Hello Paris!

Guys. I’ve made it.

I’m back in my most favourite city in the world and I’m so happy to be here!

After my last post, things continued to go sideways and I honestly thought I’d end up institutionalized before I’d ever get on the plane. Keeping myself together was all that I could manage. Blogging was furthest from my mind – so thank you for all of you messages and support. I shared something I’d never usually say online, and immediately regretted it. But the kindness I’ve been shown really means a lot to me.

My travel day was exhausting and long and by the time I checked on yesterday afternoon, there was no way I could do anything besides order room service, watch some television and go to bed. After 7 hours of sleep (which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than I get in my regular day to day), I woke up at 3am. At 5am I finally tiptoed downstairs (kidding, I totally galloped down those stairs) on the hunt for caffeine. So here we are. It’s 5:08 and I’m back in my room sipping my cappuccino.

Excuse the blurry photo.

My best friend arrives later this morning and I’m so excited to see her – and Paris! The next couple of weeks are going to be good and I’m looking forward to sharing what we get up to with you.

Check back, and often.

Paris – A Pastry a Day Challenge

Yesterday I invited you to take part in a Paris Photo Challenge. Today I’m sharing another fun challenge I’m looking forward to do on my upcoming trip to Paris.

Because life is too short to skip dessert!

But Marla.

A pastry a day!?

Yes! Hear me out!

You’ll be out pounding the pavement each day, visiting museums and galleries. You’ll get your steps in, so why not treat yourself? You’re on vacation after all!

Everyone knows that Paris excels when offering up delicious desserts and pastries. On a short visit, it would be impossible to enjoy everything. So instead, pick an handful to try and choose a different one for each day?

Why not print out the above suggestions list and take it with you on your next visit? If you do, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram with photos of your favourites!

Paris Photo Scavenger Hunt

When I was a kid, my sister and I used to play a game in the car. We’d each pick a different colour and then spend the entire ride desperately searching for vehicles in “our” colour. Whoever had spotted the most when we’d arrived at our destination would be crowned the winner. That was all fun and games until we realised that a city works yard nearby had a parking lot full of white vehicles. It then became about who would shout out first that white was their colour. Usually a fight would ensue and I’m pretty sure our Dad started to take a different route just to avoid the white vehicles all together.

But I just don’t see why being an adult means that the fun has to stop.

Since then I’ve taken part in many fun (albeit dorky) challenges like counting wildlife on a cross-province road trip, or excitedly pointing out monkey trees on drives through the neighbourhood. Since moving closer the the countryside, finding decrepit old barns is a new favourite.

One time in Paris, my best friend and I decided to do a photo scavenger hunt of typically Parisian sights. It was a perfect way to really pay attention to our surroundings. So I’ve made a similar list of things to look out for on your next visit to Paris.

Feel free to print this page and bring it with you. And once you’re back home, you’ll have an album of quintessential Paris photos.

If you decide to take part, tag me on Instagram so I can see your photos!

Thursday Doors – Paris

While looking through my various Paris photos, I realised that I’d never posted about the classical music concert I attended at Sainte-Chapelle. Which is strange, as it’s up there with some of my most memorable experiences. So I’ll have to get on that sooner than later.

In the meantime, here’s a small taste. Starting with front portal of the upper chapel with its statue of Jesus flanked by doors.

It was through the open door that I entered for the concert.

And here’s a quick peek inside of the 13th century chapel with its stunning (and mostly original) stained glass windows.

I’m gearing up for my next Parisian adventure (15 days to go!), so if you’d like to see what I get up to why not follow me on Instagram? Let’s be friends!


Thursday Doors is a weekly event facilitated by Dan. If you’re interested in participating, check out Dan’s blog.

Paris’ Grand Cemetery – Père Lachaise

It might seem a bit odd to search out a cemetery when travelling, but in Paris it’s an enjoyable way to spend some time. Hear me out! Gone are the crowds. It’s like walking through a beautifully landscaped park. Tombstones vary from grave to grave, some simplistic while others are intricately detailed. And don’t even get me started on the history. If you’re needing a break from galleries, consider a visit to a Parisian cemetery.

The first time my best friend, Stephanie, and I visited Paris together, we thoroughly enjoyed a couple of hours wandering through the Montmartre Cemetery.

So while in the planning stages of our next recent trip (this time with the guys in tow), we decided that making the trek out to the Grand Père (ahem) of them all was a priority.

Trek sounds quite dramatic but most visitors to Paris focus on the city’s central area and rarely leave it. It was my fifth time to Paris and only my first visit to Père Lachaise. But in reality our “trek” was an easy bus ride without transfers. Before the pandemic and working from home, it took me longer to get to/from work each day!

In my research I learned that Emperor Napoleon I inaugurated the cemetery in 1804. He mustn’t have been overly confident, as he arranged to transfer the remains of French playwright Molière and famous lovers Abelard and Heloise to Père Lachaise in order to up the prestige factor.

