My Five Favourite Places in Paris

After a way too brief two days in Paris in 2015, I added five days in the city to 2016’s summer itinerary. It was a decidedly less local experience this time, since I wasn’t sleeping in a gorgeous church this time around, but I knew I needed more time to see the city. I wanted this trip to be more about random wandering and pretending to be Parisian, because yes I am obsessed with Paris just like everyone else. To be totally honest, it wasn’t as amazing as I had anticipated. There were amazing moments and perfect days, but I was just down in the dumps for some of the trip.

I think it was caused by not really meeting anyone – usually, I arrive in a city and decide whether I want to experience it alone or with people. If I want friends, like I did in Paris, generally I just find them. That sounds weird to say, but there is nowhere better than a hostel for making a friend. This time though, I just couldn’t. I did hang out with some people I had met in Edinburgh (more on that later) but my hostel was very antisocial and my room was full of a rotation of vaguely creepy 30-something guys and pairs of American friends travelling together. Nobody clicked!

I pride myself on never getting lonely and loving being solo, but there are some days when you just need girl talk. I was lonely. Also, it was raining. Which is the worst.

However, it’s hard to have a bad time in Paris. I think a lot of first-time visitors are taken aback by how grungy Paris can be. It’s a massive city and sure, it can be dirty and crowded and overwhelming, but it’s still possible to find somewhere that gives you that feeling of “Oh my god I’m in Paris.” These are my five favourite places in Paris, and the places where I get that special Paris feeling. (How many times can I say Paris in one paragraph?) Also, I probably could have written an entire post about each of these places, so this blog post is insanely long. Sorry.

PALAIS GARNIER

One day at university, flipping through a Paris guidebook instead of doing anything legitimately productive, I saw the words Phantom of the Opera and I’m sure I gasped. I LOVE musicals, and particularly Phantom, so when I read that you could go see the ‘setting’ of the story (despite it being fictional) I knew I would be doing just that. You can book a spot on a guided tour in French or English for €15.50, or €11 with a student ID.

I sometimes like to go on French tours (I did at the Opera House in Budapest) because the groups are often smaller and the language practice is awesome, but this time the timing of English worked out better. I must say my tour guide’s English abilities left a lot to be desired – I think I spoke French better than she spoke English.

You can also get into the Opera House without a tour, but you still have to pay €11 (€7 for students) so I figured the tour would probably be worth it for 4 Euros more. I was totally right – like I said, my main reason for going was  to hear about the Palais Garnier’s connection to the Phantom of the Opera, and my guide did a great job of telling us about it.  For example, did you know that a chandelier actually did fall and kill somebody and there actually is an underwater lake?

During the construction of the building, rumours were swirling about everything that kept going wrong with the construction – Gaston Leroux grew up hearing these rumours, and they inspired his famous story.

Even if you’re not obsessed with the Phantom of the Opera, the building is absolutely breathtaking. My neck was sore for days from straining to look at the incredible ceiling in the auditorium.

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GALERIES LAFAYETTE

If I had visited the Galeries Lafayette when I was  16 or 17, I would have been in heaven. This was during the peak of my shopping addiction, when I shudder to think how much money I spent on crap that I don’t even have anymore.

I’m so glad I started travelling and found this much more worthwhile outlet for spending my money – so when I visited the Galeries Lafayette, I barely even looked at the gorgeous items on offer. I was there for the architecture and the view from the terrace! The first time I went, I actually completely forgot to see the terrace because I was so distracted by how gorgeous la coupole (the dome) was – it’s covered in stained glass and is worth fighting through the crowds of shoppers to view from multiple levels.

I went back to my hostel and immediately realized I had forgotten the main attraction. The next day, I worked my way back to the 9th Arrondissement and made a beeline to the terrace. And oh my god was it worth the extra trip. Now there are a lot of places to get incredible views of Paris, but a lot of them are expensive, crowded, or both. The view from this terrace, however, is completely free, and one of the prettiest I’ve seen.

And the best part? It’s practically empty. I was there on a gorgeous sunny day in May and there were only 10 other people there.

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THE BANKS OF THE SEINE

One night in Paris, I met up with two other Canadian girls I had gone on a pub crawl with in Edinburgh for some more adventures. Along with a few of their friends, we had an amazing night in the Latin Quarter partying the night away and finally giving me my first taste of Parisian nightlife.

But before we ventured out to any bars, we grabbed some wine and found a spot on the banks of the Seine to chat and drink. It smelled a little bit like pee and I was chilly, but it couldn’t have been more perfect. Sitting and laughing with brand new friends on the riverbanks of one of the most magical cities in the world, I couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome life was at that moment.

