When I first went to Paris, I hated it. It was back in the day when I was Couchsurfing across Europe, and it was right when Couchsurfing was transitioning to Sexsurfing. This meant that creepy waves of men were using the site to just find hookups, like a proto-Tinder, rather than legitimate places to stay and make new acquaintances.
As men caught onto this tactic, they started writing disclaimers on their sites, “Females only”, and as women started catching onto this, they started writing disclaimers on their sites, “Females only.” This was especially true in Paris. Even though traveling with such an odd instrument as an accordion usually made Couchsurfing easy, it didn’t in Paris at that time.
the streets near St. Severin
That meant I had to either do a hostel or use something like Airbnb (this was before the days of Airbnb). Hostels are not cheap in Paris. The cheapest one I found was for the same price as a private apartment. So I went with the private apartment. Perhaps I would have liked Paris better in a hostel, where at least I’d have a group of people to hang out with, rather than pondering my time away alone, writing a book that would never be, cooking eggs for most meals, and drinking wine on the street by myself.
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I went to Strasbourg next, and now it’s easily my favorite city in France. I also scrounged up my money and splurged on a fancy hotel, so that might have been part of it. Though also it’s just a really beautiful city. Check out my blog on it here.
Strasbourg is easy to love
Fast forward nearly 6 years and everything is different. Now I was able to explore the city with a woman I love, and it didn’t seem so expensive anymore either. Now I’m a fan.
My last blog I mentioned how on the first day, we were able to hit most of the major sites.
But Paris is a really difficult city to manage in just a day. Though we did make our best with it. On the second day, we were actually trying to figure out what to do. Our flight to New Orleans wasn’t until the next day, so we had some time to rest and hang around. First order of business then was coffee.
As we were staying near the Pantheon, it made perfect sense to head down to to Cafe Delmas at Place de la Contrescape to start out our day. Contrescape is a cute plaza filled with trees and surrounded by little picturesque buildings with chairs spilling out onto the sidewalks. In fact, much of the main street it’s on, the Rue Mouffetard, fits that description. It’s pretty easy to find a café there to fill you up for breakfast, with croissants, omelets, and coffee, for under 10 euros. In fact, probably the only thing affordable in France to eat is breakfast.
Our day was a bit more ambitious. We would jump on the metro and head to Montmartre, then walk to the Arc du Triomphe, head down to the Seine, and if we’ve got time and energy, hit up the Musee D’Orsay. Perfectly achievable, yeah?
Using the metro
Paris’s metro map, at first sight, looks like an Italian pasta dish. It’s just kind of thrown together, random at best, designed by a mad man at worst. Back in my first days in Paris, it was long before Google Maps and one had to stand in the metro staring at a wall map quite hopelessly.
But now with Google Maps, traveling on transit is made ridiculously easy. It tells you the quickest route, where to make the changes, what directions to go in, and so on. For any American, or anyone at all, traveling, it’s paramount you’ve got an unlocked phone and access to Google Maps. This entirely opens up your world, and ensures you’re never lost, though sometimes it’s good to be a little lost.
metro never looked so tasty
If you don’t have access to a data plan and Google Maps, then hook up to wifi and use the RATP page or RATP app to navigate ahead of time. Jot down your travel plans, download their map, and head on out. There is literally absolutely no reason that you should be lost when traveling in this day and age. At least, not in Europe.
That said, it’s a basic metro. You go to a machine at the station, buy a ticket, go through the turnstiles, get on the train. If you don’t want to deal with a machine, all the major stations have a lady at a ticket booth who may or may not speak English (probably won’t), so be patient because you’re in France and you should be speaking French anyway. Use your fingers, make noises, pantomime, and don’t forget to smile. Frankly though, if you don’t speak French, probably the machines are a better option, it has an English language button.
From the machine, if you’re planning on using the metro a lot (two days, from and to the airport, for example), then it might be best to buy the Paris Visite pass, which starts at about 15 dollars and gets you unlimited access to the metro.
Approach the turnstiles, put the ticket into the slot. It comes out the slot. The turnstile—which is more of a plastic door—pops open, and slams closed, so move your butt! Also, there is probably already a long line of angry Frenchmen forming behind you, and they’re not entirely afraid to push you out of the way.
If you’re nervous, sit back and watch. Then repeat what you see.
You can also get this Paris City Pass from GetYourGuide, which includes the metro and a slew of museum entries.
Montmartre – Sacre Coeur
The best way up Montmartre to Sacre Coeur, I think, is the back way. It’s also a nice way to see another neighborhood and maybe grab some coffee. Get off the metro at Chateau Rouge, and then find your way across all the zig-zag intersections, up some stairs, then up around the backside and then bam, open your eyes to an insane, nearly 360-degree view of Paris. The only impediments to your view is a tree and a giant cathedral towering over you.
the back route has its view
If there’s one church to see the inside of in Paris, it’s the Sacre Coeur. I’ve been to both Notre Dame and Sacre Couer, and believe me, hands down, Sacre Coeur takes the cake. Or tart. Or macaroon.
The building itself looks very Middle Eastern or Byzantine in architecture, so maybe even to the original form of the religion, and a far cry from the usual French Gothic style that litters France. It was built at the heart of the Paris Commune as a way to teach them who’s boss, back in 1875, and wasn’t finished until World War I.
Byzantine is so in right now