This past weekend my friends and I had the opportunity to go to Paris! When we booked our trip, we did not realize that we would be there for both Bastille Day and the World Cup final (where France won)! Therefore, we had an extremely busy weekend and a once in a lifetime experience.
We were lucky that one of my friends from the U.S. has been studying in Spain has traveled to France many times. She gave us some tips for getting around Paris and a few good ideas of what to do.
My friends and I arrived in Paris around 10 pm, and our AirBNB was in the 16th arrondissement. We were fairly close to the Eiffel Tower but still not in the center of the city. When we exited the metro, we were already stunned by the buildings around us (and that McDonalds sold macaroons).
On Saturday, we got up early to go to the Bastille Day Parade on the Champs-Elysées. I was really surprised the amount of security. I know that more recently France has experienced a lot of violence, so I expected police to be everywhere. However, after being in Germany for so long, I definitely did not expect to see police armed with automatic rifles. Police checked our bags when we neared the parade, too. The parade was really awesome! It started late, but I really enjoyed seeing the French military dressed in formal uniforms, especially the Foreign League, which is a special military branch of basically mercenaries who rolled down the street in massive tanks. Here’s a slideshow of my pictures from the parade.
After the parade, we visited the Louvre. We were definitely not prepared to stand in line for around 40 minutes (the Louvre is free on Bastille Day). Here are some of my favorite pieces from the museum. I love art, so seeing the Louvre has always been a dream of mine. I feel like I could spend weeks just analyzing the art and looking at the architecture of building itself. Heads up: the Mona Lisa is definitely something you should stop by, but I found it a little underwhelming. The picture is relatively small, and well…the pictures capture it just as good as in person.
Next, we went to Notre Dame, and this is a BIG building! Maggie and I definitely had a moment when we discussed the probability of the gargoyles coming alive and Quasimodo ringing bells in the right tower. We were able to go into the church after waiting in line. Unfortunately, a service was happening, so we could not take many pictures.
Then, just for kicks, we walked to the site of the Bastille (since it was Bastille day and all). I loved looking at the memorial, and it was surreal to stand in the place of one of the most historical moments of the French Revolution. However, it was in the middle of the roundabout, so you are not able to walk up to it.
To finish the day, we watched the Bastille Day fireworks from Sacré-Cœur, where there is a beautiful view of the city. There were a lot of people there, but we found a spot to sit and watch the fireworks. I highly suggest this spot for a relaxing evening with friends or even to watch the fireworks if you get to go to Bastille Day at some point in time!
One Sunday, we went to the largest cemetery in Paris. We all really enjoyed looking at the mausoleums and memorials. Our original plan was to go to the Catacombs, but the line was way too long since our trains left around 5 pm. Tip: order your Catacomb tickets a week or two in advance if you’re planning on going! After the cemetery, we went to Les Invalides, a Baroque building that was originally used as a hospital and retirement home for retired military personnel. Louis XIV built the basilica with two sides and two entrances so that he could worship with the veterans while still keeping court rules. However, under Napoleon, a glass wall was built to further redefine the role of the royal family. Now, this is the resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte and many other veterans and honorable members of society. We did not see Napoleon’s resting place, but the security guard let us look inside the royal part of the basilica.
In all, our Paris trip was fantastic! However, there were some down parts. The city is very dirty: people allow their pets to go to the bathroom on the streets (depending on where you are watch your step!) and water from the streets run in into the subway (it smells REALLY bad). I was surprised to see the amount of beggars and homeless families, especially after being in Germany, where these people are given help by the government. Further, restaurants were difficult. Some places they wanted you to seat yourself, some they wanted to seat you. When we did the wrong thing, the waitress would get really annoyed. It also doesn’t help that all Parisians understand English, so watch your mouth!
Paris won a special place in my heart, and I will definitely be going back someday. I loved the history and culture, and I would love to learn more about the country in general. Hopefully our experiences help you if you’re planning on visiting Paris soon or maybe you just found them interesting!
Until next time, auf wiedersehen!