But he didn’t need to worry, as Père Lachaise houses approximately 300,000 graves and consistently has a waitlist for people to be buried there. It’s also one of the world’s most-visited cemeteries. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people stroll its beautiful grounds each year.

Most people arrive with a map and list of graves they want to visit, and we were no different. The grounds of Père Lachaise are huge so it was a fun scavenger hunt to find them all. Here’s our list in order of graves visited ..


Oscar Wilde
Irish Writer
October 16, 1854 – November 30, 1900

You’ll note the glass around Wilde’s grave? It was put there to prevent people leaving lipstick kiss marks all over the stone. Not only was it gross, but Wilde’s family had to incur the costs of repeated cleaning.


Victor Noir
French Journalist
July 27, 1848 – January 11, 1870

Monsieur Noir would be interested, I’m sure, to know that his grave is probably the most popular in all of Pere Lachaise with female visitors.

Move over Oscar Wilde!

According to Wikipedia, “Myth says that placing a flower in the upturned top hat after kissing the statue on the lips and rubbing its genital area will enhance fertility, bring a blissful sex life, or, in some versions, a husband within the year..

.. As a result of the legend, those particular components of the otherwise verdigris (grey-green oxidized bronze) statue are rather well-worn and shiny.”

No, not awkward at all.


Edith Piaf
French Singer, Songwriter and Performer
December 19, 1915 – October 10, 1963

Her nickname La Môme Piaf (“The Little Sparrow”) comes from the fact she was only 4’8″ tall. Her colourful life was marred by tragedy from the very beginning. Love, loss, sickness, addiction.. and the French public wrapped their arms around their beloved chanteuse.

I read that while she had been denied a funeral mass by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris because of her lifestyle, her funeral procession was followed by tens of thousands of mourners. It was apparently the only time since the end of World War II that Parisian traffic has come to a complete stop.


Jim Morrison
American singer, songwriter and poet
December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971

The bottom of the plaque is inscribed with ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ, which literally translates to “according to his own daemon, i.e., guiding spirit,” to convey the sentiment “True to Himself.”

Next to the grave there is a gum tree. As in, a tree covered with chewed gum. I don’t understand the significance, but kept a safe distance. Because germs.

Gross, non?

One of the last public places that Jim Morrison was seen alive is a bar called La Mazet which, incidentally, was also the last place all four of us were seen together in Paris before my husband and I headed for Normandy the next morning.


Frédéric Chopin
Polish pianist and composer
March 1, 1810 – October 17, 1849

Chopin was one of music’s earliest superstars, who sadly died of tuberculosis. He reportedly requested that his body be opened after death (for fear of being buried alive) and his heart was returned to Warsaw where it rests to this day.

One of the strangest things I’ve learned about Chopin is that while on his death bed it was apparently said that “all the grand Parisian ladies considered it de riguer to faint in his room”.


Héloïse & Abelard

Héloïse d’Argenteuil
French nun, writer, scholar and abbess
1090/1100–1 (?) – May 16, 1164

Peter Abelard
French scholastic philosopher, theologian, and logician
1079 – 21 April 1142

The romance and letters of these two eternal lovers remain legendary almost a century later.


Georges-Eugène Haussmann
Prefect and urban planner
March 27, 1809 – January 11,1891

We can thank Baron Haussmann for the Paris we see today, with its beautiful parks, impressive wide boulevards and tidy buildings complete with intricate wrought iron works – not to mention its essential sewage system. Interestingly, while he’s celebrated the world over, he wasn’t very popular with Parisians themselves.


If you’re interested in seeing the rest of my photo album, check it out here. Of course, I’ve only just scratched the surface – there are so many more beautiful things to see at Père Lachaise. Have you been? If so, what were your favourites?

Helpful tip:
If you’re lazy like me jetlagged, do yourself a favour and enter the cemetery from the top of the hill through Porte Gambetta. By doing so, you’ll make your way leisurely downhill (rather than walking uphill), eventually arriving at the main entrance, Porte du Répos.

Thursday Doors – Paris

This week I’m taking you for a tour around the exterior of L’église Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, a Catholic Church located in central Paris.

But before we begin, I should warn you to take a seat. If you’re into historical architecture and design as much as I am, this church might just take your breath away. I know that it did mine. Mostly because there was so much to take in. I didn’t know where to look.

The church we see today was mainly built in the 15th century, although the site saw previous variations dating back to the 7th century. Back when the nearby Louvre was home to French Royals, L’église Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois was the Royal parish church.

While not as well-known as Notre Dame, this church does have the honour of hosting the former’s church-goers while it’s being rebuilt after the devastating fire of 2019.

Do you notice the figure holding his own head on the column above? That’s Denis, Patron Saint of Paris and France. He’s a common sight across the city. You may remember him from my earlier post.

L’église Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois butts up against the Town Hall for the 1st arrondissement (district), with this pretty walkway separating the two. I now wish I had taken a stroll to see where it leads.

