It had been four years since my last trip, and with quite a bit of traveling in-between to so many wonderful places, I wondered if Paris still held the #1 spot in my heart as the most magical city in the world. After all, so much is written and said about Paris constantly, that it is sometimes hard to remember whether one loves it because of their own accord, or because of this fantasy created by others.
Well I am happy to say that any doubts that I carried on that overnight flight from Raleigh, were hurled out of me quite literally when we landed. It took about a second of emerging from the Metro station at Gare du Nord to know that yes, indeed I love Paris more than any other place! Why else would one feel so amazingly wonderful still covered in barf?
Devang and I had planned our weeklong trip to Paris rather spontaneously. After checking our work schedules and making sure that the grandparents could babysit the kids, we started looking for somewhere to go about a month and a half ago. Scotts Cheap Flights and Google Flights are my two favorite sources of scouring for travel deals, and sure enough it paid off when we found a direct flight to Paris that fit our timeframe. Granted, buying two tickets will always seem like a deal compared to five, fall is still one of the cheaper months to travel to Paris, and to Europe in general.
Once we had our plane tickets, I wish I could say that we immediately jumped into planning and organizing for our trip. In fact, we did just the opposite. Knowing that we were sans-kids, in a city that we had both visited before, it somehow didn’t matter to plan a lot. There was so much that needed our attention at home before we left that we decided to divide and conquer two major items: I looked for day-trip/short-trip options from Paris, while Devang looked for hotels. So a note to the time-constrained traveler – you can visit Paris without any preparations and still have the most wonderful time of your life!
There were two blogs that I found very useful in tackling my task – The Savvy Backpacker curated by James and Susan who are American expats living in Paris. They have very clear and practical information on how to travel all around Europe. I especially loved their post about 9 day trips from Paris not just because of all the information and beautiful pictures, but also because they tend to travel in the off season too and have good insights on what to expect from a destination during those times.
The winner though came from Oliver’s France written by Kyle Oliver whom I met in Raleigh during one of my attempts at learning to speak French. She lived in France for 13-years and has written books about traveling there as well. These days, she lives in Raleigh and teaches French at Wake Tech and through her own classes. Her blog about traveling to the Burgundy region was all the convincing I needed to book our train tickets to Beaune. I researched the train on Seat61 and booked the tickets using Trainline.
On the hotel front, Devang nailed it too. For our first three nights in Paris, we stayed at a wonderful boutique hotel called B Montmartre. Located in Montmartre, we were just steps away from the Place the Clichy metro stop and near all the bistros, bakeries, and hustle bustle of Sacre-Coeur. I LOVED this place. It had a delicious breakfast, a nice sized room with a beautiful Juliet balcony, a lush courtyard, a rain shower with good water pressure, robes, slippers, etc. All this for under 200 euros a night is basically unheard of in Paris.
For the next two nights in Beaune, we stayed at the ibis Styles which is part of the Accor Hotel group. Again the location was PERFECT and we had everything we would ever need, including a good breakfast. It is not fancy – more like a nice Holiday Inn or Best Western – but I was still very happy with it. If we had kids with us, this place would have been even better since they offer a lot of amenities including high chairs and toys and video games for families. All this for under 130 euros a night is, again, a steal.
Back in Paris for our last two nights, we stayed at the very Parisian Hotel des Grande Hommes directly facing the Pantheon. Located near the Luxembourg Gardens, we were also close to the RER-B train stop making it easy to get to the airport when the time came. I basically want to decorate every room in my house like this hotel room (below)! The rooms here are around 225 euros.
In general, one can go cross-eyed trying to pick hotel rooms in Paris. There are just so many options! I think picking a room based on location will always be a winner! All other variables can be secondary. Unless, you are traveling with kids and know that you will spend considerable time in a hotel room in the evenings and such, pick a nice hotel with a good view!
Good marketing will have you believe in anything, and in a way, this is true for the City of Lights as well. While everyone knows London to be wet, cold, and dreary in this season, no one says those things about Paris even though they are very true. We have lived in Chicago long enough not to complain about being cold, but for anyone who is strictly a beach-weather kind of person, Paris in this season can go from being crisp and cool to wet and foggy in no time.
We carried our umbrellas with us at all times, and our wool coats and scarf kept us warm. I would recommend gloves too if you plan on walking around at night or taking a cruise on the Seine in an open boat. Thankfully, bistros, restaurants, and bakeries still have outdoor seating with heating lamps so you will never have to feel deprived. The streets are still busy and people watching is still fun! In fact, the warm glow of lights in the cold and foggy weather makes everything seem even more magical. Devang and I walked 12-15 miles every day just wandering the streets and going in and out of stores and bistros. We haven’t wandered around hand-in-hand without pushing a stroller in a very long time! ha!
I wonder how hard one would have to work to find a bad meal in Paris. I bet it is really really hard to come by. So take comfort in knowing that even if you don’t look up the best-of lists, you will still do just fine! Our strategy was to use Yelp anytime we got hungry and look up what was around us and what kind of rating it had. Since most places in Paris post a menu outside, we could easily just look at it and make a decision too.
Bar Hemingway, Sanukiya noodle bar, Angelina, Hardware Societe, and L’As du Fallafel in the Marias, are the honorary mentions from this time around. I also recommend exploring the cheese shops and food stores on Rue Cler. And the top floor restaurants in the Printemps department store. The food options around the Sarbonne are also great and cater to a student population.
Fall colors in Paris are simply breathtaking. The views around the Sacre-Coeur and the Luxembourg Gardens were my absolute favorite. Walking along the Seine, exploring the grounds of the brand spanking new Philharmonie, hanging out at Printemps department store (and going to it’s roof top), a night cruise along the Seine (we didn’t book in advance), Miro exhibit at Grand Palais, were all such wonderful treats! And no matter how many times you have been to Paris, one must check out the Eiffel Tower during the day and night!
If you are on your first ever trip to Paris, there are certain things you must see, and there are plenty of good guide books and blogs which will tell you all about it. But if you are in Paris a second, third, fourth, or what have you, my BEST tip is to somehow get your hands on a copy of Jean-Christophe Napias’ SO PARISIAN! A perfectly curated list of 100 address for secret museums, authentic restaurants, galleries, stores, and unexpected discoveries. From perfume stores to speciality grocery stores, boutiques, bookstores, and so much more. Just add those address to your google map on your smartphone and explore! You can borrow mine if you can’t find one.
Usually I am the one to resist traveling without the kids because I honestly love exploring a new place with them (no matter how much more work it ends up being). But taking this time to be alone with each other without the kids was perhaps one of the best things I have done in a long time. It feels like all our reserves (sleep and patience especially) are completely full.
You know, except for that one morning when we had to meet the guy at the bike shop in Beaune, we slept in until we felt like rolling out of bed. We would make a general list the night before of what to do and then realize that we couldn’t do half of it because we had woken up so late. We had planned to see the Catacombs and visit Versailles and do all this other stuff too. But sorry, not sorry, that we spent that time sleeping. After all we were together, in Paris, and how could that be bad no matter what we missed!
All this to say that oui Paris still has my heart. I hope you find yourselves in this beautiful city someday soon too! And remember, you don’t need a perfect plan to get there, just plane tickets. The rest will easily unfold as it should!