We moved on post- Cassis to Avignon, another small city with lots of charm. The city is enclosed in walls, making you feel like you’re going back in time. We luckily had a hostel that sat right on the main drag, Pop Hostel, so we were able to walk to everything we wanted to see. We explored the cathedral (which we couldn’t go into- bummer), we explored the different streets of shops and cafes, and we climbed up to the gardens for some incredible views.
Avignon is beautiful, it was also the cite of my first French crepe. I was pretty excited about this. Our hostel didn’t provide breakfast, so we wandered out onto the street to find something to eat. The first place we came upon had baked goods, but there were bees in the glass case… so we decided against it. Next we found a small walk up-store front that offered crepes with different fillings, and fruit juices. It was breakfast, so I ordered a tomato and cheese crepe, and ashley got ham and cheese. They were great!
There isn’t too much to see in Avignon, so we wandered the city most of the time. That’s the thing about traveling- 90% of the time is spent walking and observing, taking in as much as you can.
Our hostel had a great happy hour, where a glass of wine was 1 euro, and they had cheap tapas that we got for dinner. We met a few Australian girls, and were scared away from the happy hour not too long after by a very drunk Czech man who told Ashley he loved her, and kept swearing in every language he could think of.
After Avignon, we decided to head to Lyon- a much bigger city. We booked an AirBnB for our stay, and were staying with a sweet older woman named France (ironically), who lived outside the touristy area, but in a beautiful two bedroom apartment in a neighborhood filled with Asian restaurants.
France welcomed us to her home, showed us around, and Ashley and I headed out to find dinner. We decided on a place that had great reviews, called Okawali. We both ordered the “simple ramen,” and a frozen beer. “A frozen beer?” You might be asking yourself. We’re not entirely sure what it is either, still, but there were signs for them all around, so we knew we had to try it. The beers came, with Japanese beer on the bottom and a foamy, frozen layer on the top where the head of the beer should be. It was weird at first, but then actually pretty great.
The ramen was delicious too, perfectly salty and warm. The noodles were the bomb, and I loved the addition of nori and bamboo shoots. I topped mine with sesame oil for a little more flavor, and I couldn’t get enough.
For dessert, we had to try the green tea tiramisu. It was fluffy, very green, and the flavor of the matcha tea was strong but not overwhelming. Where is the picture? I may have been too excited to take one, and realized it halfway through.
Lyon is a beautiful city, and our walk towards the center took us right along the Rhone. The sun was shining, and the view over the water was fantastic. We walked the main street, went in and out of shops, and grabbed some mediocre sandwiches. Not every meal can be glamorous, ok?
Ashley had read about the giant indoor food market, Les Halles, in Lyon, so we went to check it out. It was beautiful. Stall after stall of pastries, breads, meats, so much seafood, and little mini restaurants line the market as you walk. We had previously been excited to grab food while we were there, but the prices were just too high. I definitely recommend walking through, and if you have the means- stop for lunch, all the options smelled and looked amazing.
We said goodbye to Lyon and embarked on our journey to my most anticipated city, Paris. We had originally planned to go to Strasbourg first, but the ticket prices we found seemed like a sign that we needed to head right for Paris. We arrived, walked through the lovely neighborhood our AirBnB apartment was in, and waited for our check in time. The ad for our AirBnB said it was a cozy apartment for two, small but comfortable. After climbing the six flights of stairs to the top floor of the building, we quickly realized that maybe we should have read the fine print.
The apartment was smaller than any I have ever seen. Smaller than a dorm, smaller than a large walk-in closet, I mean seriously- Harry Potter’s closet looked like a mansion compared to ours. We smiled, took the keys, and said, “It’s not that bad! We’ll make it work!” We dropped our stuff and set out to see the city, trying to block out the shoe box that would be our home for the next four days.
Paris is beautiful. I had been warned that it would be dirty and over crowded, but compared to some of the places we’ve been, I thought it was wonderful. It was clean, bright, and only reasonably touristy. As we walked it started to get dark, so Ashley led the way as we explored. We found ourselves in the courtyard of the most beautiful lit up building and Ashley said to me, “Do you know where we are?” I didn’t. It was the Louvre, and it was gorgeous. Paris really is amazing at night.
We continued walking all the way to the Eiffel Tower, passing by monuments, bridges, and museums on the way. “Isn’t that a really long way?” You might be asking. Yes. Yes it is.
Watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle, I knew that I could stay in Paris for a month and still not see everything I wanted to. We discussed our plans for the next few days, trying to pack in as much as we could in our short visit.
Attempting to cook dinner in the “apartment,” I boiled water for tortellini, sautéed some zucchini, and tried not to think about how the stove top and the shower were literally touching. We ate our dinner sitting on the bed, using the nightstand as a table, listening to French tv and watching the light off the Eiffel tower spin outside our window. Saying goodnight, we pretended that sleeping head to foot in a twin bed was just what we had wanted.
Day two in Paris consisted of buying museum passes and determining that we would hit as many museums as we could that were open. A lot of museums in Paris are closed on certain days of the week, so make sure to check their hours before buying tickets! The Louvre was first on the list, and we wandered the halls appreciating as much of the art as we could. We said hello to the Mona Lisa, although the hoards of people trying to get a selfie with her was a little off-putting. We saw works by Picasso, Renoir, my favorite artist Monet, and so many more.
