One thing I love about a friend is a good friend to travel with.
Chelsea, who I’ve known from my first day in Ireland, is exactly that type of friend! For those who don’t know her, she is a sweet, fun, lovely person who happens to be one of my very best friends. She is also probably the person I’ve travelled with the most.
Paris was our first trip together outside of Ireland. I one-hundred percent cannot stress how excited we were. I mean, Paris.
We didn’t have loads to spend for the trip, so we tried to plan carefully and be as economically minded as possible. Travelling on a budget makes you very aware of your limits, but also gives you great adventure!
Knowing that Paris can be expensive, we booked a hostel in the 12th district of the city and planned to walk every where we wanted to go. We also decided to take hiking backpacks so we could save money on airfare, and we reasoned that by packing several layering outfits and light pairs of shoes, we could still look fly in the city known for fashion. So, off we went.
After checking into the hostel our first afternoon in Paris, we chose to visit the Eiffel Tower. It’s one of the most iconic landmarks in Paris. How else could we have spent our first moments there?
…We may have misjudged a few things.
The hostel we stayed in was cheap, because it was outside the middle of the city. However, it fell sooo far outside the city centre, we probably shouldn’t have walked anywhere.
The walk from out hostel to the Eiffel tower was 7.3 km (4.5 miles), which neither of us considered or looked up before hand.
Each of us wore light, black flats, which (in hindsight) was a terrible choice.
Getting to the tower pretty okay, though. Our walk from the hostel took us along the Seine the whole way, which was beautiful (Fun fact about Paris: a lot of the major tourist sites are visible along the Seine. Sites like the Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Orsay Museum, etc.), and we were so excited to be there, honestly, I didn’t think much about my feet. There was too much to take in.
The river-side walks there are beautiful, the buildings along the roads ornate and lovely, and in several places along the way, there are little pop-up shops that sell paintings and some souvenir items. There are also used-book sellers (bouquinistes) stalls on the Seine, that have apparently been around since the 1500s according to this source.
About half way through the walk, we realised it was taking us a really long time. Also, it had started getting dark by that point. We could see the tower, so we kept walking, but it just took forever. That was the moment, I think, we realised that we may have overestimated ourselves. I think it took us something like a two hour walk to actually get to the Eiffel Tower?
At the end of it, though, we were stilling standing, and seeing the Eiffel tower at night was so worth it. So. Worth. It. The view with the tower lit-up was amazing, and we even got to see it go all “twinkly” (every hour, on the hour, the lights “twinkle” for a minute)!
It was absolutely magical. We went in April and had a perfect Spring evening, and it had the most amazing atmosphere. We ate crepes at a stand close to tower, which were sinfully delicious. We stayed a couple of hours, enjoyed the night air, people watched, and (personally) started dreading the walk back.
By that time, I knew I’d a mistake. As we’d stood and enjoyed the Paris night, I’d gradually become aware of my feet hurting and the possibility that I may have blisters. (I’m pretty sure my gal-friends will understand this, but guys might not? We’ll try it anyway…) You know when you’ve walked too much in flat shoes and the ball of your foot feels kind of like it’s burning? That’s what it felt it like, before we started walking back. My feet are flat anyway, so a lot walking without good shoes isn’t ideal (oops), but this was the beginning of something truly awful.
On the way back, after maybe 1.5 miles, I was done. I could not consider walking the rest of the way back to the hostel and still hope to do anything the next day. Convincing Chelsea we needed to take a cab the rest of the way was a victory, though I’m pretty sure she gave in mostly because of my own desperation. 😅 She is pretty much a super-trooper and would probably have walked the whole way on will-power alone.
Hailing a cab was interesting, too. I kept pitifully limping around the sidewalks and almost jaywalked into Paris traffic because I didn’t want to go the extra steps to a cross walk (thank you, Chels, for helping me make good decisions). I also tried to hail cabs at places they weren’t allowed to stop… In my defence, we didn’t know better.
