(If you haven’t already make sure to read Part 1 of this Trip Journal)
Day 3: A Royal Day & Magical Night
After another lovely breakfast at the Belmont, it was time for our first adventure outside of the city. Today we would be travelling to the Palace of Versailles, which came highly recommended by just about everyone who had been there.
Using the RER
The RER is Paris' regional train system. It goes further outside the city than the Metro (to detinations such as the Airports, Disneyland, etc.) It is a commuter train that stops less frequently, and travels faster. The closest station to the hotel that made sense for us to take was right next to the Eiffel Tower. After a quick metro ride, we were at the Champs de Mars Tour Eiffel station, which is on the C (Yellow) RER line. Just like the metro, follow signs to the platform that correlates with the end of the line direction you are heading. We accidentally got on the train heading in the opposite direction but realized after one stop and quickly got on the correct one.
At this particular station, we never found the ticket machines so we purchased tickets from the station ticket booth. (Note the unlimited Paris Pass transportation card does not include further destinations and to get to Versailles we did have to pay for a round trip ticket) Make sure to buy a round trip to make life easier on the return trip. After our quick wrong way detour, we were on our way to the Palace, which was about a 30 minute train ride, followed by a quick walk right to the palace.
Palace of Versailles
Cost: €18/person (included in Paris Pass)
Even from a distance the Palace itself is beautiful and massive. With large statues and glimmering golden gates the opulence and clear abundance of the Palace is on full display even before getting to the entrance. Once again, we used the Paris Pass to skip the ticket line and go right in. The main entrance is towards the left once you walk through the gate. After entering, you are given a small audio tour device as part of the admission fee. One thing that we wish we had was wired headphones. The audio devices were like small cell phones that you had to hold up to your ear the entire time. Needless to say, our arms got tired enough to start skipping sections of the audio tour that didn't interest us.
While you can wander, the audio tour and signs guide visitors through a well laid out path through the the highlights of the Palace. This place was huge and admittedly, after a while, the rooms all started to look the same with the incredibly amounts of gold and other high end trimmings. We enjoyed seeing such intricate fabrics, furniture, and artwork. Seeing famous bed chambers, a chapel and of the course the hall of mirrors was quite the site as well. One surprise to Andrew was the lack of mention of the Treaty of Versailles either in the audio tour or signage in the Hall of Mirrors.
After spending about an hour in the Palace, we made our way out to the gardens. These are massive and a lot larger than it appears. The walk to the fountain in the distance in the middle of the gardens is a longer walk than it appears. They do provide a small shuttle that takes you around the gardens and also have golf cart rentals to make the most of the grounds. Further down there were boat rentals too.
We wandered around the area nearest the Palace, getting some pictures before heading down into the gardens. There are benches throughout the grounds to rest if needed and also plenty of shade for those hotter days. We only made it as far as the large fountain in the middle but we did see a small store selling food on the right in the middle of the shrubs. We only spent about an hour walking around before heading back to the Palace.
Our overall thoughts on Versailles it that it was very impressive but not quite our favorite sight to see. While the palace is stunning and full of histroy, we just weren't as in to it as we were hoping. Some people said they could spend all day here, where we found things to start look the same and got a little bored. When taking into the effort to get there compared to how much we enjoyed ourselves, we think we would have preferred to stay in the city and see some other sights. (On the flip side, we probably would have been a little disappointed had we gone all the way to Paris and not visited the Palace.) At the end of our visit we found ourselves longing for the city and headed back to the train to head there next…
Lunch: Julie's Perfect Parisian Picnic
The entire time we had been planning our Paris trip, the one thing Julie really dreamed of was a picnic under the Eiffel Tower. After leaving the RER station right next to the Eiffel Tower, now seemed like the perfect time. It took us a while to wander and find a place to get food to go. We found a little shop nearby (Boulangerie Les Petits Gourmands on Rue Saint Dominique) to pick up some sandwiches, sides, and a couple drink to head back over to the grounds below the iron lady. There were plenty of people selling stuff in this area, once of those things was wine. After some bartering we spent 10 euros for a bottle to drink with our picnic. We were able to find a spot in the grass with a view of the tower against a blue sky and people watched while we enjoyed our lunch.Needless to say, Julie was in heaven!
Bateaux Parisiens River Cruise
Cost: €15/person (included in Paris Pass)
Another activity included with our Paris Pass was a sight seeing tour by boat on the Seine river. Bateaux River Cruises is located right across the street from the base of the Eiffel Tower right next to the bridge that leads to Trecadaro. We walked up to the ticket counter, showed our Pass, and were handed our actual cruise tickets. We waited in line under a cover for about 10 minutes until they were ready to board. Since it was such a nice day, most people headed right upstairs to the top deck. We headed towards the front of the upper deck. (Quick tip: tons of people walk right up to the front of the top deck once the boat starts moving and just block the view of those sitting. There are two rows on the top deck. Our recommendation is to sit at the very front of the lower row. It's a great seat and no one can stand in front of you.)
The boat ride itself is about an hour and takes guests out just beyond Notre Dame and back allowing you slow views of many famous spots. The narration on the boat was very informative. Everything was said in three languages in the same order every time; French, English, then Spanish. The views from the boat are quite unique and worth the time and money. Also, because of the fire at Notre Dame about three weeks before our trip, visitors couldn't get within roughly three blocks of the Cathedral. The river cruise was the closest we could get and considering Notre Dame is right on the river, we got some great views.
We absolutely loved this cruise. One thing we noticed while on this boat was all of the other options available along and on the river. There were quite a few bars and restaurants on the water. Most just sit permanently docked but there are dinner cruises to be had. We said if we make it back, we would most definitely try a longer dinner cruise.
