Since my one night in Paris many years ago, following a bike trip in Provence (see Provence, Provence, wherefore art thou Provence? post), I’ve wanted to spend more time in Paris and despite the current hassles of travel, I decided that 2021 was the year. While Paris obviously doesn’t fit with my Mediterranean theme, memories of that bike trip always bring back that last night in Paris and seeing Notre Dame early the next morning.
My sister and then my niece decided to come for the first part of my 2021 Big Adventure. It wouldn’t have been the same without them and my niece, especially, saved the day multiple times. The other huge help came from my cousin and his wife who were taking their family to Paris a few weeks before us and gave us invaluable advice on getting the French Health Card aka the EU Green Card (see Travel in the Time of COVID post).
Getting from CDG Airport to Paris
Our hotel (see below) offered to arrange a hired car for us at a cost of 70€ (about $85) but a friend of my niece gave her the name of a company she had used and my niece set it up. While it was challenging finding the right area for the pick up, the driver was incredible, dealing with the unbelievable traffic between CDG and the center. Plus it cost less than the hotel’s hired car; a very reasonable amount for three people, their luggage, and an hour and a half drive through some of the craziest, heaviest traffic I’ve ever seen.
Where to Stay
My original plan was to stay at Hotel Jardin des Plantes where I stayed so many years ago. I remembered it being a charming hotel (recommended in Frommers) in a terrific location, basically across the street from the Jardin des Plantes and just a couple of blocks from the Seine. I was surprised, though, when the pictures online showed a much different ambiance from years ago, very plain and modern, not the cozy décor of previous years. I decided that wasn’t a deal breaker but then about 6 weeks out from our departure I started seeing very negative reviews about its cleanliness and lack of service.
So it was back to the drawing board. I spent hours going through reservation sites and came up with a list of hotels, mainly on the left bank. My sister and niece thought Hotel Mistral was the best and so we booked two rooms there.
Hotel Mistral is definitely off the beaten path in Montparnasse, just a few blocks from the cimetiere. The rooms are modern but quite small. The staff made up for these negatives, though, first by showing my niece an app for the metro which allowed us to put in our destination and location and find our way easily around the center. We metro’d to Hotel de Ville to get our Paris Museum passes (see below) to the Arsenal Port near Place Bastille for an evening cruise on the Seine, to Musee l’Orangerie, Tour Eiffel and the Arc d’Triomphe.
The staff also let us use the small garden for an impromptu dinner one night and arranged for a taxi to pick us up fairly early Sunday morning to go to Gare d’Lyon.
But the absolute best part of the hotel was their recommendation for a restaurant our last night. It was raining and we wanted to stay fairly close to the hotel and they rsuggested Cantine du Trocquet, where we had a fabulous meal. (see Where to Eat, below)
Fannying About in Paris
I explained the origin of this phrase in my Montecatini Terme post. I use it to refer to days spent wandering and enjoying a town or city.
We arrived at the hotel around 10:00 am. Since our rooms weren’t ready, and it was a beautiful day, we checked in, stowed our bags, and began our walkabout. We walked first to the Montparnasse Cimetiere, a few blocks away from the hotel. I’m not sure anyone famous is buried here, as is the case with Cimetiere de Montmartre, but it’s peaceful and beautiful and we took lots of photos.
Jardin du Luxembourg
After wandering through the cimetiere, we walked north (I think) to the Jardin du Luxembourg. We started at the end of the park where there is a lovely fountain, than walked along the paths to the Palace du Luxembourg. I was surprised not only at the size and length of the park but that it seems to be well used by Parisians; we saw people throughout the park, sitting on benches, playing with their children, walking their dogs and just enjoying the beautiful day.
Despite the number of people, it was peaceful and made for a great walk after the many hours on an overseas flight.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Jardin du Luxembourg
Shakespeare and Company
My Paris guide book said this was a not to be missed site and indicated it was on the Ile de la Cité, but we found it on rue de la Bucherie, along the Seine across from the Ile. We had all planned to go in but at that point my niece and sister didn’t have their ‘health card,’ so we just took photos from outside.
Notre Dame and the Ile de la Cité
As I wrote in my A Prayer for Notre Dame post, I saw Notre Dame on my first trip to Europe, in the early morning before my flight to the States. After the fire in April 2019, I was anxious to see the progress on the restoration.