I really like the main entrance to the church. From the curved archway and decorative porch ceiling, there’s so much to marvel at.

Did you see my post last week about why I love Paris? I recommend you check it out if you didn’t. In that post, I shared a photo of a plaque under the Pont Neuf which relates to the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572) when a targeted attack by Catholics murdered 4000 Huguenots.

The start of the Paris attack happened here at L’église Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois with the ringing of the church bells setting off the craziness. Many high ranking Huguenots were in town for a wedding, so it made sense for the Catholics to strike then. I’ve heard of weddings getting a bit out of hand but this .. this is next level. Yikes.

Founders of the church, from left to right, King Childebert, Queen Ultrogoth
and Deacon Vincent.
Saint Germain of Paris, Saint Geneviève
and an Angel carrying a torch.
Virgin and child.

I’ll be back soon with a tour of the inside of L’église Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. Be sure to check back, or sign up for email notifications so you never miss a post.


Thursday Doors is a weekly event facilitated by Dan. If you’re interested in participating, check out Dan’s blog.

Parisian Onion Soup – La Jacobine

Ooey-gooey Comté, melt-in-your-mouth caramelized onions, perfect and comforting homemade beef broth.. if you’re in Paris looking for a delicious bowl of cheesy onion soup (soupe à l’oignon, en français), head over to La Jacobine in the covered walkway of rue Saint-André des Art.

My best friend and I discovered La Jacobine on our first trip to Paris together, years ago, and I’ve made a point to return every visit since.

Oh hello, lover.

Do yourself a favour and leave room for dessert. Everything I’ve ordered has been delicious, but this pistachio raspberry tart is definitely a favourite.

While you can’t make reservations online, you can save your table by phone call – or by stopping in a couple of days beforehand. Sure, you could always turn up with fingers crossed but, with a packed restaurant and others with the same idea, you might end up waiting for quite some time.

Which reminds me. Try to sit facing away from the windows if at all possible. Seeing people lick the glass out of the corner of your eye can be a tad distracting.

If you haven’t tried La Jacobine, run – don’t walk. You can thank me later.

Pont Neuf – Paris’ New Bridge

Pont Neuf – or New Bridge, en français – is ironically named given that it’s actually the oldest of the 37 bridges that span the Seine River in Paris.

For most of my visits to Paris, it’s been my bridge. The one I cross most frequently. A comforting landmark as I’ve made my way back to my temporary Parisian home at the end of each day.

It was back in 1578 that the first stones were laid, though Pont Neuf had a scandalous reputation even before construction was completed in 1607; resident gangs, robbers and murders, hustlers, pickpockets, prostitutes and even tooth pullers. Oh my! It even apparently had its own gallows for a time.

See those funny faces? They’re called mascarons and are replicas of the original stone masks that originally adorned the Pont Neuf.

I can’t find the source now but if memory serves correct, the below is a door that offered access to control the fuel for the once-upon-a-time gas lamps that lit the bridge. Anyone?

Minus the bird poop, I really like the ornate bases of the bridge’s lamp posts.

The Pont Neuf also has built-in benches which offer a place to give your tired feet a break while taking in the views.

Not much longer! Really looking forward to revisiting Pont Neuf.

Why Paris?

People often ask why I keep returning, and it’s simple. I love the vibe and culture. But since that doesn’t really explain it to someone who’s never been, I thought I’d compile a list of 10 reasons why I love Paris.

Food

Food, for me, is a massive factor for travel so I’m putting it first on my list. Whether you’re looking to enjoy the quintessential meal or discover a new to you cuisine, Paris has you covered. The options are endless, from starred Michelin restaurants headed by famous chefs to cheap and cheerful offerings at a local crepe or falafel stand. Sometimes after a long day of seeing the sights, it’s also nice to picnic in your hotel room – munching on delicious purchases you’ve made at the small specialty shops that dot every arrondissement.

History

Paris is old. Old old. 12,000 years old remnants from the Stone Age kind of old. The city was later known as Lutecia after it was conquered by the Romans before eventually changing hands to French Kings in the 5th century and being renamed, Paris. Throughout history Paris has seen a lot. Wandering the city I’m always amazed learning the stories of what makes Paris, whether it’s bullet holes in the sides of buildings thanks to WWII or beautiful churches that are older than my country by centuries. Everywhere you look there’s something to learn from. Keep an eye out for plaques like this one on the Pont Neuf bridge, which references the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572) when a targeted attack by Catholics murdered 4000 Huguenots.

Architecture

Stained glass and church spires and grand Haussmann buildings – oh my! Paris’ architecture is famous the world over. One of my favourite examples is La Conciergerie, most known for being where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned for the last weeks of her life before literally losing her head. The above space, known as Salle des Gardes (The Hall of the Guards) was built in the early 14th century and its craftsmanship blows my mind.

