The only Paris that I ever thought I would visit is the one in Tennessee.
For our third anniversary this May, Billy and I celebrated with eight wonderful days in Paris. I have dreamed of going to Paris since I was 9-years-old and first learning French. I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, order croissants, and say stereotypically French things like omelet du fromage (“Dexter’s Laboratory,” anyone?). But over the past 20 years, I never seemed to have the time or the money to make the trip.
About 7 months ago, I was surfing the web and randomly looking up airline deals. I came across a ridiculously good price on Delta for nonstop, rountrip flights from Dulles to Charles de Gaulle — $950 total for two. I couldn’t pass it up! It was during my anniversary, and it was under $1,000 for me and Billy. I told myself that it was a crazy impulse buy, but myself responded with, “Um, you are a full-fledged grownup with a whole job and vacation time to use. #TreatYoSelf.” And treat myself I did. When Billy came home from work, I looked at him and said, “I booked a trip to Paris for our anniversary. It was a good deal.” He just responded, “Okay,” and went with it because he is a glorious human who doesn’t stifle my whimsy.
We opted for an Airbnb over a hotel, both to save money and to stay in a more homey setting. It was the perfect choice! We were in a studio flat that is about a 10-minute walk from Gare du Nord and an 8-minute walk from Gare de l’Est. This made traveling from CDG airport very simple as there is a direct train from the airport to Gare du Nord. We paid around $20 for two one-way tickets, and it was much cheaper and faster than an Uber or taxi.
Total cost was around $550, and our host was kind and accommodating. We were in the middle of a busy area with plenty of cafes, bakeries, and other shops to choose from. But we were far enough away from the more touristy spots that we didn’t feel overwhelmed. It is a very walkable location, and having two main metro stations nearby was convenient. We walked and used the metro to get everywhere, and the Paris metro system is very easy to navigate.
Of course we went to Paris to see all of the things. Being a Groupon-stalking woman who actually uses her CVS receipt coupons and gets sad when they aren’t long, I like deals. I wanted to find the cheapest and easiest way to see all of the museums, monuments, and other attractions that we wanted. After some Googling, I found the Paris Museum Pass. You can buy either a 2-, 4-, or 6-day pass and have unlimited entry into all major museums and monuments. We purchased two 4-day passes online for about $140 USD total and then scheduled a pick up at Gare du Nord. It was that easy. So easy that I was skeptical.
We started with the Louvre, and our pass let us skip the long ticket line for a more express entry. After that, I was convinced that the pass was worth it. We were able to see the Louvre twice, d’Orsay, l’Armée, the Arc de Triomphe, and Versailles by using our passes. The only line we couldn’t skip was the line at Versailles, and we did have to pay a little extra to tour the garden. We ended up seeing fewer museums than originally planned, but we still got our money’s worth.
One last-minute itinerary addition that we made was a one-hour cruise along the Seine River. It was about $23 USD total for our tickets, and we really enjoyed it. There are many different boat tour companies to choose from, but we went with Vedettes du Pont Neuf because of their 10€ online booking deal. It was a relaxing way to end the day, and we were able to see many familiar sights from a new perspective. The guide gave the tour in both French and English, and he was very entertaining.
This section will be disappointing. I took two food pictures the entire trip. I was too busy eating! One pleasant surprise during our vacation was how inexpensive eating out in Paris is in relation to DC. It is wonderful how easy it is to go to any cafe and be able to enjoy a delicious meal. Our first dinner was at Le Prévoyant near our Airbnb, and oh man was it good. We just picked the nearest cafe, and our expectations were exceeded. The chicken and rice and Lyonnaise potatoes were so simple but tasty.
Another notable food stop is Le Café Blanc near the Louvre. I point this place out specifically for its vegetarian lasagna. It was the best vegetarian lasagna that I have ever had. I’m getting hungry right now just thinking about it.
The last place that I want to mention is a restaurant that was recommended by a friend of ours. It is about a 10-minute walk from our Airbnb, and it was where we had our last breakfast in Paris. Holybelly is I believe British-owned, so it is definitely not the place to go to for a traditional Parisian experience. But it is really nice if you are craving some pancakes, scrambled eggs, and some delicious bacon.
Overall, good food is easy to come by in Paris. We thought that we would have at least one or two dinners at a fancy Michelin-starred locale, but the casual dining was much better for our busy sightseeing schedule. And if you ever get a little homesick, Gare du Nord has a Five Guys. Yes, we ate there and yes, it tastes just like the burgers at home.
