I swear these posts are always going to start with an apology note because I take months to actually publish something on here, and for that I’m sorry… Life actually did get in the way this time, but I’m hoping things are on the up now, including this blog!
Anyway, although I will definitely keep posting book reviews I thought I’d break it up a bit and start writing about my trips away this year, starting with Paris. You’ll be glad to know this means a few more pictures in between the long paragraphs!
My boyfriend and I have always booked a weekend away at the end of January/beginning of February to celebrate each year we’ve been together – this year was our sixth, and we decided we’d go to Paris. My boyfriend had visited the city before but was very young at the time and couldn’t remember much, and I’d been to Disneyland but not to the capital, so this felt like a good time to go.
I’d already heard that Paris was expensive to visit, and I had to trowel through hundreds of hotels over our budget before spotting the perfect one on Lastminute.com – Hotel Pastel Paris. The hotel had recently been renovated and though I was only able to read a few reviews because of this, all were positive so I was really excited about staying there.
Like the hotel’s name, all the rooms are decorated in pastel and overall the feel is vintage Parisian. One of my favourite touches were the Chanel-esque perfume bottles indicating the room numbers on each door.
The building itself is quite compact – the entrance to the lobby/reception area has no porch and the breakfast room could only hold just over half a dozen two-seater tables, however this did give the place an intimate and homely feel which I liked. (See below right for picture of the lobby). The rooms are equally as small but really cute. Our double bed was annoyingly comfy – we could have stayed there much longer every morning but we had so much to see!
We didn’t struggle with wardrobe space as we were only staying for a few days and folded most of our winter clothes anyway. If you like privacy, though, you might want to keep your underwear in your suitcase..! As you can see from the photo on the left below, there were no doors on the wardrobe and storage spaces, but again this didn’t bother us. My only criticism with our room was the shower – I’m tiny as it is and I struggled for elbow space in the shower!
The location of the hotel was perfect – only a short walk to the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées but nicely tucked down a side street to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep! The staff were also lovely and helpful with directions and advice on transport links. I didn’t find out who runs their Instagram but after I’d posted a picture of our room, (the one on the right), and tagged the location, they kindly asked if they could feature it on their account. Of course I was happy to oblige, and they even tagged me in it which was thoughtful – you can see their post here.
Now on to what we crammed into our 4 days of being tourists…
We arrived at the hotel around 10am after navigating our way via the metro from near Gare du Nord, quickly unpacked then went exploring.
Surrounding the Arc de Triomphe is the craziest roundabout I’ve ever seen, the Étoile. I don’t understand how we didn’t see anyone crash because you have to give way to everyone entering the roundabout, and I think around 12 different roads lead to that roundabout? Baffling. Luckily, you access the Arc de Triomphe via stairs underneath the chaos.
Once there, we saw the tomb of the unknown soldier and its eternal flame, but didn’t manage to go to the top of the structure as it was quite packed. We decided to return later or in the next couple of days. All the same, the symmetry of the architecture was beautiful to admire.
We then strolled along the Champs-Élysées – take some serious money if you want to treat yourself in the shops on this avenue! We looked in Louis Vuitton for a laugh and felt very out of place… I was afraid to touch anything! Although the bags in their ‘Masters’ collaboration with Jeff Koons looked stunning (not sure on the promo film of it though…! Have a watch if you want). We also saw what we thought was the entrance to some grand mansion, and followed the stony pathway round to find the entrance to an Abercrombie & Fitch! Check out their doorway below… (did slightly remind me of the Jack Wills in Chichester).
After lunch, our next stop was the Eiffel Tower! This Friday was a particularly windy one, so unfortunately the top floor to the tower was closed and we could only venture to the 2nd floor. I say unfortunately… I’m not sure I would have loved being at the top so much as the 2nd floor felt high enough to me! I’m glad there were lifts to take us up.
Although it wasn’t the clearest day it was still amazing to see panoramic views of the city (which also helped us get our bearings). It was good to learn some information about the Eiffel and its construction as I didn’t really know much before. There were also videos showing how the structure is maintained – every 7 years loads of VERY brave people abseil down and across and hang at all sorts of terrifying angles in order give the iron tower a fresh coat of paint.
After watching what we could see of the sunset from the café on the 1st floor, we headed back down to watch the tower light up and glitter. Magical.
After breakfast at the hotel, we got an Uber to the Louvre. This was a rainy day so we were glad to have planned an indoor visit. Thankfully we didn’t queue too long for entry. First we learned a bit about the Louvre itself. I never knew it was originally a fortress, and it was great to see some remains of the old building, to sense how important this place was to French history even before it became a museum.
We then moved through to the Egyptian Antiquities, royal collection and Greek Antiquities sections before stopping for lunch and resting our feet in one of the cafés. I wasn’t expecting much in terms of food quality but I enjoyed the huge slice of veggie pizza I ordered – plenty of cheese, pesto, and even potatoes! Carbs upon carbs, mmm.