Art

World class art can be found in the many museums across Paris. Fancy getting up close to the largest collection of Monet paintings? Perhaps taking that selfie next to Rodin’s The Thinker sculpture is more your jam? And of course one of the most famous ladies in the world, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa charms countless people with her mysterious smile. Paris has you covered with these works – and so many more. A newer option is the digital immersive productions at Atelier des Lumières. The Van Gogh exhibition was really impressive, and I’m very much looking forward to the one focusing on Dali & Gaudi when we visit next month.

Street Art

But art in Paris isn’t limited to galleries and exhibitions. Paris enjoys a vibrant street art scene with works dotted across the city. Some by famous graffeurs and many by others still trying to make a name for themselves. One of my favourites – so far – is this beauty by artist Gregos which was created to recognise Women’s Day is 2004. You can find more information here.

Terraces

Sitting on a terrace in Paris is a pastime enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. It’s a wonderful way to spend time people watching over a cup of coffee, or catching up with friends over a bottle of wine. Whether you’re simply looking for an excuse to rest your feet or enjoy a café or glass of perfectly chilled rosé, a terrace is the perfect place to do so.

Green Spaces

Being a Vancouverite, where we’re used to being surrounded by nature, it’s a welcome sight in Paris to come across one of the city’s many green spaces. Jardin de Tuileries and Jardin Luxembourg are the most famous, but there are so many more of varying sizes to enjoy. One of my favourites is above, Jardin du Palais Royal.

Walkability

Paris ranks as one of the top walkable cities in the world. The Metro and bus systems are efficient but there’s something to be said about experiencing the city by foot. It’s a much more immersive experience, with Paris feeling like countless little villages strung together. Walking gives you the option of dipping into little shops or churches that catch your eye, stopping for a photo when the mood strikes or taking a break at a café. Even during my last visit, injured and forced to wear the ugliest of footwear, I still opted to walk as much as I possibly could.

Shopping

While you probably won’t find me perusing the expensive luxury brand shops on Rue Saint-Honoré, you can expect to find me shopping for food, homewares and random souvenirs to bring home for myself and those near and dear to me. I look for less crowded and unique options, like specialty shops or little brocantes (flea markets with a specialised focus) like this one in Le Village Saint Paul.

Doors

Paris is a treat for door lovers. If you’ve been following along on my adventures, you’ll remember this door as being my first entry into Thursday Doors. And you’ll also remember me mentioning I almost got run over when I foolishly stepped out onto the road to take this photo. Not my finest moment, but a good example of how much I love the beautiful doors of Paris.

There you have it, my very short list of reasons I love Paris. Obviously there are many many more, but I hope you’ve found some inspiration in the above to visit or return to Paris yourself.

Thursday Doors – Paris

Normally for my Thursday Doors posts I share images of full doors and entrances. This week I thought I’d do something a little different. I’ll share close up shots of the smaller details that I’ve fallen in love with while walking around Paris during my many visits.

Let me know in the comments section below which is your favourite.

This last photo was taken at Le Grande Mosquée, which is one of my favourite places to visit in Paris. To see my full post I previously wrote, click here.


Thursday Doors is a weekly event facilitated by Dan. If you’re interested in participating, check out Dan’s blog.

Paris Street Art: Rue de Seine

Konny Streding is a popular urban contemporary artist originally hailing from Berlin. Her works can be found across Paris and regularly feature women. The technique, called paste ups (or wheat-pastes), has been discussed here on MOTM before and you’ll probably recall my post on Lavalet.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Konny’s works, check out her website.

Expect the Unexpected

Once upon a time, flights were booked through a travel agent. You’d give them your travel dates and they’d find the best available fares. Easy peasy. Nowadays it’s not as simple but, in my opinion, it’s a lot more fun.

I love travel research. Hunting for the best fares, with the routing that matches my preferences is like a game. Do I book now or wait? Do I want to connect in this city or that one? Perhaps I can take advantage of a built in layover, and see some sights. Or wait.. that airline has direct flights!!

I usually start with flight search engines before moving directly to the airline websites, once I know which of them offer flights on my travel days. If my trip schedule has a bit of wiggle room, I’ll compare flights for different days.

It’s like a puzzle but better, because when it’s completed you’re left with a trip to look forward to instead of cleaning off your dining table and cramming little cardboard pieces back into a box.

And that moment you put your credit card details and complete the purchase? For me it’s such a rush. My trip has gone from being hypothetical to real!

Several months ago I went through this process, and booked flights to Paris. My best friend and I are desperate to get back there for a girls’ trip. We’ve registered with the France government for our Covid health pass, and have started booking activities. It’s coming together and we’re both beside ourselves with excitement.

Until this morning when I received an email from Air Transat, who I had booked with.

A gut punch moment. The kind that knocks the wind right out of you.

My immediate reaction wasn’t pretty. It felt like the ground had dropped from beneath me. A string of words not appropriate to share here flew from my mouth. Was Paris cancelled?

It doesn’t have to be.