Around 2AM we decided to head out from the Latin Quarter. Everyone else was staying nearby, but my hostel in Montmartre was going to be a struggle to get back to with the subways not running anymore. In hindsight, Paris obviously has night buses, and I’m sure they’re not that hard to figure out, but at the time I really wanted to walk home. How long was the walk home, you ask? Almost two hours.

It may not have been the best idea to walk home alone at 2AM in Paris, but I never felt unsafe and I knew the way. The way the buildings sparkled at night was just breathtaking and strangely, these were two of the most peaceful and beautiful hours of my life. I know Paris isn’t the safest city in the world (sorry Mom, but I’m fine!!) but ah well. I did it, and I would do it again.

THE EIFFEL TOWER AT NIGHT

It’s definitely worth going to see the Eiffel Tower in the daytime (best views any time of day are from Trocadero), but it is infinitely more magical at night. It’s always crowded, but at night it’s easier to pretend you’re all on your own and the Eiffel Tower is glittering just for you.

My last night in Paris I was feeling a bit disheartened about the city, so I treated myself to a glorious Italian dinner, at a restaurant with great ratings three blocks from the Eiffel Tower, which was somehow empty. The waiter turned out to be an owner and was one of the kindest people I’ve encountered in Paris. We spoke a mix of French and Italian and the food (and obligatory wine) was amazing. I read my book, caught up on my journal, and soaked up the atmosphere.

When I finally motivated myself to leave, I timed my exit perfectly to catch the Eiffel Tower’s first light show of the evening. From sunset to 1AM, every hour on the hour the tower puts on a sparkly show and it’s still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Everybody gasped in unison as the first glow started and for five minutes, I couldn’t take my eyes away. There was nothing particularly special about this night (except that you know, I was in Paris) but everything lined up for one of those serendipitous feelings of happiness that lasts for days.

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SACRE COEUR IN THE EARLY MORNING

During my first trip to Paris, we visited Sacre Coeur, the basilica watching over Paris from Montmartre (I wrote about it here) and I fell in love. When I was trying to decide where to stay this time around, I pretty much never considered anywhere other than Montmartre. Because it’s so awesome, the neighborhood is also very touristy and I knew I wanted the chance to experience it while the world was still waking up, and after dark – when it might feel a bit more like the literature and art hub of centuries past.

I made the right choice. I’m generally a morning person, so for several of my days in the trip I got up before sunrise and wandered the area in solitude. In those hours, it was easy to imagine myself as a artist or writer living in Paris’s golden age. Sitting with a coffee on the steps of Sacre-Coeur and watching the sun rise over the sprawling city is just a wonderful experience. You can’t see the Eiffel Tower from the main steps, but you don’t have to.

Later in the day, Sacre Coeur becomes a hub for tour groups and touts. One guy pulled the bracelet trick on me – putting a bracelet on my wrist and then trying to get me to pay for it even though I obviously didn’t want it. I knew what he was doing but made the mistake of shaking his hand, and he literally wouldn’t let my arm go. He actually hurt my wrist – don’t shake these people’s hands. Darn Canadian politeness, always trying to get me in trouble.

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The Ten Places I Most Want to Live

Sometimes I visit a city and absolutely adore it, but would never want to live there. Examples that come to mind are Goreme in Cappadocia (too small and remote), Dar es Salaam (too bustling, although I’d probably give it a shot), and Florence (too touristy for its size). On the other hand, there are the places that I visit, completely fall in love with, and immediately develop a burning desire to settle down and stay a while. There are so many places I haven’t been, and I bet there are hundreds of other cities that would give me this feeling, but so far here are the places topping my list for a sojourn. Realistic or not, these places are constantly in my dreams and wishes! Without further ado, here is an excessively long article detailing the ten places I most want to live.

BUDAPEST

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When I wrote about Budapest previously, I described my total lack of expectations and how quickly me and my sister realized that this was a special place. We still talk about Budapest an annoying amount, sometimes just texting each other ‘ugh I miss Budapest’ and spending a few minutes reminiscing. A girl who went to my high school also interned there for a summer, and I stalked her Instagram excessively to see her incredible photos of Budapest living. The cost of living is unbelievably cheap, the history and sights are amazing, and compared to some other places on this list its hardly touristy at all. If I ever settle in Europe, it just might be here!

