48 (Almost!) Perfect Hours in Paris
We only had 48 hours to spend in Paris, and we did our best to make the most of them!
As IHG Rewards Club credit card holders, we each get a free night in any category IHG property, so we figured a fancy shmancy hotel for 2 nights in Paris would be a pretty good opportunity to use those. We actually cashed in one free IHG night a couple of years ago during a quick layover in Paris as well, staying at the Intercontinental Le Grand, which was beautiful but we kind of felt like we needed to be AARP members to stay there. So this time we switched it up to the Intercontinental Avenue Marceau. The rooms there start out around $400/night, so the card's $49 annual fee certainly pays off! Cost for 2 nights: €13.20 in taxes - woohoo!
The hotel is right down the street from the Arc de Triomphe in one direction and about a 15 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower in the other. So naturally, we'd start off seeing one of those landmarks, right? Um, no - our priorities lie elsewhere. At the very top of our list for Paris was Le Comptoir, a restaurant at which it's basically impossible to get reservations. Luckily, they have a standing-room only wine bar next door serving small plates. The last time we spent the night in Paris, we tried to get in and couldn't, but we heard it's much easier at lunchtime. So that was our plan. We arrived in Paris around 12:30pm, dropped our stuff at the hotel and booked it over to the restaurant. It was full, but we were able to get in to the wine bar no problem! And OMG, it was amazing. One of the best meals of our lives. We had 6 small plates - the octopus (basically the most wonderful calamari ever), tuna tartare, sausages, a foie gras burger, lamb with peas, and lobster ravioli (the only one we didn't love). We also had, erm, 6 glasses of wine. I mean, it's Paris, so (a lot of) lunch wine is okay, right?
After stuffing ourselves til we were utterly content, we realized we should really try some Parisian macarons as well. So we headed just down the street to Pierre Hermé. We wanted to try both the chocolate and coconut/lemon flavors, so we each got those. In retrospect, it would have been a much better idea to share, but we were already food coma-ing, so what can you do?
Then it was pretty much vital to walk it off a bit, so we made our way to Saint-Chappelle, a Gothic style royal chapel that was built to house Christian relics, including Christ's crown of thorns. The stained glass is why you go though - there's 15 windows, each 15 meters high, and the panes display 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments depicting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris. It's beautiful!
It had started raining a bit while we were in Saint-Chappelle, so we ducked into a couple of shops as we made our way to the Louvre. We hadn't bought tickets in advance for the museum and figured we didn't stand a chance of getting in, but still wanted to go look at the building. By the time we got there, it was pretty late in the day, and the rain must have scared most people off because there was absolutely no line! Giggling over our good luck, we scrambled our way in and beelined it straight for the Mona Lisa. I've been to the Louvre before but was excited for Josh's first time. He was incredibly unimpressed with the ML and was more interested in watching everyone angling to get a good shot of her. So we backpedaled out and headed for Winged Victory (my favorite) and the ancient Egyptian relics including a mummy, which was a bit insane and creepy and fascinating.
Our feet had pretty much had it by then, so we Metroed to the Arc de Triomphe and relaxed at the hotel for a couple of hours. And then it was time for more food! We headed across the Seine, enjoying some pretty sweet Eiffel Tower views, to the 15th arrondissement and Cafe Constant for some super traditional French cuisine.
It was a big day with lots of eating, and our bodies needed to prepare for another day of the same, so we slept hard and got up happy and hungry.
For our second day, there was a good chance of rain again, so we had a prioritized list that essentially zigzagged us across the city. We started off walking to the Trocadéro to admire the Eiffel Tower from a different vantage point. And since we were awake, we needed food - obviously. A ham and cheese crepe to share held us over until we Metroed to Frenchie-To-Go for the most amazing cinnamon roll I've ever eaten. Plus some coffee and a bacon egg and cheese sandwich as well. FTG is part of several Gregory Marchand restaurants on Rue de Nil, which might be one of the cutest streets ever. In addition to the restaurants, there's a butcher, a seafood shop, a wine store, a bakery, and a fruit/veggies shop. It's so European and quaint, and, as Americans, we can only dream of a complete food shopping experience in one block. Even though we were totally full, we still needed to stroll down the nearby Rue Montorgueil, the "foodiest" street in Paris. It's packed full of shops selling crepes, ice cream, oysters, chocolates, wine, baguettes, cheese, meats, etc. Basically anything you want.