After realising that we wouldn’t have time to see everything we wanted in the Louvre, (it really is HUGE), we decided to head straight to the main attraction – the Mona Lisa, of course. On the way, we passed the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is spectacularly displayed at the top of the first floor staircase. We could tell without looking at our museum map which room the Mona Lisa was in. We had to wait for some of the crowd to disperse before we could move nearer. A glimpse is all you can really get of the Mona Lisa, as the distance between the front of the viewing barrier and the painting’s glass protection is quite far, considering how small Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece actually is (if it is the real deal)! Here’s me looking a little unimpressed after battling my way through the mass of selfie sticks:
Still, at least I can say I’ve seen her in real life now! After this, we looked at some American and English paintings and when we left we strolled around the Louvre‘s grounds and the Roue de Paris which is a big mobile Ferris wheel. We didn’t go on it but it was very photogenic in the evening light:
After dinner, we had a much needed nap then got ready for our late night entertainment at the Moulin Rouge! This was a belated anniversary gift from my boyfriend. We wanted to see the show and had been recommended it, but when I looked at ticket prices initially we decided against it because most showings including dinner and drinks cost more than our hotel and travel combined! However a couple of weeks prior to our trip I found out Jamie had booked it! It was meant to be surprise but he’s not great at being secretive…
We got our second Uber of the day to Montmarte because the walk would have been too long and it was still raining. Plus, our showing was at 11pm so we didn’t want to tire ourselves out before we’d even arrived! We went straight into the theatre but if you wanted to get there earlier there are plenty of restaurants and bars amongst the bright neon lights of sex shops and strip clubs illuminating the Boulevard de Clichy.
Once inside the theatre we did have to queue for a while but this was expected. The staff were helpful and when we finally got to our seats we weren’t disappointed. We were just a few tables away from the front of the stage, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that we were accompanied at our table by other couples from the UK so that just shows how well-planned and thoughtful the staff were. Before the show started we spoke to a couple from Leeds in between sips (glugs) of our champagne, (the bottle was included in the price of the tickets). The ambiance was perfect – low lighting and vintage Parisian decor around us and then dazzling bright lights on stage.
The Féerie show was absolutely amazing. The set pieces and costumes were incredible. Yes, the costumes are ‘revealing’ but if you’re worried about the show being overtly sexual then think again – the show caters for everyone and allows children from the age of 6 into the venue if accompanied by an adult. I knew to expect singing and dancing but there were also some wonderful surprises included in the performance. The cast clearly love what they do and that radiated through to us.
I can’t share any pictures of the show as no photography was allowed and rightly so – iPhone pictures wouldn’t do it justice and it was great just to immerse ourselves in the show. If you can save up, definitely book tickets! It makes a change from the normal touristy activities of looking at buildings and monuments (much as I love that). It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Now for another one of my highlights…
We had a bit of a lay-in due to our late finish the previous night, so we grabbed some pastries from a nearby boulangerie and hopped on the metro, then the train to The Palace of Versailles! When we booked our trip I discovered that the journey to Versailles from our hotel was around an hour, so we decided to make a day of our visit and I’m so glad we did.
The walk from the train station to the palace took around 15-20 minutes and it was pretty much a straight line so there was no way for us to get lost (my sense of direction is usually awful). We greeted Louis XIV’s statue and arrived at the golden gates around 11am. We received audio guides for free, and entry was also free to everyone as it was the first Sunday of the month (see their website for free entry eligibilities).
Prior to going, my only knowledge of the palace’s history came from the BBC One drama Versailles and the factual after-show Inside Versailles (which sadly they’ve stopped doing for the third series). The audio guides really helped expand on what I already knew as well as teaching me more. My boyfriend didn’t know anything about it so he found it really handy. There are numbered audioguide options for each room you pass through. I won’t go into too much detail about the interior but the obvious ‘wow’ rooms were the chapel (above) and the Hall of Mirrors. You could imagine how much pride the Sun King took in showing his exclusive guests the ethereal creations within his palace. Top tip for when you go – remember to look up in every room to see the beautiful paintings!
My other favourite aspects of the palace were the gardens and fountains. When we went outside the sun started to shine which felt miraculous after a misty, drizzly morning. The wind was still bitterly cold, but when we sat on the edge of the lake eating our baguettes, the sun warmed my face and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so serene, (may have to do with the fact I was stuffing my face with bread too – but you decide). I can imagine how gorgeous the gardens are in warmer weather and I’m thinking of taking a weekend off to have a picnic there this summer or next.
We stayed exploring the gardens until closing time at 5:30pm. We reluctantly made our way back to the station, stopping off at an antique store on the way.
On our last day we woke up to snow! We had experienced all types of weather over our long weekend. Once again we got breakfast at the local boulangerie then headed to the Notre Dame. As we queued up to go inside the bells started chiming and so accompanied by the blizzard it all felt aptly gothic.
The inside of the cathedral is a wondrous sight. I’m not religious but it’s hard not to sense some sort of magnificence when you enter. We bought audio guides for €5 each and had a slow walk around, learning about the cathedral’s many pieces of iconography, as well as about the building’s long history of construction. There was no photography allowed inside however my boyfriend not so subtly took this beautiful picture below before he read sign properly…
After an hour or so we headed out to the snow flurry again to queue for the tower. Unlike inside, you have to book a time slot as understandably only small groups of people are allowed up at any one time. We had to hop about a bit in the 10 minutes’ wait to keep warm!
