Through The Viewfinder and What Alice Found There
Last week I turned 21 (at last!) so to celebrate, me and Greg decided to visit Paris. I visited the city about 4 years ago on a school trip but only for a few days - we travelled mainly by Metro so I don't remember seeing a lot of the city streets, and it was quite cold as we visited around January/February time. This year however, it was a totally different experience and I'm so glad we decided to go!
We found a really good deal on Expedia for flights + hotel for just over £200 per person for 5 days. Our hotel was lovely and right in the centre of Paris. It was fairly small but comfortable and clean, and being only a 5 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower we couldn't really complain! It was the perfect base for a city break in Paris - we only spent time there when we needed to sleep so it didn't matter that the room was small!
When we arrived we had about an hour and a half to travel by taxi from the airport to our hotel - I slept for most of it as we'd been up since 6.30am to get to the airport that morning! We arrived at the hotel around 6pm, checked in, had a quick look in the room, then got changed and went out. It was a lovely sunny evening - not really hot but pleasantly warm. We walked over to the Eiffel Tower and wandered around there for a bit, checking out what shops and restaurants were nearby aswell. It was really busy at the Eiffel Tower even at that time, and people were still queuing to go up! There were also a lot of people lounging on the grassy areas surrounding the base of the tower and large TV screens had been put up so people could sit and watch the French Open. We walked around there for a little while until the sun started to set, then we went and found a cute little restaurant where we sat and had tea. We had 3 courses for 22 euros each, with an extra free starter of pumpkin soup and bread. We also shared a bottle of prosecco and it was nice to sit and relax after a day of travelling! After we'd eaten, we walked back to the Eiffel Tower to see it light up - it was really beautiful and every hour, on the hour, the lights flash to create a sparkling sort of effect! We then decided to head back to get some rest before getting up early the next day.
The next day was our first full day and we got up early to try and fit in as much as possible! We left the hotel around 9am and headed back in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. We'd looked on a pocket map I have of the city and worked out a route we could walk that took us down by the river, and all the way along to the Louvre Museum. Along the way we decided to cross the Pont Alexandre III which was a really detailed bridge, with golden statues at each end and intricate detailing all the way along it. We then continued walking along to the Place de la Concorde which was a fairly big square with 2 large fountains and a big monument in the middle. From here, we entered the Jardin des Tuileries - a beautiful garden filled with fountains, small lakes, flowerbeds, statues and loads of seating for people to sit and take it all in. We walked all the way along and through the Jardin du Carrousel, which led us to the entrance to the Museé de Louvre and the well known pyramids in the courtyard. It had been quite a cloudy day so far but we'd both been brave and put shorts on - we were starting to regret this choice a bit as the wind was starting to pick up making it a bit chillier than we'd first thought! Anyway, we stopped for a croissant that we bought from a small stand outside the pyramids, then decided we would go inside to warm up a bit. However, it was strangely quiet and there were no queues which we thought was odd. It was only when we reached the front door that we realised the museum is shut on Tuesdays - the day which we were there! We spent a bit of time outside the pyramids before deciding to move on and come back the next day instead!
After leaving the Louvre, we continued along by the river and had planned to cross the famous Pont des Arts to see the padlocks and maybe even leave our own. However, the bridge was in the process of being taken down, replacing the railings with glass panels to stop padlocks being attached - this is after part of the bridge collapsed earlier in the year due to the weight of too many padlocks! We stood and watched them taking it down for a while - it had attracted quite a crowd and it was amazing to see just how many locks there really were on the bridge! People had attached them to all areas of the bridge, making it a very difficult task to remove them!
Next, we carried on and made our way to the Notre Dame cathedral. I love it there - the Disney film of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of my favourites as a child so visiting the place where it was set is always quite exciting (I did find myself looking out for Quasimodo while we were there too - didn't see him unfortunately). The queue to enter the cathedral was really long and we thought it would take ages to go down. However, we joined the queue but agreed that if we hadn't moved far after 10 mins then we would try again later on. Surprisingly, the queue moved really fast and we were inside within 5 - 10 minutes of joining the queue! It's free to enter and once inside you can wander freely around, or sit and pray in the pews. There were also various places for lighting candles, and even a miniature model of the cathedral in a glass cabinet so you could look at it all up close! We spent about 20 minutes wandering around - maybe even less time than that. There were tons of people in there and it was quite difficult to see some parts because of the crowds. After we left we realised how hungry we were - all we'd eaten was a croissant a few hours ago, so we found a small café called Le Quasimodo Notre Dame and sat in there for a bite to eat.
After having a rest from all the walking and refuelling ourselves with food, we set off in the direction of the Montparnasse Tower! It didn't look too far away on the map so we headed off down the Boulevard Saint Michel, stopping off at the Jardin du Luxembourg along the way. When we finally arrived at the Montparnasse Tower we were really tired but still wanted to go up to the top of the tower! We went in and bought the tickets, then went straight up in the lift to the 56th floor! From there we had lovely views over Paris looking in all directions, and there was also a café and a gift shop. We spent some time looking out and seeing which areas we had already walked around that day - the city looked so beautiful from up there and you could clearly see all the avenues and rows of buildings. The Montparnasse tower is the tallest skyscraper in the city and in my opinion I would rather go up there than the Eiffel Tower - when you're up the Eiffel Tower you can't see it, and it's one of the most famous landmarks of Paris! From floor 56 of the Montparnasse tower, we then walked up to floor 59 onto the roof where we got a full panoramic view, but it was really windy up there so we didn't stay outside too long!