Trocadero Square Dinner: Carette
After getting off the river cruise boat, we headed across the river towards Trocadero Square. After a few pictures from the square, we were off to find some dinner. Taking a step back to when we were checking in for our flight in Washington, DC, the agent recommended a restaurant in the Trocadero Square area. Luckily we were able to find it so we decided to give it a shot. Patisserie Carette is located on the same traffic circle as Trocadero and is one of many cafes in that area. We were lucky enough to find a table overlooking the street in the very busy cafe.
Julie ordered a light dinner of quiche and salad. While Andrew ordered a club sandwich. We also enjoyed the tea so much that we inquired about what kind it was and if we could purchase it. Turns out it was from a famous Parisian tea shop that we would eventually successfully track down.
Eiffel Tower Light Show
After dinner we headed back to Trocadero Square to grab spots to see the Eiffel Tower light show. At the top of the hour each night, the Eiffel Tower lights up and “sparkles” for roughly 5 minutes. On the night we were there we really lucked out. There was an additional projection show to celebrate the 130 year anniversary. This show was only for a few days that week and we felt so special to be able to catch it. The show celebrated different moments in time with music and projected animations. This show was absolutely amazing. It was the perfect way to end a great day in Paris.
Day 4: Impressions de France
CANCELED: Notre Dame Cathedral
Cost: €10/person (included in Paris Pass)
Friday was our last full day in Paris and had planned to do a lot of walking around to see more highlights. We had original planned to start the day by seeing Notre Dame but a few weeks before our trip a fire happened and it has been unfortunately closed for awhile.
Cost: €10/person (included in Paris Pass)
We headed off by Metro towards our first destination of the day, Sainte-Chapelle. This beautiful chapel is located on one the islands in the Siene, Ile de la Cite, which is the same island as Notre Dame. Sainte-Chapelle is a 13th century Gothic architecture church with the world's largest collection of stained glass.
From the outside of the building, visitors can't tell there is a Chapel within the walls because Sante-Chapelle is located inside the large courtyard of another building. However, there are signs for the entrance and most likely a small line to help indicate where to go. Guests go through security then through the courtyard to the Chapel. Ticketing is right next to the main entrance of the Church but just like most places, people who have already purchased tickets can pretty much go right in (such as us with our Paris Pass).
Guests enter into a room that while not the main attraction, is still very beautiful in its own right. There are artifacts and statues that are original to the initial construction of the church. Once we finished perusing the downstairs, we headed up a small, tight spiral staircase to the main chapel, which elicited a "wow" from Andrew as soon as he saw it. The best photographer couldn't do Sainte-Chapelle justice. While the room isn't that large, there is plenty to take in. The windows, which are 15 meters high, depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris.
Expect the visit here to be fairly short as we only spent about 30 minutes. While it is stunning, it isn't very large and doesn't take long to see everything. One thing to keep in mind during your visit is to be mindful of the volume. The folks who work there are very quick to shush visitors on the second floor and they take this job very seriously.
One of the biggest advantages of just wandering around the city is you can stumble across some pretty neat things. While we were walking out of Sainte-Chapelle, we came across a bread festival. While it wasn't very large, it was really neat to see and of course had some really good bread.
There was a bread decorating competition between a few countries where each team made sculptures our of bread including a large musical instrument among other things. There were also several booths where bread and assorted pastries could be purchased. Andrew got what amounted to a small loaf of bread baked with ham and cheese in the middle and Julie got a pizza.
Soaking up the Sights and Sounds (and some shopping!)
After the bread festival we continued by foot to simply explore the city. We wandered around some outdoor market areas admiring flowers and souvenirs. We also headed over to visit famous tea shop Mariage Freres. With a zillion different teas but very helpful staff we were able to pick up some lovely tea to bring back. We also ordered some tea to go to enjoy a walk along the Siene. The other awesome thing about this area is all of the street vendors. We perused many little booths selling art, souvenirs and vintage items. We also saw some street performers such as an accordion player, playing some tunes that sounded just like a backdrop to a French movie. We picked up a few things along our walk and really just enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city. These kind of moments were honestly some of the best of the trip: just wandering and soaking it in.
Cost: €12/person (included in Paris Pass)
As we walked along the river, we arrived at our next stop, Musee d'Orsay. It is housed in the former Gare d'Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station overlooking the river. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. This was a must do for Julie as it held a lot of styles of art she enjoyed, and famous pieces from her art history books. Another Paris Pass Entry but this time, but we found it didn't really help with getting in quicker. (However, it was later in the day so there probably weren't that many people entering late afternoon.) After a quick security check, visitors purchase tickets and then enter on the main floor.
The Musée d'Orsay features several levels and rooms of many different kinds of art. There is a lot of impressionism here and well known pieces but it lacked the overcrowding that the Louvre seemed to have. We both agree we enjoyed the Musee d'Orsay better than the Louvre. Not that we didn't like the Louvre, this place was just easier to navigate, had more art we were interested in, and was in such a beautiful building.
Dinner: Our Least Favorite Meal
We were really looking forward to going to a Moroccan restaurant right next to our hotel but unfortunately we didn’t realize that it didn’t open for dinner until much later. After all of the walking we were tired and ready to eat and didn’t want to wait two more hours. We did a search to find something nearby and came across a place with decent reviews called the Washington Poste. Unfortunately it ended up being the most disappointing meal of our trip. The bar looked cool but the food was very mediocre. The french onion soup wasn’t broiled but served with grated cheese on the side. The creme brûlée was burnt. The meals were just meh, it was a shock to have mashed potatoes that tasted instant. It also was the only restaurant we ran into where we felt like the server was trying to take advantage of us being American, which also left a sour taste in our mouth. Oh well, you win some you lose some.
Continue on to our final chapter in Part Three…