that we could take our time and enjoy our food and each other’s company in a way that I think we forget to do far too frequently.

Breakfast in Paris
Breakfast in Paris

Notre Dame was just 4 stops away from our hotel on the Metro, so we expected that the trip would be pretty quick. We only made it two stops, however, when there were some problems and the Metro was stalled at the Invalides station. After a few minutes with no movement, the conductor made an announcement, but since it was in French, we could not figure out what was happening. Sarah was getting nervous at the thought of being stuck underground, so we left the train and exited the station, coming up at the Pont Alexandre III bridge. This is just one of the many bridges in Paris, but it is arguably the most elaborate and striking. It was now raining a bit, so we put on our coats and started to walk towards Notre Dame, eventually coming to the Place de la Concorde and the giant Egyptian obelisk that stands in the center of this area.

The Place de la Concorde is where many Parisians, including King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, were executed by guillotine during the French Revolution. Today, the oldest monument in Paris, the 3300-year old obelisk, stands in this square. The obelisk was a gift from Egypt to France and it once stood at the Palace of Luxor.

The obelisk from the palace of Luxor at the Place de la Concorde
The fountains at the Place de la Concorde

Leaving this area, we realized that we were actually closer to the Palais Garnier (the Paris Opera House) than Notre Dame Cathedral, so we made a detour to see the opera first.

Like the Eiffel Tower, the Paris Opera House was much larger than I expected it would be. Instead of paying extra for a guided tour, Sarah and I decided to explore on our own. We were hoping to find a tour that would take us to some of the less-visited spots of the theatre - for instance Sarah very much wanted to visit the lake beneath the opera house (yes, there really is a lake under there). Since we saw no such tour options available, we went with the standard visit. With our tickets in hand, the first place we headed for was the Phantom’s box.

The Palais Garnier, or the Paris Opera House
The Palais Garnier, or the Paris Opera House
The Palais Garnier, or the Paris Opera House

While admittedly cheesy, I was excited to see Box 5, which is the private box that was reserved for the Phantom of the Opera in the story and play. You can’t actually see the box itself, just the door outside of it. Still, the simple fact that the Opera House actually has a door emblazoned with the words “Loge du fantome de l’opera” made me smile.

There were other boxes that were open that you could go inside to see the theatre, where Box 5 was actually illuminated in the distance.

The Phantom's private box at Palais Garnier

Making our way through the rest of the Opera House, we were amazed at the level of detail found throughout. From the grand entrance, to the library, to the incredible ballroom, the Palais Garnier takes your breath away at every turn. My favorite spot on our tour was the Salon de la Lune with its silver and black ceiling adorned with bats and owls.

Salon de la Lune at The Palais Garnier
The ballroom at The Palais Garnier
The library at The Palais Garnier
The balcony at Palais Garnier
The Palais Garnier, with the Phantom's box illuminated

After about an hour or so at the Opera House, we headed back to the streets of Paris to find some lunch. We ended up at a patisserie called Paul. Apparently this is a well-known establishment with multiple locations both in France and outside of the country (we actually ate at another Paul location at the airport on our flight home). We had an excellent lunch that we topped off with some macaroons (raspberry for Sarah and chocolate for myself) before heading back out to enjoy the rest of our day.

Macaroons from Paul

Our detour to the Paris Opera house had us off schedule a bit, so we decided to push Notre Dame to the following day and get back on track. This meant we were headed over to the Louvre next.

Entering the courtyard of the Louvre, we were once again blown away by the sheer size of the place. This obviously became a theme for our time in Paris. Everything was much bigger and grander than we had expected. After snapping a few obligatory shots in front of the iconic glass pyramid, we went inside.

The entrance to the Louvre
The entrance to the Louvre
The entrance to the Louvre
The entrance to the Louvre

The Louvre was another attraction that we were told to expect massive lines to get into. Once again, this was not the case at all. We walked right up to security, had our bags checked, and were buying our tickets to the museum just minutes later. With so little time in France, this lack of lines really allowed us to maximize the time we did have in the country.

If you read any articles with tips about visiting the Louvre, they will all tell you to select a handful of pieces you wish to see and make those a priority. I will echo those suggestions, because the Louvre is massive and if you do not go into it with a plan, you could easily become overwhelmed. One of the guides we had later on in our trip actually told us that if you spent only 3 seconds in front of every pieces on exhibit in the Louvre, based on their hours of operation, it would take you a full month to see it all!

