Paris, Je T’aime
A trip to Paris in high school was my first (and to date, only) time going to Europe. I was good friends with a family who had an apartment in the city, and I tagged along on their spring break vacation. As a result, I spent a little more than a week living much like a local. We spent considerable time with French friends of the family—eating home-cooked dinners and going out to eateries popular among the Parisians. Since I was the only one out of our travel party who hadn’t been to France before, I was often on my own when it came to sightseeing. I went solo to many of the city’s well-known landmarks and attractions in addition to simply soaking up the culture of the place. I loved it at the time, but some of the memories have started to fade a bit over more than a decade. Still, Paris has always been a place I knew I wanted to return (and would certainly like to visit more often than once every ten-plus years)!
Tracy has never been to Europe, although she and I have been talking about how we want to make a trip almost as long as we’ve been together. I can’t wait for her to see Paris for the first time, and I’m sure that she will fall in love with it immediately. As with London, we have lots of ambitious plans that promise to make this trip a whirlwind. We’re also just excited to enjoy being in France, walking the streets, eating the food, and more. Here are some of the places we’re planning to go and things we’re planning to do.
There is so much to do in Paris that I feel like some folks who aren’t as obsessed with Disney as we are might think it crazy that we are spending two days visiting the country’s Disneyland. And yet, we simply couldn’t travel to a country with a Disney resort that’s new to us without paying it a visit. We had a little trouble figuring out the best point in our visit at which to go to Disneyland Paris, and we also had to decide how long we wanted to stay—knowing that time spent here would take away days in the city. I think we are happy with the plan that we finally came up with. Upon leaving London, we are taking a train directly to Disneyland Paris. We will then check in at our hotel for one night. We have about 10 hours of parks time on the first day and then the entire second day to explore before taking the RER (local transit) into Paris late on our second night in France.
One struggle that we had was figuring out where to stay at Disneyland Paris. The Disney hotel packages we were finding on the official website were extremely pricey. Then I started looking on Expedia, however, and found that the Disney hotels were available for much less money. We simply booked the hotel through the site, therefore, and bought à la carte park tickets. We decided on the 2-day, 2-park tickets so that we can hop as desired. It doesn’t seem like the Walt Disney Studios Park is very popular among Disneyphiles, but there are a few attractions there that we want to do—including Ratatouille: The Adventure and Crush’s Coaster. We’ll also want to check out Toy Story Land there to get a preview of what is coming to Florida eventually (even knowing that Hollywood Studios’ land will be on a much more massive and impressive scale).
What we are most excited for, however, is the main park at Disneyland Paris. I’ve caught glimpses of it in different places before—whether looking at pictures from the Disney theme parks around the world, seeing Snapchat stories from folks in the Disney community who have visited, or even reading at least one DLP trip report on the DISBoards many years ago. One common refrain that I seem to hear again and again is just how pretty the park is. It seems incredibly picturesque, and I can’t wait to just walk around and see all the visual similarities and differences between Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Disneyland Paris. In terms of attractions, it sounds like many are quite similar, while others like Phantom Manor are at least somewhat different. Even though we don’t usually do the “thrilling” roller coasters in the domestic parks, we’re amping ourselves up for Space Mountain: Mission 2 and Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril—both of which go upside-down… Of course, we won’t discriminate against attractions that are seemingly identical to the ones we’re used to in CA or FL. Like the differences between Walt Disney World and Disneyland, I’m sure that many of the Disneyland Paris versions have their own unique intricacies. We’re also really excited to simply check out the castle at this park (and its sleeping dragon!).
Because the resort is currently ramping up toward next year’s 25th anniversary, more attractions than usual are currently closed for refurbishment. Some things we’re disappointed that we’re going to miss include Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (on its own island in Paris) and Alice’s Curious Labyrinth (probably not the most “exciting” attraction, but something unique to this park).
In terms of entertainment, Disney Dreams seems to be the big nighttime offering, and I’ve heard nothing but good things. We are also excited to meet and greet any characters who might not usually (or ever) be available at the domestic parks. We’ve definitely seen that the Cheshire Cat is out at this time of year, and I’m betting there might be a few others. Speaking of this time of year, it’s going to be Halloween at the parks! Always one of our favorite seasons because Disney does a fantastic job decorating, it’s also fun because our first trip to Disneyland five years ago was at Halloween time as well.