There were a fair few stairs to climb. We had to wait in the shop, which was halfway up, before progressing to the tower, so I panicked knowing we’d have to ascend more narrow winding steps again. Ironic that a history lover has such a fear of old stone staircases! Anyway, one we were up and I’d caught my breath, the view wasn’t as spectacular as it would have been on a day with clear sky, but it was still great to see a small section of snow-covered Paris. I love the picture on the right that I took of one of the tower’s gargoyles.
Once we’d taken enough snowy pictures, we had the option of scaling more stairs to get to the very top of the tower but I passed on that as the steps looked slippery and even more narrow! I didn’t want to chance it…
When we were on safer ground again, we headed across the short bridge from the cathedral to what is now one of my favourite book shops in the world: Shakespeare and Company! My boyfriend found out about this place online. It’s an American company, opened in 1951 and later re-named in honour of the original Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, owned and opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919.
I could have stayed there all day! As you can see from the picture on the left, I was pretty comfortable. It was so warm and cosy inside, the perfect reading environment. They have a dedicated quiet reading room in memory of Sylvia Beach, and stools dotted about the rest of the two floors so you can sit down to read blurbs or beginnings of the books you may fancy taking home. There is a resident cat to keep you company, and a few quirky things such as a (working) typewriter and desk, and a pin board next to the cat’s bed where visitors can stick their thank-you notes – we added ours to the collection. And, of course, their Shakespeare section is wonderful. I picked up a little pocket book of sonnets to take home.
Before we went back to our hotel to pick up our bags, we went up the Arc de Triomphe to see the Champs-Élysées and of course the Eiffel Tower from above, all lit up. The perfect end to a wonderful trip!
To end, I thought I’d impart the slightest bit of knowledge, if you are travelling into Paris for the first time like I was!
Transport to Paris – We travelled via Eurostar from Ebbsfleet International, which took around 2 hours so super quick. Try to find companies online (like Lastminute) where your train is included in the price of your trip, as we found it worked out cheaper than booking the Eurostar separate to the hotel. Make sure you download the Eurostar app for easier check-in before your travel date.
Transport in Paris – As I mentioned, we used Uber for when it was raining or in the evenings for simplicity, but the Metros are as easy to navigate as London tubes, and if you don’t know there are always staff at the kiosks who may be able to help. We thought there would be closures at many underground stations, because at the time we went the Seine was flooding and no boats were in operation, but thankfully we didn’t encounter closures on the lines we used! A few of the stations were dotted with large puddles but unlike in England, the people of Paris didn’t seem to worry and just got on with it!
We only travelled by overground train once (excluding Eurostar), to Versailles, but that was easy enough to catch. Live train times are available online, if you have roaming on your devices. The train we went on had two floors, so like excited kids we naturally sat on the top floor!
Food & Drink – Breakfast: The breakfast at our hotel was a small buffet of pastries, yoghurt, fruit bowls, eggs and bacon along with fruit juices, tea and coffee. This cost €15 per person per day, hence why we only had breakfast here one morning out of four. Local bakeries were much cheaper – a drink and croissant or baguette cost around €7. I had a croissant without fail every day!
Lunch: Bakeries were also good for quick lunches but if you want to have a more relaxed lunch be prepared to pay extra. On our first day we made a mistake by going into Vapiano, an Italian chain we know from London which is usually quick service (you pay at the counter and the chefs cook your food in front of you), but every tourist in Paris clearly had the same idea as us and we queued for way too long! On our last day we went to a restaurant near the cathedral and had lighter versions of the menu’s main meals which cost us €18 each with two drinks but it was worth it.
Dinner: Apart from the Saturday when we went to a Hard Rock Cafe – a weird tradition of ours – we went to two reasonably priced local restaurants, a French and a Lebanese, both were delicious. We booked our tables online as we weren’t sure how busy the restaurants were going to be, and lucky we did because we found in both restaurants that this entitled us to a 30% discount off the price of our total bill! I’m really not sure if this is a general thing across Paris but if the restaurant you want to go to has a website, it’s worth a try booking in advance. The wines we tried were really good – a decent bottle was around €25 and obviously the prices went up depending on the type and quality!
Planning ahead: This is mainly concerning entry fees – out of all the places we went to, the only entries we paid for were the Eiffel Tower, (though they offer discounted entry for under 25s), and obviously the Moulin Rouge. We got in free everywhere else due to being 1) under 26 and/or 2) EU citizens (for now!) The only last thing I’ll say is make sure you check opening times of the places you want to go to, in case you get caught out like I did! I wanted to spend our last few hours in Paris in the Musée d’Orsay, but when I went on their website on our last day, which was a Monday, I discovered that the museum is closed on Mondays! Oh well. That’s just another excuse for me to re-visit the beautiful city of lights/love/whatever you want to call it – I think it’s both and more.
Thanks for reading!