Monday, March 23, 2015

48 Hours in Paris

What to do during Spring Break when you have two huge projects due but a ton of Army leave burning a hole in your LES? Put in a leave form and Space-A to Europe with your husband, of course!
Since I did have a TON of work to do for school (like, 30 page draft of a paper on sexual assault laws, and a 124 FN sourcepull), we decided to keep it fairly short. I originally wanted to spend two days in Belgium and Luxembourg, since I haven't seen those countries, but K has never been to Paris, so we made that our priority. We ended up with two full days of travel and two full days in Paris. Here's my travel tips for such a short trip:

Day 1: Travel
Since there are regular Air Mobility Command flights out of Baltimore to Ramstein, Germany, we figured this would be our best bet to get to Europe and back. We kept an eye on their facebook page for a week or so before, to see if there were any patterns, and to see how many other people would be signed up for seats on the flight we wanted. We ended up getting on a flight that left about 1am on Monday morning out of BWI, and landed in Ramstein around 1:30pm. The time change makes a huge difference when you're traveling east!  After landing, we got some food and euros at the base, then waited for a taxi to take us to the Landstuhl train station. From there, we took a local train to Saarbrucken, then had a two hour wait for an express train to Paris. While in Saarbrucken, we did head to a local bar near the train station and got some food, and delicious German beer for K. Even though we had hoped to have time for dinner in Paris that night, we ended up getting in around 9pm, and then took the metro over to the apartment we booked on Airbnb. Too late for dinner! At K's insistence, though, we did hop over to Harry's New York Bar, home of the original Bloody Mary. It did feel very New York-ish, and had a great piano player in the downstairs portion. I don't like bloody mary's, but K definitely approved of this one. Bonus points: they have college pennants pinned up all over the main floor, so see if you can find yours! (We found West Point in several places, but no Mary Baldwin)

I decided that an apartment from Airbnb would be a better option for this trip, rather than a hotel, since it would theoretically be cheaper and more convenient. We booked this place, and the whole process was fairly painless, even with arriving much later than we expected. It was a tiny apartment tucked into the corner of an old Paris apartment building, but right on the Rue du Marche Saint-Honore, and about a five minute walk to either the Opera, Place Vendome, or the Louvre. I couldn't have asked for a better spot, and the price was perfect!

Day 2: Seeing the Sites
Notre Dame - Crypte Archeologique - Saint-Chappelle - Musee Rodin - Les Invalides (Musee de L'Armee/Tombeau du Napoleon - Eiffel Tour - Arc de Triomphe 

We tried to fit in a lot all in one day. I'm pretty terrible at taking pictures, so I don't have many, but I have lots of great memories! We started off with grabbing an espresso and croissant at a bakery near the apartment, then walked through the Tuileries and down the Seine until we hit Notre Dame. There was maybe a five minute wait to get inside, which I tried to explain to K was pretty much empty for Paris. He hates lines anyways, so I don't think he was convinced. We opted not to climb the tower or take a special tour, and just wandered around for a while, admiring all the side chapels and just the amazing history in the cathedral. I lit a candle to St. Joan of Arc while we there, too. Near the back of the cathedral there are a few small exhibits about the development of the cathedral, which were pretty interesting to see. It's amazing how something that we still think is huge and impressive was built so long ago; I can only imagine being a peasant outside of Paris and being able to see it for miles around.

After that, we went over to a store a few blocks away to pick up a 2-day Paris Museum Pass. Even though Notre Dame is free and the Eiffel Tower isn't on the pass, I would highly recommend getting one of these for any trip to Paris!! It might encourage you to stop in a small museum you might not other otherwise see, and you get a separate line at some places, like the Louvre. Definitely worth it, in my opinion! Even if you just do the Louvre and Versailles, both on the pass, it's worth the money.

Right across from where we bough the pass was Saint-Chappelle, which I had never put on my list of places to go, but K insisted, since he apparently is a big fan of gothic stained glass. We waited in line for another five or ten minutes, then strolled through the Palace of Justice to the chapel, right in the middle. It was indeed stunning. Words can't really describe being surrounded by so many amazing, intricate glass windows. The artistry was truly spectacular.

Next up, we hoofed back towards Notre Dame to see the archaeological crypt, which was dug near the entrance to Notre Dame. They tried to put these ancient Roman ruins in context, but it was just a little awkward. If you have a good imagination and/or love ancient foundations, it's fun (that's me); if you don't, you can skip it.

K is also apparently a big fan of Rodin, so next up was Musee Rodin, a short walk away. I was more interested in the former girls school turned museum, but unfortunately, the main building is under renovations, so we just wandered the gardens and enjoyed a quick lunch at their cafe. I am not nearly as fascinated in the Gates of Hell, but seeing The Thinker up close was interesting.

A few blocks away is Les Invalides, with the Army Museum and Napoleon's Tomb. Of course we stopped there, and spent a few hours exploring the exhibits on the World Wars. It' always interesting to see an exhibit from a non-American perspective. The area also used to be  home for war veterans, which is pretty cool.
Note on Napoleon's Tomb: it's not really a tomb. It's actually a chapel, built somewhat inspired by St. Peter's in Rome, and by itself is truly magnificent. Napoleon was just such a humble guy he had his sarcophagus placed in what was once the sanctuary behind the main altar (OK technically he was dead for twenty years by the time he was moved there, but still), and now the nave is closed off for services while the "tomb" part is open for visitors. Unbelievable.

