France Part 1- Paris & London
Updated: May 7, 2020
It’s been just over two weeks since we touched down in Indianapolis and we slumped off of the plane and back to real life. Unfortunately, life has been so hectic since then that it’s taken me all this time to sit down and get this article out! This will be the first of two, because there was so much packed in our ten days... So be on the look out for the rest... Coming later this week!!
Our trips was 10 days and included 3 different countries, even though the majority of it was spent in France. We had been to Paris last March for a few days, but since a few days in the capital is hardly enough to get a feel for the whole country, we decided another trip was in order! Our first few days were spent in Paris, with a quick day trip over to London. We then headed south to Nice with a second day trip to Monaco, and finished up our trip with a day and a half in Dijon.
While I have loved Paris both times we've gone, I learned on this trip that if you're French, you probably hate Paris unless you live there! I'd imagine it's probably because people go there and then assume that they know what all of France is like, but as long as you keep in mind that it would be like thinking NYC was an accurate representation of all of America... You'll be fine!
Our first day in Paris started pretty slowly since neither of us slept very well on the plane... We took a nap (which is usually against our rules, but we made a rare exception), and took some time to get cleaned up before heading out to explore! Our general plan was to head to the Canal Saint-Martin, but we had no strict timeline or path to get there. We revisited the Arc de Triomphe and walked down the familiar main road we travelled on our last stay to visit the Jardin des Tuileries, a popular park close to the Louvre. When we got to the park we stumbled into a carnival with rides, games, and food everywhere! We ended up deciding to ride The Giant Wheel, a huge ferris wheel that gave us a cool view of all the main Parisian attractions.
After taking in the view from up high, we went down to the river and walked along the riverfront towards the canal. The walk ended up taking a lot longer than we expected, and we ended up deciding that our best option for dinner was to eat before we got to the canal (a decision we were later thankful for, because the restaurant options along the canal were limited to bar-type places). We ended up deciding on a place called Indiana because how can you go to another country and not eat at a restaurant that's named after your state!? (Interesting note: it was Tex-Mex food, which seems really weird to us because Indiana is not close to either of those places, but I guess it is compared to Paris it is??)
After eating we finished the trek to the canal and found the coolest environment! The canal was packed with people all ages, sitting in pairs or big groups of friends, talking, listening to music and eating a picnic dinner along the water. We were inspired by the atmosphere and tried to find somewhere to buy a bottle of wine, but apparently all the local grocery stores stopped selling alcohol at 9 and it was 9:05...
But we didn't let that stop us from enjoying the evening and we wandered up and down the canal enjoying the busy evening. One of my favorite things about France (that may also be true in other countries in Europe, but I'm working with what I know here), is that there is such a focus on being outside and enjoying the company of friends over a meal or a drink. Parks are filled with people taking time to connect face-to-face and I think at least in my life, that's something I don't spend enough time doing!
After the canal we started wandering back in the general direction of our hotel and stumbled upon another local gathering place! This time it was a big skate park with people of all ages trying out their skateboarding skills in the center, with groups of people swing dancing together on the outsides. It was a very strange mix of activities but again, everyone was enjoying the company of friends and respecting each other's space. Seeing so much night life on a random Thursday night was such an unexpected find, but it made us enjoy the city that much more!
On our second day we spent the morning trying to escape the rain in Versailles (technically not Paris but it's like a 30 minute Uber so it's close enough)! We wanted to be able to see the gardens in their full glory since they were still mostly winterized when we visited in March. Unfortunately in the winter, the gardens are free to visit, but that is not the case when it warms up and the flowers bloom. Luckily we got a student discount (more on that in an upcoming post), so it wasn't an expensive visit! This time we watched all of the fountain shows and rented a rowboat for us (meaning Chase) to row around the lake. This is one activity I would highly recommend doing if you are ever visiting Versailles and it's not super cold!
Unfortunately our visit was cut short when the skies got suspiciously dark and it started to sprinkle and then pour. Luckily we had started heading back when it first looked like it might rain, so we managed to get to the buildings with minimal damage, but we ended up stuck hiding from a downpour for almost half an hour before it slowed enough for us to venture out. We wandered into the city and explored the rest of the town to see what there was besides a big palace with beautiful gardens. What we found was a beautiful little town with lots of small shops and places to eat. We found a small pizza place and settled on that for lunch, knowing it would be filling and hold us over until the 7/8pm dinner time.
After getting soggy in our clothes from the morning, we went back to the hotel to change, and plan out our evening. We decided to go see the Luxembourg Gardens and have dinner in that area of the city, so after getting changed we headed out. We decided to swing by the Eiffel Tower on the way (ya know... casually since we'd already seen it), and in doing so found another awesome popup fair! This one was only food, so we got a few macaroons and fancy mojito to snack on, and headed back to the riverfront. We walked along until we found the love lock bridge (Paris's famous bridge where you write your names on the lock, hook it on to the bridge, and throw the key into the river), where we decided to indulge in the super cheesy, super touristy, and super cute tradition. Will it be there the next time we come back? Probably not, but we created a fun memory so that's okay!