From there, we walked to Notre Dame, popping in during noon Mass, which was a cool experience. We're not religious people (even though we'll visit waayyyy too many churches while traveling), but it's still moving to witness both what faith and devotion (among other things which I won't get into here...) has created as well as how impactful it can be for devotees to experience such a holy or renowned place.
Next up - the Marais neighborhood, which has an expansive history and more pre-revolutionary buildings and streets left intact than any other area in Paris. Plus lots of good shops and eateries! After a stop at Place des Vosges (the oldest planned square in Paris) and window shopping - and real shopping because I legit needed a nice enough shirt in which to spend a night out, we started scoping out the many falafel options for lunch. The most famous is L'As du Fallafel, and apparently they never don't have a line. We opted instead for Chez Marianne's falafel window, mainly because it was much cuter, and atmosphere counts for a lot. Everyone gets falafels to go and then eats as they walk, heads to the park to chow down or grabs a bench. We opted for the latter and were rewarded with some good people watching and some not-so-good accordion playing.
We had figured it would be pouring rain by now, but it was still beautiful out, so we decided to backtrack all the way to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. Totally inefficient routing, but we wanted to make sure we hit certain spots in good weather. We huffed and puffed our way up the hill to Sacre Coeur (no funicular for us - we have many calories to burn, thank you very much!), enjoyed the view, ordered a crepe, and then promptly got completely soaked when the skies opened up. Oops. And here's where we made 2 vital errors. 1) I ordered a chocolate crepe, thinking that meant Nutella because why would anyone opt for not-Nutella?? 2) We picked a very mean crepe vendor, who wouldn't let us take cover from the rain in his shop to eat the crepe because crepes are (in an angry French accent) "to go only!" Okay Dude, whatever. After chucking the crepe because it was pretty much awful (why doesn't "chocolate" automatically mean "Nutella"?!), we braved the rain and a gagillion vendors trying to sell us umbrellas back to the Metro and landed once again at the Arc de Triomphe. As soon as we came up from the subway, there was a sweet sad-looking man sitting by a crepe cart that had no customers. We decided it was a good time for a redo, and walked over to him. He looked up hopefully, and when we ordered a Nutella banana (upgrade!) crepe, his face lit up and he jumped to action. We happily munched our yummy confection as we headed back to the hotel to wait out the rest of the rain and gear up for a night out.
That evening, we hopped on the Metro to the 9th arrondissement to have dinner at Bouillion Chartier. The restaurant, which opened in 1896, was founded as a cheap eatery for the working class and is one of a handful of a similar type still in existence. The concept to provide a traditional meal at a reasonable price still sticks, and it's extremely popular. The line was crazy long when we got there around 9pm, but the line coordinator (they have one!) told us it would only be about 15 or 20 minutes before we sat. He did not lie. Once we were seated, at a 4-top with another couple, we realized why they move so quickly. The place is huge with only 4-top tables, and no seat is left empty. The waitstaff is extremely skilled at moving quickly through the space, taking orders, serving, and clearing with speed. It's pretty impressive to watch. We ordered 6 snails (ohmygod, they were sooooo good!), a soft cheese (served with sugar??), sausage, a fish main, and the duck main, as well as a bottle of wine, and our total came out to €51. Not bad! Aside from the snails, for which I would go back to just have those, none of the food was amazing, but it was decent, and for the price, it really can't be beat.
Next we stopped at a bar for a quick drink. As we stepped out, a horde of rave kids walked by, so we thought, eh, why don't we just see where they're going? We tailed them for a couple of blocks (trying to not seem like weirdo stalkers), until they got to a dark building and knocked on the door. We were thinking it must be a house party and we'd need to move on, but it turned out to be Silencio, David Lynch's nightclub inspired by the spot in the movie Mulholland Drive. It wasn't particularly weird, but it was entertaining! We danced for a bit, and then got serenaded (mainly in French) by this amazing drag queen and her entourage. After she had thrown herself off the piano a few times, there was more dancing, and then finally a sleepy Uber ride back to the hotel.
The next morning, we only had time for a quick hotel breakfast (boo) before we had to hightail it to the train station and make our way to Bordeaux!