Our second day in Paris was incredible and exhausting all at once. The soles of our feet ached from dashing around the city the day before, but we were lured from our warm beds by the promise of what lay just outside the hotel doors. We had already conquered the catacombs, stuffed ourselves on crepes, and ascended the steps to Sacre Coeur, but today we would finally see the most iconic sights Paris had to offer.
After another delicious complimentary breakfast, we set out in the same groups as the day before – Mom and the youngest kids on a relaxing Batobus ride, and Dad and the older kids on foot. We walked with a purpose, knowing that we needed to be back at the hotel by 4PM to pack up and catch the shuttle to Charles de Gaulle. Our first stop was Notre Dame de Paris, and clever old Dad mapped a route that would take us right past the Louvre.
With just a few short hours before our shuttle departure, we didn’t have the time to actually descend into the pyramid or gaze at some of the most famous art in the world. We did stop for a while to appreciate the grounds and take a few photos.
Of course, with all our cameras and smartphones waving in the air, we were easily identifiable as tourists. Dad had warned us earlier in the day not to be conned by anyone asking if we spoke English, and we immediately came to see why. A couple of women approached us individually, holding a map and asking in a thick accent if we spoke English and could help them. Their approach reminded me very strongly of the raptors of Jurassic Park: while one pleads for help, the other snatches things from the distracted tourist’s pockets and bags. Clever girl. Of course, they were pretty pissed when we ignored or even told them off. Just another pickpocketing scheme to be aware of when you visit!
We continued on past the Louvre and walked for a while, finally crossing the Seine and coming face to face with the famed Notre Dame Cathedral. There are two basic ways of experiencing the cathedral in all her glory. The most common way is to enter through the massive front doors – it’s completely free and allows visitors to gape at its many sparkling stained glass creations. The line was incredibly long on this sunny August morning, so we opted for option number two: climbing the towers to the very top of the stunning structure. Like any other special experience in Paris, this one came with an entrance fee – about 10 Euros if I’m not mistaken. The line appeared much shorter than the one winding around the front of the cathedral, but due to the cramped nature of the stairs and the limited viewing space above, we probably waited just as long as the people flocking to the main entrance.
We made the most of our time, though, breaking off in pairs to walk around the cathedral, marveling at its many statues and spending some time in the tourist trap gift shops. These are actually some of my favorite photos from our stay in Paris – it was wonderful to just spend some time with my family and create new memories in one of the most beautiful places in the world!
Overall, we probably waited about two hours just to gain entry to the tour, and began the dizzying climb up to the first floor gift shop. I don’t know what, if any, refurbishments have been made to the tower’s spiral staircase since it was first opened to the general public, but it was crazy to imagine what it must have been like to climb those stairs every single day. I’ll be honest, I was totally imagining Judge Claude Frollo from Disney’s animated The Hunchback of Notre Dame swooping up those stairs, and it made me laugh a little. After a quick respite in the shop, our group entered the second narrow set of stairs. Surrounded front and back by other tourists, with no place to stop and take a breather, it was definitely a wake-up call that I am very, very out of shape. I was incredibly relieved when we reached the first viewpoint, the walkway connecting the two towers. From here we had a fantastic view of the cathedral spire, the gargoyles, and of course, the massive line still snaking through the grounds. The tour would normally include an up-close look at the Emmanuel Bell, the largest bell of the bunch, but it was closed for refurbishment when we visited. The official website for the cathedral lists the bell as weighing a whopping 13 tons – can you imagine? While I’m not excited to climb those never-ending stairs again, I would return just to see the bell itself!