Interestingly, there aren’t very many travel guides for visiting Disneyland Paris. We luckily found Tom Bricker’s trip planning guide when we were still in the early stages of thinking about our visit. It is a little odd, though, that Birnbaum’s and the Unofficial Guides don’t publish guidebooks for these parks. We have downloaded the Disneyland Paris app, of course, so that we can check out wait times and use the map to find any attractions that don’t happen to be intuitively placed.
As of yet, we haven’t done much to prepare for dining at Disneyland Paris. We’ve heard that the quick service food is pretty awful because it tries (poorly) to recreate typical American theme park fare. While we’ve heard good things about a couple table service restaurants—mostly Blue Lagoon and Walt’s—we aren’t sure if we want to commit that much time to a meal on our limited park days. We’d love to hear any suggestions from folks who are familiar with the whole DLP experience.
Discovering a new Disney resort is always such a fun endeavor, and I think it’s going to inject a taste of “home” into our travels—even when we are thousands of miles away in a foreign country. I’m sure that there will be unexpected bumps and plenty of surprises that we haven’t even anticipated (and I’m also sure that we’ll spend a small fortune on Disneyland Paris souvenirs), but we couldn’t be more excited for all of it.
After our night in Disneyland Paris, we’re transferring to the city proper and staying in the Latin Quarter. Again, we were taking a bit of a shot in the dark when it came to choosing a hotel (and even choosing the ideal arrondissement for sightseeing), but with some help from TripAdvisor, we chose a hotel that seems like it will be close to several of the places we’re planning to visit during our trip. Again, we’ll definitely rely on the Métro to get around—luckily, we’re pretty good at figuring out public transit systems. I took French for about five years in middle and high school, and I think I still remember most of the important phrases even if I wouldn’t consider myself anywhere close to fluent. I got lost in Paris more than once when I was wandering around on my own as a teen, but that was before the days of smartphones. With our international data plan enabled, I’m not worried about finding our way around at all. Plus, we’ve got the iTranslate app to ensure that we can ask any essential questions if and when we encounter folks who don’t speak English at all.
As with London, we picked up Rick Steves’ guide to Paris several weeks ago and have been reading as much of the book as possible to prepare for touring the city. It’s funny, because I did literally no research in advance of visiting Paris the last time. I simply blundered around, going to iconic places like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower without knowing almost anything about them (or about attractions beyond them that are equally interesting, if slightly less famous). We only have two-and-a-half days in Paris (not counting our time at Disneyland), so I have tried to map out our “must-dos” accordingly and come up with a few other things that we will try to do if we have time.
The Rick Steves book does a good job grouping some of Paris’ major attractions, and it also highlights key things to look for inside all the vast museums. Without being married to his suggestions for walks and tours, therefore, I think we do plan on sticking pretty closely to several of them. His “historic Paris walk,” for example, centers on Ile de la Cité and includes recommendations for how to best enjoy Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle. Perhaps one of the most important pieces of advice we have gotten from the book is to buy Paris’ Museum Pass, which covers the entrance fee for almost all of the major attractions. It sounds like an almost essential way to tour as much as possible without spending an arm and a leg, and I’m thinking it will be hugely convenient. The Museum Pass covers admission to climb to the top of Notre-Dame’s towers so that we can meet the gargoyles and imagine Quasimodo singing “Out There.” Other stops along the walking tour include the Deportation Memorial, Ile St. Louis, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, and the Conciergerie. This walk is supposed to take a few hours and will probably be how we start our first day in Paris.
Another obvious must-do is the Eiffel Tower—and we have already bought our tickets to go to the top. Last time I went, I climbed the stairs to the second level and stopped there, so this will be my first time going all the way up. In that same area, I think we’ll explore the Champ de Mars and Trocodéro before wandering over to Rue Cler to do another one of Steves’ recommended walks. It sounds like this area echoes Paris of the past and also features a number of highly-recommended restaurants—so we’ll probably eat there sometime during the walk.
In terms of art museums, we’ve tried to narrow our sights down to a few key collections. We’ll be visiting the Louvre, of course, and again are trusting some of Steves’ recommendations as to how to see the most important pieces without the museum taking all day (which we simply don’t have time for). The Musée d’Orsay and Orangerie will both be new to me this trip. It sounds like the collections at these museums will probably be more up our alley in terms of style (focusing prominently on art from the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the Orangerie almost entirely devoted to impressionism).
In terms of shopping, we know we’ll want to spend some time strolling the Champs-Elysées. Tracy has even done some research into the exact key-holder she wants to get at Louis Vuitton. We’ll also hit up plenty of boutiques and try to visit some street markets, depending on what’s open when we are there. As mentioned above, I’m sure that we’ll load up on plenty of souvenirs at Disneyland Paris as well, so I’m betting we’ll return with no shortage of mementos.
