Walking along the winding Paris streets, sipping coffee at cafes, savoring delectable Parisian delights, shopping the antique markets…sometimes these experiences are left at the French wayside as one moves through the traveler to do list of grand Paris sights.
No need to begin planning your next trip while on this one. You know, the trip in your head, “oh if I’d have more time, I’d come back and just sit at the cafes, wander the neighborhoods, and eat really good food.” This post features my Parisian itinerary where I wandered around this city of the world AND got that perfect profile picture in front of L’tour Eiffel – in 2 days.
Day 1: Montmartre & Sacre Coeur, Paris Flea Market, Marias, Musee D’Orsay, and the Opera House
Staying the 18th Arrondissement via the very budget-friendly AirBnB.com made it easy to wander to the highest point in Paris early morning. I didn’t venture out like super tourist with my to do list of sights, but instead got up around 10 and walked through the neighborhood to the top of Montmartre. Along the way, I passed those iconic cafes and tree-lined streets where actual Parisians presumably sip caffé and live. In the morning light, the Sacre Coeur glowed. It was not too crowded and just the perfect scene where the guitar playing buskers actually sounded good.
Walking down the hill and through the windy, tiny streets, I found the metro station and figured out the route to Les Puces de Saint-Ouen – the large Paris flea markets. I expected one market along a street, but there were many. At first, I found a market that was like the Wal-Mart to the traveler – the same things we’ve seen everywhere over a large space. I already have my hookah and backpacker chic gear, thank you. The real payoff, and just a little further, is the antique markets. I chose the ones down on Dauphin road and began the wandering. Roomie Nic desired an antique broach and I found one for her. And one for me. And a scarf. I had to turn down the 190 Euro antique globe, which would have gone perfectly in my place.
Lit up by shopping bliss, I took the metro into the Marias with a good attitude – so much in one morning and so much awaited. Marias means “the swamp,” I’ve heard, but there is nothing swamp like about this chi chi boutique-filled neighborhood. I walked, with budget-eyes down; past the “only in Paris” dress shops and dynamic lunch-crowd restaurants.
My stomach started to rumble right around the time I found the old Jewish quarter. Coming out of the small streets were very-satisfied people clutching falafel sandwiches. Could it be? I thought to myself. I’d read about the world’s best falafel being in this neighborhood, but could I actually be that close?
I turned the corner and a line met me almost immediately. I was at L’As du Fallafel and, yes, it is the home of the best falafel in the world. I sat street side eating this glorious concoction. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do with all the salads, sauces, and chickpeas crammed into pita bread, but I savored every bit. During the food-gasm, I dropped one of the falafel balls. A very smart pigeon, which had been lurking and waiting for this moment, bolted over and nibbled it up. I briefly considered actually getting another sandwich.
Lunch was the fuel I needed for a sightseeing packed afternoon and I walked along the seine to the Musee D’Orsay. Now, I will say, I’d been there before and if this was my first time to Paris, I would have spent an hour or two in the Museum and then walked across the Seine to the Champs Elysee and called it a day. But it wasn’t my first time here, so I kept walking and walking, past everything grand along the Seine – the Louvre, the Hotel de Invalides, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Obelisk, and the Palace Concorde.
At this point my feet were beginning to ache, so I sat on the steps of the Opera House, which was unfortunately closed for the day at 5, so I snapped some pictures of the glorious façade and made my way back to the neighborhood where I stayed.
Day 2: La Doux Moulin, Eiffel Tour, Notre Dame, and a very French lunch
I started my second day in Paris with breakfast at Les Deux Moulins. Lovers of the movie “Amelie” appreciate this destination – it’s the café where the movie was filmed. It’s also located on a gorgeous little street in the Montmartre neighborhood (Rue Le Pic) filled with tart, wine, and tasty treat shoppes. I think I spent about 20 Euros on three breakfasts along that street.
My pilgrimage for my last day was to see the Eiffel Tower. Like I said, I’d been to Paris before and had the perfect-in-front-of-the-tower picture. But that was with an ex, so now I needed a new picture of just me. And of course, I would post that on Facebook.
The scene did not disappoint. I learned a day later that there was a bomb threat at the landmark and all the crowds were cleared out. But that morning, I looked up and up at this vertical testament to Paris’ grand scale. And the FB picture was compliments of a very nice American couple, to which I returned the favor.
I had my train to Germany at four that day, so my goals for the afternoon were simple: a gorgeous French lunch and then one more tourist spot. I somehow had energy and walked all along the Seine to Notre Dame. This is not a walk for the tired or foot-sore. It took about 1 ½ hours, but in that time, I got to walk along the Seine. In Paris. Totally worth it.
Notre Dame was crowded and spectacular. I took a Medieval History class in college and remembered exactly nothing except for the words, “flying buttresses,” of which I’m sure there were many in this decadent Gothic structure.
All the walking, sightseeing, and well just being made me hungry and I arrived at Café Louis Phillippe (recommended to me by a French friend and co-worker) famished. The host was welcoming at sat me outside, with a view of other French people enjoying lunch and the Seine. I ordered an endive salad, roast chicken and potato au gratin that was really potato o’butter. Delicious and decadent with the warm sun reflecting my glow of experience a perfect Parisian tour.
I didn’t have much time left and doubling back through the Marais was the best way to get from where I was to where I needed to be. It was meant to be a quick trip, but then I lifted my head and caught site of one of those cute boutique shoe stores. I bought a very nice pink pair of flats half out of “I’m only in Paris once” buyer rationale and half out of embarrassment that my feet smelled so bad from a day of walking around Paris.
My shop-stop was the perfect end to a very Parisian experience with the prerequisite sights along the way. Every time I look at those shoes, I smile with a reminding that I wandered the City of Lights AND got that perfect Facebook profile picture.
Items of Note
- French People Are Nice: There were many examples of this, but one particular point-demonstration. At the flea market I started to eat a peach. One of the shop owners saw me eating standing up and got out a chair. He pointed for me to sit down. I did and ate in comfort. He came back with a napkin for me when I was finished with the peach. “Merci” did not seem sufficient.
- Hotels Are Expensive, Airbnb.com is the budget way to go: Airbnb.com hooked me up with a great place to stay for $80USD a night. Isabelle shared her apartment with me – excellent room and very desirable location. It was much better than a hostel and much cheaper than a hotel. Also, she made the kitchen available to me, but instead I took her up on her great restaurant suggestions. Read my post on How to Book an Apartment in Paris.
Getting There and Away
- To Paris: I came from the Netherlands on the Netherlands Train Service. It was expensive compared to my other train trips, but the best way to arrive at the central train station from Holland.
- From Paris: I left Paris with a reservation on Rail Europe to Germany. There were a variety of prices and times; I found a fare for 45 Euros for the four-hour train out of the great city.
- Paris Flea Markets Hints and Tips
- Lost in Paris by Matt Gross on NYTimes
- NYTimes Frugal Traveler does the flea markets
- New York Times review of Paris: L’As du Fallafel
- Location of Le Deux Moulins – the café from the film Amelie