Unfortunately by the time we got to the gardens it was 3 minutes until they closed so they weren't letting anyone in (our timing on this trip so far was just killer). But there is a silver lining in everything when you travel, and the silver lining here was that we found the most amazing corner restaurant to have dinner!
Depending on the hotel we are staying in, we usually ask the concierge for restaurant recommendations about half of the time, but we also like to go with the flow and just find something, and we did that a lot more than usual on this trip.
We walked until we were hungry and then stopped in a cute place that had indoor seating but full length windows that they opened for a breeze. (Outdoor seating often means smokers and Chase and I don't smoke so it's usually nicer for your lungs to be inside if that's an option.) Since it was a small place, it had authentic French food on the menu, and not the Americanized food you sometimes get at restaurants in the super touristy places. We both enjoyed our meals and I had THE BEST tiramisu I've ever eaten! After dinner we scootered back to the hotel (scooters are a super great way to get around, especially in Paris because they're often faster and cheaper than an Uber, and if you want you can even fit two people on one scooter) and prepped for our day in London!
Skipping London for now (it will get it's own section), our last day in Paris started off pretty late. We had gotten back from London after 11 and stopped to get food before heading back to the hotel. Again, violating our usual rules, we slept in and got a late start. But this time we were determined to get to the Luxembourg Gardens, so we made our way over to the general area and stopped at a grocery store to get supplies for a picnic lunch.
Picnic in the gardens... Best decision we've ever made! It was the most relaxing afternoon activity, and it was super cool to see all the different groups of friends and family that were spending their Sunday afternoon relaxing and enjoying the park! Again, the best part was seeing how respectful everyone was of each other. They were all careful not to be too loud or sit too close to another group, and Chase and I both recognized this because unfortunately, I don't think people usually have that much respect here in the US... Either way, some wine and a simple picnic was a beautiful way to start off our last day in Paris! After eating, we wandered around the rest of the garden. They had a building with an art and history exhibit, and a few memorials that we looked at. Eventually we decided to venture to the subway, in order to get to the Sacré-Cœur, a famous basilica. For some reason we hadn't really explored the subway before this, but someone at our hotel has assured us that it was pretty easy to navigate and there were designated people to help tourists at busy stations (which was really cool)!
When we got to the giant basilica on the hill we walked all around it to admire it's beauty, but opted not to go in because the line was really long and moving really slowly. Instead we spent some time people-watching and then started weaving our way down the hill through the city. Eventually we ended up finding an old cemetery, a rare sight in Paris because most were moved as the city expanded. Most of the plots in the cemetery were giant mausoleums where more than one person, sometimes entire families, were laid to rest. There were also the graves of some famous French figures, including a French movie director, whose grave was covered in tickets and notes from fans who had come to visit!
We stayed and walk around for a while until the cemetery was closing and the staff came around to shoo everyone out for the day. As we continued walking back in the general direction of our hotel, we popped out of a side street and realized we were only a few blocks away from the Moulin Rouge! We walked by and stopped long enough to take a picture, because when we came to see a show there in March we really didn't think about getting one until after we were gone! (Highly recommend seeing a show there if you get the chance... But be warned there is a fair amount of nudity so maybe don't bring your little kids?)
To round out our stay in Paris, we decided to try out a Parisian steakhouse and see how they compared to American steakhouses. There was one really close to our hotel so we made reservations, got dressed up, and headed there for dinner.... VERY different vibe than a fancy American steakhouse. We were probably a little over dressed (I was just wearing a dress and Chase was wearing pants and a polo), but it wasn't too uncomfortable because the restaurant and staff were very nice, even though all the rest of the guests were dressed pretty casually. There were a lot more loud little kids than there would be in a nice American steakhouse, but it was kind of nice not
to be in an uptight environment. We ordered and enjoyed bread for a starter, and when the
food came, it came with a unique presentation. Instead of giving you a big chunk of meat with a few sides, the meat came on a big platter, pre-sliced, and with a salad plopped on top! The sides came family-style which was fine because we typically end up sharing anyway. The steak was good, but definitely very different from the American style, and we finished off the meal with a fancy chocolate mousse dessert. Overall, an interesting experience. Definitely worth trying it, but I would say I prefer my American steaks!
To round out our time in Paris, we went to the Windo Bar on the 22nd floor of the hotel to enjoy a complimentary bottle of champagne (being a Hyatt Globalist has many perks, but you always get the best customer service, and often get to enjoy special perks like this). The Windo Bar's big claim to fame is it's late night view of the Eiffel Tower. With one wall made entirely of windows, you do get a pretty cool view of the tower as it lights up after dark and puts on a light show for a few minutes every hour. We tried Rosé Champagne for the first time, (big fan!!) and enjoyed out last evening looking out over the city.
