Paris lured me in like a fish on a hook from the moment I set foot on the city’s bustling streets in June of 2015.
Fast forward two years and I am back in the beloved city. I always thought Paris was over-romanticized in movies until I experienced the magic of the city myself. It’s the city of light and love; a place oozing passion, romance and exuberance. Paris is steeped in culture and history, and offers world-class museums, monuments, food, fashion and more. The city is also enormous, which I realized after gazing at the vast landscape from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
I spent three days in Paris at the end of June with Niko and my family, followed by a week all together in Italy and Finland. For me, there are few better things in life than traveling with Niko and traveling with my family. Thus, when I get to combine the two entities, life couldn’t get much better.
Whole squad atop the Eiffel Tower
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D A Y O N E
It was the morning of June 27 and a surprisingly cool, crisp day for summertime in Paris. My mom, dad and brother were on a direct flight from Raleigh, and were bound to arrive soon. Niko and I arrived in Paris the night before so we could settle into our Airbnb and prepare to greet them. It was the third week of my Eurotrip, and I was ecstatic to be reunited with my family. On the morning of, I was constantly refreshing the Delta flight tracker until the words “ARRIVED” flashed on my screen around 9 a.m.
Two hours passed, and I hadn’t heard a word from any of my family members. My dad was supposed to have an international phone plan, but my text messages weren’t delivering to him and I began to wonder what the hold-up was. I decided to head to the cafe next door with Niko and grab a table outside while we waited. I figured they were either stuck in a long customs line at the Charles de Gaulle airport or en route to the Airbnb.
By a stroke of luck, their taxi arrived within minutes of us sitting down at the cafe! I saw my mom’s mop of blonde curls bouncing, my dad’s hands waving enthusiastically, and Cole smiling sleepily. I leaped out of my seat and ran to the taxi door, squealing in excitement. They made it!
“We only got one hour of sleep!” my dad exclaimed, his bloodshot eyes revealing a mixture of both exhaustion and excitement.
“But we’re ready to explore!” chimed my mom, a woman with ceaseless energy regardless of travel fatigue.
I’m clearly the travel wimp of the family because when I arrived in Europe a few weeks ago, the first thing I did was take a long nap. Long travel days always wipe me out. The rest of my family, on the other hand, powered through day one in Paris. They decided to stay up all day in order to adjust quicker to the six-hour time change. This required fueling up with crepes and croque monsieurs, coupled with a café au lait for my mom, an espresso shot for Cole (his first one ever!), and a glass of red wine for my dad.
Our Airbnb stood atop a hill minutes from the Sacre Coeur Basilica, a stunning white Roman Catholic church. The Airbnb was adorned with modern furniture and a loft with a retractable roof! Sadly, the previous Airbnb guests had somehow broken part of the roof mechanics (kind of surprised it wasn’t my own family that broke the roof…), so it wasn’t usable during our stay. Regardless, I loved waking up to sunshine streaming through the large glass window panes every morning. Well, that’s a stretch…the light was slightly blinding in the early morning. Niko was smart and slept with an eye mask.
While the Airbnb was upscale and centrally located, it lacked hot water and air conditioning. I was the first one to take a shower, and I almost screamed when the freezing water hit my skin. My dad actually did scream! Cole and Niko, however, insisted that they enjoy cold showers to wake them up in the morning. After my mom tested the water temperature, she admitted, “I honestly thought Cole and Niko were a little insane when they said they like cold showers…but I ended up liking the water temperature too. It woke me right up!”
The lack of air conditioning didn’t affect us much either because Paris’ heat spell had just ended. All we had to do was open a few windows before going to bed, which cooled down the entire flat. It rained on and off during the three days, but after buying two umbrellas from a street vendor, we were good to go.