Though the walkway was very crowded, we had ample time to take photos and just gaze down at the Seine and the lovely streets of Paris. To make the experience even more perfect, the bells began to ring, reverberating in my bones and sending a chill all over my body. I’ve written about this moment before, so I’ll spare you all the sappy details, but it was a moment I don’t imagine I could ever forget. It felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, in the right place at the right time, and nothing could ever go wrong again. Cheesy, yes, but entirely accurate. This was the highlight of my two and a half weeks in France. I realize I’m just rambling now, so I’ll try to speed this up for you – can you tell I just really loved Notre Dame!? We ascended one more set of stairs, finally reaching the top of the tower and taking even more photos. It was incredibly windy up there, but I didn’t mind at all. It just added to the heady realization I was not, in fact, dreaming.
Finally, it was time to let a new group take our place, so we headed back down the steps – there are 387 in total – and sought out a place to grab a quick bite.
Normally I like to walk around and check out a few options before committing to anything, but we had spent way more time than expected at Notre Dame, and we needed to grab food quickly if we were to make it to the Eiffel Tower on time. We stopped at a small crepe shop with a to-go window called Les Galandines. Everything was made fresh to order, so we were able to rest for a while as our crepes were slowly rolled out one by one. Our feet were already burning at this point, so we relaxed on the curb and let them have a little break before setting off again.
Crepes in hand, we sped to a bus stop along the Seine. For such a small lunch, it was totally satisfying. I had the chicken and swiss crepe, and my mouth still waters just thinking about it! While we waited for the bus, I perused a nearby pop-up stand selling inexpensive prints and original art. I wound up buying three impressionist-style prints of various landmarks.
Over the course of the trip, I ended up buying seven 8x10s, two larger matted prints, and several postcards – art was definitely my biggest splurge! We wedged ourselves onto the bus – naturally, the route between Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower was very crowded – and we were on our way! We passed the Pont des Arts, the famous “lovers bridge” covered in heavy locks, and I vowed I would return someday to add one of my own.
At last, we exited the bus and strolled the last block or so to the Eiffel Tower. Seeing it by day was an entirely different experience from our late-night adventures. The previously-empty plaza beneath the tower was now packed with tourists forming a massive line to ride the elevator to the top of the structure. I would have loved to ascend the tower myself, but time was very limited at this point. I was almost relived that we couldn’t do it, since it meant skipping the whole gigantic line. See, with all these things I still want to do, it just means I have to return to Paris soon!
We spent about twenty minutes roaming around and taking photographs, and then, sadly, it was time to head back to the hotel. There was just one problem: our metro route was inexplicably closed! After much walking back and forth and consulting the web-like metro map, we wound up literally running to catch the train back to the Opera area. Our poor feet were about ready to quit at this point, so I’m surprised we made it on the train at all.
Back at the hotel, we regrouped and retrieved our luggage from the front desk (they were kind enough to let us leave it there while we spent our last morning exploring).
Bonus shots of the younger set exploring Paris! I would love to have seen their reactions firsthand!
While I was sad to leave Paris behind, my thoughts turned to the comfortable seat I would be sinking into in just a few minutes. Dad bought our bus tickets from a curious vending machine, and after a short wait, we hauled our luggage on board and settled with a satisfied sigh into whatever seats were still available.
A violent chill shook the doors of the bus as we exited at Charles de Gaulle – I was all too happy to retreat behind the sliding airport doors and shuffle off in search of our hotel. I had never stayed at an airport hotel before, but let me tell you: this is the way to go. We stayed at the Ibis Hotel, a free-standing business located just outside of our terminal door, and it was wonderful to know that all we had to do in the morning was wake up and walk across the street to catch our flight. Dinner was a casual affair – pizza at the hotel restaurant – and then we all retreated to our rooms to settle in for the night.
The following morning, we sat down to an impressive breakfast buffet in the main dining room. I relished every bite of my chocolate croissant, knowing I was not likely to find another breakfast like this anytime soon. I slipped into my most comfortable shoes and a dress that still fit despite the insane amounts of wine, bread, cheese and more that I had consumed on a near-daily basis.
It was bittersweet, saying goodbye to the most beautiful city I had ever seen, while thinking almost wistfully about my life back in Orlando. It had been a fantastic trip, but it was time to go home.