We may have only visited the city for one day, be we made sure to fit in as much as we could while we were there! Our day started early in Paris, getting to the train station a little over an hour before our train was supposed to board so that we would have time to get through security and border control.
Once on the train, we settled in and I took a nap almost immediately. Chase stayed awake with hopes of seeing the tunnel that would take us underwater, but he was unfortunately very disappointed. (If you ever take this train don't bother on trying to see in the tunnel... It's pitch black the whole time and you don't get to see anything.)
Getting off the train in London was a little weird, because all of the sudden everything was in English again! We managed to navigate our way out of the station and to the street to find an Uber and head to my cousins' flat a little north of the city. When we got there, we were treated to a full English breakfast (quite the spread)! Most of the food was pretty typical stuff... Not all things I would think to eat for breakfast, but mostly all pretty normal... EXCEPT for the black pudding. If you're wondering what that would even look like, it's the black, sausage patty-type deal on the left hand side of the top pan. Seems pretty normal right? Just a little like burnt sausage? Well we specifically asked not to be told what it was until we had eaten it (a solid decision looking back), and when we found out what it was, we decided that we could probably do without another. Black pudding is a type of blood sausage. It's made from pork blood, pork fat, and some sort of cereal, like oatmeal, chopped up to help hold it together. Yummy, huh??
After eating breakfast (which seemed a little late to me, but according to my cousin, "If it's before noon it's breakfast"), we headed to the subway. While they do have subway cards, their subways have also started implementing contactless payment, so if you have a credit card that you can tap to pay with in a store, you can just use that card to pay for your subway rides! (This is great for getting travel points!!!) We got off of the subway by the Kensington Gardens, and walked around for a while enjoying all of the activity going on throughout the park. We ended up finding ourself on embassy row, and walked along checking out all of the fancy embassy houses. Not long after we started down the street, we noticed that the side we were on had a screen on the fence from about waist height to the top. Naturally we were curious about why this was the case, and took a peek under to see what was on the other side. Turns out, it was the Kensington State Apartments, and Prince William and Kate's backyard! While we were watching, Prince George and Princess Charlotte came out into the yard and started playing with bubbles with their nanny (babysitter, teacher, someone??) That very well might have been the coolest part of London for me!!
After deciding to stop being creepy and watching the royal children play in their backyard, we finished out walk down embassy row and headed back towards the palace for Afternoon Tea at The Orangery (yes, it was as fancy as it sounded)! Afternoon Tea is quite the event, and comes with tea, champagne, finger sandwiches, scones (we would call them biscuits, but their biscuits are our cookies?), and various fancy desserts. And just like every meal in Europe, it's at least a 1.5-2 hour event. Each person gets four different types of sandwiches, three different desserts, and two scones. For the scones there is jam and clotted cream,(which is not as gross at it sounds... it's kind of like a sweet, whipped butter?) and whether you put the jam or clotted cream first is apparently a very big deal. Luckily in London, my cousins said most people do cream first, so we fit right in!
After finishing tea we still had a few hours left before we needed to head back to the train station to catch the train back to Paris, so we said good-bye to my cousins and headed through the gardens and towards Buckingham Palace. When we got to the palace, we got to see the fancy guards, but didn't have as much luck spotting royalty as we had earlier in the day. After seeing the palace, we made our way over to some of the other famous London sites. Unfortunately Big Ben was fully covered up for construction that is expected to take until 2021 (so if you're planning on going to London in the next year or so, don't get your hopes up for Big Ben), but we did get to see the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, and a large number of classic red phone booths!
After making it to the river, we wandered back in the general direction of the train station and stumbled into Piccadilly Circus, London's version of Time Square. There were street performers, tons of places to get food, little shops all over the place, and SO MANY PEOPLE! It was a great place to people watch, but after walking as much as we did (about 8.5 miles by that point in the evening), it was a little too overwhelming. We made our way out of the crowded area and to a much calmer street to call an Uber to take us back to the train station.
We made it back to the station with just enough time to get through security and run to the bathroom before boarding for our train began. This time, we were both so tired that we didn't last long into the ride before falling asleep for most of the way home. It was a busy, adventure-packed day in London, and we hope to go back someday to spend a little more time getting to know the city! However, I am very satisfied with our one-day preview, and if you ever find yourself with an extra day in Paris, I would highly recommend taking the train to London for the day just to explore!
While the first half of our trip was unquestionably wonderful, it was also very tiring. We averaged 9-10 miles a day (walking) and packed in a lot of fun! After our last day in Paris, we hopped on a plane and flew down to southern France to enjoy some warmer weather.
If you want to hear more about the rest of our trip, check out Part 2! If you have any questions or want to know more about certain aspects of our trip, feel free to reach out!!