(Eventually, I had to Google how to hail a cab in France, which made me feel very intelligent, but it can be surprisingly complicated, in my opinion. You generally need to be in designated areas, called “taxi ranks”, which I didn’t know. There’s a radius around the ranks that determines if a cab can pick you up. Essentially, if you’re close to a rank, but not at it, cabs can’t stop for you. You have to go to the rank. If there’s not a rank anywhere near, then they’re able to pick you up from where you’re at.)
After finding where to hail a cab, I used what little French skill I have to direct the driver to our hostel and make a bit of small talk. My feet were a constant, pulsing thought in my head though. They hurt so bad.
If they’d had tear ducts, I’m sure they would have been watering.
After getting back to the hostel and making it up to our room, we each found that our feet were red and puffy, with the beginnings of blisters. We ruined our feet on the first night… and we had four more days of walking.
(Definitely not one of our finer moments, and it didn’t get better from there on.)
We did have some blister cushions that we’d brought, thank goodness, and so decided to let our feet rest for the night, put the blister cushions on in the morning, and take off again.
We woke up, feet slightly appeased, ate packaged pain au chocolat from a vending machine in the hostel (using tokens for the hostel’s free “breakfast”) and planned out the day.
(On a side note, one of my favourite things about travelling with Chelsea is that any trip we take together, we each pick one place that we have to go, we make sure to plan time to do those things, and the rest of the trip, we decide as we go. It’s super relaxing, and I highly recommend it. That way, everyone gets to do the thing they’re dying to, and everything else is a bonus!)
We decided to go back to the Eiffel Tower that day, eat a picnic outside the fence, and then climb it. Afterward, if we had time, we thought we might go to Notre Dame or one of the museums.
(In retrospect, I’ll always ask myself why we chose to walk back to Eiffel Tower… but we did it.)
France gifted us with another lovely day. Gorgeous blue skies, sunny Spring heat, and just the slightest breeze.
We detoured off of the Seine and went to some of the side streets to find a grocer and look in different shops.
We bought some picnic things (wine, cheese, strawberries, bread, and madeleines) and found a great macaroon shop.
After all of our browsing, it took us an even longer time to arrive than the day before, but my feet felt better with the slower pace (and it’s Paris. When in Paris, you browse).
As Chels and I sat under the shadow of the tower, eating our picnic, we felt pretty Parisian, I must say. It was a great moment. I could have been content to sit there for hours, tbh.
After finishing, we went through the gates into the tourist area of the tower and had to stand in line for a long time to buy tickets to climb up.
So, when you climb the Eiffel Tower, you’re only allowed to go to the first and second viewing platforms, but they still give you an incredible view of the city. It’s also still pretty far up.
(Note: there are elevators that will take you much farther up the tower, but, again, Chelsea and I were budget travelling and elevator tickets were not in the budget. )
There are 1,665 steps total on the Eiffel Tower, but only 669 steps to the second viewing platform. I know that because every so often (I’d say every 50) there’s an indicator of how far you’ve climbed and how far you have left, which to me, seems a little mean.
By the time we climbed all the way up, between walking to the tower again, standing in line, and then climbing, our feet were aching again. Not only that but we were out of breath and wondering if anyone’s ever had a heart attack after climbing the Eiffel Tower.
But, again, it’s Paris, so we ignored it and took our time at the viewpoint. It was amazing to stand with a bird’s-eye view of such a historic and culturally rich city. I think it took a minute for it to sink in for both of us that we were really there (tbh, we were also shamelessly taking loads of pictures for each other. That’s another thing we do, always take pictures until each of us is happy).
Then, we made the painful climb down, went straight out of the tower, and across the street to a small park, where we lounged in the grass… waiting for our feet to hurt less.
But honestly, no trip to Paris would be complete without viewing the Eiffel Tower, and I would advocate the experience of climbing it is worth it as well (despite the demise of my feetsies).