Protected by umbrellas as we waited in line for the Musée d’Orsay
My mom is a trip planner extraordinaire, so she lined up the majority of our activities before even arriving in Europe. She spent two summers living in Paris when she was younger, so she has a fervent love for the city and eagerly led our pack during the three-day venture. This was my dad’s and Cole’s first time visiting Paris. My dad enjoyed Paris more than he originally expected, and Cole seemed to have a pretty typical 17-year-old reaction to the city. Neither enchanted nor bored.
“Was this trip anything like you expected?” I asked him after several days into our travels.
“I mean, I guess so…I figured we’d be walking around a lot and looking at buildings and stuff. It’s been cool,” Cole replied nonchalantly.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Cole had a blast hanging out with Niko and me during the trip. The three of us would hit the town together at night, stay up late playing poker and even have some freestyle rap battles. I loved getting more one-on-one time with my brother since we’ve both been so busy over the years with school, work and sports.
During the afternoon on our first day, we walked around the Sacre Coeur Basilica and took in the surrounding views before hopping on a metro to Notre-Dame Cathedral, a medieval Catholic church dating back to the mid-1200s. We considered touring the top of the cathedral, but tickets were already sold out by the time we got in line, so make sure to buy tickets in advance! We also visited the Musée d’Orsay, a famous art museum, where my mom gushed over every Monet painting.
Views of the city from Sacre Coeur hilltop
My big moment of the day: trying escargots (SNAILS) for the first time. Those close to me know that this is a pretty big deal. I was an insanely picky eater for nearly 20 years until I came to the realization that the majority of food is delicious if you actually eat it rather than just sniffing it. Seriously, I would get a whiff of food and automatically decide whether or not I would try it. More often than not, I wrinkled my nose and refused to eat any food foreign to my minuscule palate. 20 bland years without sushi, salad and BLTs!
But back to the snails – they were doused in butter, garlic and pesto, and were to die for. Then again, what isn’t delicious when coated in butter, garlic and pesto?
By the end of the day, my parents and Cole were running on fumes, but they made it until 8 p.m. before passing out. Cole even managed to wake up from an evening nap to join Niko and me for a night out on the town!
It was an amazing feeling being all together in Europe. I loved being able to hug and kiss and laugh with my family after weeks of communicating through a phone screen. There were hardly any moments of silence among the five of us aside from when we were too busy stuffing our faces with food. 🙂
5 Things You Must Eat In Paris
- Croque-monsieur – This baked ham and cheese sandwich is a must-have. While it may seem simple, there’s something undeniably delicious about the gooey meat and cheese filling slapped between two slices of French bread slathered in butter. Another version is a croque madame, which includes a fried egg.
- Escargot – This translates to ‘edible snail.’ Escargot is one of the most famous French delicacies. The snails are typically cooked with garlic butter, chicken soup or wine and you use special tongs and forks to hold the shell and grip the meat. You’ll either love it or hate it, but it’s definitely worth trying.
- Pain au chocolat – This sweet croissant bread stuffed with chocolate is sold at just about every cafe and market. I think it’s best to enjoy this pastry with your coffee or tea in the morning.
- Speculoos – You can read my rant about the wonders of Speculoos in my Southern France blog here, but seriously…don’t leave France without trying this magical cookie butter.
- Baguette – Although baguettes are ubiquitous in U.S. grocery stores, nothing beats a French baguette in France. The bread is distinctly different and more delectable. I recommend having a baguette with some meat, cheese, olives and wine, and enjoying a picnic by the Eiffel Tower!
Dad’s feelings on Paris
D A Y T W O
At this point, my dad had coined the motto of the 10-day trip: Deny yourself nothing. Whether it was decadent desserts, extravagant drinks, a souvenir, or a chocolate bar at midnight…there were no restrictions. My dad emphasized that these trips only happen every so often, so we took advantage and seized every moment…along with every dessert. Treat yo self.
Pasties on pastries on pastries
My feelings about ‘deny yourself nothing’
Thanks to my mom’s planning expertise, our second day in Paris consisted of a guided tour of the Château de Versailles. The history of the palace dates back to the 17th century, and is heavily associated with King Louis XIV, who renovated and expanded the château in the 1660s to become one of the largest palaces in the world. You’ve also probably heard of the Treaty of Versailles, a peace treaty that ended World War I and was signed in Versailles in 1919. The palace has been transformed into a museum and is now a major tourist attraction.
