My 25th birthday European adventure: Paris

After my stay in Brussels, I took a Thalys train to Paris—from Brussels Midi to Paris Gare du Nord—for the next destination of my Eurotrip. It was wonderful to finally experience first-hand all the places that I read about while studying French in secondary school.

Some serious strategic planning allowed me to thoroughly enjoy Paris in two days. On the first day, I started off at the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile and strolled along the Champs-Élysées where I did a bit of window shopping at the Mercedes Benz and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) stores. I then popped nearby the Jardin des Champs-Élysées for a quick peek of the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, and continued towards the beautiful Pont Alexandre which gives you a stunning view of the Tour Eiffel. Being afraid of heights, I did not dare climb the Tour Eiffel. Instead, I admired its beauty from one of the gardens. On my way back from the Tour Eiffel, I stopped by a free outdoor art exhibition put on by the Musée du Quai Branly called Photoquai 2015: We Are Family—which contained images from four corners of the world (Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas)—and enjoyed an amateur football match among locals at the Esplanade des Invalides.

That night, I had steak with fries for dinner at La Maison Blanche, a gastropub on rue de Dunkerque. Although rue de Dunkerque can be a bit of a tourist trap since it’s opposite the Gare du Nord, La Maison Blanche is a great place to watch sports while having a nice meal (the portions are very generous and I was too stuffed to even consider dessert). The waiter who served me was really nice and gave me a seat where I could watch the Madrid derby. Unfortunately, PSG was also playing that night and another waiter changed the channel (ici c’est Paris, I suppose).

Although my second day in Paris was very rainy, I was lucky to do more sightseeing before the downpours arrived. I spent a fair amount of time at the Jardin des Tuileries looking at the beautiful sculptures and admiring the immaculately manicured hedges, before making my way towards the Louvre. After spending some 30 minutes on a bench by the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel by the Louvre, I found it to be more aesthetically pleasing than the more famous Arc on Champs-Élysées. While wandering around Les Halles, I stumbled upon the Centre Pompidou which did not interest me at all. A huge part of that day was spent in Île de la Cité, particularly at the Notre-Dame–one of the most famous cathedrals in the world (although I think Milan’s Duomo is better). While entry into Notre-Dame is free, it costs around €5 to visit the Treasury if you care to get a look at some of the Catholic Church’s gems—souvenirs from popes and golden chalices—and another €8,50 to go up the towers.

Heavy rain in the evening left me confined to my hotel room which overlooked the Gare du Nord—perfect conditions for people watching. I eventually braved the rain to go to the Moulin Rouge but did not stay in the area for too long since it was a bit too sketchy to be wandering around on my own.

Paris has one of the best transportation links in Europe. With six rail stations, Europe is your oyster (you will most likely be using Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est or Gare de Lyon to get out of France). If you want to enjoy the sights of Europe and have 42 hours and hundreds of euros to spare, then take a train from Paris to Moscow.

Paris has everything to draw Caribbean travellers to Europe: great history, beautiful art, delicious food and stunning architecture. As a history geek, I was especially excited to see the statues of Churchill, Clemenceau and Charles de Gaulle, and various war memorials. My favourite statue was the one of de Gaulle engraved with a quote from a speech delivered after the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation—Paris, Paris outragé, Paris brisé, Paris martyrisé mais Paris libéré—which I believe embodies the resilience of the French.

Verdict on Paris

Best thing: Paris was surprisingly easy to navigate and I rarely needed to look at a map. People even assumed I was a local.

Worst thing: The subway was outrageously filthy.

Must see: The stretch from Champs-Élysées to Rue de Rivoli will give you a peek of some of the best sights in Paris.

Favourite place: Jardin des Tuileries.


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