Roaming the streets and stalls of Montmartre and being awed by the beauty of the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica perched on its summit – think flickering candlelight reflecting off stunning gold-painted alcoves and arches. Looking out over the superb symmetry of the Champs de Mars from the second level of the city’s global cultural icon – La Tour Eiffel a.k.a the Eiffel Tower (even if I was terrified being over 600 steps up from the ground)! Strolling from the Arc de Triomphe in the Place Charles de Gaulle, down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, to the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde, eyeing up all the theatres, cafés and luxury shops along the way. People-watching in the Place des Vosges, a sweet little town square lined with gorgeous old french buildings complete with red flowers cascading from every window box, located in the lovely Marais district. Rambling around around the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg Gardens and along the River Seine. Listening to the bells and marveling at the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame Cathedral. Visiting the masterpieces of van Gogh, Degas, Manet, Monet, Gauguin and others at the Musée d’Orsay. Taking a snap outside the iconic red windmill of the ‘Moulin Rouge’ cabaret house (see a show if you can). Finding my padlock (Cara and Bobo forever) from 2013 on the ‘Love-Lock Bridge’ – a truly romantic spot in the city of Love!
In a lot of the touristy areas of Paris, I was approached by illegal street sellers, beggars and people waving petitions in my face. Of course you always want to help people if you can, but there are literally hundreds of these individuals, not just in Paris, but all over Europe, and you just can’t help them all. Also, sadly, many of these people have fairly harassing or sometimes even aggressive tactics and/or are professional pick-pockets. It really is best to just stay clear and use a firm ‘No, merci!’ if approached.
Ok so maybe this sounds like an obvious one but anyway… always have a really warm jacket packed in your suitcase – no matter the country you’re traveling to, no matter the season you’re traveling in. I never imagined I’d need a puffer jacket in Paris in May but I ended up wearing mine every single day I was there. You just never know when out-of-season weather may strike and it pays to be prepared. My black Macpac puffer jacket is fantastic for traveling as it’s super warm, doesn’t show the dirt, and squeezes down into a tiny pouch that hardly takes up any room in my case at all.
This also may seem fairly obvious but i’ll say this one anyways too… learn a few key phrases in the language of the country you are traveling to – even a couple of basic words/sentences (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, where is the bathroom?, can I have the bill?, how much does this cost?, etc.) will really help you out in a foreign country. I’ve found that people, especially the French, are much more friendly and obliging if you at least try to communicate with them in their mother tongue. Even if you just start off in French and then have to swap to English, you’ll probably have better luck than if you use none at all.
A 20-minute ride away from Paris on the local RER* C line I located my ULTIMATE DREAM HOME – the Palace of Versailles. This royal chateau is one seriously pimped out crib! The opulence is breathtaking. If it’s not gold, it’s gold-trimmed. King Louis XVI and his infamous wife, Marie Antoinette used to kick it here and they were certainly spoiled for choice when it came to fab spots to hang out around the property! I mean, the palace itself has over 700 luxuriously decorated rooms. Then there’s the acres and acres of gardens dotted with grand fountains, quaint ponds, splendid sculptures, manicured mazes and even a huge cross-shaped canal (where you can hire a row boat if you so wish). Not to mention the Grand Trianon (a gorgeous collection of buildings including an adorable pink marble and porphyry palace), the Queen’s Hamlet (a group of thatched-roof houses encircling a pond and surrounded by farmland), and Marie Antoinette’s Estate (I would have died to attend one of her lavish tea or dinner parties here). I really love how each room of importance (i.e., practically every room in the whole place) was decorated with a different bold and beautiful colour, adorned with copious amounts of gold, and finished off with a gigantic sparkling chandelier. I think if I had been resident at the palace, you would have been most likely to find me in either the ‘Queen’s Bedroom’ or the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ – truly truly magnificent spaces.
* RER trains are similar to metro trains, but travel longer distances outside the Paris city limits. To get to Versailles, take the train headed towards ‘Versailles-Rive Gauche’ — this is the stop to jump off at and also, conveniently, the last stop on this line so you won’t need to worry about missing it. The palace is only about a 5 minute walk from the train station and when you exit the train you will soon see signs pointing you in the right direction.
To get the official low-down on all the fabulous aspects and features of this UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site you can visit: http://www.chateauversailles.fr
To be perfectly honest with you I was disappointed by the French cuisine that I sampled in Paris – most probably because I had such high expectations (I mean, ‘cuisine’ is a French word for pete’s sake)! Of course you can always get a delicious ‘petit dejeuner‘ (breakfast) anywhere in France – just grab a hot ‘croissant’ or ‘pain au chocolat’ with a ‘café au lait’ or ‘chocolat chaud’ – but as for lunch and dinner, well, it was all overly cheesy (and not even the good cheese) baguettes made with rock-hard bread, overpriced salads or chunky cut chips (not the skinny FRENCH fries that you’re assume you’re getting). At least the waiters were always very charming and entertaining (insert winky-face). Disappointed by the traditional local fare, I opted to eat at non-french restaurants, and here I was pleasantly surprised. I ate a mountain of tasty tempura vegetables with beautiful fresh salmon and tuna sushimi at a lovely little ‘Restaurant Japonais’, which I unfortunately didn’t jot down the name of, and a simply scrumptious serving of of garlic naan dunked in a creamy chicken tikka masala curry (my standard order) at a colourful and warm ‘Restaurant Indien’ named ‘Kastoori‘. Both of these eateries were located a couple of minutes walk around the corner from the Saint-Georges metro station.