We arrived in Versailles around noon, and there was a line of over 200 people wrapping around the palace gates. Our driver informed us that it usually takes 2-3 hours to get inside. Thanks to my savvy-mama, we had a skip-the-line pass with our guided tour, so we managed to walk right inside within minutes of arriving.
I absolutely recommend doing a guided tour of the Château de Versailles. You learn so much about the history of the palace and the royal family, along with interesting anecdotes about the kings and queens. I’ve toured several palaces in Europe and I’m always awestruck by the sweeping rooms filled with stunning, ornate furnishings, but it’s not as intriguing without knowing the full history.
Our wonderful tour guide
Ha! The tour guide must’ve said something funny!
That royal bed though…
The tour lasted an hour and a half, followed by some free time to explore, yet it wasn’t nearly enough time to see all of the sights. The estate spans about three square miles, with massive gardens and fountains surrounding the area.
Around 5 p.m., we loaded back into the sleek black Mercedes van zipping us around for the day. Our driver offered to drop us anywhere in the city on our way home, so we began rerouting the rest of our evening. He advised that we visit the top of the Eiffel Tower in the evening because the crowds are thinner. We all assumed he was only suggesting this due to the convenience of dropping us in the heart of the city rather than at our hilltop Airbnb (he had complained a bit about our location when he first picked us up), but we heeded his advice and got dropped off near the Eiffel Tower.
It turns out, his advice was spot on! By the time we arrived at the tower, the lines were practically nonexistent. The timing was also in our favor because a rainstorm had rolled in an hour prior, so fewer people were visiting the famous monument. We got our tickets, loaded into the elevator and dashed up to the top.
The 360-degree balcony was small and packed with tourists, but we were able to squeeze our way to the front and take in the exceptional views. Cole, Niko and I ended up playing I Spy: Paris. We’d scan the expansive city for inconspicuous objects and give hints to one another until we located the target. “I spy…a wall covered in colorful graffiti…I spy…a building that looks like the Space Needle…” Admittedly, we probably spent more time playing the game than thoroughly appreciating the surrounding scenery.
Cole, probably in the midst of scoping out ‘I Spy’ objects
“Have you found the orange swing set yet?”
After doing a full loop around the tower, we headed back down to ground-level, where we devoured crepes and made our way across the street to gaze at the Eiffel Tower from a distance. It was only 10 p.m., and we couldn’t decide whether it was worth it to hang around an extra hour waiting for the tower to sparkle. Promptly at 11 p.m., the Eiffel Tower lights up like a Christmas tree for five minutes, casting a glittering glow on the city.
Somehow, the hour of sitting went by faster than expected, and before we knew it, the giant structure was flashing before our eyes. It was a brief but remarkable spectacle.
That night, I went to bed with a stomach ache.
Two hours later, I woke up with a pulsing pit in my stomach that was slowly climbing up to my throat. I raced to the bathroom where Cole, the night owl, was washing his hands. I shoved open the door and yelped, “I’m gonna be sick!”
Without question, he moved out of the way and I dove for the toilet, where I proceeded to discard of everything in my stomach.
I still don’t know what hit me. It may have been food poisoning, but the only things in my stomach were a crepe and penne pasta. When’s the last time anyone got food poisoning from penne pasta?? Still unsure what caused the random sickness, but luckily I felt completely fine the following morning.
3 Things I Learned in Paris
- Saying “Bonjour” is necessary. Bonjour is not just a casual greeting the way hello is in English. Bonjour is an integral part of the French language, and it’s a major gaffe to forget to say “bonjour” when approaching someone in France. I read all about this in a written piece my Uncle Lloyd sent me, and observed the faux pas firsthand when Cole ordered a crepe without first saying “bonjour” to the vendor. The vendor just stared at him for a few seconds, and then snarled, “BONJOURRRR.” Cole stared at him in confusion and I whispered, “Say it back.” Once Cole uttered the sacred seven-letter word, the man willingly took his order. This happened again a few minutes later when another customer ordered a crepe without saying the proper greeting. Lesson learned.
