In Sabrina, the titular heroine Sabrina Fairchild (played by Audrey Hepburn) proclaims that Paris is for changing your outlook and for throwing open the windows to let in la vie en rose. The city of light and love is a reputed destination for adventurers who believe in seeing the world through rose coloured glasses and embracing new places and new opportunities with joie de vivre.
This spring, I ventured to see if such a grand notion on the life-altering effects of Paris is a true reflection of reality or just a romanticized fantasy. From April 25th to May 1st, I journeyed to the capital of France (and cultural center for fashion, beauty, art, architecture, cuisine, history, romance, and much more) for a week of extravagant exploration. Below is a summary of my jam-packed itinerary for the week, which included an endless list of internationally renowned landmarks, monuments, museums, and hotspots in the city’s various arrondissements (neighbourhoods). For my photos of the picturesque Parisian sights, click through to the hyperlinked titles below and check out my #BonjourParis2016 hashtag on Instagram. As you can see, Paris is a photographer’s paradise. Without further adieu, here is la belle vie!
Upon landing at Charles de Gaulle airport on the Monday morning after a nine hour direct flight from Vancouver International Airport, I headed straight for the Gare du Nord train station, which was close by my hostel. Once I had checked in and settled into my room, my first stop was an afternoon jaunt around the nearby district of Montmartre to see the sacred heart of Paris, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Making the demanding trek up the huge hill to the church and then up the spiral staircase to the dome of the Sacré-Cœur was, while worth it for the sweeping panoramic view of the city skyline, not the best first activity for someone battling through jetlag (and even more, weather conditions were freezing cold, windy, and drizzling, which persisted throughout the week). Despite the rough circumstances, I toughed it out and rode the underground Metro (which was super easy to navigate) to the Arc de Triomphe. Unfortunately, access to the Arc was closed off due to a special ceremony, but it was cool to get a rare shot in the middle of the cleared-out Champs-Élysées road. Afterwards, I finally succumbed to my jetlag and headed back to the hostel to crash.
Outlook Gained: When you stick it out and push through the setbacks, you will reap great rewards.
As the saying goes, early to bed, early to rise! The next morning, I got up right at the crack of dawn, made myself decent, grabbed a ham and cheese baguette to go (my go-to breakfast every day – they aren’t kidding when they say bread and cheese are staples of the French diet), and took the train to the founding banks (and true heart) of Paris, the Île de la Cité. I arrived at the renowned gothic Notre Dame Cathedral early enough to observe part of the morning service and stroll around the interior in pure peace and quiet. Having barely recovered from the stair climb at Sacré-Cœur the previous afternoon, I then hiked up the bell tower for more panoramic views of Paris and to see the flying buttresses and gargoyles up close. Once again, the freezing wind was ruthless, but yet I’d still do it all over again in a heartbeat. Next up, I took shelter in the trifecta of the former royal residence of the early Kings of France, which now stands as the trifecta of Sainte-Chapelle (intimate chapel with the most stunning stained glass window display), Conciergerie (primary prison during the French Revolution), and Palais de Justice. Across Notre Dame on the other side of the Seine River is Shakespeare & Company, the independent English-language book company that served as a literary hub for writers of the lost generation (Hemingway and Fitzgerald and company) during the jazz age. One could simply spend hours upon hours browsing through the shelves of the bookshop or sipping on coffee and having an non-moveable feast in the café. Next, I wandered over to the Latin Quarter, the intellectual centre which houses Sorbonne (the city’s oldest university) and the neoclassical Pantheon mausoleum, and then to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, home to the bright and delightful oasis of Luxembourg Palace and Gardens, and cafes and chocolatiers such as Angelina, Pierre Hermé, and Ladurée (chocolate and tea and macarons, oh my!). I ended the day strong with some window shopping at the exquisite department stores Galeries Lafayettes (with a domed ceiling to die for) and Printemps.
Outlook Gained: Every city has multiple neighbourhoods with their own distinct cultures within it. Discover and uncover them all and you’ll have the riches of having travelled all around the globe in one place!
I started off the day with a tall order of the big Kahuna of all art museums – the Louvre. After taking a corny photo op in front of the famed glass-and-metal pyramids in the courtyard of the former royal palace grounds, I headed inside to begin my tour of the world’s most massive art collection. What visitors have said of the museum is true – you can spend a week at the Louvre and still not see everything. In half a day’s time, I barely managed to see half of the entire collection, but I did make sure to find famous works like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo up close, as well as walk through Napoleon’s Apartments. I then wandered over next door to the Les Arts Décoratifs museum, where the art and design museum was hosting a new exhibit on Barbie. It was super random but also mighty impressive to explore the history and impact of the doll empire on fashion and culture. Desiring a break from museum hopping, I took a stroll through the public (and quintessentially French) royal garden of Tuileries and then took a breather at the secluded small garden at the Palais Royal. In the evening, I headed over to the Forum des Halles retail centre for some shopping, followed by a showing of the recently released Captain America: Civil War (made even more entertaining with French subtitles).
Outlook Gained: When communicating in a foreign language, try using what limited and basic conversational phrases you have in your arsenal while minding your manners (please and thank you, if nothing else) and speaking genuinely (Bonjour, mademoiselle, madam, monsieur, etc). You’ll find that most native speakers will be more understanding and empathetic than you’d anticipate. Personally, through my experience in Paris, I have a newfound appreciation for the French and their multilingual skill sets, which has now inspired a new goal for me: learn a second language!
