‘Oui’ to a Paris vacation
Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Moulin Rouge are highlights
By Steve Metsch
Four weeks after a vacation in Paris, I’m still thinking about it. That’s the impact France can have on a visitor.
In April, my wife and I visited our daughter, Natalie, who was winding down the spring semester of her senior year or college studying in Paris.
Ruth has visited Paris before. Not me.
Natalie is fluent in French, one of her three majors at the University of Illinois, and was an admirable interpreter for us.
Must you speak French to get around Paris? Nah. Most residents speak English. If not, both sides can figure out what’s going on.
I’ll share some of the highlights. You’ll have to exchange dollars for Euros. The rate varies daily.
LODGING: After an uneventful eight-hour overnight flight, we took an Uber to our Airbnb The cozy and clean apartment – a great deal at $1,200 for seven nights – was on the sixth floor of a building in the Ninth Arrondissement (neighborhood) near the host family Natalie stayed with. The tiny elevator could barely fit both of us. It stopped at the fifth floor so we had to walk up the last flight.
WALKING: Bring sturdy shoes. You will walk a lot.
We often strolled the streets to a Metropolitan station. Do yourself a favor and buy a week-long pass. The subway is the best. It’s clean. Like Chicago, we ran into a few subway salesmen. Wallet and phone in your front pockets. But most people are cool.
SOCCER: We went to see Paris Saint Germain – the Yankees of French soccer – play a match. Messi scored on a laser kick. I told Ruth, “that’s like seeing Wayne Gretzky score a goal.” Had the best grilled cheese sandwich of my life from a food truck before the game. Ten bucks well spent. Game tickets in the Bob Uecker seats were around $100 each, but it’s vacation.
MARKETS AND DOORS: On a sunny, warm Sunday, we visited a farmer’s market/flea market where we found fresh produce for the week and I bought a Liane Foly CD for 2 Euros. She has a lovely voice.
After lunch at a sidewalk café – they are everywhere and each sells cheeseburgers – we figured out we were a few subway stops from Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the final resting place of Doors singer Jim Morrison.
His grave is decorated with candles, beer cans, notes, drawings, etc., from adoring fans. The cemetery is a history lesson with graves and family mausoleums dating back hundreds of years, all crammed together.
EIFFEL TOWER: My heart pounded with anticipation on Monday as we rounded a corner and saw it in person. Stunning.
The tower is in the process of being painted for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Right now, they are scraping off 19 coats of paint for a new coat of gold.
Go to the top observation deck. It’s an amazing view. Prices vary. We were lucky, the top deck was open. After, we had libations on the first deck. Return at night. A good view is across the Seine River. The tower has a twinkling light show at the top of each hour.
NORMANDY: You can’t visit Paris and not visit the site of the D-Day Invasion. We booked our tour before we left Chicago. A two-hour ride and we were at Omaha Beach. When you see what the US, British and Canadian troops faced, it’s a wonder any survived. We spent most of our day there visiting bunkers, a museum, a battleground and the cemetery. The lines of precisely placed grave markers is a site I’ll long remember. The price was $700 for the three of us. Well worth it.
NOTRE DAME: Wednesday, we went to see the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris which faces many years or repair after a 2019 fire. As a Paul McCartney fan, I tried to try to reenact his 1978 song “Café on the Left Bank,” but my beer was Italian, not German. Close enough.
SNAILS: Later that day, we went to an authentic Parisian restaurant, Bouillon, where – as promised – I ate snails. They’re not bad. A cousin of oysters. We met our one and only snooty Parisian, a waitress who did not like being asked how to open the shell. She had 15 tables at least. Slack was cut.
MOULIN ROUGE: Later we went to the famous Moulin Rouge. Ruth expected a “cheesy” show. Far from it. The show offered top-notch singing, dancing, etc. We sat a table with a family from Tel Aviv. No surprise as Paris is the most-visited city in the world. If nudity offends you, skip the Moulin Rouge where they save on women’s tops. It’s tastefully done. The price was $375 for three and included two bottles of French champagne.
PALACE OF VERSAILLES: This is a must-see. We hit it on Thursday, again with a tour guide. Paolo was the best, knew all the little details. The Hall of Mirrors Wow. Marie Antoinette did not say “let them eat cake.” And she regularly bathed, which shocked palace residents who believed water carried poison.
Back in the day, the palace had to smell awful. People relieved themselves in the corners of rooms. Feces was thrown out of windows.
But “The Sun King,” Louis XIV, was a brilliant leader who hired smart people. A 350-years-old garden irrigation system still works. You’d think they would have figured out indoor plumbing. The tour cost $425 for three.
On a side note, waiting for a ride to the palace, I was walking around the meeting point, looked down and saw a plaque that said Louis XVI and Marie were beheaded here. History lives.
THE LOUVRE: We visited Thursday with a tour guide named Hugo who was fabulous. The cost was just $120 for Ruth and I, on top of our admission. We saw the Mona Lisa. Didn’t do much for me. It’s really small. And I saw other paintings that impressed more. The Venus de Milo is beautiful. Should you visit? Yes. Don’t spend eight hours.
SACRE COEUR: Built on the highest hill in town, this Catholic church is worth the climb. A tram can take you up, too. We were up there on Friday night to see the sunset. Sadly, it was cloudy. But we found a restaurant that dates back to the 1700s.
CANDY IS DANDY: Ruth read of the A la Mere de Famille candy shop that dates back to 1761. We bought some for us and family. So good.
We bummed around town our last full day. I even bought a pack of French cigarettes for 10 Euros. When in Rome, er, Paris …
RETURNING: Here’s a valuable tip: When the airline moves your flight back a day, be sure to check the time. My traveling partner failed to do so. We thought we had two hours to kill when we arrived at the airport. Oops, our flight left in 30 minutes. Carl Lewis couldn’t have made it to the gate.
Fortunately, we were able to book another fight to Chicago with a layover in Detroit that day. It’s only money, right?
And, the TSA guy in Detroit scored a gift. He claimed our bottle of Pastis, a delicious anise-flavored liquor, was open. It wasn’t. We hope he and his buddies enjoyed our bottle after work.
BOTTOM LINE: Paris is a great city to visit. It’s not cheap. With the $1,700 extra air fare, our bill was just over 9K. Would I go to Paris again? Absolutely.
In fact, we are planning for the spring of 2023. Natalie, in her gap year, will teach English to French kids in the 2022-23 school year in Orleans, about 75 miles from Paris. It will be fun to explore more of France.