Every time my better half goes exploring the world, I pretty much hunker down with the beagles at home and just watch the world go by.
So I was excited as could be when, Rick decided to plan a trip for us. The plan changed quite a bit. At one point, it was going to include scaling mountains to see ancient ruins. I was ready to just be thankful for the trip, but he read between the lines and finally said, “I think France is probably somewhere you’d really like to go,” and, with tears in my eyes, I heartily agreed. So France it was!
We heard a lot of things when we prepared for our trip. One was that Parisians were unfriendly and wouldn’t help us. I’m happy to report that with only hopeful, pleading eyes and the words, “Bonjour. Parlez vous anglais?” we got around everywhere just fine, and found Parisians to be more than helpful when we were in any sort of need. We also found the word “Pardon” to be more than enough for subway bumps or when we were getting in the way with our touristy distraction.
On the way to the airport, bags packed, pups kissed, passport in hand, I became suddenly nervous. We had to pause the pop and sing some worship music for me to even be able to slow my racing heart. Once we boarded the flight, I was totally fine.
After leaving on Saturday morning, we arrived on what was Sunday morning the following day local time. We were red-eyed and disheveled, but ventured from our hotel to the heart of Paris to pick up our Museum Passes anyway. The excitement of being somewhere new carried us through the day.
After a bit of confusion and a lot of trial an error with public transport, we managed to make it to our destination (were I to give any piece of advice to a first-time traveler to Paris, it would be to take FULL advantage of the underground Metro. It was the best, most affordable, and often fastest way to get around town).
Everywhere I turned, I was dazzled by the architecture. Styles from many centuries mingled harmoniously. There wasn’t a detail that didn’t enchant me. I found everything from louvered shutters to lampposts to be exceptionally beautiful.
We had so many experiences that first day that remain undocumented by this jet-lagged pair, but the blur of wandering through Paris, seeing the Jardin des Tuileries for the first time (it brought tears to my eyes), getting caught on the wrong side of the street thanks to mobs of marathoners (we loved it), eating at a sidewalk cafe for the first time (and frustrating our waiter by not understanding how to order a breakfast), and deliriously checking into our hotel for a nap were things I’ll never forget.
We concluded the first night with a dinner cruise on the Seine River and grabbed these quick snapshots despite our weariness.
The next morning, we awoke refreshed, ready to tackle the subway system, and were greeted by a cool, hazy morning.
Our first stop was the Louvre. Forgive the photo quality; visibility was pretty low that morning (it was the perfect, chilly morning to spend in a museum). As incredible as the works of Art were, much of the building itself was just as impressive.
I can’t quite put into words the enormity of this museum. Had we been determined to explore it entirely, I imagine we’d have to dedicate many full days. We later explored Musée d’Orsay and found it to be much more manageable (and a treat for this impressionism-lover).
The Jardin des Tuileries was by far where I felt the most ecstatic in Paris. It just felt like the sort of restful, friendly environment where you’d want to spend the day. From the many fountains to children’s playgrounds, it was a delight to spend a couple of mornings in these gardens.
We spent the next few days exploring the city and its sites.
We trotted to Notre Dame in the pouring rain, and it only got heavier as we walked.Just as we sought shelter in a quiet cafe, this procession of men mounted on horseback rode by. It was an impressive display.
We eventually reached Notre Dame. Another afternoon of walking around followed our visit to Notre Dame, and we were rewarded with the sun peaking out from behind the clouds.
Rick journeyed out that evening and captured so many gorgeous shots of Paris at night.This photo is a favorite of mine.I hate to admit that I twisted my ankle many times on streets just like this one.
The next day, we traveled to Versailles and were greeted by huge crowds and long lines.The hallways and servants’ quarters were my favorite parts of Versailles.While other tourists clearly preferred the more-is-more interiors full of gilded moldings, marble, and dripping with crystal.
More is more was certainly the philosophy for construction.
While we both found Versailles in June to be quite crowded and uncomfortable, we found the gardens to be delightful. In fact, we consider it one of our top five moments of our trip.
I preferred these organic paths to the perfectly-manicured grounds closer to the palace.This goofy many posed like Hercules. He wanted me to know that Hercules copied him, not the other way around.
But I let it slide because he rowed me around in a boat that day.And it was as magical as it sounded. I was sure to capture these hard-working hands that were so happy to treat me to a ride. Again, one of the sculptures. This man never stops.
That evening, we traveled back to our first hotel and then walked to a cafe for dinner.
We set off for Nice on our fourth day. There was a great deal of uncertainty because, though we had planned to ride the TGV, we had to wait until the day before to book tickets thanks to an ongoing strike. Thankfully, we were able to book tickets and to travel on time (however, we were later unable to go to Giverny as planned thanks to the strikes).
We were glad to arrive in Nice. What a charming, vibrant city! After checking into our hotel, which was thankfully ready early, we hit the pavement and walked to an early dinner and then out for some preliminary exploration.
We found a path and spontaneously began quite a memorable hike. Can you spot the pigeons taking flight?