From there it was a quick jaunt, with a crepe stop, to the Eiffel Tower. This isn't on the Museum Pass, so I would normally recommend getting tickets online at least 24 hours in advance. We didn't have time for that, though, and luckily, Paris is pretty much empty this time of year! Another ten minutes in line for tickets, ten minutes to wait for the elevator, and we were off. The longest wait of the day was possibly at the second level, waiting for the tiny elevator all the way to the top. We made it,though, just in time to realize the champagne bar was closed! We had to wait in the cold at the top of the tower for at least 15 minutes to get a glass of rose champagne to toast being in Paris. Cheers!
The day was pretty foggy, which eventually got to my allergies and made the next day pretty miserable, and also roughed up our pictures. Boo.

By this time, I just wanted to sit down and rest my poor feet. We briefly considered a dinner cruise, but ended up pushing through until we made it to the Arc de Triomphe. We had passed by the Arc du Carrousel earlier in the day, and I had tried to explain just how huge the original was, but there is nothing quite like seeing an arc that an airplane can fly through. I absolutely refused to climb to the top, so we just wandered around the outside, then headed down the Champs Elysees in search of dinner. After some delicious chicken and fries, we took the metro back to our place, and I almost immediately fell asleep.

Day 3: All of the art!
Angelina's - Louvre - Musee L'Orangerie - Musee D'Orsay - more Angelina's 
Day Two in Paris was all bout the art! K and I disagree on this a little bit: he apparently prefers more impressionist pieces, while I love "pieces with a history," as I call them, or older portraits and religious paintings with a rich story behind them. We started the day at Angelina's, just a few blocks from the apartment, and indulged in a week's worth of croissants, bread, fresh orange juice, delicious coffee, and, of course, the hot chocolate. Angelina's in a Paris destination on its own, if just for the beautiful pastries and hot chocolate. I thought it looked a little meltier than it did last time I was there, so we thought maybe we'd come back later, or hit up the Angelina's in the Louvre.

Next up, the Louvre! There's a line for Museum Pass holders right at the main entrance pyramid, so we headed there and got right inside. From there, we found our way to the Nike of Samothrace first, then the Venus de Milo. We then took some time to wander the ancient art before hitting up the Italian wing and finding the Mona Lisa. For whatever reason, even if the rest of the museum feels fairly empty, there is always a pushing, shoving crowd right in front of the Mona Lisa. We then wandered the rest of the wing, looped back around through the grand formats, and through the main palace and through part of the Richeliue wing before heading back towards the center.

The plan was to get lunch at the Musee D'Orsay, so we stopped by the L'Orangerie first to view Monet's water lilies. I love these paintings, and really wanted K to see them. We also enjoyed he Renoir exhibit on the lower level.

Next was the D'Orsay and the cafe behind the clock! I was actually disappointed in the menu here, since I couldn't have almost anything from the menu except the pasta and didn't really want that for lunch. Darn you France, and your delicious soft cheeses and wines and meats! We ended up just splitting an appetizer and deciding to look around before heading out for some lunch.
Perhaps because my vision is already terrible and I see things blurry, I don't quite appreciate pointillism or impressionism or much of that kind of art. It's pretty to look at, but not the same as a portrait. We also saw more Rodin.

heading back, we were going to return to the Louvre, but detoured back to Angelina's for a mont blanc pastry and some tea. I wanted to return to the Louvre, but since it was after 5, we decided to take a quick nap and head back later, since it's open until 9:45 on Wednesdays. We didn't make it back.

On our last night, we were going to enjoy one of the many cafes near our apartment. After looking at all the menus, though, we were surprised by the fact that almost all of them featured either burgers or bagel sandwiches, or, burgers on a bagel. Ultimately we ended up at a Japanese ramen shop not too far away. Weird, but delicious. That night, we packed up, and set an alarm for an early morning train back to Germany.

Day 4: Return travel
The last day, we took a train back from Gare du L'Est back the way we came, and checked in at the Ramstein passenger terminal for the day's flight back to BWI. Since we were #6 on the list, and about 150 seats were open, we made the flight, and even got upgraded to first class seats on the old commercial jet. So much leg room! I was originally planning on taking some Benadryl and sleeping the whole flight back, since my allergies were pretty horrendous at this point (I forgot to pack any Claritin, and my eyes were both starting to get a little pink). I dozed off for a little bit though, and instead enjoyed reading some old Star Wars novels on my Nook and ignoring the documents I should have been reviewing on my computer. We landed around 9pm Baltimore time, grabbed our luggage, and headed home for a good night's rest on my own pillow.

What I packed
The weather in Paris in March is fairly temperate, but I hear it can be a little unpredictable, so I'd say pack layers! I brought two long sleeve sweaters in merino wool (yes, it's Tippi season), a pair of maternity Minnie pants in black, and a teal jacket and Lilly Pulitzer scarf. On travel days I wore the jacket with a pair of leggings, a white popover, and sweater. The only shoes I brought were Toms, one pair of regular fleece lined ones and one pair of wedges. K definitely overpacked, and brought a few pairs of jeans, several polo shirts, a leather jacket, and other odds and ends. He carried the suitcase the whole way so I don't care.

Final tips
- Definitely get the Museum Pass! Like I said, it makes everything just a little bit easier.
- You don;t need to plan on eating in restaurants or cafes every meal, there are tons of stops along the streets to get crepes or baguette sandwiches, and tons of parks to stop and eat, which I usually prefer. If you're tired though, stopping for an hour at a cafe and doing some people watching is a good way to rest.
- To reduce the amount of walking, plot out your main sites at the beginning of the day, so you don't end up backtracking too much. The metro is also an easy way to get places, but take time to enjoy the city!

And that's what I did on spring break this year. Whew. 

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