Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Paris Tour Guide for a Week

It is feast or famine for me when it comes to activities and visitors. I was so thrilled to have my sister-in-law and niece visiting with me last week. Here is a list of all the places we managed to visit. This is a great representation of what you can see during a week's visit to Paris. Please note it was the first week of March and not during the peak summer tourist months. More crowds would definitely add to the time needed for site seeing.

Day One (Monday)
Most American visitors arrive mid morning from the U.S. and are normally very tired because they flew all night and need to nap for two or three hours before hitting the sites. We try to get out the door by 4 p.m. for a little site seeing and keep our guests going until 10 or 11 p.m.

Place de la Concorde
We rode the metro to the Concord station, which is a great starting location to stroll along the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. (It's a long walk but I think it is great to get the legs moving after sitting on an airplane...plus we want our guests to have a great night's sleep the first night and fresh air always helps.) It was about 5:30 p.m., when we got to the arc with no line for climbing the stairs to the top. (Lots of stairs up a narrow staircase. More exercise!!!) 

A view of the Champs Elysses from the top of the Arc de Triomphe
We then rode the metro to the Ecole Militaire area for dinner at La Varangue. After dinner it is a nice walk from the restaurant to the Champs du Mars for viewing the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower at the top of every hour...just for five minutes...then it goes back to the fully lit tower.

La Tour Eiffel  with lights sparkling at the top of the hour

Day Two (Tuesday)
Visited Sacré-Coeur. Nuns were holding the mid-day Mass, using a harpsichord as their accompaniment.  It was charming to hear the service. 

We then did some site seeing around Monmartre's main square, Place du Tertre. Lunch was at Chez Eugene's on the square. Great service, good food. We had quiche Lorraine with salad and French onion soup.

I avoid many museums on Tuesdays because the Louvre is closed, making other places more crowded but the small Musée Rodin is a nice one to fit in on a tight schedule.

The Thinker at Le Musée Rodin
We had dinner near our apartment at Il Russo. Always excellent. Italian dishes. Small menu (usually just a selection of three pasta dishes). Generous portions. Family owned and operated. Very friendly place. One of our favorites. 

Day Three (Wednesday)
All Day at the Louvre. 
The museum was crowded. My strategy is to view the Mona Lisa first and then get away from that crowded space right away! The hall with the Italian paintings is usually the most crowded section of the entire museum. The Apollo Gallery was the model for the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles and is an excellent part of the museum to visit, especially if you don't have time for a visit to Versailles. 

Galerie d'Apollon at le Palais du Louvre
My other favorite sections of the Louvre are Cour Marly and Cour Puget, two lovely enclosed courtyards with French sculptures from the 17th and 18th centuries. It is a bit off the mainstream tour at the Louvre so no crowds here! 

Cour Puget at le Musée du Louvre
Here are my two big "insider" tricks when visiting the Louvre. Enter the museum from the Carrousel area (underground shopping center right off the metro stop for the museum). The crowds are larger entering from the famous glass pyramid on the street level. The line is really just to get through security.

The pyramid entrance for the Louvre
Once past security, head for an automatic ticket machine instead of  the ticket windows manned by people. There are several machines around the perimeter of the ticket area that often are completely without a waiting line which gives the impression the machines don't work, but they do! My guest did have trouble with her non-chipped credit card not being accepted...which happens now and then in our travels through Europe. If you don't have a chipped credit card with PIN then you might want to just head to a ticket window with a real person to serve you. (I had my chipped credit card so we were quickly on our way.)

Rest breaks, shopping and lunch at the Carrousel du Louvre.
We had a late lunch so dinner was a bottle of Chardonnay back at the apartment.

Day Four (Thursday)
All day at Chateau de Versailles. 
We left our apartment about 9:30 a.m. and made our way via the Metro to the RER C train. We caught the RER at the Champs du Mars location, a much nicer station/platform than my last trip via the St. Michel station. We bought our Versailles entrance tickets right next to the Pullman Hotel which is one of the last commercial buildings before hitting the entrance to the grounds of Versailles. We avoided the crowds which were buying tickets right across the street from the train station. 

The Hall of Mirrors or La Galerie des Glaces 
Lunch at the restaurant, Angelina, inside the palace. This place is known for fabulous desserts. I can confirm it is justified! A pricey lunch but excellent food and a lovely quiet break from the crowds.

It seemed only fitting to finish our day with an excellent bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne once we got back to the apartment. Another light dinner of delicious French bread and cheese. (Too tired to do any more walking that day!)

Day Five (Friday)
We attended the noon Mass at Notre Dame. There was no music at this service. It lasted a little over 30 minutes.

Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris
Then off to lunch on the adjacent I'Isle St. Louis. We wanted some savory crepes with cheese, veggies and ham. We were very pleased with our choice of the tiny restaurant, Le Sarrasin et le Froment Creperie. There was a second dining room off the main entrance so there was more room for diners than the tiny front of the restaurant. Very good food and service! 

Le Sarrasin Creperie on rue St Louis-en-l'Ile
The take-out window is popular with local students.
After some souvenir shopping round the cathedral, we headed back to Notre Dame for the Veneration of the Crown of Thorns, a unique ceremony for Lent Fridays. The event started at 3 p.m. We went into the cathedral at 2:30 and were able to get excellent seats. (Look for the shorter entrance line for Mass participants next to the general visitor's entrance.) It took about 45 minutes for the service and viewing of the Crown of Thorns. There was a vocalist and the pipe organ was played. I highly recommend attendance of this event. I am not Catholic but my visitors are. 

We had just enough time to finish our day with a visit to Musée de l'Orangerie.

Musée de l'Orangerie

We had dinner on rue Cler at Tribeca. One of my favorite go-to restaurants. Rue Cler is a street very friendly to American tourists with several restaurants that are not too pricey. Once upon a time, Julia Childs frequented a cheese shop on this street.

Tribeca restaurant on rue Cler

Day Six (Saturday)
Most of the day was spent at Musée d'Orsay. We started on the 5th floor where most of the well known French Impressionist works are displayed. We then headed to the second floor where you will find works by post impressionist artist, Vincent Van Gogh. If you still have the time and energy, there is plenty more art to view throughout the museum. There is an excellent restaurant on the 5th floor, Café Campana. Small menu. Fair prices for lunch.

Musée d'Orsay

All week, we were on a little bit of a later schedule for all the sites which I think works well for avoiding the tour groups that show up when the doors open in the morning. Most museums open at 9:30. We would get to most places about 11 a.m. 

Since this was my guests' last day...we headed to the Lafayette Gallerie shopping area. It was horribly crowded on a Saturday afternoon! Hard Rock Cafe is nearby...just in case you have a teenage boy on your list of folks needing a Paris souvenir.

 After a trip back to the apartment to rest a little, do some preliminary packing and enjoy a glass of French wine...we went back to the Champs du Mars area for dinner at La Terrasse. It is another, American friendly restaurant with good food. Excellent atmosphere and it is a great people-watching location on a busy pedestrian corner. The seating is much more generous and comfortable than the typical French restaurant.

La Terrasse du 7éme

We finished our last night with another viewing of the Eiffel Tower lights twinkling at 9 p.m. Most flights back to the US leave in the morning so it needed to be an early night for us.

Parc du Champs de Mars
It was an ambitious site-seeing schedule. I have never taken the time to go up the Eiffel Tower...I really don't like standing in lines! There wasn't a waiting line to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and it had a stunning view.

Museum passes. The great advantage to the museum pass for Paris is the separate entrance at a few museums, like Orsay. Most of the time the big line for all museums is the security line that everyone has to go through. You need to visit at least two sites on the pass each day for the cost to be better than paying as you go. Also, once you activate the pass, it is only good for the number of consecutive days you purchased.

We decided each night what we were doing the next day based on a number of factors like special events and the weather. The one time I purchased the museum pass a few years ago, I felt restricted by the schedule we had to follow. We did two museums a day, hitting ones that were open at night to fit it all in. A bit too much cramming I think for most people. You should have time to sit in a cafe and people-watch when you are in Paris. Don't spend all your time focused on the tourist sites!!!

And another important tip. When eating in French restaurants, you need to ask for your check when you are ready to go. You will wait an eternity if you don't ask for your check. It is very nice not to feel rushed when dining in France. Slow down and enjoy.

Now that I've got all this figured out...it must be time to move somewhere else...seems like that's how it always works.


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

what a great post! thanks for sharing so much if I ever get to Paris I will have to come back and read this and print it out LOL - now for a silly question from this traveler who mainly is in a camper and rustic style - what is a "chipped credit card"? I will probably feel stupid with answer LOL It sounds like you all had a blast - so much to see.

BonnieM said...

Wonderful post Debbie!! Except no food pictures. ;-) Wish I could have gotten to Paris to visit while you were there to play tour guide!! Miss you!!

Diane said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. It may be the closest I'll ever get to Paris. I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to enjoy Paris through you. Just wonderful!!!

Suzanne said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful tips and travel knowledge with us! I haven't been to Paris for years, but am ready to go back now!