For this post, we’re going way back to 2008, during the last 10 days of my 2.5 month solo trip to Europe. One of the many good things about visiting destinations with so much history, is the major sights don’t really change.
So the places we visited back then are just as amazing today, with the exception of the beautiful gothic church of Notre Dame.
This was also my first trip where I wrote about my adventures and many years before I recognized the benefit of writing down the names of restaurants and accommodations for future reference. For those I mentioned, I’ve checked that they’re still open for business.
How we spent nine days in Paris and Northern France
For the final week of my trip, my mom flew over from Canada to join me. This was her first time overseas and by this time, I was (relatively) well-travelled. She did well though, keeping up with 25 year old me!
Here’s how we spent our Nine days (excluding departure day)
- Day 1 – Mom’s arrival day in Paris
- Day 2 – Full day in Paris, visiting multiple museums and key sights including Notre Dame, Sainte Chappelle and the Picasso Museum
- Day 3 – Another full day in Paris, with more museums including the Louve, Musee d’Orsay and the Arc de Triomphe
- Day 4 – Travel to Ponterson as a base for Mont St Michel
- Day 5 – Sightseeing at Mont St Michel, travel to Bayeux, staying in Bayeux
- Day 6 – Day tour of the Canadian sights of Normandy, staying in Bayeux
- Day 7 – Travel day back to Paris on the train via Caen
- Day 8 – Day trip to Versailles
- Day 9 – Final day of exploring Paris
- Day 10 – Fly home
While visiting, leaving and then returning to the same city isn’t usually my preferred way of using my time, in this instance it worked well. The Paris days were full of walking, whereas the the countryside days were a bit more relaxed. We also flew in and out of Paris, so it made sense to have a couple days on either end in the big city.
Day 1 – Arrival day
An overnight flight meant lots of jet lag on my mom’s arrival. Since we were only able to check into our hotel at 2pm, we did a lot of walking around the city to try to stay awake.
Staying in the Rue Cler area, we visited sights throughout the 7th and 1st Arrondissements. Although Paris is huge, a lot of sights are lumped together in semi-reasonable chunks. On that first afternoon, we were able to cover a lot of ground!
We started in the Ecole Militaire area, walked to Notre Dame and went inside. Then over to the island of Ile de la Cite for some gelato and then over to the Louvre to see the pyramid (we’d go in on another day when we had our Museum Pass). We then found a quiet park near Le Place de Concorde to have a little siesta. We then walked down the Champs d’Elysee, to the Arc de Triomphe and over to Trocadéro Gardens (a large park behind the Eiffel tower), for views of the tower.
Afterwards we went to the hotel and then out for some food, having a crepe for dinner. When you’re in Paris, why not?!
Day 2 – Museum Day # 1
To save on money you can buy a museum pass in most major cities. To get The most value for money out of them, you need to go to a lot of sights. So this is exactly what we did. Back in 2008 the pass cost 30 euros and included entry into pretty much all attractions. In 2019 the same pass costs 48 euros.
On the first day, we covered off the following:
- We first went up the Notre Dame towers for a panoramic view of the city (over an hour wait in line) and saw a bunch of gargoyles a la Quasimodo.
- Then over to Sainte Chapelle for some amazing stained glass. I thought, big deal, stained glass, but it was worth the 45 minute wait in line.
- Next we headed to the Bastille area for the Picasso Museum and then over to the Pompidou Center for some art from the 20th century. The big question of the day was “how do they decide what is art?”. We saw everything from Chagall and Picasso to a gym-type climbing rope hanging from the ceiling and a painting labelled “dark blue panel” which was, as the name implies, a big dark blue panel.
After all the museum visiting and walking, we found a little cafe where mom had her first tea and I had a chocolate filled croissant (I almost forgot how much I love those from my first first week in Provence two months earlier).
Day 3 – Museum Day #2
Not to be outdone by museum day 1, by the end of the second sightseeing day, we were all museum’d out!
- The first stop was the Louvre where we saw the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and a Michelangelo statue among many other things. Since it would take our entire trip (if not more) to see the museum, we left after we saw the “biggies”.
- Afterwards we headed to the Musee de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s Waterlillies, which were much bigger than I was expecting. There were also a few other paintings in the museum that were ok, but not worth the admission.
- After a short lunch break, we headed to museum number 3, the Musee d’Orsay, which has Van Gogh (including the Starry Night painting), Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, amongst many, many others. The museum is quite large and we only saw a small part of it. This is a museum I would like to return to and see the rest of the collection.
- To make the most of our museum passes, we climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for a fantastic view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower. Since we visited in the evening, we were hoping to see it sparkle, but we were kicked off just beforehand. Instead we made our way over on foot for the next sparkle show (it’s every hour on the hour).