As we walked near the Palace de Luxembourg, we cut over to Boulevard Saint Michel. We were looking for a street that would take us to Notre Dame and the Ile de la Cité and stopped in front of what turned out to be the Cluny. As we looked around, one of us looked up and saw the spires of Notre Dame; extraordinarily beautiful against the blue sky. We walked on to the Seine, taking photos. Based on the articles I’ve included in my A Prayer for Notre Dame post, I was amazed to see it looking almost normal, even with all the scaffolding.
View of Notre Dame
View of Notre Dame
We continued along the Seine to the Pont Neuf and crossed over to the Ile de la Cité and probably sat for at least an hour in the open area in front of the cathedral.
(While we mainly wanted to view the progress on the cathedral, my sister and niece also took the opportunity to get their COVID tests at a tent in the Place John-Paul II. The test was fast but my niece had difficulties getting the results downloaded to my sister’s phone and had to go back and ask the person manning the tent to resend it. See Travel in the Time of COVID post)
We enjoyed sitting there in the sun people watching and abosorbing the beauty Notre Dame, but we finally decided we were starving and went in search of food.
Lunch in Paris
We first walked to a restaurant recommended by my Paris guide, Le Reminet, but the menu was very pricey and not what we were looking for.
We walked back towards Boulevard Saint Michel and stumbled on a lively pizzeria. We got a table in the sun and had a wonderful hour or two, drinking, eating and laughing.
It was mid to late afternoon by then so we used my niece’s walking app to find our way back to the hotel. I think it took us on a bit of a circuitous route but we found a nice wine store and a nice bakery with sandwiches and pastries which we bought for dinner at the hotel. After cleaning up, we ate in the garden, laughing, talking and making reservations for the next two days.
Places to go
The Paris Museum Pass
I used this web site https://picturesandwordsblog.com/paris-museum-pass-worth-it/ to decide if we should get the Paris Museum Pass. Based on the information on the site I thought we should but it was a major waste of money. First, I thought that the Tour Eiffel was included but we had to book and pay for it separately. Then I realized a few days before our trip that reservations were required for almost all the museums and when we went online to do that most of the web sites were set up to pay for tickets and make the reservations at the same time. When we went to the Paris Tourist Office to pick up our passes, we tried to get information on how to do that and it was a communications cluster. (I’m currently working on a post about language challenges in France and definitely recommend learning some phrases. Unfortunately I’d forgotten most of the French I’d learned.)
The final blow was finding that the Paris Tourist Office web site, https://en.parisinfo.com/?utm_source=newsletterEcommerce&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NL_resa_decembre_2021_EN-bc has an option for choosing three museums for 35 euros, a much better deal.
So my advice is only buy the pass if you’re going to be in Paris for a week or more and know that you’ll be visiting at least 5-6 museums.
Since the Picasso Museum was a relatively short walk from the Paris Tourist Office and we couldn’t get any useful information out of the staff in the office, we decided to wing it and just head to the museum.
And we were glad we did. We just showed our Paris Museum Passes and our health cards and walked right in. The museum was having a special exhibit of Rodin and Picasso and it was wonderful. I thought the museum itself and the gardens were beautiful also and like this description at Paris Insider: The museum’s home, the 17th-century Hotel Salé, is in the Marais district, with a garden, a courtyard, and a stunning two-story, entrance hall. What strikes us about the neighborhood is its calmness and peacefulness. https://www.parisinsidersguide.com/musee-picasso-paris.html It was built in the 1650’s and I would describe the architecture as Baroque.
Our first evening as we had ‘dinner’ in the hotel garden, we made reservations for Tour Eiffel for around 1:00pm Thursday (and for Musee l’Orangerie on Saturday). My sister insisted she was going all the way to the top so she bought her own ticket and my niece generously bought tickets for the first level for the two of us. (And tickets to the top are more expensive than those for the first level.)
We metro’d from the area near the Picasso Museum, then walked from the Bir Heikem metro stop to the Parc du Champs de Mars in front of the Tour taking lots of pictures.
We were a little early so after walking around, we sat in the park, at which point my sister couldn’t find the link to her ticket. Somehow my niece found it and we got in line for the appointed time, getting right in and on the elevator.
The elevator goes up at an angle and just getting to the first level was terrifying for me and apparently for my sister because she decided not to go to the top. It was totally worth it though; the views are spectacular.
Views from Tour Eiffel
Views from Tour Eiffel
Afterwards we took the metro to the Montparnasse Bienvenue stop, next to Tour Montparnasse, then started to walk towards the hotel. It began to rain fairly hard so we ducked into a little ‘brasserie’ and had a great pizza and a charcuterie platter.