When we got back to the bottom of the tower we decided to head back to the hotel as it was already about 4pm. We took the long walk back and by the time we arrived at the hotel we were so tired and didn't really feel like going out for a meal for tea! We had a bit of a rest in the hotel room, got changed, then decided to head downstairs to check out the free wine and cheese tasting they put on each night for hotel guests. It was a buffet style setup with only one other couple in the room, which meant more wine and cheese for us! It was really nice, with a choice of wines, a wide selection of cheeses, and 2 different types of bread aswell. We ended up staying there for about an hour, trying all the different varieties of cheese, and by the time we decided to leave we were't hungry enough for a meal even if we'd wanted to go out for one! Instead, we left the hotel and stopped off at a small supermarket, bought some snacks and a drink, then spent the evening sitting on the grass by the Eiffel Tower watching the sun go down. It was so lovely and peaceful, even though it was really busy there.
Day 2 was even busier than the first day! We got up early again, and took the same route as the previous day along the river to the Louvre. We arrived there about 9.30am, and there was only a small queue outside the pyramid so we joined it and waited about 20 mins before we were inside. Seeing as we are citizens of an EU country aged between 18-25, we were able to get into the museum for free - all we had to do was show a photocopy of our passports as proof, and then we were in! We spent a good 3 hours - maybe longer - looking around the museum. We could easily have spent all day there but there were other things we wanted to do that day too! It was really interesting, and there's some classic pieces of art there which were really good to see in real life. I loved the ancient Egyptian section (seeing a real mummy was a highlight!) and I also loved the Decorative Arts galleries which had paintings all over the ceilings and pieces of furniture from the French Revolution. We looked on our map and decided to just focus on seeing the most famous pieces of art, otherwise we really would have been there all day! Another highlight was seeing the Mona Lisa - I saw it last time I visited Paris but this time we managed to get right to the front of the barrier! It was packed in there, with crowds of people all pushing to get near the painting, which is surprisingly small compared to all the other paintings in that section which all take up huge wall spaces! After a while we started to get hungry so decided to leave the Louvre and find somewhere for dinner, before heading on to the next place on our list.
After dinner we walked up to the RER station called Chatelet les Halles to see where it was, as that is where we planned to get the train to Disneyland from the next day. Once we'd worked out how to get there we carried on walking up to the Sacre Coeur - it looked about an hours walk on the map but we went for it anyway! By the time we got there it felt like we'd been walking forever - our feet were hurting and the sun had come out really hot which we weren't prepared for! It had been forecast to be cooler and rainy so I was wearing leggings under my dress but ended up having to take them off, and Greg was in jeans which he had to roll up! We sat on some steps in the shade in the gardens of the Sacre Coeur for a while, then walked up to the entrance steps and got an ice pop to try and cool down. It was packed with people sunbathing and taking in the gorgeous views over the rest of the city. We decided not to go inside the Basilica as we were still too hot and we really needed to start heading back as it was going to take us another hour at least. We walked a different route back via Moulin Rouge and the Arc de Triomphe, which was really impressive as I never got to see it on my last visit to Paris - it was quite busy there though! Eventually we made it back to the Eiffel Tower, took some photos of it from Trocadero, then went down by the fountains and dipped our feet in the pools. That evening we had a meal in a lovely restaurant called Le Campanella, just around the corner from our hotel. I had carpaccio of beef - my favourite!! After that we went straight back to the hotel to get an early night ready for Disneyland in the morning.
Our last full day in Paris was my actual birthday, and the day we were going to Disneyland! I opened my birthday cards when it got to midnight, then went to sleep and got up again early ready to leave the hotel at 6.45am. We walked the same route by the river again, past the Louvre, and up to the RER station at Chatelet les Halles. We weren't sure how long it would take us to walk there so we gave ourselves plenty of time, eating a breakfast of pain au chocolats and croissants on the way! When we arrived we pretty much got straight on the train, and got a seat which was good! It was then about a 40 minute ride through to Marne-la-Valleé (Disneyland). When we arrived I was so excited - it's been my childhood dream to go to Disneyland and my dream was finally coming true!! The gates opened about 9.30 and we went straight through as we'd already bought tickets online in advance. We then had to wait outside Sleeping Beauty's castle for the rest of the park to open at 10am. We finally got inside and it was amazing! We walked roung the castle first, then went on a few rides which had no queues at all which was really good! I loved the Peter Pan ride as it is my favourite Disney film! We went on all sorts - an Alice in Wonderland maze, Mad Hatter's Tea Cups, Dumbo, Snow White, Pinocchio, a river cruise, Big Thunder Mountain, Buzz Lightyear's Laser ride, Space flight simulator - pretty much everything!! It was the perfect way to spend my 21st birthday and I was so happy all day! It was really hot though and it got tough when we had to queue for rides out in the heat. We also got really tired from all the walking around - especially after two full days of walking beforehand! We wanted to stay until the park closed at 11pm to see the fireworks at the castle, but by 9pm we were tired and our feet and backs ached so we decided to just go and get the train back into Paris. I'm glad we decided to leave when we did, as we got back into Paris about 10.15pm, then had about an hours walk back to the Eiffel Tower. By this point we were starving as we hadn't eaten any tea. We didn't really know what to do as the supermarkets were all closed and even if restaurants were still serving food, we weren't in the mood for going to one as we were so tired! We ended up getting a hotdog and chips from a stand by the Eiffel Tower, then eventually made it back to the hotel at about 11.45pm where we just collapsed into bed and went straight to sleep!
The next morning we packed up our things, went back to the airport, and flew home. I was sad to leave as it had been a really good trip, but although we'd only been there for 3 full days we managed to pack loads in so it felt like we'd been there for longer! We are now planning our next city break - possibly Porto, or Rome, so watch this space for more posts about our next adventure!
Landscape & travel photographer from Cumbria, UK.