France / Travels

Paris

We flew from Dublin to Paris on Aer Lingus. Strangely enough, Paris was probably one of the places I was most apprehensive about visiting, despite having been there before (or maybe because we’ve been there before). Last time we visited Paris, it was the first non-English speaking place I had ever visited, so I had no point of comparison. While nobody was rude to us, it became apparent after visiting other european countries that the Parisians were the most aloof and perhaps uncooperative to deal with (despite my sister and I having a little french).

The view from our apartment

We had no such difficulties this time though, perhaps because we didn’t eat out in any restaurants. We ate at McDonalds twice (one breakfast before we had a chance to do groceries, and one dinner when we needed to use their wifi as our flat didn’t have any) and otherwise all our meals were self-catered from grocery stores or bought from street vendors. Everyone we dealt with – landlord, street vendors, ticket salespeople, security, supermarket check-out operators – either had pretty good english they were happy to use or were good-natured about getting by with pointing and a bit of broken french on my behalf. Probably our funniest scenario was when we were going through security at the airport to leave Paris. Andre approached the security guard at the x-ray machine, who I’d heard speaking perfect english 2 minutes earlier, and asked “parlez-vous anglais?”, to which she responded with a deadpan shake of the head, which made me laugh. (She did go on to speak english quite happily after having a laugh).

Our main reason for returning to Paris was the Palace of Versailles. We didn’t get the chance to see it last time we were in Paris, which disappointed Andre. So we spent three nights back there in between Ireland and heading down to Spain.

Versailles was beautiful, but based on how everyone raves about it, I had expected it to be even more impressive. If it’s the only european palace you’ve ever seen, I can understand it. But we’ve seen a lot of palaces now. Versailles is certainly pretty high on the list though, and the hall of mirrors was quite spectacular. We also enjoyed the grounds, although I’m not sure it’s worth paying the extra to see the buildings on Marie Antoinette’s estate – they weren’t really a lot different from the palace itself. It was a beautiful sunny day though, so we got ice-cream and went and lay on the lawn by one of the ponds, feeling appropriately european.

On our second day we went and saw the Musee l’Armee at the Hotel les Invalides, which houses Napoleon’s tomb, among a few other notable french military tombs. The museum itself is a lot more extensive than I expected and we didn’t have time to see the whole thing.

We saw several rooms which covered medieval armour and weapons, through to the War of the Spanish Succession, the French Revolution, and a bit of Napoleon. If you are into military history, or even just French history, it could easily fill a whole day.

After our visit to les Invalides though, we went and had a picnic lunch on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. We once again had perfect weather for sitting outside, and after lunch went to see the Arc de Triomphe – another sight we somehow missed the first time we came to Paris (well, we did see it from basically the other end of the Champs Elysees, but that’s not quite the same). There was some ridiculous charge to go up the arc itself (10 euros I think?) so we just looked at it from below.

Towards the end of the day we spent a bit of time relaxing in the Jardin du Luxembourg which, to my surprise, is basically the gardens of the french Senate building. Parisian parks and gardens tend to be a bit lacking in grass – they prefer large gravel areas for people to walk on and only small patches of grass – but there are lots of flower beds around and trees, and also a lot of children’s play equipment and sporting facilities such as tennis and basketball courts. In fact, Paris has lots of trees around the city in general, which is one thing I like better about it than London.

A few weeks before we came to Paris I read up on galleries and notable paintings housed in Paris to see if we might have the chance to see some. The gallery I was most interested in seeing, the Musee de l’Orangerie, has two rooms dedicated to eight mural-sized paintings of Monet’s waterlily (or les Nympheas) series (of which there are something like 250 around the world). I was most disappointed, however, to discover that the room was closed for restoration while we would be there, and was only due to open the day we left!

As luck would have it, though, the day before we were due to leave, I was struck by a realisation of horror when I tried to look up the details of our flight to Barcelona.

We had no flight to Barcelona.

I had looked at trains and flights to compare prices and travel times, but never ended up booking one.

Fortunately, flights from Paris to Barcelona are pretty common so I was able to find one at the last minute for a reasonable price. (Thank God for the Skyscanner app!) Even better? It was at 5:30pm, which gave us time in the morning to visit the l’Orangerie and see the Les Nympheas rooms!

It turned out to be a pretty miserably rainy day, so it was fortunate that was the day we were planning on being inside a gallery. We were also fortunate that the guy who owned our flat was happy for us to leave our stuff in there as long as we needed until our flight, so we were able to go out in the morning without carrying our bags around.

I felt the l’Orangerie was a bit overpriced for what it was – about 9 euros for a gallery much, much, much smaller than the Louvre (which was about 10 euros when we visited it 3 years ago, although I don’t know how much it is now) which focuses mostly on one style (although impressionism is my favourite). It was pretty cool to see the large Nympheas paintings though, and Andre got an education in impressionist artwork!

We got back to our flat about lunch time, our jeans and shoes pretty soaked from the rain. Even my rain jacket took a long time to dry off hanging up in the flat. Once the landlord’s sister came to collect the keys, we were off again (this time to Orly airport) to fly to Barcelona.

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