This isn’t the first time I’ve run into a situation like this. Many years ago I had tickets booked with another airline, coincidentally to Paris as well. A month before we were set to fly out, the airline folded and we were left scrambling. Ironically, we booked with Air Transat – the same airline who cancelled my flights today. Shortly thereafter, there was a massive fire in the Eurostar which connects France to England by tunnel. In the exact train carriage we were booked to be in a month later.

But in the grand scheme of things, what started off as a major panic ended up being okay. Flights were rebooked and we enjoyed our trip. The train tickets were exchanged and we were crammed in like cattle to make our way across The Channel. What felt like the end of the world at the time proved to be nothing of the sort. My point, as the title says, is that we need to expect the unexpected – and roll with it when we’re faced with challenges.

Remembering this helped me take a much needed breath, calm my nerves and refocus. I started a new search online, going through the usual steps until I found new flights. It turns out they’re even better flights. Direct with extra legroom for almost the same price as my crappy seats with Air Transat (that had connections in each direction).

Now my only conundrum is trying to decide if I want to pay to take advantage of the airport lounge. Not exactly a bad problem to have.

Thursday Doors – Paris

This week we’re in Paris, close to Notre Dame Cathedral. Earlier this week it was announced that the safety work done since the devastating fire of 2019 is complete, and the restorations can now begin. It’s exciting to think that visitors might be able to return as soon as 2024!

For now though, Notre Dame remains surrounded by protective walls. Which means an up close and personal look isn’t possible. It was while I wandered the neighbourhood, catching glimpses of the cathedral between rooftops, that I turned up the curved rue Chanoinesse and noticed her.

This is the kind of door that means business. Old (17th century old), sturdy and dotted with studs to get its point across. I love stumbling across doors like this because I can’t help but wonder what secrets hide behind them.

It turns out the 12 rue Chanoinesse is a residential apartment building. 15 units are spread over the building’s 4 floors. And sadly, none of them belong to me.

Le sigh.

While investigating the address I discovered a new (to me) website that mentioned part of this building was once rented to the Aga Khan and his family. Seriously? Either that or he owned it. Explanations vary from source to source.

Also interesting is that the road itself was the main artery of the Notre Dame cloisters, and its name is a nod to the many clergymen (canons) who lived here throughout history. I love learning fascinating tidbits like this.


Thursday Doors is a weekly event facilitated by Dan. If you’re interested in participating, check out Dan’s blog.

Oh Happy Day!

I woke up this morning like I do every other work day – bleary-eyed and cursing the alarm on my phone.

But today was a little different though.

Because today I noticed an alert at the top of my screen saying that I’d received an email from Ministère de l’Europe et Des Affaires Étrangèrs.

They’re the fine folks who received my application for my French Covid Health Pass, which will give me access to restaurants and museums – and pretty much anywhere a tourist like me hopes to visit during my upcoming visit to Paris.

I’ve been approved!

I’m so relieved! And excited (so excited!) because it means that I’m one step closer to returning to my favourite city.

66 days to go!

Thursday Doors – Paris

This week we’re in Paris at Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall, which houses the city’s local administration. The building itself is striking, but I’m happy to focus on a couple of entrances today.

Look at this beauty, with its intricate iron work, glass and ornate gold touches. This is the door used by staff (at least early the morning I visited), and you can see a bit of the security scanner just inside.

And here’s the official main entrance with its beautiful engravings.

The inscription carved above the door reads, “In this place, September 4, 1870, the people of Paris proclaimed the Republic.”, referencing the Siege of Paris.

Hopefully one day I’ll be able to visit the inside of Hôtel de Ville, as I’ve heard that the function room was built to replicate the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Which reminds me to add it to my ever-growing list of places in Paris I want to check out.


Thursday Doors is a weekly event facilitated by Dan. If you’re interested in participating, check out Dan’s blog.

Thursday Doors – Provins

It feels like it’s been forever since I last took part in Thursday Doors. So long, in fact, that Norm has passed the torch over to Dan, who now facilitates this fun weekly event. If you’re interested in participating, check out Dan’s blog.

This week we’re in Provins, a picturesque medieval town just over an hour from Paris by train. The town is split into two parts, an upper and lower. It’s up on the hill that you’ll find Eglise Saint-Quiriace (Saint-Quiriace collegiate church). Here’s the main entrance.

I particularly enjoy the stone carving above the doors.

Unlike most churches I’ve visited in France, Eglise Saint-Quiriace sits mostly empty. But with a bit of imagination, it’s easy to picture what it would have looked like buzzing with people.

Construction of this church began during the 12th century, but it was never completed due to finances (or lack thereof). The 17th century saw a dome added to its roof, with people living in the nearby area then known as “the children of the dome”. Erm.

Outside is a plaque referencing Jean d’Arc attending mass with King Charles VII. The two had been in Reims for his consecration, and stopped in at Eglise Saint-Quiriace on their way through town.

I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Provins. It definitely justifies a proper visit, and look forward to returning one day. Have you been? Any suggestions for when I make it back?

