I fell in love with Paris.
How American of me…
I spent 36 hours in Paris last April, but my heart is yearning to go back and spend as many hours as possible, roaming streets, exploring gardens, and whiling away hours at cute cafes.
If you have limited time in Paris, there are infinite ways to spend it, but if you’re looking for ideas, here is how I spent 36 hours in Paris.
By the time I ventured to Paris, I had been in London for a week. London’s tube and bus systems are so wonderfully easy to navigate that I ended up at St. Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris an hour early – a full thirty minutes more than what Eurostar says to allot.
Despite my early arrival, I barely made it on the train. It was a Friday, and I didn’t know it was a bank holiday. I wasn’t the only one with dreams of a long weekend in Paris. Otherwise, the journey was smooth and easy. I read some of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, and slept for the two and a half hour trip.
It took me a few minutes to get my bearings upon arriving in Paris. The train station has signs in English, but the kiosks to buy billets (metro tickets – you need a ticket per ride) are in French first, and not all of them take credit or debit cards. Once I used my minimal French to obtain a carnet (a book of 10 tickets – more than enough for 36 hours!), I headed to my hotel in St. Germain to drop off my bags.
My love of Hemingway is what prompted my desire to stay in St. Germain. I wanted to stay in the same arrondissement he lived in, and visit some of the same haunts. I stayed at Hotel Bel-Ami and highly recommend it if you’re in Paris. It was safe, surrounded by charming restaurants and cafes, and a good mid-range price.
I had zero plans as to what I would actually do once I arrived in Paris. I had a list of things I would like to do, but I decided to just play it by ear and see what happened – an excellent decision on all accounts. My first order of business after dropping off my bag was to find food, namely a crepe. I set out on foot to find a cafe.
My hotel was quite close to Shakespeare and Company and Notre Dame, so I found a little hole in the wall cafe near Notre Dame and along the Seine and ate the best nutella and strawberry crepe under the sun while sipping a latte. It was all very French and wonderful.
From there, I ventured to Notre Dame. I timed it just right and walked into the cathedral just in time for mass. I didn’t understand a single word, but I was moved to tears – what a beautiful experience. I took a few minutes to pray and light a candle before I left.
Shakespeare and Company is more or less across the street from Notre Dame, so off I went. Shakespeare and Company was a hangout of sorts for the lost generation, a time period that included the likes of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. I buy children’s books everywhere I travel so I’ll be able to give my children a library of books from around the world, and what better place to purchase those books than here?
I could have spent hours, browsing shelves and soaking up the history, but limited myself to just one hour. I walked out with two books – including Madeline In Paris – and had them stamp the inside covers with their signature stamp.
Another place I desperately wanted to go while in Paris was Montmartre. I had fallen in love with the photos of street artists and the views from Sacré-Cœur, one of the highest points in the city, while creating Paris content at work. I had to see it myself.
It was too far to walk, so I pulled up my favorite travel app – Citymapper – and found my route. When the metro reached my stop, there was a lot of noise as I approached street level. I naively thought it was just a busy street, but when I emerged, the exit was lined with men, most of whom I later learned were from Africa, shaking rings of keychains, cones of roasted nuts, mini Eiffel Towers, whatever they could carry at passerbys, hoping they would purchase something.
I was prepared for this. I had read about them and knew to walk with purpose, keep my bag close, and use a strong “Non!” if they got too close.
What I wasn’t prepared for was to get completely and helplessly lost.
In hindsight, I wasn’t in nearly as much danger as I thought. Montmartre is located in Paris’ 18th Arrondissement which is home to a large number of immigrants from west Africa. I was in the Goutte d’Or neighborhood, my phone didn’t have service, and not only was nothing in English, very little was in French. I used my instincts, however, and just walked uphill. Soon enough, I arrived at the steps to the Sacré-Cœur.
The view from Sacré-Cœur is stunning. Even though it was cloudy, it was still breathtaking. The basilica itself is also beautiful, inside and out. I will say, it was here that the men selling chotskies and potential pickpockets were the worst. They hounded people, and were especially prone to the tricks of giving women roses (for payment) or tying bracelets around their wrists (then demanding payment). Again, being mindful and saying “Non!” with force was enough to ward them off.
I spent some time wandering around Montmartre, watching artists work. It was absolutely charming. It started to rain a bit, so I ducked into a few shops – and a cafe for coffee – and picked up a few art prints. When in Montmartre…
I left Montmartre with the Eiffel Tower as my destination. When I emerged from the tube, however, I saw quintessential Paris – a ferris wheel, and the Jardin des Tuileries. I started wandering. Through the gardens, past the carousel, along the Musee d’Orsay. I stopped for a bit and sat by the Grand Bassin Round and watched the birds. I walked through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and found myself at the Louvre. It was too late in the day to go in, so after spending some time wandering about outside, it was off to the Eiffel Tower.
I swore I wasn’t going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
It was too “touristy” to me.
But then I turned a corner.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower in person struck me dumb. I had glimpsed the top of it throughout the day, but when I unexpectedly turned a corner and practically walked into it, nothing would do except going to the top – the very very top.
The weather had turned full on cloudy and rainy. It was freezing cold. I didn’t care. It was above Paris. Above the clouds. At the very tip top of the Eiffel Tower.
What a moment.
By the time I left the Eiffel Tower, I was exhausted. I was also starving. I ventured back to St. Germain with the intention of having dinner at one of the cafes near my hotel. I somehow ended up back at my hotel where I realized just how cold I was. I took the hottest shower I could stand, and by the time I got out, I couldn’t bring myself to venture back to the streets, even in Paris. I ordered room service.
I don’t like ordering room service. It’s expensive, but also, why eat at a hotel when you’re in a new city? When my food was brought to my room, however, I was blown away. The chicken sandwich was the size of my hand. The fries were so perfectly French. There were cheese and crackers. Fruit. A cappuccino. A macaron. It was delicious and worth every single euro.
I fell asleep instantly.
The next morning, I had breakfast at the hotel, then headed for Champs-Élysées. I know there are more “affordable” places to shop throughout Paris, but I wanted to experience the infamous avenue. I did pick up a beautiful top and dress while I ventured towards the Arc de Triomphe .
My last “to do” in Paris was essential: macarons.
While people love Ladurée’s macarons, I wanted Pierre Hermé. Blame Chuck Bass. I found a boutique near my hotel, and oh my lord. I tried the chocolate praline and hazelnut coffee macarons and to date, they are among the best things I’ve ever tasted. I picked up a few boxes for gifts, and consider it a small miracle that every single macaron made it back to the United States.
Too soon, I was back on the Eurostar for London.
36 hours in Paris wasn’t nearly enough. I’m constantly planning my next adventure, and I often find myself thinking up ways to spend a few days in Paris while venturing through Europe. There is just so much I still want to see and do!
Have you been to Paris? Where are your favorite places? I’ll add them to my list for my next trip!