VIENNA

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The instant I walked outside in Vienna I decided it was the most livable place I’d ever been. I still don’t really know what made me think this – maybe it’s just the combination of everything that makes Vienna great. It’s a little more modern than places like Budapest or Prague, but almost just as cheap. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, with my favourite architectural cities sprinkled everywhere. There’s also amazing access to the outdoors (by that I mean vineyards) when you’re basically still in the city. There are so many cultural events and a famous orchestra to indulge in, it’s got amazing transport connections, and I speak a little bit of German. It’d be much easier to learn and communicate in German than it would in something like Hungarian or Czech!!

PARIS

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So typical. Every time I think about living in Paris, I imagine myself sipping a cappuccino in a cafe while writing a book, speaking French to handsome waiters and taking evening strolls along  the Seine. I know that Parisian life is less romantic than we all make it out to be, but it’s undeniably more romantic than a lot of places. I wouldn’t want to be in Paris long-term because it has its issues too, but I think for anything under a year I would love pretending to be a Parisian. And maybe I could finally become 100% fluent in French! Honestly I don’t even feel the need to tell you the other reasons I want to live in Paris because who doesn’t have the same dream?

SHANGHAI

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Ah, Shanghai. My solo trip to China was full of firsts so I look back on the whole thing as an amazing memory and experience in my life. Shanghai is my fondest memory, though – despite the rain and my total exhaustion while I was there. Beijing was too smoggy, Datong too….everything, Xian too touristy, but Shanghai was just perfect. I obviously love big cities, and this is one of the biggest, but it’s so easy to get that small town feel in areas like the French Concession. There’s access to every amenity you could want, but you also get the feeling of being somewhere so exotic and cool. It’s VERY high up my list to learn Mandarin, and what better place? The airport can get you anywhere, the public transit system is practically flawless, the food is one of my favorite cuisines, and I really just want to walk along the Bund and see that skyline again.

BRISBANE

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This one is kind of cheating because I have already lived there. To be fair, I was 3. I have always felt a connection to Brisbane despite my foggy memories of the city; my desire to go back and revisit my childhood stomping grounds has only gotten stronger as I’ve understood more about travel. A working holiday visa for Australia is definitely on the cards for me; it’s a place full of places for me to see again and places for me to visit anew: Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide, Perth…the list goes on. Now it would be great if flights to Australia would stop costing like $6000. (Just kidding, you can find way better deals than that. Promise!)

BUCHAREST

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I literally stayed in Bucharest for a night solely because I had a flight out of the city the next day. I did absolutely zero research, had seen absolutely no pictures, and basically had no idea what I was getting myself into. I arrived at my randomly chosen hostel, befriended an Australian girl, went up to the rooftop bar and basically had a heart attack because it was so beautiful. On some streets, I could have sworn I was in Paris. Bucharest hosts a very unusual combination of rundown, post-Communism buildings and absolutely architecturally stunning buildings. Walking around was a treat, and the nightlife was some of the best I’ve ever seen. The area I stayed in was buzzing and I could have stayed a week. I also knew absolutely nothing about Romanian history, and my free walking tour (with a very cute guide, which is always nice) was very illuminating and really taught me a lot about the hardships this country has gone through. Our guide was probably in his 20’s, and he still had stories to share about not having electricity and free access to media – absolutely unbelievable. It’s cheap, it’s got a language I could learn (Romanian is very similar to Italian!), it’s historical and it’s beautiful. It’s got it all.

NEW YORK CITY

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And yet another very typical response. I’ve been to New York four times now, and each time I remember why I love it so much. The hustle and bustle of this city makes you feel like anything is possible and it’s got the same reasoning behind it as Paris – it’s just so easy to imagine myself living that stereotypical 20-something life here, albeit with much less money than anyone I’ve wanted to emulate on Gossip Girl or Sex and the City. Even if it’s just for a month, I’d love to see what New York living is really like – I don’t think I could afford any longer than a month!!

TRIESTE

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This is also cheating. However, I only lived in Trieste for about a month and a half, and I’d like to experience actually living in my own apartment rather than feeling constantly uncomfortable in my au pair house and dreading the next day of work. Side note, I can’t believe I still haven’t written about au pairing! I’ve just added it to my to do list. My friend Pam, who blogs in Italian and English, lives in a gorgeous apartment in downtown Trieste and her life is basically what I would want to do next time. But about Trieste itself – what a shock this city was to me. When my au pair family said they were moving there I googled the location, thought, “Oh! Near Slovenia and Croatia! Ok cool!”, said yes, and then proceeded to move there. Trieste deftly combines Italian, Slovenian and Croatian influences into one melting pot of incredible coffee, a gorgeous main square, and the nicest people in Italy. This is where I learned Italian and the base I used to explore Venice, Verona, Ljubljana and more. Best of all – there’s only ever a fraction of the tourists that crowd the rest of Italy!

