20 Years of Travel #18: Paris

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues by featuring the City of Love: Paris, France. I grew up watching old movies that were set in Paris: An American in Paris, Funny Face, Gigi, and many more. I dreamed of seeing this amazing city. I went for the first time in 2006. I was a bit disappointed with Paris at that time. I can now say that my disappointment was almost completely due to lack of planning on my part. I was traveling to Paris with a classmate of mine after we finished a graduate course in Geneva, Switzerland. As students, we had a tight travel budget. I was able to get a discount on a hotel in Paris through my job at home, but that unfortunately was located on the outskirts of the city. It ended up costing a lot of money and time to travel into the city center. We also were visiting in the middle of the summer tourist season and 100 degree heat. We waited in the heat for hours to get into Notre Dame (pictured above), which was worth it, but unpleasant. My most amateur mistake was waiting until our final day in Paris to go to the Louvre, which was a Tuesday, the day that the Louvre is closed. We decided to go visit Versailles instead, which was impressive but was under renovation and none of the fountains were turned on.

Luckily, almost ten years later, I decided to give Paris another try. I had a much better experience. We stayed in the city center, smallest hotel room ever, but worth it for the location. We also went in the middle of December which in my opinion is the best time to see Paris. There are minimal tourists and beautiful Christmas markets everywhere. I believe there is also a lot to be said about experiencing the same city at different points in one’s life as well.

Things to do and see:

Champs Elysees

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The Champs Elysees is one of the most famous avenues in the world, leading to the Arc de Triomphe.

Roue de Paris

This is a large ferris wheel off of the Champs Elysees, where you can experience amazing views of Paris.

The Seine

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There are walkways along the Seine, where you can take romantic strolls with views of the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower

Of course you have to explore the Eiffel Tower. My friends and I went up to the top at sunset for the amazing views and then decided to walk down, which wasn’t as strenuous as I thought it would be. I only had a problem with my little fear of heights and the fact that you could feel the tower sway a bit.

Notre Dame Cathedral

This is the famous gothic-style cathedral in Paris. If you have an opportunity, do the gargoyle tour as well as exploring the inside of the cathedral.

Favorite Bookstore

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If you are a booklover like me, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is a must!

The Louvre

This amazing art museum did not allude me on my second visit to Paris. December is a much better time to visit this museum anyway. I was there at opening time and got to stand alone in front of the Mona Lisa for twenty minutes.

Musee d’Orsay

Musee d'Orsay Collection

This is my favorite art museum in Paris as I love all things Degas, Renoir and Monet. The above picture shows just a few of my favorites.

Christmas Markets

If you find yourself in Paris around Christmastime, you can experience a plethora of amazing Christmas markets that are set up all over the city.

Sights I Still Want to See

Two trips to Paris were not enough to see everything I wanted to. I still have not gone to Sacre Couer and the catacombs. Hence, why they are not featured here. Those will just have to wait until my next visit.

Day Excursions:

Versailles

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Less than a hour train ride from Paris is the Palace of Versailles. Not only is Versailles featured prominently in history, but it contains beautiful art and expansive gardens. Many of my husband’s pictures are featured above as he recently got to see Versailles with minimal renovations and working fountains, unlike my original visit to Versailles.

Rouen

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Less than a two-hour train ride from Paris, Rouen is an idyllic French town. We visited because of our interest in Joan of Arc, but there was so much more to this town. Definitely one of my favorite places.

Excursion I Still Want to Make

As mentioned before, I really love Monet paintings. Monet’s home and where he found some of his inspiration is located less than an hour from Paris in the town of Giverny.

If you are looking for more excursions into Normandy from Paris, see my Normandy link below.

Related Posts:

PARIS, FRANCE (December 2013)

Normandy, France – October 2014

I am sure Paris and I will meet again soon!

Happy Travels!!!

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Normandy, France – October 2014

As 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, visiting Normandy and especially Omaha Beach was very high on our travel bucket list that year.

CAEN

Caen Abbaye

We made the city of Caen our base as we traveled around Normandy. Our accommodation was super affordable, and Caen was right in the middle of all the sights we wanted to see.

Day One: We explored Caen. Our first stop was the Saint-Jean Church. Inside you will find images of this church before WWII and after WWII. This church was almost completely destroyed. They did manage to save part of the crucifix which is still displayedDSC_6918 (pictured on the right). We then wandered around the Chateau de Caen, which is stunning. We were most interested in going to the Caen Memorial WWII Museum. It is quite a distance to walk, but we were blessed with wonderful weather and enjoyed a nice walk through a park, where the leaves were turning beautiful colors. I believe that Caen has one of the best WWII museums I have ever visited. While this museum does focus on the events that led up to D-Day and beyond, such as military strategies and wartime atrocities, it also has a huge section that focuses on the importance of diplomacy and peace to avoid such horrible wars. It is moving and inspirational.

