I’m officially in the “off” season of wedding photography which means the time has come for me to finally start sharing images and stories from my 8 week adventure in Europe last summer.
I headed to Europe to walk 500 miles across northern Spain on a thousands year old pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago. My traveling companion was my almost 18 year old brother, John Paul. I had just graduated college and he had just graduated high school so it seemed the perfect time for us to do something as crazy as this. We ended up spending a week and a half in France visiting Paris, Lourdes, and Bayonne before starting the Camino in St. Jean Pied de Port, France in the heart of the Pyrenees. We spent 5 full weeks walking across Spain and then another week and a half at the end of the trip in Portugal.
When I was in Europe studying abroad a few years ago I had no desire to go to Paris. It seemed overrated and too touristy. I was fine traveling through Paris and never seeing more than the metro system. However, now that I would be traveling through Paris for a second time, I decided I wanted to give Paris a chance. I couldn’t very well have been to Paris twice in my life without ever seeing an inch of the actual city.
So my brother and I took an overnight flight from NYC to Paris and booked this airbnb for two nights. The location was perfect, a few minute walk to the closest metro station, in a neighborhood close to Sacré Coeur (the photo below was taken just a mere five minute walk from our apartment). It was just far enough outside the center of the city to feel a little less crazy and for it to be a little less touristy. In the mornings while we walked to the metro to start our day we were passing parents walking their kids to school and in the evenings as walked home we were passing locals talking and laughing as they relaxed with a glass of wine at outdoor tables of corner cafes. It was neat to be so immersed in a normal, un-touristy, authentically Parisian neighborhood for a few days.
On our first afternoon in Paris we were tired from our overnight flight and the time change but after dropping of our backpacks at our apartment, it was time to start exploring. We started by walking up to Sacré Cour and explored the enchanting neighborhood of Montemarte that surrounds it.
We didn’t spend too much time in Montemarte, mostly because we were exhausted from traveling all night. After a bit we took a metro into the center of Paris and got out at Concorde Square and walked through Tuileries Garden down to the Louvre. I know I might break a few hearts when I say we didn’t actually go inside the Louvre. We actually didn’t pay to go inside anything in Paris for two reasons: One) to save money. We were at the beginning of an 8 week trip in Europe and needed to save every euro we could. Two) to save time. We had one full day in Paris and two half days and there is just so much to see in this city that we decided the last thing we wanted to do was spend hours in line to get inside somewhere just to spend several mores hours inside said building. Having said that, the only thing we did pay to enter was the Palace of Versailles (which we ended up regretting anyway, but more on that later on). We did, however, slip inside every church we passed (and thanked Jesus for free entrance into Notre Dame) and entered café’s, bookstores, and even the home of Victor Hugo.
After a short evening walk along the Seine, it was time to take the metro back to our apartment for dinner and bed. The photo on the left below was the view outside our apartment (which I must admit was the tiniest apartment I have ever seen, two people barely fit in this tiny space). The photo on the right is what become our go-to meal while in France: fresh baguettes, brie cheese, apples, and juice (or wine). Simple, inexpensive and absolutely delicious.
The next morning we took the metro down to the Eiffel Tower. We got off the metro at Place du Trocadéro, got iced coffee from a little stand on the corner of the street (’cause um, still fighting jet lag) and wondered out loud to each other which direction we needed to head to find the Eiffel Tower. Just as we were wondering this, we turned the corner to this view:
John Paul and I decided we wanted to walk as much as possible while exploring Paris (again to save money but also to practice for the Camino since neither of us had trained and we were days away from committing to walk 500 miles, yes I know, we were crazy). So from the Trocadéro Gardens, we walked across the river, past the Eiffel Tower and through the Champ de Mars. We were both so happy we had decided to approach the Eiffel Tower from the vantage point of the Trocadéro Gardens because we found it to be much more impressive and spectacular than the view from the Champ de Mars (which incidentally reminded us a lot of the National Mall in D.C.).
From there we wandered up the flower filled Cler Street and through the winding streets of this beautiful section of Paris.
We stopped at Café de Flore for croissants and Parisian (decadant) hot chocolate. It was blissful to sit on the street eating one of the world’s most delicious pastries and watching typical Paris life unfold around us.
The Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was I think my favorite church in Paris. The intricate details of the painted ceilings and walls and stained glass windows were breath-taking.
More meandering Paris streets brought us to the Luxembourg Gardens. From there our next destination was the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore located close to Notre Dame.
And then we had made it to Notre Dame. To be completely honest, it was not my favorite church I’ve been in, not by a long shot actually. Sure, it is a massive and impressive structure and the history behind it and surrounding it is even more impressive. But it was too crowded, too dark, too empty, and too “touristy”. It felt more like a museum than a church as it seemed more like a place to read signs and placards than to worship our Creator.
We stepped back outside and made a loop all the way around the Île de la Cité.
We grabbed sandwiches to go (best sandwich ever) and macaroons from a little pastry shop. I wasn’t the biggest fan of macaroons the first time I tried them in France a few years ago, but I felt obliged to try them again and to give John Paul the full French experience it seemed necessary to include macaroons. Once again, I really wasn’t all that enthralled by them. I think I prefer taking pictures of their pretty little selves more than I like eating them. Hahaha.
So many beautiful flower shops and market stalls along the streets of Paris! I was in heaven and John Paul would role his eyes at me when I stopped yet again to take pictures of yet more flowers.
On our third and final day in Paris we decided to take the train to the Palace of Versailles. Again, in an effort of complete honesty I have to say that this was probably one of our biggest regrets of the whole trip. Sure, the Palace is impressive to say the least. But it is literally so touristy and so crowded (and we were apparently there on a slow day) that it was not worth it at all. Not to mention the fact that the ticket was way over priced and after waiting in line for literally two hours outside in the hot sun, we walked through the exhibit in about 30-40 minutes. It was massively disappointing to realize how little of the Palace is actually open to visitors to explore. We had opted out of the even pricier ticket which included entrance to the gardens (because I had looked up photos on google and we concluded that our very own beloved Longwood Gardens seemed much more beautiful and thus made the gardens of Versailles a little pointless to go see) and so after our short visit inside the Palace we took the train back into Paris and wandered around the streets surrounding the Eiffel Tower until it was time for us to got to the bus station for our overnight bus to Lourdes.
These last two pictures don’t even give the size of the crowds justice, but at least it gives you a little taste:
From Paris we went to Lourdes for a few days which will be it’s own blogpost in a little bit!