PRAGUE

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I have just noticed an interesting trend…four of these destinations (Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest are in Eastern Europe, or maybe Central depending on where you draw the line. I’d also consider Trieste pretty Eastern European. I had no idea I had even been to that many places in Central/Eastern Europe, much less that I wanted to live there!! Anyway, so Prague. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember the numerous disasters that befell me on my January 2015 trip to Prague. It still shocks me that I’m able to look back on Prague so fondly, considering that I felt like I was going to die, but I guess that really says something about the city. Honestly, my main reason for wanting to live in Prague is pretty stupid. There’s the cheap cost of living, great transit, same good connections as Vienna, beautiful architecture….but what I’m really interested in is the fact that it’s a winter wonderland. I may complain about winter every single day that I’m cold, but as a Canadian I’ll take shivering in my parka over sweating in my shorts any day. It sadly didn’t snow when I was in Prague, but it was still magical, and I’d love to spend the winter revelling in the magical feeling of Prague in winter. (Told you it was dumb).

ZANZIBAR

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Ah, Zanzibar. I spent 2 days in Stone Town and 3 days in Kendwa at the end of my recent trip to Tanzania. When I was little, I thought that Zanzibar was a made-up place because the name was so exotic and it sounded so cool (maybe also because I was stupid). However, Zanzibar is absolutely real and absolutely perfect. Kendwa was legitimately paradise. There are not enough positive words in the English language to describe how perfect the water is. I swam, lay on the beach, went to a full moon party, tried scuba diving, watched sunsets, and basically died over how great life was. I am too high-strung to live on an island paradise for long, but I can’t imagine anything better than settling down on Zanzibar (maybe even in Kendwa?) for a few months. I would get so tan and so happy. To quote my Instagram caption from the following photo, “Messy hair, messy heart, messy life, but it’s okay cause I’m in paradise.” I can’t think of anything that better sums up how I felt on this incredible island with so much culture to offer alongside its beauty.

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Paris Surprised Me

I expected to love Paris. I mean, it’s Paris. How could I think I would feel anything but awe while exploring the city that I’ve heard about since I can remember? That said, though, I also felt like maybe I’d heard too much about Paris – I’d argue that it’s among the most famous tourist destinations in the world, which just made me feel like perhaps it was overdone.

Despite my odd mixture of trepidation and excitement to finally set foot in Paris, I fell head over heels in love for the City of Light. From a picnic in a packed Parisian park (how’s that for alliteration?) to a busy afternoon hitting the highlights, my sister and I couldn’t stop exclaiming over just how gorgeous this city is. Pictures can’t do it justice – after all, I’ve certainly seen enough photos, and I was still blown away.

Perhaps the best part of our stay was the fact that our accommodation was free. My last post was about our incredible night cruising the Seine, which featured some gorgeous photos from Catherine, my sister’s old classmate. She was kind enough to let us crash with her, which was amazing in such an expensive city. She even picked us up at the train station, which was lucky since I had never been more sleep deprived and would have gotten completely lost in the maze of tunnels we found ourselves weaving through.

We emerged into a very authentic area of the city, which Catherine described as a student ghetto: it was extremely vibrant, filled with immigrants and of course students. Our personal tour guide then proceeded to show us all the highlights of her adopted city from Montmartre to the best street art to icons like Notre Dame and the Louvre.

Now, before we go on – I did not go into either Notre Dame or the Louvre. I know, a travesty. Multiple people have given me disdainful looks when I tell them this, especially about the Louvre. My sister and I are in agreement – art museums are boring. Sure, if I had two weeks in Paris and the museum was free, I’d go in for a bit, but it wasn’t and I didn’t. No regrets! So don’t judge us.

We did, however, walk by the Louvre, which was gorgeous. Catherine took us along the perfect route from her apartment to Notre Dame, the Love Lock Bridge (which is apparently very controversial, I just thought it was pretty), and through the magnificent Jardins Tuileries.

To cap off this amazing day, we headed to a supermarket, grabbed supplies for an evening picnic (naturally, including wine) and headed to a park near Catherine’s house to indulge in this commendable Parisian tradition. I don’t know why North Americans don’t have as many picnics as Europeans, but I think it’s a terrible oversight.

To sum up this rambly post, Paris surprised me. Two days there was not enough, although we managed to pack a remarkable amount of things into our whirlwind trip. As soon as we got on the plane I was plotting when I could return for a much longer period of time.

