Our second day in Paris should have started a few hours earlier than it did. Our alarm went off at 8am and I hit the snooze button with as much force as I could muster. Over, and over… and over again. We eventually left the hotel at 11am, having decided that without the early start under our belts, we didn’t have the resilience to deal with any potential queues at the Catacombs, which for safety reasons, only allows a restricted number of visitors in at any one time.
We opted instead, for a more leisurely stroll through Le Marais, starting at the Place de la Bastille.
the Parisian Metro system
A quick note on the Metro system… we bought “carnets” of 10 single-use tickets as and when we needed them, instead of the daily Mobilis pass (travelcard), our decision worked out cheaper over the course of three days. However, the downside was that these tickets constantly became demagnetized by going through security checks at the various tourist attractions.
The Metro staff are at least, clearly used to this and were happy enough to respond to my cries of “ça ne marche pas” whilst frantically waving the tickets about infront of them. I got used to the eye-rolls eventually. In other words, if your tickets fail to open the barriers… chances are, it’s not your fault. Go and get them checked at the ticket window.
Place de la Bastille
Now, I’m no French history buff but I spent every summer growing up in the West of France, in the Vendee… an area that has a reputation for its anti-revolutionary, royalist history which culminated in an uprising against the republic and the eventual defeat/massacre of over 150,000 Vendeen people… controversially described as the first genocide in modern history. Infact, in the small field next door to our house remains an underground tunnel believed to lead all the way to the local Chateau which was built as a means of escape for when the going got tough for the local aristrocracy!
The storming of The Bastille (a prison originally located on the site of the above column) in Paris on July 14, 1789 by the city’s commoners led almost directly to the French Revolution. If you walk around the Place de la Bastille you can see the outline in the ground, marking the location of the prison’s original towers – a hugely understated nod to such an important time in the country’s history!
Place des Vosges
The gardens at Hotel de Sully
We moved on in the direction of the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris. It was packed with people enjoying their lunch in the sunshine, and although we only stopped en-route (our tummies were grumbling for lunch), I really recommend it as a place to hide away from the masses.
Now firmly in the historic Le Marais area, we headed into the old Jewish quarter on the hunt for what is often described online as “the ultimate falafel”. It didn’t take long to spot the lunch queues snaking up the Rue de Rosiers so we joined the line at L’As du Fallafel to get a taste of what we had been missing!
the lunch queue
the “falafel special” at L’as du Fallafel on Rue de Rosiers
In order to keep the queue moving quickly at peak times, your order (and payment) are taken whilst standing in line, this means that your food is ready and waiting by the time you reach the front. Although the queue was long, it was super-efficient and we were walking away with the fattest falafel-filled pittas within 10-minutes of joining.
If you’re on a tight budget – at only 5.50€ each, they make a great purse-friendly option (especially if you find a local park to eat them in and combine them with a cheeky pastry from the patisserie up the road!)
The Pont d’Arcole looking South West
Bellies filled, we roamed the back streets a little longer before heading across to the Ile de la Cité, onto the major tourist path with Notre Dame firmly in our crosshairs.
The city council have erected a huge (temporary?) grandstand infront of the cathedral, which spoiled every photo opportunity possible and we very nearly didn’t bother joining the queue – which again, was frighteningly long. I’m glad we did though as it was the fastest-moving line I’d ever seen and we were in within only five-minutes. What can I say? Many of these Parisian queues are terribly deceptive!
Notre Dame’s impressive exterior
Having said that, Notre Dame is definitely more impressive from the outside, not to say that the interior isn’t worth bothering with… but the carvings and sculptures that adorn the facade are something very special, as is the sheer scale of the building.
If you’re up for visiting any other attractions in the vicinity, I thoroughly recommend the lesser-known Sainte-Chappelle, only one block away, with its extensive 13th century stained glass windows which make you feel as though you’re standing inside a kaleidoscope. It’s an unforgettable experience and truly atmospheric, having often been described as one of the world’s most beautiful buildings.
the lower chapel at Sainte-Chappelle
the upper chapel at Sainte-Chappelle
By this point in the day, our feet were killing us, so we escaped the island for somewhere to stop for a glass of wine and a treat before continuing. As with most tourist cities in Europe, you definitely need to head off the main thoroughfares to get anything that comes close to resembling value for money and for your efforts, you’re generally rewarded with better service and food!
some of the food choices along the main tourist routes (mmm brie)
tartes, tartes everywhere!
We had originally planned to take a night-time Seine cruise with Bateaux-Mouches but our feet simply wouldn’t allow us to travel from our random location on the left-bank across to the Pont de l’Alma where these boats departed from… plus the fact that it was still only 6pm and around 3hrs away from nightfall!
In the end, we trudged a few hundred yards onto the Pont Neuf and took a cruise from the smaller company, Vedettes du Pont-Neuf. It was “ok”, a little rushed perhaps but one of those “things” that you would probably regret not doing, you know? If you book online in advance, you can get a 5€ reduction per ticket, making it a really affordable experience.
Later on that evening, we passed by a peaceful demonstration of people showing solidarity with the Turkish citizens… the French sure know how to throw a good protest!
We finished the day with a real trip highlight, a well-timed jaunt up to the top of Montparnasse Tower to see the city’s lights laid out below us. Rumour has it that the tower has been under threat of demolition for years… the city hates it and considers it a blot on the landscape. The only thing saving the 210m tall building? It’s absolutely riddled with asbestos and they simply don’t know how to take it down safely!
the observation deck – a 360 degree view of the city
a birds-eye view
For me, it’s one of the best spots in the city from which to appreciate the Eiffel Tower. I just couldn’t believe how empty it was up there, it seems that so few tourists take advantage of this location and it was a magical spot to watch the sun go down over the horizon. We spent a good hour up there until just before closing time when we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep ahead of our last day of exploration.
some instagram shots from day 2
Final day tomorrow… (and a peek at my beauty buys!)