Monday, April 6, 2015

The Best of Paris

The travel question of the day comes from my good friend, Sabrina S in California:

"OK my traveling buddy ~ I need your expertise ~ I'm going to Paris and London in May ~  First of all, freaking out about the long flight because I can barely make it to Hawaii.  Second:  How to pack / What to pack / Travel needs.   Third:  Must-see and do's while I'm there."

OK, Sabrina, here you go, Part II: 

Long flights are part of the fun.    Movies pass the time pretty quickly, a couple hours at a whack; and I take a paperback book along that I will donate to the airline when I get off the plane (who wants to haul it all over Europe, right?)  Crossword puzzles, solitaire on your IPad, Soduku, whatever will pass the time.  Variety is the key.

For really long flights, anything over 10 or 12 hours, I take a sleeping pill a couple of hours into the flight.  (For those of you who know me, you know that I'm not into pills.  But it's sort of like sea-sick pills; you can just man up & take a tablet when the occasion calls for it, or you can pay the puke-y price.)  Your physician can prescribe one for you, or there are over- the- counter versions.  You can sleep away several of the long hours that way, plus you arrive allot more refreshed. Ambien works well for me, 'cause I wake up immediately, and it does not leave me drowsy.  (Of course, you might have read about the guy on the plane that only half  woke up after taking Ambien;  thought he was at home, couldn't understand why he was sleeping in his clothes, and proceeded to strip them all off.  Yup, roaming the plane naked as a jaybird, and still half asleep.  I'm sure the flight attendants are still talking about that one.  I keep my seatbelt on, just in case.)

 I also drink lots and lots of lots of water (I make it a rule that the answer is always "yes" when they offer it, that way I don't have to decide); dehydration is a terrible enemy when you travel, and on the long flights the airline staff is aware and do their best to keep it at bay.  Plus the resulting frequent trips to the bathroom get me out of my seat every hour or two.  And I pack snacks, cashews, jerky, cheese & crackers.  Well, unless you're going first class!

I have not been to London yet, Sabrina, so you will have to advise me on that one once your back.  I can't wait to hear!

We spent 5 days in Paris, and because it was at the end of our Eastern Europe trip we were not dealing with jet lag, so they were 5 full days.  Steve had been before, but it was my first trip, so we had to get the basics in ~

What to see:   Paris is a huge city geographically, so I would check on the map to see which sights are closest to your hotel and build from that.   It seems to me that my Eyewitness Travel book for Paris had a nice city map in it.  That gives you a good overview so you can be efficient with your time, instead of zig-zagging around.

Eiffel Tower lines can be hours long ~ purchasing tickets ahead online is a good idea.   We chose not to do this, we didn't want to be tied to a particular time; so we circled it a couple of times before finding a time-slot (like 5-ish) that was after the day crowd and before the night crowd, and we zipped right in.

And because you can stay as long as you want once you're up-top, we got the added bonus of seeing the city in daylight, and then watching the whole city light up at night.   Very cool.

There is a side entrance to the Louve (through a tunnel) that will save you standing in line for hours at the pyramid ~ everybody purchases their tickets from the same machine once inside, anyhow.  Then, when you're done, exit through the pyramid for the experience, and you haven't missed anything but a 2-hour entrance line!   It's always crowded, and I've been to other museums I actually liked better ~ but.  It's the Louve.  Amazing art and artists.  Besides stopping by to say hi to "Mona",  I like the sculptures, particularly the Horses of Marly; and I have a special appreciation for the work of  Michelangelo, especially after seeing so much of his work while in Italy.  Good stuff by Leonardo, too.  You can spend a couple of hours, or a couple of days here, so it's smart to read up a bit, figure out what's a "must see" for you, and visit those galleries first.

Notre Dame is also a must.  The entrance line looks huge, but it moves really really fast, so don't be put off by that.   

It's right next to the Latin district, which has a cool vibe very different from the rest of the city, especially at night.  

Lots of jazz bars and kitchy places to eat.  Great energy here. 

We used the Hop On/Hop Off bus allot in Paris ~ it's a great way to get around, get an overview of the city, and take in some sights whether or not you stop to visit them. 

Travel tip:  In huge cities like this, where we can't walk everywhere, we much prefer being on the top deck of the bus to being closed up in a cab.  It's economical (usually it's a two or three day pass); it's flexible (they run every half hour or so ~ you hop on whenever you want, hop off to see what you want, and get back on whenever you're done); it's educational (they issue a headset which gives you a commentary in your own language of what you're seeing and passing by); and it's comprehensive (they stop at all the major sights in the city). Plus I've gotten some really good photos from up-top on the upper deck, like this one of the 
Opera House.

Second tier of must-see's are the Opera House, the Opera National de Paris Garnier, where they let you in to wander about @ no charge (in many other cities we have had to purchase a ticket to this or that just to see the interior of these amazing theaters); we just loved it.  