Day 4 – Travel to Pontorson (Mont St Michel)
This was my mom’s first train ride since the 80s! And what a great first train ride since we were on the TGV high speed train. Leaving Paris, we were in Rennes two hours later. With a 3 hour stopover, we found an internet cafe (do you remember those?!) to arrange a pickup in Pontorson.
NB – I travelled Europe for 2.5 months without a mobile phone. Imagine doing that today?!
It was a good thing we arranged a pickup, because our hotel was in the middle of no where (but 30 euros a night instead of 135 euros in Paris!). The tiny station had very little information so we wouldn’t have known which way to walk even if we could.
We stayed in a cute B&B called Au Bon Accueil that had a cute garden and a cat! I looked it up and it still exists, it’s still cheap and it’s still highly rated! We rented bikes and biked around looking for a restaurant. Since most places open at 7pm, we ended up biking around for awhile and then up a huge hill.
We ended up finding a (take a guess) c’è epe restaurant and had a supper crepe, dessert crepe, 2 glasses of wine each and a coffee for 10 euros a person. A much better value than the prices in Paris!!
While we were eating supper, we had a view of a farm, could hear birds chirping, cows mooing in the distance and a rooster. Along the way to the restaurant we saw a horse. Not quite the setting we had in the middle of Paris!
Since the sun stays out until 10:30pm, we stayed up and played some rummy in the garden. Quite the lovely end to the day out in the country and quite the change from busy Paris.
Day 5 – Visiting Mont St Michel and travel to Bayeux
In the morning we went for a quick jog (ah back when I had knees good enough for running!). This was in an attempt to offset the large quantity of sweets we tend to eat during the day. After a really big breakfast (included in the price), we got a ride from the hotel guy to Mont St Michel.
I wanted to go there mostly because everyone who had gone had said how awesome it was. And yes, this was well before the days of social media, where you’re inundated with amazing pictures on Facebook and Instagram!
Well, I have to say, the view walking towards it is magnificent! Even on a cloudy overcast day it was so pretty and unlike anywhere else I’ve been. Once you’re on the island, however, it’s super packed with tourists. It wasn’t bad around 10am but by lunch time it was a zoo.
We had to wait for our bus at 1:30pm so we walked around the ramparts and sat on some rocks outside the walls and took in the views of the water (including a seal). At breakfast we had met an American doing an internship in Paris and was travelling alone. She had gone the day before so she acted as our tour guide and showed us around the island which was nice. In return, I acted as her translator so she could change train tickets and get back to Paris.
We then took the train to Bayeux, which took about 2 hours. We found our hotel and went exploring for some food and then later for some desserts. It seems our days are focused a lot around eating, so that’s fantastic! After supper we walked around what seemed like the entire town in search of a laundrymat and a bank machine. Who thought that would be so difficult but we found them both. We had an early night in preparation for a long day of D Day Beach touring the next day.
Day 6 – Normandy tour
This was our full day D Day Landing Tour just outside of Bayeux. We booked with Battlebus Tours (they don’t seem to exist in 2019) and had a guide named Dale. He was a British expat and a very entertaining guide. We stopped at a number of memorials that were erected and are maintained by the local communities that were liberated by the Canadian troops. What a day of feeling very patriotic and proud to be a Canadian!
We stopped at a number of sights including:
- the beaches where they landed
- one of the cemeteries (which was the nicest, most beautifully well kept cemetery I’ve ever been to)
- the Juno Centre (illustrates the Canadians’ part in the war in Europe and in Canada)
- and a few battlefields/farm fields as well as lots of memorials (15 stops altogether).
To sum up the day: we laughed, we cried, we remembered …
In the evening we’d planned to eat and then go see Sex and the City (the first movie). We found a place to eat, but finding a place for dessert was a very different story. Everything in this town (besides bars and restaurants) seemed to be closed at 7:30pm, which we discovered as we showed up to each place and saw it closed. One place was open but had their kitchen closed at 7:30!
We eventually found a place for a dessert crepe (with nutella) and ice cream. We then headed over to see the movie and found out it was in French (even though the poster outsides said English). So our backup plan was a cheap bottle of wine to drink in the park. At least this way mom got a chance to live like I did for the past 2 months 🙂
Day 7 – Return to Paris and Montmarte
In the morning we walked around Bayeux for a bit and realized there wasn’t much left to see except the Cathedral.
So we went to the train station and booked the next ticket back to Paris. We ended up with an hour stopover in Caen so we went for a tea to pass the time (also one of Mom’s favourite things to do).
PWe arrived in Paris and checked into our last hotel. We stayed at Le Grand Leveque on Rue Cler (one of Mr. Steves’ favourite spots in Paris). When we walked up to the front door, it smelled like rotten milk, which was not quite what I was going for. Later we figured out the smell is likely due to the cheese store next door. I’m having flashbacks of visiting Pienza in Tuscany!
Around dinner time, we left the hotel for a walk up to Montmarte. Along the way we saw the Opera House, the Galleries Lafayette and lots and lots of pretty buildings as we made our way up there. We found the restaurant I had read about in my guidebook which ended up being the same one I went to a week before with a fellow traveller before my mom arrived.