Chāteaux Near Paris: Escape the Crowds

If you’re planning to be in Paris for any length of time, you’ll likely end up looking for day trip options to explore the surrounding areas.

Most people head to Versailles. Understandably. Known for being the historical country home to French Royals, Versailles is loved for its over-the-top opulence: carefully manicured and sprawling gardens, lush interior decor with furniture swathed in rich fabrics or gilded in gold, and art that is both stunning and priceless.

It’s also heaving with people. 10 million visitors per year kind of heaving. Which makes it difficult for many to truly appreciate their visit.

So I thought I’d follow up on my last post, Paris: Escape the Crowds, and offer a few châteaux alternatives to Versailles. Châteaux that are equally as beautiful, rich in history, and much more manageable. I’m confident that you’ll fall in love with any of them, and won’t feel like you’ve sacrificed your time by visiting.

Châteaux de Chantilly

Approximately 50km north of Paris you’ll find the beautiful Château de Chantilly, once the country home of the Duke of Aumale (son to the last King of France, Louis-Philippe). The Château is surrounded by a staggering 115 hectares, dotted with pools, fountains and specialised gardens. There’s plenty to see and do here.

One of the showstoppers is the Conde Musee, an highly regarded museum home to mainly French and Italian works. Be sure to keep an eye open for Three Graces by Rafael.

For bibliophiles, you’ll love the Reading Room. The Duke of Aumale collected a staggering 60,000 volumes during his lifetime and, of those, almost 19,000 are on public display today.

A short distance away you’ll find the Great Stables and its Museum of the Horse, which presents the centuries long relationship between horses and humans. Live performances can be seen in the Equestrian Loop throughout the day.

On your way back to the train station in town, do yourself a favour and stop in at a bakery for a delicious pastry featuring what else .. Chantilly cream!

Vaux-le-Vicomte

This Baroque château is located about 55 km southeast of Paris, and is definitely worth a visit if only for the scandalous history alone!

Long story short.. Esteemed member of Paris Parliament builds this sprawling estate, hiring the best of the best craftsmen of the time. Jealous colleague convinces the King that the château was built with state funds. King believes the jealous colleague, throws the man into prison for embezzlement and seizes the estate. Jealous colleague is promoted to take over now-jailed man’s position in the government (which was his end goal all along), and the King hires the same dream team of craftsmen to build his own estate .. a little place you might have heard of called Versailles, ahem.

So in a roundabout way, a visit to Vaux-le-Vicomte is almost the same as going to Versailles. Or at least it’s an opportunity to see its inspiration.

But if that’s not enough to call you, perhaps it’s the opportunity to visit the largest private estate listed as an historic monument in France. Or climbing the stairs of the central dome and looking out across the formal french gardens that spread out for 3 km from the Chateau.

Inside, the Chateau is centred around the bright and airy Grand Salon. Each room you move through is decorated elaborately from floor to ceiling, so much so that it’s almost dizzying.

I recommend getting an audio guide when you arrive so you can feel like you’ve been transported back centuries while listening to the characters who give some life to this magnificent Chateau.

Fontainebleau

55 km southeast of Paris is where you’ll find Château de Fontainebleau, one of the largest French Royal Château and home to many Kings throughout its history.

It’s often thought of as the hunting lodge of the Royals, with the surrounding forest once being full of game. It’s also known as the location where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled from.

Outside the Château is a large carp pond, which was used by the Royal Court for boating parties. Even today, you can rent a small boat to float along while pretending to be one of the elite.

If you prefer being on terra firma, there are lots of places to wander around the estate.

Plan ahead and bring a packed lunch to enjoy before heading inside.

If you’re hell bent on visiting Versailles, do yourself a favour and book a morning behind-the-scenes tour directly. Your small tour will give you the opportunity to learn from an expert and explore areas of the palace not seen by the public. It’s a great introduction to your day before you join the masses who, in many cases, won’t have the same knowledge of what they’re surrounded by that you will. And then prepare yourself to join a sea of people.

Of course, there are many more châteaux near to Paris that are worth visiting. If you’ve been to any not listed above, share your recommendations in the comment section below. I’m always looking for more to visit.

Paris: Escape the Crowds

We’ve all seen those posts that promise a list of “the top”, “the best” or “the only” places worth visiting in Paris. With short holiday breaks, everyone is looking for ways to best maximize their time in Paris, and how great is it that someone has compiled a complete list for you?

The thing about those lists though, is that they usually include the same “musts” with very little variation. For example, you’ll almost always see the Eiffel Tower listed. The Eiffel Tower is a bit of a no-brainer. Don’t get me wrong – you can’t visit Paris and not go to the Eiffel Tower. I’m pretty sure that would be punishable by guillotine. But places like the Eiffel Tower, and most others included on those lists, are insanely popular. Even more so because everyone is funneled into the same places. I guarantee that a large part of your experience will include being stuck in a crowd waiting and watching as person after person blocks your view while posing for multiple selfies.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it took me close to 10 minutes of waiting before I could get my photo of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night at Musée d’Orsay.