   Can you just imagine sweeping in, up the dramatic Grand (white marble) Staircase, dressed to the nines in something fabulous, adorned with jewels, very high heels, to attend some renowned opera or performance?  
Isn't it just gorgeous???

And can't you just imagine dancing the waltz 
with your handsome hubby in this ballroom?!  

They are setting up for some cool performance, 
I can't determine if it's a fog machine or dry ice......

The ceiling art in the main theater 
is both controversial (so we hear) and amazing.....

We ended up on the balcony overlooking the square, and spent about an hour just hanging out watching life in Paris happen right before our eyes.  There was a street musician performing on the steps, so we got a little free concert in the deal.  We probably spent a couple of hours here.  
A memorable Paris afternoon for us.  

We also visited a lesser-known church called Sainte-Chapelle, and out of the dozens of cathedrals we've been in around the world (I never ever pass one up!), this is one of the most amazing.  

It's walls are almost entirely made of stained-glass, and each panel is a piece of the story from the Bible, from creation to revelation.  It is absolutely astoundingly breathtaking, and I would tell everyone not to miss it.   I don't remember where it is on the map, it might be out-of-your way, but if you are passing close by, don't miss this!

Lesser sights would be Moulin Rouge and the Sacre-Couer 

And Luxembourg Gardens  
All good, but not tragic to miss if your time is limited.

See the top one??   That's my painting!!!

So, if you happen to visit the Monmartre district, and you happen to find "This guy" ~~~ Well, I would pay you big bucks to secure one of his paintings for me.   We missed it. One of the few times I can say we blew it.  I loved loved loved his work. I was completely taken in.  Art, (as in music) is completely subjective, it's all about what speaks to your soul.  And this one did.

I can't remember what he was asking for this; it was more about how many Euro's we had on us at the moment than being affordable. But we had to pass.  And I have very very few regrets in my travels, but not buying that painting was one of them.

I'm thinking here........don't have my agenda with me, trying to remember.....
Tell you what, though, I have posted all of my Paris reviews on Trip Advisor, usually with a pix or two of my own.   Go to the blog,, scroll down to the bottom, and there's a link that will take you to all my reviews.  Just select "Paris", and you will get the full story of what we saw and did and experienced.  

Where to eat:  All our little restaurants are there in Trip Advisor, too.   We had completely amazing food at these little ma & pa type bistro's ~ there's not a single one that I would not return to, nor would I hesitate to recommend.  These are not the big fancy high-dollar restaurants (which is what I imagined we would be dining at in France!), but I can remember each dish of each meal even a year later......that's just plain excellent dining!

Travel tip:  We use a Trip Advisor ap on Steve's IPhone a ton.  We will be out & about, and when we want to eat, he just pulls up "Top rated restaurants"  "Near me now";  he briefs through them, and we walk to something nearby.  It rarely fails us.

Travel tip:  It rained allot when we were in Paris.  A word on umbrella's ~ I used to haul a travel umbrella, but......I found it was always back @ the hotel in my suitcase when I needed it ~ and it's really only big enough for one person. What we've learned is that most (nicer) hotels offer huge umbrellas to guests, so we just borrow one of those for the day when the weather suggests we should.

What to wear:  I wore mostly black.   They dressed allot more casually than I would have expected (what did I think, it was all a fashion run-way??).  I travel allot in those stretchy (thus comfy) pants from Chico's, they're somewhere in-between slacks and jeans. On that trip we had been to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and then to Paris as our last stop, so........I might have dressed up a little more if Paris had been my main destination, but my one bag (I know, right??) had to suffice for all.  

And I always dress in layers.  I start with a sleeveless tank, over which I wear either long sleeves or a sweater, topped off with either a light-weight jacket (Chico's, again, is good for these) or a trench coat, depending on weather.   I can strip off a layer as the day wears on, adding it back on when the sun goes down and we are strolling home late at night after a romantic dinner somewhere.  

Bottom line ~ Paris is a city like no other, for sure.  I've enjoyed re-visiting my adventures and photos from that beautiful city ~ and I'm so excited for you Sabrina!  Can't wait to hear all about your travel adventures,





  1. Sainte-Chappelle is very close to Notre Dame. Also a short walk across the Seine from Notre Dame is the coolest book store where the likes of Hemingway & buddies had long discussions. It's called the Shakespeare Book Store, stamps all your purchases with their logo, as well as sells rare editions.
    Dianna L

  2. By the way, we wouldn't have known about the book store except for Rick Steve's book. He always adds interesting smaller places to visit.
    Dianna L

    1. I'm sorry to have missed the bookstore, Dianna; it sounds like just the sort of thing I would have loved! I agree, Rick Steves is a good source for some of the lesser known sights. I also like "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" for the same reason. She has traveled the world over, and has defined these thousand experiences / sights / festivals / adventures as her "don't miss these" list. Thanks for the tip ~ for sure the next trip to Paris!


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