This guy is definitely our gas pedal.
And I am the brakes! I think I felt ready to read a book by the ocean rather than continuing to climb.But our efforts were rewarded!
The stunning view of Nice and the coast of the French Riviera was a refreshment.
It revitalized us and carried us right back down.
The next day, I was determined to visit the open-air market and Rick faithfully navigated us there.It did not disappoint! The charm peonies, lavender, and olive trees was all I could have hoped for after traveling through Provence. I would have loved to have spent more time in the region, particularly Aix-en-Provence.
After our morning at the flower market, we headed to the beaches soak up a rare glimpse of the sun.
Rick helped a couple of ladies out of the water; the rocky beach made it easy to slide back into the water.
We traveled into town and loved the fountain splash pad at the Promenade de Paillon.Next, we ventured into Old Town, or Vieux Nice, and were absolutely enchanted by what we saw and explored. This was also a “Top 5” moment for me on our trip. The locally-owned shops, winding streets, clothes out to dry, and wonderful bakeries made the day one of my favorite afternoons.
Beautiful moments were at every turn (like these gorgeous public fountains). One of these baskets (along with a table throw and a pillow cover) came home with us. After some exploration, we headed to dinner and opted for the beach front.
We were surprised to eat one of our favorite burgers of all time in France! The waiter made us laugh by apologizing for it not being a big, American burger. But we assured him this was actually much better. We were so sad to bid Nice goodbye, but we’re happy to return to Paris.
Visiting the Eiffel Tower was a bit of a surprise to us; the park felt like a giant, relatively-tame, college frat party with a few families mixed in. There were people selling wine, beer and cigarettes all over the park, and we stepped on plenty of bottle caps and corks.
Everyone was festive and friendly to say the least.
We walked from the buildings you can see at the far side of the green lawn up a long ways for this photo. We climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe after a rather eventful trip down Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
The spiral staircase climb upward was a bit taxing, and even dizzying, but we were again rewarded for our efforts with stunning views. We lingered for quite some time and enjoyed a sunset before a night stroll back to our hotel. The next day, we set out to visit Montemarte: the hilly, Parisian neighborhood of my dreams. First, though, we dedicated the morning to my favorite spots. I insisted we have a leisurely morning without cameras (well at least after grabbing the fountain photo below).
We stopped in a natural bath shop, and I was pleased to come home with a hand soap, bath wash, and perfume without artificial fragrances.
After a leisurely rest in the Louvre Gardens (duck watching was a must-do on my morning itinerary), we stopped by Musée d’Orsay and I soaked up all the impressionism my heart could drink in. While we didn’t get to visit his home and gardens in Giverny, I was still able to see many Monet paintings in person.
On the way to Montemarte, we encountered a fabled bridge. It’s said that if two people leave a lock on the bridge, their love will last forever. We embraced the whimsy. We symbolically threw away the keys. 🙂
After completing our last detour, we hopped on the Metro and walked/climbed the rest of the way to Montemarte.
By this time, I was no longer surprised to see throngs of people concentrated in a touristy area like this, so we did our best to push our way to quiet alleys and the outskirts of the area as quickly as we could. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was the most notable landmark on the hilltop overlooking the city below and the area immediately surrounding it to the South and West were especially crowded. Street art was a theme all over Paris. I loved the view behind the restaurants, though just around the corner was a flood of fellow tourists. Cobble stones; multi-story, narrow homes; operable shutters and lush window boxes made this area feel extra French. Unbelievably, there was a vineyard called Vignes du Clos Montmartre tucked away in this hilly, urban environment. I snapped a photo through the chain link fence. Another aspect that delight me throughout our time in France was the plant life the pushed through every manmade crevice. Well-tended gardens and climbing vines galore added so much charm to this area. I loved this little pocket park, Square Marcel Bleustein Blanchet,which was full of locals enjoying the park with friends and children. It is just North East of the Basilica, and was so quaint and restful. This guy does the best glare every time he reads. Here, we were navigating our way back to the hotel. After a day of zipping all over (from our hotel near the Eiffel, to the Louvre Gardens, through a museum, and Montemarte), we took a short rest in our room. Then, we grabbed dinner (more like sat down and enjoyed a meal; I’m not sure the American idea of quickly grabbing a bite to eat was something we experienced once) and Rick took us on one last adventure.
We bought tickets for the Montparnasse Tower to get a panoramic view of Paris at night. Rick was able to take the most incredible photos from this vantage point.
I don’t have the words to summarize our trip and what it meant to me.
I do know the world sure feels a lot smaller. I do know I love the idea of allowing travel to touch your heart, change you, and become a part of you. I learned how much I adore observing cultural difference, and I realized just how little World History I know.
I know I will treasure this experience forever. It was bittersweet knowing we may never come back, but that only grew my adoration for the trip. Not only was this, perhaps, once in a lifetime, I realize that some folks never even dream of a trip like this. I am forever thankful.
I also know I love this man, that I cherish alone time with him, and that every bit of our life together has been, and will continue to be, a grand adventure.