The first stop for us was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. This wonderful sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike actually greets you as you enter the Denon wing of the museum, so it was a perfect place to begin.

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Entering the Louvre’s massive hallway of paintings, we made our way towards what is the most well-known piece in the museum, Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. Along the way we saw other works by DaVinci, the Wedding at Cana (which is the largest painting in the Louvre), and hundreds of other masterpieces that line the walls of this hallway. It is truly awe-inspiring.

You will immediately know once you’ve reached the room with the Mona Lisa because it is by far the most crowded spot in the museum. In truth, the painting itself is somewhat anti-climactic. It’s actually behind glass and it is pretty small, especially since it stands opposite the huge Wedding at Cana piece. The crowds that are arranged in front of the Mona Lisa taking selfies also make it a bit difficult to appreciate, but we were happy we saw it and could move onto other parts of the museum.

In truth, some of the pieces that struck us the most were less recongizable works of art. Our favorites (photos of which are shown on this page) included:

  • Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
  • The Deluge by Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson
  • Four Seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Sarah taking a photo of the Mona Lisa
Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
The Deluge by Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson
Four Seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

We spent about 4 hours total in the Louvre, most of that time focused on the great hall and the museum’s collection of paintings on display there. We could obviously have spent many more hours in the museum, but after a full day of walking, our feet were sore and we were ready for some dinner.

As we excited the Louvre, we heard the sounds of drums and horns. Making our way towards the music, we found a group called Plaies Mobiles that had set up in the courtyard of the museum. The music was fun and this was a perfect example of the surprises that greet you on your travels. While we could plan for visits to iconic monuments and museums, an encounter like this one is something that just happens, yet it is one of the things that I know will stick with me from our visit to Paris (especially because we purchased a CD of the group so I can listen to it all the time now and remind myself of that fun memory).

Plaies Mobiles

Working our way back towards the Metro with the rain coming down again, Sarah saw a sight in the distance that made her heart leap. It was the “lock bridge.”

Paris is known by many names, one of which is the “City of Love.” As part of that name and reputation, a number of years ago lovers began adding locks to the Pont des Arts bridge. They would snap a lock in place on the metal mesh siding of the bridge and throw the key into the Seine river. Unfortunately, the popularity of this practice began to cause problems for the bridge. The added weight that thousands of locks placed on the bridge made it unsafe and panels of the bridge had to be removed at times and stripped of locks for fear that they would collapse. In 2015, Paris removed the locks for good, replacing the mesh sides of the bridge with plexiglass panels that prevented any more locks from being added. Problem solved? Not quite.

Sarah had wanted to add a lock to the bridge and was disappointed when she read that Paris had stopped this practice. She was therefore surprised and thrilled when she saw a bridge ahead of us filled with locks. After purchasing a lock from one of the young men standing before the bridge selling these to tourists, Sarah added our initials to it and clipped it to the side of the bridge.

Adding a lock to the bridge
Adding a lock to the bridge

“I thought they stopped doing these locks?” she said to me as we walked away from the area. Looking into the situation later, I realized that the bridge we had added our lock to was not the original lock bridge, but a substitute that people were using now that the Pont des Arts was off limit to this practice. In fact, I began to see locks on almost all the bridges we passed over in Paris. Essentially, the city stopped this practice on one bridge, only to see it explode to nearly every other bridge in the city. I guess you really cannot stop love.

Day 3 – Notre Dame and Shakesphere and Company

Our final full day in Paris began with a Metro ride to the location I was most interested in visiting - Notre Dame Cathedral.

One of the quirky travel goals that I have is to visit every location referenced in the “The Halloween Tree” by Ray Bradbury. This story, which tells the origins of Halloween through visits to different times and locations throughout history, is one that I read every October. Notre Dame is one of the locations in the book, so this would be the first stop on my Halloween Tree Tour (note - the other locations in the book, and therefore on my travel list, are Stonehenge, the pyramids in Egypt, Rome, and the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico).

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral
The gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral
The gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral

Of all the places we visited in Paris, Notre Dame was the one that most left me in awe. Looking up at the massive ceilings or the beautifully ornate rose window, I realized why it took nearly 200 years to construct this amazing house of God.

Notre Dame Cathedral
The rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral
The organ of Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

In addition to the incredible architecture of the cathedral, there are also a number of sculptures inside. Two of the ones that stood out to me were statues of Sainte Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) and one called “Funerary Monument to the Count of Harcourt” that depicts a hooded, Death-like figure as part of the sculpture.