- Eating is highly ritualized. Meals are not to be taken lightly in France. The French typically eat meals at fixed times during the day and they aren’t big on snacking. Most people say “Bon appétit” when dishes are served, and it means much more than wishing someone a “good appetite.” It is a widely spoken phrase acknowledging that eating is about to take place. French food is world-renowned, so it’s easy to understand why the French take eating so seriously.
- Toilet paper is often pink or orange. I just found that very interesting.
D A Y T H R E E
Our last day in Paris was dedicated to squeezing in every last sight and sound. We took the subway to the Louvre Museum, where we snapped some photos outside and admired the large glass pyramid located in front. My mom, Niko and I have visited the museum before, so we decided to avoid the never-ending ticket line (which I once stood in for 2+ hours).
Somehow we evaded the pickpockets who typically swarm this area. In 2015, Niko and I witnessed about a dozen thieves in action, some of them slyly slipping their hands into purses while others blatantly grabbed people’s bags and ran. The pickpockets often have some sort of distraction, such as a petition they’ll wave in front of your face as they dig into your bag. I always keep my purse slung across my chest and I place my hand on top of the latch whenever I’m in crowded areas.
We wandered through the Jardin des Tuileries before heading to the Champs-Élysées. This famed avenue runs for almost two kilometers, and is lined with practically every major retailer imaginable, along with restaurants, cafes and car showrooms. The flagship Louis Vuitton store always draws a huge crowd. Both times I’ve explored the Champs-Élysées, a long line of people waiting to get their hands on deluxe handbags and accessories was formed outside.
Rain started to beat down on us after a few minutes of window shopping, so we slipped into the closest store – Sephora – where my mom ended up getting her eyebrows colored while the rest of us spritzed ourselves with perfumes and colognes. The only times I’ve smelled especially good during my Eurotrip are after showering and dabbing a dime-size amount of my travel-size coconut lotion on my arms and legs, so using perfume felt like a luxury!
The final must-see of the trip was the Arc de Triomphe, perched at the end of the Champs-Élysées. Here, we entertained ourselves by taking goofy photos and GoPro videos before hopping on a metro to head back to our quiet neighborhood near Sacre Coeur. We had our last meal in Paris at a quaint restaurant with only a handful of tables. All five of us ordered a specialty chicken dish, topped off with chocolate mousse for dessert. We refused to leave Paris without a serving of chocolate mousse!
It was so wonderful getting to see my family and Niko become closer by the day. After almost three years of dating, Niko has gotten to know my family very well, especially since his parents live in Chapel Hill as well. Even when we were a long distance couple, he came home a lot and spent time with both his family and mine. He’s tagged along on my family’s trips to the lake and our farmhouse, but a 10-day international trip all together was a huge leap. He fit in so well, putting up with our silly family antics and witnessing the nuances of my family members’ personalities and relationships. My mom commented on how easy Niko is to travel with – he’s low maintenance, easy to please and always willing to be the navigator. We relied on him to guide us to monuments, attractions and metro stations for the majority of the trip because he is Google Maps-fluent and has a knack for directions.
This picture will always make me laugh – Niko got trapped in a conversation with a semi-senile woman walking her dog near our Airbnb
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Traveling with my parents was also a huge treat for Niko and I. Relative to our frugal travel ways, we were wining, dining and exploring like kings and queens with my family. Especially due to the “deny yourself nothing” motto. There were fewer cheap supermarket meals, and more exquisite restaurant dishes. The quality of the food, drinks, activities and photographs (thanks to my dad’s Nikon camera) was unparalleled. Not to mention the fabulous company of my four favorite people. 🙂