Seine Evening River Cruise
We looked at several websites and finally decided on an evening cruise with the Vedettes du Pont Neuf company was the best. (See https://www.vedettesdupontneuf.com/ ) The tour we chose, with wine and an aperitivo was a nice trip for the price, 18€ I think.
It had been a chilly rainy day which continued into the evening but we had a great time. It was a short walk from the Bastille metro stop to the embarkation point along the Arsenal Port. After everyone had boarded, we moved from the port into the Seine, traveling slowly past Ile de la Cité and L’ile Saint Louis. We also passed Hotel de Ville and the Louvre and turned around, I think, near the Place de la Concord.
Not long after we headed out, I noticed two men sitting together, who were absolutely miserable. I nodded at them and asked, ‘Bad Tinder date or Russian assassins?’ We decided they were Russian assassins and became mildly hysterical, to the point where I knocked over my niece’s wine and she had to buy another one. We had calmed down when the Captain, while giving his tourist spiel, said, ‘The reason the light from Tour Eiffel is pink is for ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Week.’ Is that how you say it?’ I looked at my niece and we lost it again.
That said, I think we got some great pictures.
Seine River Cruise
Seine River Cruise
Musée de l’Orangerie
We made reservations at the musée for 11:30 Saturday but the morning did not go as planned. We took the metro to a stop near the Louvre, planning to have a coffee and brioche. But unlike Italy where there’s a bar on every corner that serves coffee and pastry, we could not find one café open in the area.
So we strolled around window shopping, then walked to l’Orangerie which sits at the far end of the Tuileries. It was maybe 11:00 am by then but even though there didn’t seem to be many people around, the staff wouldn’t let us enter early. So we walked around the Place de la Concorde, taking pictures, then walked back and tried again. Nope. So then we had to sit in the park for another 10 minutes, but at least it was relatively mild and not raining at that point.
When we finally got in, we were stunned and amazed. I had always wanted to se Monet’s Water Lily paintings, but didn’t realize there is a special exhibition room for them with curved walls so that the paintings look more like a mural. Les Nympheas de Claude Monet, as they are called in French, are breathtaking; so huge you can’t imagine how Monet painted them. We sat for quite a while just taking them in, then moved to the other exhibits.
In addition to a substantial collection of other Impressionists, there was also a special exhibit of works by Chaim Soutine and Willem de Kooning, whom the museum refers to as abstract expressionists. I wasn’t familiar with either artist but according to the information in the brochure Willem de Kooning was influenced by Soutine, who died during World War II while hiding out from the Nazis. I didn’t get any photos of their works so I have scanned in the brochure. Musee de l’Orangerie brochure
Musee de l’Orangerie
Musee de l’Orangerie
After l’Orangerie we took the metro to see the Arc d’Triomphe which had been wrapped, a la Christo, in 25,000 square meters of recyclable polypropylene fabric in silvery blue, and with 3,000 meters of red rope. According to this site https://christojeanneclaude.net/artworks/arc-de-triomphe-wrapped/ Christo had designed the project many years ago and his estate paid for the exhibition.
The area surrounding the Arc was crazy crowded but we got some interesting photos.
We took the metro back to the area near the Louve (wishing we’d gone to the Arc d’Triomphe before l’Orangerie) then walked to Ile de la Cite, eventually finding a nice café and having fish and chips (go figure.) The plan after lunch was to walk over to Ste. Chappelle since it was on our Paris Museum Pass. We didn’t have a reservation because we didn’t think it would be difficult to get in. Wrong. There was a long line and it was raining by then, so we just walked to the closest metro station and went back to the hotel.
We decided we didn’t have enough time to visit the Louvre while we were in Paris. But on our second full day as we were walking to Hotel de Ville to pick up our passes, we stopped to walk around the area in front of the museum, taking pictures. The somewhat cloudy day and the COVID testing tents detracted a bit from the views but it was still lovely.
Where to Eat
Cantine du Troquet Daguerre
As I mentioned above, it was raining our last night in Paris, so we opted for a hotel’s recommendation a couple of blocks away; la Cantine du Trocquet Daguerre.
It was fabulous. We had 2 bottles of wine, steak tartare (actually more like carpaccio) cream of celery soup, lamb shanks with frites, sole with shrimp, pork fillets with mashed potatoes, tarte au chocolate and a dessert with whipped egg whites and caramel sauce. The owners were super nice too. Even though the small restaurant was full, they never rushed us and provided excellent service.
La Cantine du Troquet
La Cantine du Troquet