Of course, how you spend your time in Paris is ultimately your choice. I’m not here to tell you what to do. If your goal is to only cram as many typically Instragram-worthy sights into your visit, that’s okay. Just know what to expect. My advice for you is to visit those insanely busy, and justifiably popular sights – but to balance your time with a mix of less popular treasures. 

What I’ve learned through years of travel, including multiple trips to Paris, is that escaping from the crowds not only gives me room to breathe, but it also uncovers delightful parts of the city not heaving with people and their selfie-sticks. There’s so much to experience in Paris, and I thought I’d share a few of my own suggestions. Check out the “musts”, then take a break somewhere a little calmer nearby.

Because if you’re anything like me, you’ll be looking for a few spots to escape the crowds and insanity.

Medici Fountain

Tucked away in the northeast corner of the sprawling Luxembourg Gardens is the tranquil Medici Fountain (named for Catherine de’ Medici). Many visitors to Paris, and the park itself, miss it. In fact, it took me several visits to Luxembourg Gardens before I stumbled upon it myself. What I found was an ornate and historical fountain like nothing else I’ve found in Paris. The ducks floating on the water outnumbered the people, so it’s a perfect spot to sit and relax unbothered. Bring a baguette sandwich or a pastry, and enjoy the near-solitude for a while before you head back out of the park onto your next stop.

Saint-Severin Church

Chances are, you’ll find yourself at everyone’s favourite English-language bookstore at least once during your visit to Paris. Shakespeare and Company has enjoyed a cult following for decades, which means that it’s packed all day every day. It’s a great place to pick up a book as a souvenir of your visit to Paris – don’t forget to ask the cashier to stamp the inside of your book for you. But once you’ve escaped with your life (when I say it’s busy, I’m not kidding), why not walk a few minutes and visit Saint-Severin Church? Dating back to AD 650, Saint-Severin is peaceful (as you’d expect a church to be) and a great place to catch your breath. Although you’ll quickly lose it again while taking in the beautiful interior. Be sure to look for the twisted pillars that many say resemble palm tree trunks. If you’re lucky, the massive organ will fill the church with music during your visit. When you head back outside, don’t forget to look up at the large collection of gargoyles. 

Rosiers–Joseph Migneret Garden

Chances are that you’ll also find yourself in the historic Le Marais neighbourhood of Paris, waiting in line with everyone else at l’as du Fallafel to purchase a cheap and delicious falafel lunch. Once you’ve received your order, there’s not really anywhere to eat it comfortably. It’s not uncommon to see people crouched down at the edge of a narrow road trying to eat without making a mess. It’s not ideal, trust me. That’s where nearby Rosiers-Joseph Migneret Garden comes in at just the right time, because the chaos of the outside world disappears as soon as you enter through an almost hidden entrance. Aside from the calming atmosphere, the garden’s namesake makes your visit a moving experience as well.

Click here to read about Monsier Mignaret.

The Abbey Bookstore

Speaking of bookshops, if you prefer to not be up close and personal with dozens of strangers at Shakespeare and Company, The Abbey Bookshop nearby might be more your speed. Opened in 1989 by fellow Canadian, Brian Spence, The Abbey Bookshop is located in a charming building on a quiet street. It offers over 35,000 English-language titles and is well suited for perusing the bulging shelves while looking for your perfect purchase. Ask Monsieur Spence for a recommendation if you’re struggling to decide. After I visited the shop, I enjoyed a complimentary coffee outside before setting off to my next stop. 

Montmartre Cemetery

The area of Montmartre is famed for its vine covered buildings and cobblestone streets, as well as the bird’s eye view over Paris. The two most popular spots are in front of the imposing domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica and nearby Place du Tertre, a square packed with artists and their easels. They’re both fun to check out but definitely feel touristy. My favourite place to escape to is Montmartre Cemetery. It’s a 20ish minutes walk away, but it won’t feel that long. As you’ll experience in Paris, there’s so much to look at and discover. Before you know it you’ll be entering a gate and wandering between the last resting place for many important Parisians. Keep an eye out for the cats that also call Montmartre Cemetery home.

Other Tips to Escape the Crowds in Paris

Take advantage of your jet lag and visit the busiest places early in the morning. If it’s a park, you’ll feel like you have it to yourself. Plus your photos won’t be full of other people. Same with popular squares and cute little streets. If you want to visit a place with set hours though, try to pre-purchase online tickets for the start or end of the day.

If you can, walk as much as possible as Paris is best enjoyed on foot. It gives you the chance to pop into interesting looking places and take all the door photos. Plan your route beforehand and group together the places you’d like to visit to avoid unnecessary backtracking. If you have to take the Metro, I’d suggest avoiding connections at Châtelet–Les Halles if possible. It’s one of the biggest underground train stations in the world and sees a staggering 750,000 commuters pass through every weekday.