Gardens and Shops
When we weren’t in a museum, we were enjoying just walking the city. The first garden that we walked was the Tuileries Garden outside of the Louvre. When we went into the museum, it was rainy and cloudy. When we came out, the rain was gone and the sun was out. It was perfect timing for a stroll through the garden. We walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower, taking our time to stop and admire everything.
The second garden that we walked later that week was Luxembourg. Since Luxembourg Palace is a government building, it isn’t a simple matter of just showing up, buying a ticket, and touring. But the gardens are open to the public. The structured hedges and elegant sculptures throughout the garden made me feel very royal. I wasn’t even disappointed that we didn’t tour the inside because I enjoyed admiring the architecture while sitting by the pond.
We didn’t do much shopping except for some souvenirs for folks back home. Truth be told, I don’t think there is anything I could get in Paris that I couldn’t get in DC. We saw a lot of the same stores, like H&M for example. But we still found some fun shops to peruse. The first was inside of Châtelet les Halles, a large shopping mall not far from the Louvre. Billy discovered the French version of GameStop. I asked if he wanted to buy a French video game, but he informed me that consoles in the US and consoles in France are different. They might both be PlayStations, but they can’t play the same games. He was just happy to be in the store.
Another Billy-esque stop was the Used Book Café inside of Merci, a French department store. We were welcomed with walls of old books and a menu of delicious juices, teas, and coffees. This little pit stop was a good way to transition between activities because we could relax, recoup, and then head out.
I’m not going to lie, Paris was the bomb. We had a list of things to to do, but our schedule was very unstructured. A lot of people asked if we would travel throughout Europe during our trip, but I think 8 days just in Paris was perfect. It allowed for any last-minute changes or delays, and we didn’t feel rushed. I asked Billy if he had any regrets about the trip, but we are both super happy with everything we did and saw.
Some final tips that I have are:
- If you fly economy, pay for the upgrade for leg room. It was only 100€ for both of us to upgrade on Air France, and we didn’t know this until the trip home. Had we known, we would have paid the extra both ways. Worth it.
- Booking through Delta with the Skymiles Amex does not guarantee free checked bags when the flight is serviced by another carrier. However, Air France gives each international trip passenger at least one free checked bag each. When we checked in on the kiosk at the airport, it tried to charge us for our bags. Go to the counter instead, and you shouldn’t have to pay.
- If you have T-Mobile, all texting and 2G data are free. Calls are $0.25/minute. You can pay for a $5 fast pass if you want to get free unlimited calls for 24 hours and 500mb of high speed data. I only bought the fast pass for one day, the day before we had to fly out, and it’s because my Internet was too slow to let us check in with the airline. Aside from that, I wasn’t bothered by the slower data speed.
- Bring wet wipes, like Wet Ones, while out and about. A friend gave me this tip, and I appreciate it.
- Amex doesn’t charge a transaction fee for international purchases. Neither does the Bank of America Travel Rewards card. For both my Bank of America debit card and Billy’s Wells Fargo debit card, the international transaction fee is 3%. At the end of the day, that 3% was negligible for the times we did use our debit cards.
- Get your Euros before you leave. Going through a bank or credit union will likely give you the best rate, but I waited too long to exchange my money. Instead, I went to Currency Exchange International in Bethesda. I got a better rate than I would have at the airport, and I got my money the same day.
- Pack snacks to carry around with you. Highly processed foods are so American, but damn it, I missed them. Running in a corner store and grabbing a bag of chips or a Lunchable is not a thing in Paris. I wish I had packed a snack bag for the trip.
My last piece of advice is to learn some basic French phrases. I’m an intermediate speaker, so I managed a lot of conversations without breaking into any English. But even when I did get a little confused or forget a word, people were very kind and appreciative that I spoke in the French that I knew. My husband on the other hand is a very novice French speaker, and even he got a lot of smiles and attentive service. If you do need to speak English, the phrase, “Est-ce que vous parlez Anglais” is much more polite than just saying, “Do you speak English?” And of course, always begin any conversation with, “Bonjour.”
I am very fortunate for our Paris trip. It was always a dream of mine to go, and it still feels a bit surreal to have that dream come true. Just yesterday, I watched a TV show where the couple went to Paris, and I had this moment of, “Wow, I have been there, to the place on TV!” I hope to take more international trips in the near future, but if all else fails, we will always have Paris.