This spring break, my last college spring break EVER (wow), I channeled major London Tipton energy and visited Paris, France. As you can probably guess, it was INCREDIBLE. As a huge art history nerd, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the museums in Paris, while the food was also out of this world. It was so refreshing walking into a European grocery store and buy a very decent bottle of wine for four euros. Below are five highlights I recommend if YOU ever intend to travel to the city of lights!
“It’s little me, back from Paris!” -London Tipton
(Image courtesy of giphy.com)
The Palace of Versailles was perhaps the most magnificent place we visited while staying in Paris. Using the 7-day Navigo pass distributed by the Paris metro system, me and my boyfriend were able to get out to Versailles via the RER train for a full day trip. Armed with Rick Steves’ audio tour of the palace and history on the people who lived there, we learned more than we ever could have imagined about this incredible building and the quirky people who inhabited it. Did you know that Marie Antoinette built her own village in the back garden of Versailles because she wanted to pretend she was back in Austria living a peasant life. Meanwhile, real poor people were starving on the streets of Paris. Her village, called the Queen’s Hamlet, was one of the most interesting/absurd things we saw in Versailles. It was well worth the trip.
Can’t miss: The Hall of Mirrors.
The Hall of Mirrors in Chateau de Versailles (image courtesy of the writer)
2. 38 Riv
For those of you who are not aware, Paris is famous for its jazz scene. For centuries, Paris has served as a cultural, gastronomical, and musical capital and people from around the world have flocked there, bringing their own traditions and imbuing them into the cultural scene. African American soldiers introduced jazz to Paris during WWII when they were stationed in France, and also after the war as they chose to remain in France in order to avoid the more overt forms of racism in the United States. Today Paris is even considered by some to be the second worldwide city of jazz after NYC. I had the great pleasure of attending a jazz performance at 38 Riv, a jazz club located in the heart of Paris at 38 rue de Rivoli. The band was playing a Coltrane cover show, and the featured musician was the bass player. It was truly incredible and perhaps even an out of body experience.
While we may have paid 17 euros for the experience, there are ways you can visit 38 Riv and still save some money. On week nights (not Friday), 38 Riv has ‘jam sessions’, which is when musicians come together and, well, jam. These shows have no cover and you just have to buy a drink to sit in on a session. Performance nights are Fridays, but they are well worth the chunk of change (take it from me).
The stage of 38 Riv before the performance (image courtesy of the writer).
There is so much I could say about Montmartre. The cultural heart of Paris for decades, Montmartre was my favorite part of the actual Paris city we visited. It is known as the “butte of Paris” due to its location on a small hill, and has housed tons of famous artists (Picasso, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dali, Utrillo, Degas, and more). I loved it for its small town feel, despite the fact that it is rapidly undergoing gentrification. We spent the day just walking around the small town (we did a Rick Steves walking tour using his Paris guidebook) and came upon some gems.
Le Grenier à Pain – best bread/baguette/croissant I had in Paris. Located along the main food strip. Definitely a can’t miss. These people make baguettes for Macron (French president)!!
Sacré-Cœur – Sacred Heart church. Completely and totally beautiful, and an even better view from the towers (only 6 euros to get to the top!). They have a diagram showing how Allied bombs during WWII just barely missed the church and no one was injured. Locals believe/d it to be an act of god, so go see for yourself!
Just walk around! Take in the sights! Montmartre is a great place to have a laid back day (we needed it!)
Me with my baguette from Le Grenier à Pain! (image courtesy of the writer)
4. Late night museum visits
Surprise: I fell head over heels in love with the Louvre and the d’Orsay museums. BUT: I could hardly enjoy these gems in the daytime, especially the d’Orsay. The narrow hallways of the renovated metro station made it especially difficult for me to move around the packed Impressionist galleries, and I actually left after 40min feeling mad that some random women ran into me and bruised my arm. The Louvre hallways are slightly bigger, but there are HUGE tour groups from all over the world that crowd around a given work and make it impossible for you to see.
The solution to this problem: carve out time in your week to go to these museums when they’re open late. The Louvre is open until 9:45pm on Wednesday and Friday, and the d’Orsay is open until 9:45pm on Thursdays. Experiencing the museum in the evening was perhaps the artistic highlight of my trip, as I was able to get up close and personal with some of the most famous artworks in the world. If you desire, you can even stand front row at the Mona Lisa at 9pm because no large groups are there and most people have gone home by that point. When I return to these museums, I will exclusively be visiting from 5-9:45pm.
Me enjoying one of my favorite paintings, Luncheon on the Grass by Manet, in an EMPTY d’Orsay impressionist gallery (a feat!) (Image courtesy of the writer)
5. The Food
I sort of touched on this with my out of this world baguette, but the food as Paris is as good as people say it is. BUT, it doesn’t have to be as expensive as many people say it is. I think my boyfriend and I did a fairly good job of seeking out affordable food options, especially considering we are poor college students. We loved the falafel in the Jewish Quarters, the crepes and galletes whenever we could get them, and the classic “croque monsieur” for him (ham and cheese sandwich) and anything sans-meat for me. It’s not very easy to eat vegetarian in France, but it’s managable. It’s all about consuming a ton of carbs and cheese, which I technically had no problem with. Also, gelato. Lots and lots of gelato. Amorino gelato to be specific. It is heaven.
Goat cheese, honey, and pecan gallete at Versailles (Image courtesy of the writer)