Walking through the Napoleon Apartments may have been my favorite part of the Louvre, imagining myself lounging in one of the velvet chairs wearing an elaborate gown. I would really recommend seeing this wing of the Louvre if you’re there, it is ridiculously beautiful.
After the Louvre and an over priced lunch, we headed to a contemporary art museum, the Pompidou. This was a nice contrast to the Louvre, giving us a totally different experience. The art was exciting, interactive, and thought provoking. From chalkboard rooms, light installations, and classic works by Picasso, Matisse, and Jackson Pollock to a dark and depressing documentary in the cinema, the Pompidou kept us busy for hours. We had planned to do so much more, but ran out of time because we just couldn’t pull ourselves away from this museum.
It was dark by the time we left the museum, and we were starving. It was too early for dinner, so we each grabbed a Nutella filled crepe and we decided to head to Montmartre, a neighborhood of Paris set up high on a hill. It is home to the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basillica and to Moulin Rouge. The church was gorgeous, and we even got to witness some of a service being held.
Moulin Rouge was fun to see, although it isn’t as dramatic as you would imagine. The street it sits on is hilarious, with a sex shop every other store. One store even boasted having over 10,000 different items in stock. It was pretty funny. Go big or go home, I guess!
We found a little cafe to sit at, where our hilarious waiter made faces at me through the window, and even played tic tac toe on my coaster. We ordered two glasses of red wine, and I got the courage to try escargot. I have to say, the snails were pretty good (like garlicky, buttery, dirt). It tasted better than it sounds. The whole time, all I could picture was that scene in Pretty Woman where she grabs the snail with the little tongs and it goes flying across the room. You have to be careful, because a projectile snail isn’t really that far fetched. Tong shenanigans and all, we ate the snails and I enjoyed them. What I really loved was the left over sauce we got to dunk our bread in when the snails were done. Yum. Post snails- we walked around Montmartre, dodging sex shops and finding cute cafes.
This picture was taken, on my phone, by the waiter who then left a coaster and a pen and said, “for the number!” I didn’t take him up on that.
Day three in Paris was exciting because we planned to go to Versailles. Versailles had been on my ultimate European bucket-list, and I was so excited to go. We boarded the train (which was decorated with 2D images of Versailles), and after a quick 40 minute ride we were there.
Walking up, Versailles is just breathtaking. It is massive, and the gold trim on the palace was shining in the sunlight. It was a partly cloudy day, but the palace was still gleaming. We walked the entire length of the palace, seeing all we could. The velvet wallpaper, the gilded furniture, and the extravagant chandeliers all amazed me. I can’t imagine how life must have been, walking into the Hall of Mirrors and treating it like any old function hall. We took the walk across the grounds to Marie Antoinette’s estate, and I tried to imagine how things must have looked when she reigned. The whole experience was amazing and, minus the whole head-chopping thing, the visit made me wish time travel had been invented so I could be a fly on the wall when Versailles was at its prime.
You could literally spend an entire day exploring Versailles and all the different hallways and gardens. We didn’t have that luxury, so we hopped the train back to Paris and headed to Notre Dame, hoping to climb the towers and see the view of the city from the top. Unfortunately, while the website said we had until 4:45 to get in line, the security man shut the line down before we had gotten to it at 4:35. Trying not to be bummed, we headed back to our cute little neighborhood, bought some groceries (including chocolate mousse and a package of candy that I literally could not stop laughing over), and had a romantic dinner on our twin bed.
The next morning, we got up and took the Metro to the Catacombs. As we took our spots in line, I tried not to panic. I mean, come on, there were kids in line. We were thankful that they had discounted rates for people under 26 years old, and splurged on the voice guides (which I was thankful we did). Walking through the Catacombs was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I had expected to be scared, worried things would jump out at me or grab me as I passed by. I expected to be frightened by the bones and to hear ghosts or something else scary. I was surprised that, in fact, I wasn’t scared at all. I was mostly just sad. Sad for the people whose remains ended up here, and sad they would never be remembered by name. The bones of around 6 million Parisians lay in the Catacombs, and it truly felt like tomb. The water dripping through the limestone around us did add a spooky feel, but learning about the history and how the crypt came to be was fascinating.
After our visit to the Catacombs we said “See ya never!” to our little closet and headed to St. Christopher’s Hostel where we spent our last night. I was thrilled to have my own bed, a fresh towel, and I loved how clean it was. There was also an attached bar/restaurant called Belushi’s that had pretty good food deals, which was great for our budget. We checked in, dropped our bags, then headed to Champs Elysses to look around and do some window shopping.
If you know me, you know that I am a macaron queen. I have probably made over 100 batches in my life (most of which turned out great), and they’re sort of my claim to fame. So when we passed Laduree, how could I not go in? 18 euro later, Ashley and I had 6 different macarons to share. We ended up with blackberry, raspberry, pistachio, caramel, chocolate, and rose. The pistachio and caramel were perfect, but I have to say- I like my chocolate macarons better ;).
We planned our trip to Brussels, Belgium for the next day over dinner at Belushi’s. It was open mic night, which was fun to watch until a kid puked on himself walking to the bathroom. At least he almost made it. Anyway, I headed to bed sad to leave Paris, a place with so much to explore, but excited to see our 7th country the following day.
I’ll be back again some day, Paris!