In 2013, I travelled from Paris to Athens via Italy & Turkey, a trip of a lifetime that I took with my best friend. I feel lucky that I got to take this trip and it inspires me to keep travelling, in pursuit of times just as good as these ones. I’ll share the highlights, occasional chaos & many surprises that we experienced during our trip, as well as plenty of useful tips for travellers undertaking a similar adventure. You can read our full itinerary here.
We stepped outside in the morning and found a chilly, wet and miserable day.
We only made it 20 metres down the block before the rain chased us back inside, for warmer clothes. After our false start, we went to Maison Privat again for pastry and made our way to Invalides.
Hotel des Invalides
Hotel des Invalides is home to Napoleon’s tomb and the French military museum, which is the largest in the world.
You can see the luminous gold dome of Hotel des Invalides peeking out above the trees all over Paris. Because of Paris’ strict building restrictions, buildings can only be six or seven stories tall. Without it, the Eiffel Tower would look much less impressive in the shadows of skyscrapers. It also means that you can glimpse other local icons, like Invalides, the Pantheon and Montmartre, from all over the city.
We stuck to the grounds, rather than buying tickets to go inside. I’ve visited the tomb and the museum before, and Chloe was happy to admire the dome from the gardens.
Our next stop was the Trocadero, for the Eiffel Tower. We were wandering around the 15th, looking for a metro when we found a sign pointing to Musee Rodin.
I didn’t think we’d have time to visit on this trip, but since we were right there and weren’t in a hurry, we decided to go in. To visit the gardens is only 1 Euro, which suited us both because Rodin’s most famous work, Le Penseur, is in the rose garden.
Even if you aren’t interested in Rodin’s sculptures, the gardens are beautiful to visit. By mid-morning the clouds had cleared to reveal a brilliant blue sky, which popped against the vibrant garden. We spent more time here than we thought we would, wandering through the expansive grounds.
So far, we’d spent less than five euros each – lucky, because I had blown my budget on shoes the day before.
On our way to the Eiffel Tower, we found a beautiful mural in a Metro station celebrating the Pont Alexandre III. The ornate, baby blue bridge near the Grand Palais is the prettiest in Paris.
Because we were a bit lost, we walked along the Seine and approached the Eiffel Tower from behind.
By the time we arrived, the queue was enormous. It’s one attraction you should definitely book online!
Instead of waiting to go up, we indulged in some sweet snacks from a street food cart and walked up to the Trocadero. The Trocadero is the square on the other side of the Seine, overlooking the Champ du Mars and the Eiffel Tower.
If you’re an early riser, you should definitely come for photos in the first few hours of the day, like I did the first time I was in Paris – the golden statues flanking the Trocadero, the Eiffel Tower in the distance and Paris’ morning light is magical!
We enjoyed the view and watched a few Asian couples take wedding photos in the crowded square. According to one of my friends, who is a wedding planner, it’s very trendy in Asia to have wedding photos taken at iconic landmarks – we saw more couples outside the Duomo in Milan.
We left the Trocadero and had lunch at my family’s favourite lunch spot in Paris, Café Kleber. It’s at the end of the street where my parents stayed when they visited Paris together for the first time, and it’s the first place they took me when I visited for the first time in 2012.
It’s the quintessential Parisian café, complete with ample people-watching opportunities, a teeny-tiny bathroom and waiters that have no shame about mocking their customers.
I particularly enjoyed our waiter’s impression of Chloe asking for tomato sauce. He sounded more British than Australian, but he had a good go.
I had a Croque Madame, which is the ultimate ham, cheese & egg toastie, Chloe had a quiche and we shared some fries. Everything only just fit on the table, once you included room for glasses, water bottles and dressings.
Diet experts say you feel more satisfied if you eat from a small plate rather than a large one. I wonder if the same theory is (unknowingly) applied to French bistro tables.
Even if you only order one dish per person, the table is absolutely packed with plates. If you’ve just finished a meal at a table completley covered with food, does it make you feel more full? More satisfied? Food for thought.
(This also makes me wonder if serving bite-sized meals in oversized bowls in fancy restaurants is because it’s fashionable to feel hungry (ergo, skinny.))
In the afternoon, we visited the Champs-Elysee, marvelled at the Arc de Triomphe (I’ve inherited my mother’s adoration for it) and wandering down Paris’ true luxury shopping street, Rue St Honore.
I don’t like the Champs-Elysee, but the Louis Vuitton windows are worth checking out. Today they were filled with golden dinosaur skeletons playing with expensive handbags. It was near impossible to get a photo of the windows without a tourist standing in front of them.
Literally, the second one person bent down to pick up their handbag and move away from the window, another was already positioning themselves for their own photo. At every single window.
We had a drink at an exceptionally pink cafe & bar on the Champs-Elysee, and not surprisingly given its touristy location, the cocktails were a little average!
Rue St Honore
On our way to Rue St Honore, just a few streets away, we saw the original Hermes store and visited Caron, a luxury perfume house, which made its way onto my wishlist purely because they keep their perfume in giant glass vats, which looks really cool.
We visited the store, but it was one of those shops where the saleswoman makes you feel like you’re a bull in a china shop the entire time, and the perfumes seemed better suited to older women, so we didn’t buy anything.
On Rue St Honore, we looked in a few stores, but my favourite part were the windows at Lanvin, which used models lying down and mirrors for a cool effect. This part of town is actually a little scarce on Metro stops, so we walked back to the Jardin des Tuileries, where we knew we’d find a metro stop.
Jardin des Tuileries
While we walked through the gardens, we were stopped by two young French guys who wanted to practice their magic tricks for us. I was wary the entire time that one of them was going to pickpocket us, but fortunately, my cynicism was not justified. We walked to Le Louvre, for Chloe’s benefit, as I’d already visited. She didn’t have a burning desire to visit, and at the time, I wasn’t interested in going again, so we admired it from the outside before trying to find a Metro back to our hotel.
Now that I’ve moved to Melbourne, and have fallen in love with the National Gallery of Victoria, I think I’d understand the Louvre better if I re-visited it, but I’ll have to find out next time I’m in Paris.
I honestly can’t even remember if we ate dinner that night, all I remember is accidentally exhausting ourselves again. We were so tired, we almost decided to skip visiting Tour Montparnasse that evening. At the last minute, we decided to go – and found ourselves in a race against the clock to get there before closing!
As we were running through a subterranean tunnel for the Metro, my personal alarm fell off my keychain again and bounced through the Metro station, blaring the whole time. Fortunately, it didn’t fall on the train tracks, because there would have been nothing I could do to make it stop screaming. Once I had turned it off, I put it safely in the zipper compartment of my bag – I’d still have it if I needed it, but it would no longer be a source of public humiliation.
Once I had turned it off, I put it safely in the zipper compartment of my bag – I’d still have it if I needed it, but it would no longer be a source of public humiliation.
We made it to the tower just in time. To this day, we still talk about how glad we are that we stopped being lazy in the hotel and made the effort to go out and see it. The view from the observation deck has one of the most beautiful views of Paris at night.
Read all the posts from this travel journal series here.