Funerary Monument to the Count of Harcourt
Sainte Jeanne d’Arc

An interesting thing about visiting Notre Dame is the realization that you, and hundreds of other tourists, are making your way through a working church. As people snapped photos or listened to their audioguides, I couldn’t help but consider the fact that this was so much more than just a tourist attraction. For many Parisians, Notre Dame is where they come to worship. I found that to be an interesting juxtaposition for this incredible monument.

If you want to go up to the towers of Notre Dame, there is a separate line for that entrance - one that stretchs down the side of the cathedral. This line was actually the longest one we had yet seen in Paris, and after waiting for close to 30 minutes (and making very little forward progress), we decided to skip that part of the visit. The day was overcast, so we expected that our view from the towers would be poor. We also wanted to make the most of our last day in Paris and that meant avoiding long lines!

One notable item we did see at Notre Dame was some of the pickpockets that are unfortunately found throughout Paris. We had been warned about these pickpocketing scams prior to our trip and also by the conceirge at our hotel. There are even signs warning people to be mindful of pickpockets on the elevator up the Eiffel Tower. It is unfortunately something that is common in the city, especially around landmarks where there are large crowds of tourists.

The scam that we saw had groups of women walking among the lines with clipboards in their hands. They would ask you if you spoke English and they tried to get you to sign some kind of petition they had on that clipboard. They were all very loud and calling lots of attention to themselves, which is what they want. What you do not see is that there are also others along with these women who are not calling attention to themselves. Once you are focused on these women and their clipboard, their associates rob you. I was actually approached by the same woman three times in various spots around Notre Dame. At one point, after saying “non” firmly to get her away, I watched her group make their way through the crowd. I could even see a few of the non-descript men that followed them around, trailing a little bit behind. While I did not witness an actual robbery, I assumed that these men where part of the scam that they were running.

Bottom line - if you are mindful of your belongings and aware of your surroundings, you should be fine. You do, however, need to be cognizant of that fact that, like many major cities of the world, there is crime on the streets of Paris that targets unsuspecting tourists.

Our next stop of the day lies in the shadow of Notre Dame. Across the street from the massive cathedral is an English-language bookstore named Shakespeare and Company.

Shakespeare and Company bookstore

The original Shakespeare and Company was founded by an American named Sylvia Beach in 1919. That store, which was frequented by Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and many other notable writers and artists, was closed in 1941 as Germany occupied France.

The store that stands today was opened in 1951 by another American, George Whitman. Originally called “Le Mistral”, the store was renamed in 1964 as a tribute to the original and also to mark The Bard’s 400th birthday.

The bookstore itself is a wonderfully quirky shop that sells both old and new books and which also has a reading library on the upper floor. Shakespeare and Company has a long history of housing artists and writers. According to Wikipedia, “since the shop opened in 1951, more than 30,000 people have slept in the beds found tucked between bookshelves. The shop’s motto, ‘Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise,’ is written above the entrance to the reading library.”

Sarah had heard about this wonderful store prior to our trip and it was high on her list of places to visit. Honestly, she was as excited entering for this little bookshop as she was making her way to the top of the Eiffel Tower. She even played a few notes on the piano found on the second floor of the shop - and even though photos are not allowed in the store, I managed to sneak a quick pic of her behind that piano.

Shakespeare and Company bookstore
Shakespeare and Company bookstore

Unlike the rest of Paris, where everything was larger than we expected it to be, Shakespeare and Company was small, intimate, and overflowing with charm and personality. Additionally, the people working at the store were incredibly friendly and helpful. We left the shop with an armful of books, including a very nice copy of “The Little Prince” and a volume about the history of the bookstore itself.

Strolling through the area of the city known as the Latin Quarter, we did a little shopping and had some lunch before making our way back towards the Seine. Along the way, we purchased a few pieces of art from a street artist before eventually deciding to take a cruise down the Seine to see some of the sights of Paris from the river. Little did we know that the voyage would be much more nerve-wracking than we expected.

With a bottle of wine in hand, we sat back as our tour boat took off and made its way along the river. The trip took us towards the Eiffel Tower and our tour guide explained the history of the sights along the way.

Ready for our river cruise
The Eiffel Tower from the waters of the Seine

After turning around at the Eiffel Tower, the boat headed back down the river, moving past our starting point so we could see some of the locations at that end of Paris. It was during this part of the tour when we began to hear lots of sirens from the banks of the river.