Since the Arc de Triomphe is included on the list of places we can get into with the Museum Pass, we also will hopefully make it up to the top (I think I almost walked up the last time I was there and balked at the price). As we walk around this and other areas, we’ll also plan to stop and smell the roses (probably not literally because it’s October) in some of Paris’ famous gardens—including the Tuilleries, Jardin du Luxembourg, and any others we happen to pass. Plus, I keep reading about picnicking in a Paris garden, which sounds like a lovely way to enjoy a lunch.
After some hemming and hawing, I think we have finally decided that an excursion out to Versailles is on our must-do list. We know that it will take up the bulk of one of whole day, but it sounds like it will be worth it. For one thing, I find the whole history leading up to the French Revolution incredibly interesting and am excited to see Versailles in person. And for another, it seems like most of the resources I’ve turned to have explained that the sojourn out there is worth the time it takes.
Most of the attractions in the category of places we want to go if there is time probably won’t happen this time around, but even figuring out which ones interest us is a good step toward planning our next trip sometime in the future. We’ll be staying near the Panthéon, so I expect we will walk by and take some pictures of it even if we don’t venture in. Similarly, we’ll probably walk through St. Germain-des-Prés and pop into Saint-Sulpice to take a quick look around. I personally think that the Paris Sewer Tour sounds really unique (and Rick Steves says that it’s a pretty quick place to visit), so that would be one of my choices if we happened to have some spare time.
I can’t imagine that we’ll be able to make it to both Montmartre and the Marais, so I think that the former is our top choice this time. Mostly because we want to walk by Sacré-Coeur if possible and also stray from our path a little bit to see the windmill entrance to the Moulin Rouge. There are several places in the Marais that I would like to visit sometime, though, including the Père Lachaise Cemetery and Victor Hugo’s House.
Eating and Drinking
Honestly, picking out restaurants to try to eat at in Paris seems much more difficult than London—for the simple reason that there are so many options that are supposed to be good! Again, what I’ve done so far is to go through the Rick Steves book and Yelp! and add some of the places that sound best to our Google My Maps. What I figure from there is that we can choose restaurants based on our proximity and hope that they are actually as good as advertised. Another interesting quandary is that many of these eateries boast menus either entirely in French or with many French dishes that we don’t know much about. I think we’re keen to try new things, but it’s still a little difficult to pick out courses when most of the menu is foreign. The other obstacle will be navigating restaurants for which we need reservations, because that involves some pretty intricate planning of our days. Basically, I have no idea where we’ll end up eating, but here are some of the places we have marked on our map: Le Petit Cler, Bistrot Belhara, Le Royal, Au Petit Tonneau, Le Potager du Père Thierry, Little Breizh, Les Temps des Cerises, La Cave Gourmande, Le Petit Canard, and many more.
My recent research about Paris and French history actually started well before we knew we’d be taking this trip. I directed Les Misérables this past spring and tried to make myself as well-informed as possible about the time period it was set in. That included reading the original Victor Hugo novel—including its slightly long-winded ramblings about the Battle of Waterloo, the Paris sewer system, and more. Even though the student uprising that takes place in Les Mis didn’t happen until 1832, its foundations were very much established by the revolution of 1789. I watched the History Channel documentary about the French Revolution, therefore, in order to better acquaint myself with the grievances against the monarchy that created such unrest in France over the next century. I also wanted to become more familiar with the reign of Napoleon that immediately predated the events of Les Mis, so I watch a lengthy documentary about him as well.
When we booked our trip and started thinking about Paris in earnest, I also picked up The Seven Ages of Paris to read more about the history of the city through the centuries. Even though I’m only about halfway through, I think a lot of the monuments and palaces are going to be more significant to me than the last time I visited. Plus I still have a few days to get further into the book. Tracy and I have also watched several movies about Paris in preparation for our visit and to get us in a French mood. Over the last few weeks, we’ve enjoyed French Kiss, Paris, Je T’aime, Ratatouille, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
So, those—in a very verbose nutshell—are our plans for the City of Lights. I think we’re going to have a great time exploring, and still take plenty of moments to just sit around and enjoy the ambience of the city around us. If any of you reading have any suggestions as to things we might be missing (or should consider missing), please weigh in below or on one of the various social media platforms! Our trip is really almost upon us at this point, and we can’t wait to be Europe-bound.
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