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
The Paris Commune was a bunch of Commies that took advantage of Napoleon III’s miserable failure during the Franco-Prussian War (which served as a kind of pre-World War I, with drastically different results, which kind of set up World War I). The biggest result of that war was the creation of a unified German Empire, or a Second Reich, for those using the Hitler method of counting.
the Sacred Heart has my heart
Anyway, Montmartre was the site where the Commies killed the Archbishop of Paris, and that’s ultimately the reason for the church to be built there. The Third Republic, for those using the de Gaulle method of counting, was all about Moral Order and Catholicism, as they saw that France kept losing their position because they lost their religion and morality. A far cry from how most French people feel today.
More this, less Pompepoop, please
Since 1885, which is before they had even completed construction, they’ve been displaying the Blessed Sacrament in the church continually, not even stopping for world wars. It’s in the Guinness Book of World records now, I’m sure.
enjoying the view
L’eglise de la Madelaine
En route to the Arc de Triomphe is a site I didn’t care about, the Moulin Rouge. But I hear lots of tourists love to view its fake windmill and overpriced titty shows. To each their own. You can order one of their shows on GetYourGuide. The next landmark worth seeing is the Church of Mary Magdalene, or La Madeleine. It’s about a 45-minute walk there through a fairly dry and boring part of the city during the day, during the night, I imagine all the Moulin Rouge-lites we passed opened up their doors and welcomed their clientele.
The entrance to La Madeleine
If you hit up the route to Eglise de La Trinite, and then go through the area around Galeries Lafayette, then the place cleans up real fast, so I'd recommend following that route.
La Madeleine is a massive building which resembles an ancient Roman temple. At first view of this thing, I couldn’t tell what it was. Had the French built a monument to Jupiter? Or was this another science church, like the Pantheon?
inside La Madeleine
When the church was at last set for construction in 1763, it was to be modeled after the Roman Pantheon, and when the Revolution came around, they stopped the construction, not really sure what they wanted built there. So they tore it down. Then Napoleon stepped up his game. He was going to build a Temple to the Glory of the Great Army and wanted it to look like an ancient Roman temple, hence its current look.
When the monarchy was restored, Catholicism swung back in vogue, and the King returned it to being what it was originally planned to be, the Church of Mary Magdalene, and so it continues to be today.
Arc de Triomphe
From La Madeleine, it’s a super easy jaunt to the Champs Elysees and the fortress that is the American Embassy. Seriously, the more I travel in Europe, the more I get annoyed with the Fortress America pattern of our embassies, where there has to be military coverage spilling out for a quarter mile around every capitol cities' major monuments. It’s the only embassy system in the world like that. Before I was annoyed with the Fortress America in Tbilisi being way out in the middle of nowhere, but I’ve come to like that better, if they have to play toy soldiers and all.
Everyone's favorite arch
The Champs Elysees seems to go on forever. If you really must see the Arc, I might even suggest just taking the metro. But no, we were stubborn folk and determined to walk it, no matter how much our feet were blistering, no matter how hot we were, no matter how much of an ice cream we needed.
Easy fix. Quick. That’s the name of the French rival to McDonald’s. And they make awesome ice creams.
The Arc de Triomphe was another monolithic military piece commissioned by Napoleon, though it wasn’t finished for another 30 years. Its Roman influence is clear, it’s based on the triumphal arches of the ancient Roman emperors, and carries the Germans-are-barbarians trope, along with the French-are-nude-lover-boys trope. Really, the carvings are kind of a weird thing, because when it comes down to German barbarians versus naked Frenchmen, I’d put my money on the German barbarians 99 times out of 100.
What we do at night
We decided to splurge a little bit and hit the restaurant district around Boulevard Saint-Michel, on the Saint-Severin Church side. There's a super cute area filled with sidewalk restaurants and shops. The restaurants are all actually surprisingly affordable, but also all highly touristic. The waiters stand outside like touts, and for the most part every restaurant is the same. They at least list their specials on tablets outside. Go for happy hour to catch the real deals, or just go for a stroll and then head somewhere else.
Near Saint Severin at happy hour
The night before, we spent romantically watching the sunset at the Eiffel Tower, and saw how it magically transformed into a glittering megalith of glitz and holiday.
drinking with the locals
Now, we’d take a walk along the banks of the Seine, and again sit down with a bottle of wine. This was a grand idea, until my wife in all of her elegance, accidentally threw our cups into the river. Now we were sitting like two winos, but no matter, half of France was sitting on the banks of the Seine like winos. C’est la vie.
some more folk relaxing
making like a wino
You really can't beat this view
If you haven't yet, don't forget to read my first ode to Paris, 5 Things in a Day in Paris.
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