After we had somewhat recovered, we walked to some of the historic bridges and took more pictures, looked at the book shops, and headed back across the city.
On our way back to the hostel that afternoon, we did indeed stop at Notre Dame. We sat in its courtyard and ate macaroons outside of the cathedral. It was pretty relaxing. We also got to join the last tour through the cathedral that day. There was a Mass being said, so we didn’t stay long and made our visit as unobtrusive as possible, but wow. Really, wow. That church is incredible. Ten-of-ten would recommend. It’s gorgeous and so peaceful.
The rest of the walk back to the hostel was much the same: Our. Feet. Hurt.
This is a day that I didn’t hate, but I might make different life-choices if I had it to do over again…
Our feet were in serious pain, even before the day began. However, again, Paris. So, we told our feet to stuff-it and made the most of the day.
The catacombs were 3.8km away (2.4 miles), which we felt pretty confident about, since it was closer than the tower had been. Along the way that morning, we stopped for breakfast in a cute Parisian cafe and ate our weight in croissants and pain chocolat.
Afterward, I begged Chels to let me stop at a pharmacy so that I could buy shoe inserts, because, pain.
Then, because I am a master of directions, I got us lost on the way to catacombs. I’d like to defend myself, but I even asked someone for directions and I just did not understand.
We only eventually figured out where we were, because we unexpectedly found ourselves at the Luxembourg Palace:
Keep in mind, this was about a half-hour walk from where we wanted to be…
So, we did what anyone would do in those circumstances. Ate pretzels in the Luxembourg gardens, took an impromptu photo-shoot, and cried about our feet.
We eventually limped to the catacombs and found a gigantic line. Now, this is the part that I wish I could take-back-sees…
Upon finding the line, we should have said, “Oh, no. Let’s go do something else. I bet this isn’t worth it.” Because it wasn’t.
It totally wasn’t.
We waited three hours, three hours, in that stupid line, and once we viewed them, the catacombs certainly weren’t worth it.
There is a lot of cool history about the catacombs, and I advocate learning about them, for sure. However, please don’t waste your time waiting to see them. It’s a mile walk below ground with a lot of bones in damp, poorly-lit tunnels (also, apparently, they’re pretty much always that busy… I think it’s because they only a take a certain number of people down at a time).
After that fiasco, our feet hated us. Hated. Us. Walking was not a good option, and I may have gotten us slightly lost again…
We hailed a cab and took it to the arc de triumphe, which was crazy with traffic. It’s in the middle of a huge roundabout, so there’s about a million cars around it at all times. It looked cool, but there wasn’t a good way we could see to actually get to it… so, that was another “ehh” experience.
We then decided to make up for the day with a nice meal- out, and walked to an outdoor restaurant on one of the avenues off of the roundabout. At that point, the day got even weirder.
The waiter seating us asked us where Chelsea and I were from, and he definitely thought I said Mexico, instead of New Mexico. So, he very politely asked me if I wanted a Spanish menu (this entire conversation occurred in broken French and English). I didn’t have the heart to correct him, so I tried to say that English was just as good, annnd he really, really wanted to be helpful, and I just felt super awkward by that point, so I ended up with a Spanish menu, in France, ordering our food in English… It was interesting for sure.
We had great food, though, and great laughs about the day.
And on our way back that night, we bought ice cream from a cafe truck on the Seine (Again, our feet were miserable. I’m betting y’all understand that by now? Sheer torture of the foot variety).
This day was particularly great.
I loved day four in Paris! I didn’t care how badly my feet hurt, I was going to enjoy day four. We went to my “must see” place in France: the Palace of Versailles.
(A not-so-well-kept secret about me is that I love the history of the French monarchy. So, I was exceptionally stoked about going to one of the most historical places for the monarchy, and the Revolution.)
Chelsea and I took the metro from Paris, which is extremely easy to use and what we should have used all week. After getting to Versailles town, we walked to the palace. I can’t describe how giddy I was walking up to that building. I was so excited and had so much adrenaline, I forgot how badly my feet had been hurting.