I embarked on my very own self-guided walking tour of Paris, starting at the remarkable structures of the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, two lavish exhibition halls turned art museums. Then, I walked along the beautiful Belle-Epoque styled Pont Alexandre III bridge, lined with gold-plated statues and classic street lamps, to the prestigious gold-domed Les Invalides complex. I headed back across the bridge for window shopping/gawking at Avenue Montaigne, la grande dame for high fashion retailers (such as Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton) in Paris. I did some actual shopping along Champs-Élysées to get the Parisian chic look. The observation deck at the Arc de Triomphe was open for visitors, so I climbed up for a triumphant sweeping view of the city I was a lot more familiar with now. In need of some R&R, I took the train over to the Tuileries garden for lunch and people watching. Once ready to move again, I ventured over to the Place de la Concorde square, which encompasses the Grande Roue ferris wheel, Fontaine des Fleuves and Fontaine des Mers, and the striking Egyptian Luxor Obelisk. The next destination was my favourite Paris attraction – the mesmerizing opulence and glittering gold of the neoclassical Palais Garnier opera house, with sparkling chandeliers that rivals the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, the grandest staircase of all grand staircases, and the most magnificent ceiling art in the theatre itself. I took advantage of Musee d’Orsay‘s late hours on Thursday and checked out the impressionist art collections (starring works from artists like Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir) at former railway station. My thoughts on the masterpieces? Colour me… impressed!
Outlook Gained: There’s so much beauty in this world of ours. Take the time to stop and look up, down, around in front of and behind you, and prepare to be amazed at the wonders you find.
After being constantly on the go since the beginning of my trip, I decided that I needed to stop pushing myself to my limits and have a day where I just slowed down and chilled out, Parisian style. I went over to La Grande Épicerie food hall at Bon Marché, a culinary emporium which is basically foodie heaven. After heading to Hôtel de Ville for yet another photo op of an antique carousel (which you find many of around Paris), I took a leisurely stroll along the oldest standing bridge in the city, Pont Neuf and along the pedestrian bridge, Pont des Arts, before stopping for a few hours at the banks of the Seine River to just… be.
Outlook Gained: It’s more than okay to have a change of pace and take things slow (and stop and smell the roses, for real). Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you for it.
This was it! The day I had been waiting for since studying the French Revolution in high school and obsessing over Sofia Coppola’s costume drama, Marie Antoinette – my visit to the Palace (and Gardens) of Versailles! However, I have good news and bad news. Bad news first – it’s sad to say that this most anticipated part of my trip actually turned out to be the biggest letdown. From the moment I stepped through the golden gilded gates of the palace courtyard, the day was cursed. I’m talking uncooperative weather, miles-long security line-ups, inconsiderate fellow tourists, camera failures, and all-around confusion (Versailles should definitely invest in making improvement to their visitor experience – for one thing, more navigational guidance, as the grounds are HUGE). Had I not had my hostel roommate with me and had done Versailles alone, I may have had an actual meltdown. Thankfully (good news!), we were still able to take in, appreciate, and marvel over the incredible beauty of the Versailles estate, including the main château (from the state and royal apartments to the Hall of Mirrors), a brief jaunt in the glorious Versailles Gardens, the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, and the hidden treasures found at the rural escape of Marie Antoinette’s estate, the Queen’s Hamlet, a rustic fairytale-like village replete with a functional farm. Much like the Louvre, one day is not enough to see all that Versailles has to offer. In fact, I’d say you could spend WEEKS exploring the vast grounds. My advice is that, to truly enjoy a stress-free experience at Versailles, you need to spend at least one long weekend here in the summer months.
Outlook Gained: Disappointment happens. No matter how prepared you are, you will always come across disruptions to your plans. When the going gets tough, try to move on and find something else to get excited about. For instance, if my new friend and I didn’t get lost while exploring the grounds beyond the palace, we never would have found our favourite part of Versailles – the Queen’s Hamlet. C’est la vie!
Thankfully, my wish for one day with nice and warm spring weather was granted on the last day of my trip. May 1st is a holiday in Paris (May Day!) in addition to being a Sunday, so many of the major tourist attractions were closed and business hours were shorter than normal, which meant it was the perfect day for taking it easy. I indulged in gluttony by dining on the fine and delicious delicacies of France, such as omelettes, crepes, croissants, chocolate, coffee, and cheese. Bon appetit indeed! I returned back to Montmartre (and took the funicular up the hill this time) to immerse myself in the artsy and bohemian vibes of the village. I finally met and marvelled over the iconic symbol of Paris, the Iron Lady herself, the Eiffel Tower, and rode the elevator lift to the very top for a bird’s eye, 360 degree view of the city I now loved. I spent several hours at the Trocadero Gardens and Champ de Mars Garden, observing the mix of Parisians and international tourists and reflecting on all of the memories I made over the past week. At sunset, I ended the evening with a boat cruise around the Seine River to experience the bright lights of Paris at night. Seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle against the night sky was the perfect way to say au revoir.
Outlook Gained: Is Paris, as they say, always a good idea? Was Sabrina right in her assessment? Oui and oui! The city, with its charming streets, classic cafes, and sophisticated culture, sure does have a certain je ne sais quoi quality that makes you feel like a changed person. Throughout the course of 7 days, I learned so much about Paris, traveling, life, people, and myself that I will continue to carry these new outlooks and ideas with me to wherever my next destination is.
Merci, Paris! À bientôt!
Photographs can all be found on Flickr.