I mentioned the Eiffel Tower at the start of this post, and the unfortunate truth is that you won’t escape the crowds there. But with a bit of planning you can optimize your visit. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can purchase “skip the line” tickets for the Eiffel Tower. These don’t exist. The only way to jump the line (so to speak) is to pre-purchase your tickets online directly from the official website. You can secure tickets for as far out as 2 months prior to the date you want to go. Purchase tickets that grant you access to the top floor – I’ve never met a person who only went part way up and didn’t regret their decision. I also suggest that you check out when the sun will set on the day you want to visit. If the weather is nice that day, you’ll have the added bonus of experiencing the magic of watching the sun go down from the Eiffel Tower. Book your ticket for an hour or two before sunset, which will give you enough time to visit before heading back down to watch the first light show of the night. 

Have you been to Paris? Where do you like to go to escape the crowds?


			

La Dame de Fer

Ahh, the Iron Lady.

No, I’m not talking about Margaret Thatcher. What was initially built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair), held to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower was only intended to stand for 20 years before being dismantled.

Thankfully its use as a wireless telegraph transmitter meant it was allowed to stay, and the Eiffel Tower is now one of the world’s most iconic symbols.

Did you know that the elevators travel a combined distance of 103,000 km a year? That’s two and a half times the circumference of the Earth.

A con artist has reportedly “sold” the Eiffel Tower as scrap metal – not once, but twice!

During WWII, Hitler instructed that the Eiffel Tower be demolished. His people rightfully refused. Speaking of war times, the Eiffel Tower played a part in the Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne, in 1914. One of its transmitters jammed German radio communications, hindering their advance. She’s not just a pretty face.

The Eiffel Tower is repainted every 7 years, and 60 tonnes of paint is required to do the job.

The Eiffel Tower sways in the wind, moving upwards of 6-7cm.

Because of thermal expansion, the Eiffel Tower is 15cm taller in Summer than she is in Winter.

In 2008 a woman with an objects fetish married the Eiffel Tower, changing her name to Erika La Tour Eiffel in honour of her ‘partner’. Her Wikipedia page even lists the Eiffel Tower as her spouse.

There are 20,000 lightbulbs used on the Eiffel Tower to make it sparkle every night.

Bonne journée!

Marla

How I Celebrated My Birthday – Parisian Pandemic Style

I’ll say right off the top that I’d much rather be in Paris right now. But because of the global pandemic and the resulting travel bans, one must do what they can. In my case this meant that I planned my day with special nods to my most favourite city and previous visits.

After my shower I decided to do a mask, using a product that I always purchase from my favourite pharmacy in Paris.

Now time to get dressed.

Stripes ✅

Beret ✅

I’m not a mime, I swear!

Next was breakfast. Le petit déjeuner, like so many that I’ve started my day with in Paris.

You’ll note that every photo from here on relates to food. If you can’t shove your face with food without guilt on your birthday, when can you?

I decided to watch a movie, and chose Julie & Julia. I’d seen it before but planned to make Julia Child’s Quiche Lorraine for dinner. It seemed like a good fit.

You’ll note the blurry cashews in the bottom right corner. I chose them because I remember years ago sitting on a terrace, drinking a beer and being served a small bowl cashews.

Side note: I also remember being on the open top of one of those hop-on, hop-off buses during that same trip. Some asshole on the pavement threw an handful of cashews at us when we passed (while aggressively shouting in French), and I got pelted on the side of the face with several. I’d say that he got out of the wrong side of the bed that morning but I can’t imagine there being a wrong side if you’re fortunate enough to wake up in Paris every morning..

After the movie I headed for the kitchen to prepare a few things.

Simple syrup. Because I had a cocktail I planned to drink.

And lots and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice – for the cocktail, but also for a tarragon lemon vinaigrette for the salad we’d be eating with dinner.

I was feeling rather peckish. Time to have a baguette slathered in Boursin.

I eat this in my hotel room regularly in Paris. Sometimes after a long day I don’t feel like heading out for a proper meal. Other times I’m so jetlagged that after a long nap, I find myself wide awake in the middle of the night with nothing open. This quick snack has become a welcome tradition and regular standby.

Of course I needed something to wash it down. I planned ahead and sipped on a lemony cocktail with gin and bubbles. The French 75.

Served in one of James’ grandmother’s crystal flutes, of course.

I took a nap next. Which I don’t normally do but since I was in Paris-mode, it was like I was really there and needed a mid-afternoon nap.

When I woke up I sat on my balcony with a cup of my favourite tea..

..in one of my favourite tea cups. With a palmier on the side, of course.

Once James arrived home from work, we had chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese icing (breaking theme, but whatever..).

Eventually it was time to make dinner. But we procrastinated, and dinner ended up being quite late. It was worth the wait though.

I had hoped to watch my all-time favourite movie, Amelie, after dinner but it was late so we decided to watch it another time.

So there you have it. My perfect Parisian Pandemic themed birthday to celebrate another trip around the sun.

Bonne journée!

Marla