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Have you ever been to a city that surprised you? What about Paris – have you been and was it like you expected?

Magical Moments in Paris: Cruising the Seine

You know those special travel moments where you’re seeing something beautiful, doing something exhilarating or just experiencing something special and you just sit there marvelling at the fact that you get to see the world? I had one of those unforgettable moments during our time in Paris.

We were cruising down the Seine, enjoying VIP seating at the front of the boat, sipping champagne while watching the sun set over the gorgeous city. I looked around at the smiles on my travel companions’ faces, thought about how happy I felt and it sunk in that I was in a place I’d dreamt of being for so long.

City Wonders offered me my choice of tours in Paris and I selected their Evening Eiffel Tower Tour with VIP Seine Champagne Cruise! My main selection criteria was the fact that it had “champagne” in the title..that’s a good enough reason, right? Also, we knew we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, but were hesitant about waiting in the crazy lines, and we were nervous about booking a river cruise without knowing if we’d get good seats, etc. This tour was the perfect solution – I freak out every time I go on a tour because I think I’m about to be herded around, but it wasn’t like that at all. We laughed at the beginning when we had to don headsets and stickers that identified us as tour participants, but ya know what – we are tourists and sometimes you just have to embrace that!

Walking to the river, our hilarious and charming tour guide Adam (who went to the same school as my sister and friend – in Canada) told us about the Eiffel Tower and I realized just how little I knew about it. I kept wandering off to get the best angle for pictures, which was no doubt irritating, but no regrets. When we arrived at our boat, we were ushered to a special section while Adam made amusing jokes about not having to sit with the commoners. He continued his spiel about what we were seeing, which was surprisingly interesting – as you may have learned, I have the attention span of a three year old. Adam was great at making info about museums, etc. super exciting!

Then, the aforementioned awesome travel moment came and the sun started to set while we were served champagne. I dashed out to the uncovered part of the boat, freezing in my romper but determined to capture the glorious scene in front of me – I really must work on my sunset/nighttime photography.

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I talked about sunsets in my 8 Reasons to Travel post, and I stand by what I said – every new sunset is a new magical experience.

Then, it was time for something I’ve dreamed of doing for so long – seeing the Eiffel Tower! While waiting for our allotted time to skip the queue, we examined the tower from every angle and I took 8 kajillion pictures.

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Skipping the line was possibly the best part of this tour. Who doesn’t love walking past a long line of disgruntled people to head straight up one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world?? This was also when we learned that there had  been 4 or 5 foiled terrorist attacks in Paris the previous weekend…awesome. My worries were set aside by this incredible view, kindly photographed by our friend Catherine – I can’t take a picture of a skyline at night to save my life.

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When 10 o’clock hit and the tower started to glitter and shimmer, it was so beautiful I thought I was going to cry. I once cried at the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Centre, however, so it doesn’t take too much. I could have watched the show for hours, but sadly it only lasts five minutes – nevertheless, definitely a highlight.

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My biggest recommendation from our time at the Eiffel Tower – don’t bother with the top floor unless there’s no line. We had to wait forever to get from the second floor to the top floor, and even longer to get down. The view was nice, but I would say don’t bother unless there’s no line!

Views of Paris: Sacre Coeur Basilica

Despite that fact that my foot feels like it could break in half at any moment and I’ve barely slept in days, I sit blissfully on the steps of the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris, admiring the view and petting Zoe, the adorable and elderly spaniel who ‘works’ at the drink stand a few feet away.LrMobile0605-2015-071050824572933071I went up the dome of the basilica for one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen; even though there are probably hundreds of people on the steps of the basilica, when I clambered to the highest point in the dome we were only joined by maybe ten others. It seems that either people don’t know about the option to go higher or aren’t willing to pay the 6 euros, but the one thing I’ll almost always pay for is an incredible view.

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Unlike my time in Prague, it was actually warm in Paris, allowing me to wander the dome leisurely without worrying that my face was going to fall off because of the harsh winter winds. I forced my sister to take a million pictures of me (“Get one for Instagram of me looking into the distance!”) and then retake them when the lighting was poor.

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I admired the view over the steps and to the rest of the city, before going to the other side and seeing the icon – the Eiffel Tower! I was only in Paris for a short time, but even so I felt a jolt of excitement every time I caught a glimpse of the Tower.

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I’ve become used to seeing gorgeous red roofs from European towers, and I always thought that was what made them so beautiful. Paris, though, made me remark on how white the city seemed from above. I think I could go up every tower in Europe and still feel amazed every single time I climbed that last step and came across the promised panorama.