Like any large city, police sirens are not an uncommon sound in Paris. In fact, we routinely heard sirens during our few days in the city, but this time something was different. Looking up at the bank, we saw not one or two, but a total of seven police vans racing along one after one with their lights blazing. Sarah looked at me and we both wondered what was happening. A few minutes later, our tour guide informed us that there had been a shooting in Paris and that part of the city had been closed off for safety reasons. We were promised more details once the cruise ended.

As you would expect, the tone of the voyage changed immediately after that announcement. Safety concerns and whether or not we were witnessing another act of terrorism was on everyone’s mind as we trudged down the river. Thankfully, by the time the trip was done, it was announced that the situation had been a false alarm. We later found out that someone had reported a gunman in part of Paris, and the authorities had mobilized a force of over 100 men in response. A section of the city had, indeed, been closed off as soldiers scoured the area for what they expected was an active shooter.

While there ended up being no actual danger, the experience was a sobering reminder of the world we live in today. While we refused to allow the senseless acts of violence that France has seen to keep us away from this amazing city, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that we had considered it in our travel plans. Sarah and I even made sure that our will was updated prior to our trip, because while we expected that we would be safe, the reality is that we do live in a crazy and dangerous world. You cannot allow the craziness to keep you from doing the things you love or from living your life to the fullest, but you can also not ignore the fact that the danger is out there.

Before heading to our hotel to drop off our bags and get ready for dinner, we decided to stop off at a crepery that we had seen the previous evening called Coffee Crepes. Sarah got a banana and chocolate crepe with whipped cream and I decided on a delicious crepe with baked apples, vanilla ice cream, and caramel. We paired those crepes with some coffees to pick ourselves up for the home stretch of our time in Paris.

Enjoying some crepes
A bottle of French wine and wonderful view

Back at our hotel, Sarah decided to take a little nap while I sat outside on our balcony. I still had the rest of the bottle of wine from our river cruise, so I took that out onto the balcony. As I sat there looking at the Eiffel Tower all lit up for the evening, I had a powerful moment. After three amazing days in the city with the woman I love, I was overwhelmed with emotion and just so thankful to be alive. Maybe it was the terror scare from that afternoon, or perhaps it was the wine, or maybe my body was just reacting to how much I had pushed it with so little sleep over the past few days, but I found myself on that balcony just so thankful for the life I live and the blessings that I have in that life.

The Eiffel Tower lit up for the evening
In front of our hotel and the Eiffel Tower on our last evening in Paris

The Return Home

After another breakfast of chocolate croissants (yes, we ate those each morning in Paris), we were picked up at our hotel and transported back to the Orly airport for the very long travel day ahead of us (we would land in Boston at 6:30pm that night).

Initially, Sarah had been worried that 2 and a half days in Paris would not be enough, but it ended up being a perfect few days. While there were certainly sights that we had to skip because of the short timeline we had available to us (Versailles, Pere Lachaise cemetery, Montmarte, and other parts of France outside of Paris), we absolutely made the most of the time we did have and we saw all of the things we most wanted to see without ever feeling rushed. We took our time to enjoy meals, conversation, and the sights of Paris. All in all, if you are considering a trip to Paris, I strongly recommend a long weekend visit!

Final Thoughts

So a few final thoughts or pointers based on our trip to Paris:

  • First and foremost, the notion that the French are rude, especially to tourists, is downright false. In our experience at least, everyone was just wonderful.
  • The language barrier is something that always worries me about traveling. In Paris, we found that we were able to communicate just fine without speaking French. I expect that this would be different had we ventured outside of the city and to the countryside, but in Paris you will be fine if you do not speak French.
  • The food was good, but not as life-chantingly wonderful as most people say French food is. Admittedly, we did not eat at any ultra-fancy restaurants, but that is not our style anyway. The food we did eat was always good, and you if you are die-hard foodie, there were certainly places in Paris for you.
  • The Metro is super convenient and very easy to use. On the recommendation of a friend, I had downloaded a Paris Metro app to my phone prior to our visit, but I never ended up needing it. With just some guidance from our hotel, we were able to get around pretty easily.
  • September is a great month for Paris. The weather is cool (mid-60s) and the crowds are lighter than during peak-season, which made wait times short or even nonexistent in most places.
  • Despite the terror scare and the heightend sense of security, we never really felt unsafe in Paris. You do need be be mindful of your surroundings, but all in all, it felt like a very safe place.

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