The guy working there recognized me and told me to come back the next time I’m in the area. We continued up the hill to see Sacre Coeur and to get an ice cream (of course). The whole time the clouds kept getting darker and darker and we thought for sure we were going to get stuck in a downpour. Actually due to the 31 degrees and the humidity, I thought we were going to get stuck in a thunder storm. But by 11pm the skies were clear again.
We were down by the Seine at 11pm, just in time to see the Eiffel Tower do its twinkle thing from afar. It doesn’t seem to matter how close or far away you are, it still looks awesome when it starts to twinkle. We watched a bunch of different boats floating down the river as well, which is something we’re going to try to do on our last night.
Day 8 – Day trip to Versailles
We had planned to get up early to get to Versailles before the crowds showed up. However, when the alarm went off we turned it off and went back to bed. By the time we left the hotel it was after 11am.
Mom had been wanting to hear musicians playing while we were eating in Normandy. We got on the train with our picnic breakfast and a few men came on playing an accordion and a guitar. Parfait! We arrived at the chateau and skipped the line since we bought the Versailles pass. I’m glad we bought it since the ticket line up was ginormous and looked to be never ending.
The chateau itself is impressive with room after room of decorated walls with bronze, gold and more paintings than I can count. Mr. Louis XIIII was not a modest man as half of the paintings seemed to be of him. One of the paintings of a woman had her holding a portrait of him in her hands.
I’d say the most impressive room was the Hall of Mirrors.
Afterwards we ventured out into the gardens that were just as ginormous. We stopped to watch some swans being teased by teenagers then a small kid and then a big kid. We were hoping one of them would be bitten but no luck. This of course was while we were eating ice cream.
We walked for what seemed like hours to go around the canals. Photos don’t do the gardens and park justice to show how huge they were. Overall I liked the gardens more than the chateau but the chateau was nice to see as well.
In the evening, we decided to go up the Eiffel Tower. Once we got back to our hotel we bought a bottle of wine from the cutest French guy with the sexiest accent ever! Then we went for some pizza along Rue Cler at a restaurant called Tribeca. It was the fastest service I’ve ever had at a restaurant.
We then walked over to the Champs de Mars to drink the wine. I had a little problem opening the bottle (cork busted in two, wine splashed everywhere, cork fell into bottle, Shauna drank wine mixed with cork dust). BUT I did get it open!
We then got in line for the tower. We decided to walk up to the second level which was about 700 steps. It was surprisingly easy (maybe helped by a half bottle of wine).
The view from the second level was awesome but the creme de la creme was the elevator up and then the view from the top. We were at the top just before 11pm so we were up there when the tower started to sparkle. We could hear the crowds of people below cheering as it started and then lots and lots of flashes from the ground below of people taking pictures. It was so awesome and I’m glad we saved it for one of our last nights. I doubt I’ll ever forget the feeling of being that high up looking down at all the lights of Paris!
Day 9 – Final day in Paris
Today was our last full day to see Paris / enjoying life in Europe. The first stop of the day was to find the mini Statue of Liberty. We walked along the river until we found the island it sits on. It was bigger than I thought but still much smaller than the original. We took a sweet picture of it with the Eiffel Tower in the background, from another bridge farther down the river.
I had seen a postcard of La Defense area of the city, which is a business district. The guidebooks don’t really mention the area but the buildings looked cool and we had the time so off we went. Right at the end of the area is a hugemongous square building as well as lots of other weird shaped office buildings. My guidebook has one half page devoted to the area, which includes a blurb about how it looks like a space ship could land there. I compared it to the Jetsons. Unless you’re in the city for business, it’s probably a stop you could skip!
We then took the metro down to the Champs d’Elysee and walked along there and to the the island with the famous Barthollion ice cream. The best ice cream ever. The dark chocolate tasted like what brownie batter ice creamified would taste like! I’m glad it was my last ice cream since ice cream in Paris will always have a place in my heart.
My brother and sister-in-law are big Mickey Mouse fans so most of our last day was spent taking the Mickey doll around major sights of Paris so he could have his picture taken doing what you do in Paris. This made for some very hilarious photos.
Since we hadn’t had a rose wine yet, that was on the menu for this evening. After finishing off the bottle (once again with a busted cork, I have to stop using my Swiss Army knife), we went over to the river to see if we could get on a boat for a cruise along the Seine.
We ended up getting on a boat, sitting on a seat along one of the sides. Along the cruise we saw all the major sights and some not so major sights such as a pair of guys who flashed the boat as we sailed by! After the boat cruise (that unfortunately didn’t have a bar on board) we went for a crepe, standing behind one of the most hunky guys I have ever seen. Too bad we were leaving in the morning!
Have you visited Paris? What sights did we miss? Leave me a comment below. I always love hearing from you!