Of course, as soon as I saw the (literal) 300+ person line inside the palace courtyard, my excitement dimmed a little.
There were two lines: a fairly short one off to the side and a huge line that snaked back-and-forth across the courtyard. Chelsea and I already had tickets, so we didn’t need to wait in line, and since I wasn’t sure which line was which, I thought it was a good idea to ask someone (I really didn’t want to wait in the huge line only to find that it was the line to buy tickets, if that was the case).
So, Chelsea and I went up toward the front of the line. Spotting a couple taking pictures near the gate of the palace, who looked like they knew what was up, we asked them if that was the line into Versailles. They let us know it was, and generously offered to let us stand in line with them.
We were stoked. I mean, I wasn’t going to argue with someone offering to help me get into the palace and off of my feet faster. So, as we were standing there chatting with them (they were travelling from Hamburg, Germany and were super nice), we thanked them, again, for letting us get in line with them.
To which they responded that they weren’t in line.
They had just cut-in… and then, offered to let us cut with them…
That’s the story of how we ended up line-jumping about 300 tourists with a couple from Hamburg. 😅
At that point, we were about ten people from the palace entrance. Chels and I just looked at each other and then faced straight ahead the whole way into the palace… Feeling about 300 judging stares behind us.
And we’ve laughed about it about that many times, I’m sure.
You know what, though? I have no regrets. My feet were killer and it’s a great conversation starter.
So, here’s to you Hamburg couple, wherever you are. Thank you, y’all are great.
We spent the whole day there. We viewed the palace rooms, drooled over the Hall of Mirrors, walked the gardens as much as we could on our poor feet and just enjoyed the general atmosphere. It was perfect. I could not have been happier. I loved it.
(Side note, my favourite garden on the Versailles grounds was featured in the film A Little Chaos. Not a huge budget movie, but a very sweet tale.)
On our last day in Paris, we went to the Louvre, which was Chelsea’s “must see” place.
Our feet hurt as badly as ever, and were super swollen, but at that point, we had lost the will to care.
We also had our hiking backpacks with us, because we were leaving that day and couldn’t keep the bags at the hostel. Once we got to the Louvre, we realised that they have a policy against allowing large bags into the museum, for security reasons.
So, we had to take turns going in while one of us stayed with the bags. (Pro-tip to anyone who may go to Paris in the future: don’t take bags to the Louvre, and use the entrance below ground, under the pyramid. There’s way less people waiting to get in.)
While Chels went inside the Louvre, I camped downstairs with the bags, and I ended up getting pulled into a really long talking/miming conversation with a woman who was waiting there for some kind of fashion convention. It was an exercise in perseverance for sure, because she spoke just a little English, but understood French much better, and I spoke just a little French, but understood English much better. So, we sat there for over an hour with her speaking in English and me responding in French and both of us making liberal use of hand gestures. It was definitely an experience to remember, and made me glad for the opportunity to practice a different language.
When it was my turn to go inside, I was honestly a little overwhelmed. There’s loads of history (general, cultural, and some military), beautiful and intriguing art, and lots of benches to sit on (always a “plus”). I would say that a person could take days to really “see” all the Louvre has to offer
My favourite parts of Louvre I saw were Napoleon’s apartments, which I would argue are equally or more opulent than Versailles.
Case in point:
All in all, it was a fantastic “last day” choice. Visit the Louvre if you’re ever in Paris, and give yourself more time than an afternoon. It’s definitely something you’ll want more time for.
But really, what better way to farewell Paris?
After we both took our turns inside the museum, we took a cab to a Flixbus station, got on an outbound bus to Spain, and that was the end of it. Our Parisian adventure over and done *le sigh*.
Of course, our feet would take a while to forgive us for the abuse we put them through, but we’d had an amazing time and learned valuable lessons: shoes are the most important part of every wardrobe. And sometimes it’s worth it to pay a little more money to stay closer to the city…