“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” ~General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Order to his troops for D-Day, June 6, 1944 (Featured on a stone outside of the Caen Memorial WWII Museum)

We took a long walk back to our hotel, passing the grand Abbaye aux Hommes (pictured above) during sunset. Caen is a pretty big city, so you will have no problem finding plenty of restaurants and bars at which to spend your evenings.

BAYEUX

Bayeaux Cathedral

Day Two: We took a train to the town of Bayeux. I really loved this town It is smaller and more walkable than Caen. Plus, the people there were friendly and very helpful. The woman that we spoke to at the Tourist Information center helped us figure out exactlyTapestry what public transit we needed to take to get to Omaha Beach. She also called and reserved us a private tour to Mont Saint Michel (leaving from Caen, since that is where we were stationed) for our final day. While wandering the streets of Bayeux, we noticed a lot of pro-USA, Britain, and Canada propaganda, as the French people of that town view them as the ones that liberated France from the Nazis during WWII. Before catching the bus to the beach, we had enough time to check out the Bayeux Tapestry of William the Conqueror (pictured on the right). My husband was the one that wanted to see it, but I will admit that it was shockingly impressive. It is worth taking your time to look at every deal.

OMAHA BEACH

Omaha BeachThe bus from Bayeux drops you off a good distance from the Omaha Beach, but we were able to navigate our way without a problem. We climbed uphill to take a look at a monument and found this amazing view of the beach (pictured above). We descended the hill toward the beach, passing bunkers that have remained since WWII. As we walked along the beach, I felt that everything was calm and peaceful. It is hard to believe that so many lives were taken on that beautiful beach. For a final stop, we headed up to the American Cemetery (pictured on the right). When we got to the top of the hill, before entering tAmerican Cemeteryhe cemetery, we noticed that they offer guided tours. We decided to wait for a guided tour and were fortunate enough to end up having a private tour. The American Cemetery overlooks the beach. The grounds are well-maintained. You will find that the eldest son of President Teddy Roosevelt is buried there. There is also a small number of American women buried there as well. Our guide told us a story about one of the women, named Elizabeth Richardson. She worked for the Red Cross as a “donut dolly,” where she served donuts to the servicemen. She survived being in the midst of combat in France to see the end of the war. As she was flying to head home, her plane crashed into a mountain. I can’t help but feel sad that someone so caring and generous had to die when she was so close to seeing her family again. The American Cemetery is such a special place – full of so many emotions.

ROUEN

RouenDay Three: We took the train from Caen to Rouen. Rouen is famously known as the town where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. We decided to do our own self-guided Joan of Arc tour of Rouen, which began with the Joan of Arc Tower, where she was imprisoned before she was put to death. We then visited St. Ouen Cathedral. It waClocks here that we started to just wander down the streets looking at all the remarkable buildings (pictured above). There were so many wonderful shops. We stopped at the Creperie Restaurant for one of the most amazing crepes I have ever had. From there we walked by the Cathedrale Notre-Dame and the Tour du Gros-horloge. The Gros-horloge (pictured on the right) is an astronomical clock that was first constructed in the 1300s. We continued our Joan of Arc tour by visiting the Church of St. Joan of Arc. In the courtyard of this church is a cross, which stands as a memorial to Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake in that spot. From this location, they deposited her remains in the Seine River, where a plaque now stands with a description of this action.

Mont Saint Michel

Mont St Michele

Day Four: On our final day, a private car and guide came to pick us up in Caen and take us to Mont Saint Michel (pictured above). While the weather was not ideal when weTrekkers arrived, it did eventually clear up for some amazing photos. Since we were visiting on a Sunday, we got to visit the abbey free-of-charge and attend a church service. Mont Saint Michel is an island that is only accessible during low-tide, so our time there was limited. Many people actually make a pilgrimage to the island by foot during low-tide. A guide has to be with you on this pilgrimage as timing and footing is very important and can be dangerous. We got to witness a group making the pilgrimage (pictured on the right). Almost made me wish I had done it myself.

Things I would do differently if I could do it all again

If I were to take another trip to Normandy to explore a little bit more, I would do a few things differently. First of all, I would stay in Bayeux. It is such an adorable little town, and it is much easier to access the beaches from there. Second, I would rent a car instead of relying on public transit. We almost got stuck at Omaha beach overnight. We were waiting for the bus to take us back to Bayeux. We were trying hard not to panic when it did not come. Luckily, someone must have been watching out for us, because a nice French couple stopped their car and offered us a ride back to Bayeux. We were very fortunate. The other benefit to having a car is being able to access Mont Saint Michele. It is quite a distance away from Caen and Bayeux. If we had had our own car, we could have saved money on the tour and guide and left earlier to have more time there. Maybe we would have seen Mont Saint Michele at high-tide. Last, we learned that while we have grown accustomed to being able to purchase train tickets at the last minute, sometimes trains fill up. We did not plan ahead and almost didn’t get on a train one night, because all the trains were full. I try to say that going with the flow can be fun, but there is something to be said for planning in advance as well.

Once again Normandy is another example of a destination that, even though we saw all the sights on our list, we would return to see other places that we learned about while we were there. The travel bucket list never gets smaller. It just changes.