Travel Report: A Long Ago Weekend in Paris.
A Long Ago Weekend in Paris.
I have read countless travel blogs about Paris over the years. Moreover, I enjoyed Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and just adore Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s perfect, Paris-set romantic comedy Amelie. (I once interviewed Jeunet, but that’s another story). Usually, whenever I get these little tastes of the French capital, I end up thinking, oh I really should go one day.
And then I have to remind myself that I did go! It was one weekend nearly sixteen years ago. I was just 28 years old, a million miles away from the type of traveller I am now. With my blog not even a glint in the eye, I booked up my trip without much research. Indeed I had no particular plan other than to wander the city and see where the path took me.
I didn’t take nearly as many photos back in those days. Nor had I yet begun my diligent note taking that has served me so well for blogging up old trips. Hence you’ll have to take this report as you find it. I have simply done my best to piece it all together with the material available and my somewhat muddy memories.
I have no idea where I stayed in Paris. Not a Scooby Doo. However, I do remember wasting no time in my digs and heading straight out into the city. It was a warm September afternoon as I hit the Parisian streets. Within just ten minutes I’d stumbled upon my first landmark, the iconic Arc De Triomphe. So keen was I to go up, I actually forgot to photograph the facade.
A Long Ago Weekend in Paris.
Photo courtesy of Jiuguang Wang.
Built between 1806 and 1836, the Arc De Triomphe is a Neoclassical Roman style arch commissioned by Napoleon to honour those who died for France during The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
A 234-step winding staircase took me to the monument’s summit for striking views across the city. I vaguely recall grumbling about the 12 Euro entrance fee. But it was surely worth it, just to see how the city’s numerous avenues seemingly sprout forth from the arch.
Viewed from above, the streets appear (to me at least) like the petals of a flower. It’s a stunning design by the architect Jean Chalgrin, who took inspiration from The Arch of Titus in Rome.
If I ever make it back to Paris, I’d like to do a single article on the arch. After all, there’s so much more I could and should have paid attention to. Such as the six handsome reliefs depicting The French Revolution and the First World War Tomb of The Unknown Soldier.
A short while later, I found myself strolling onto Avenue des Champs-Elysees, a two kilometre stretch packed full of historical monuments, shops, luxury boutiques and fancy restaurants. I recall the entire avenue was spotlessly clean, despite being stuffed with tables and chairs from across the various eateries.
Avenue des Champs-Elysees.
Photo courtesy of Josh Hallett.
A relaxed vibe prevailed, the air awash with light chatter and the clinking of spoons against coffee cups. Thus I opted to take a seat myself and order a cappuccino. It was pretty average and gone in barely two mouthfuls. I was not impressed, even less so when I realised these babies go for €6.40 a cup. I dread to think what one would pay these days.
Follow Avenue des Champs-Elysees down to the eighth arrondissement at its eastern end and you’ll arrive at Place de la Concorde, a giant public square built in the 1770s. But don’t be fooled by it’s classic facades and gorgeous Beaux-arts fountains. Because this was the grisly site of numerous public executions throughout the 18th century.
Photo courtesy of Tristan Nitot.
Indeed this is where poor old King Louis XVI was guillotined on the 21st of January 1793. And where his beloved Marie Antoinette met the same fate just nine months later. Ah, the good old French Revolution.
The only shot I took that day on the square was of the towering Luxor Obelisk, a 3000 year old Egyptian needle. This incredible monument once stood outside Egypt’s Luxor Temple. In 1833 it travelled by boat to France as part of a cultural exchange deal between The French government and Muhammad Ali Pasha, the ruler of Ottoman Egypt. Amazingly, all Muhammad wanted in return was an antique French mechanical clock!
A Long Ago Weekend in Paris.
Just across the road, I instinctively dipped into Tuileries Garden, one of Paris’ finest public parks. Queen Catherine de’ Medici created it in 1564 as part of the royal palace, though it was eventually unveiled as a public park following The French Revolution.
In the eastern part of the garden, I stoped to hang out by the renowned Grand Bassin, a circular pond with a jet stream fountain. Once upon a time this was exclusively for The Queen’s enjoyment. Now of course it’s for everyone, while in good weather you can hang out on the garden chairs that line the water. Yup, that’s the Luxor Obelisk poking out of the background.
Near the pond, I came across a local artist painting under a tree. His romantic and playful paintings were quite charming and he endeared himself to me by not bothering with any kind of sales pitch.
Leafing through his work, I settled on one I liked and paid him in cash. I can’t remember how much he asked for, but it surely wasn’t much. What’s more, he took great care in rolling his masterpiece up and inserting it into a storage tube for me. While I can’t be 100% sure, I do believe that painting is in one of my famous life boxes stored in the north of Scotland.
Exploring the French Capital.
Wherever you are in Paris, it seems all roads lead to The Louvre. I saw it towering above the trees long before I actually exited the park. Needless to say it was teeming with people that day. Outside, there were various signs indicating I’d need to wait somewhere between 60-90 minutes to get in. Nah, I thought and continued on my merry way. Another huge reason to go back one day.
From The Louvre my aimless wanderings took in some intriguing pieces of art. Take the sculpture Écoute, for example, by the artist Henri de Miller. The piece (called Listen in English) sits outside the breathtaking St. Eustache Church.
Dating back to 1532, St. Eustache is one of the city’s most visited churches. Indeed it would take some time to wade through all its impressive history. Among the highlights, the Italian born French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully got married here. Oh, and a guy called Mozart passed through its doors to attend his mother’s funeral in 1778. She was subsequently buried in the church cemetery. Today the church is a major music venue.
Speaking of churches, I did of course swing by the world famous Notre-Dame Cathedral. Regardless of whether you’ve been to Paris or not, just about everyone and his dog knows this church, one of the world’s finest examples of Gothic architecture.
A Long Ago Weekend in Paris.
Nevertheless, it has to be seen in the flesh, so to speak, to be truly believed. As for the history, it’s just ridiculous. Another reason to come back to The City of Love and give it some proper Leighton Travels treatment.
For it was right here that Napoleon’s coronation unfolded in 1804. The building that inspired the great Victor Hugo to pen his classic 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Where numerous French presidents have been laid to rest. I’m certainly glad I got to see it as it was, before the awful fire that devastated the cathedral in April 2019.
On my second day I wiled away most of the morning at Centre Pompidou, Paris’ dizzying complex of art exhibitions, museums, cinemas and gargantuan public library. It’s safe to say I have never seen a building quite like it, a structure that has all its functional components (plumbing, electrics, air circulation, wires, pipes and escalators) built on the outside. Why not.
Opened in 1977, The Pompidou got its name from French President Georges Pompidou, who dreamed up the concept of a massive cultural hub right in the heart of Paris. To find out more and see what the latest events are, check in with the official website.
Exploring the French Capital.
With the clock running down on my Paris adventure, I figured it wise to head over to The Eiffel Tower and do what had to be done before dinner. But unfortunately, as an actual experience, I can’t say I enjoyed it much at all.
As one of Planet Earth’s most iconic sights, there were huge crowds, as you’d expect. The number of bodies I could just about deal with. The irritating children getting caught under my feet and the scowling armed guards peppered around the base… less so.
Still, I ploughed on. I did catch my breath for a moment when I first caught sight of the famous tower as I made my approach. Then, it was quite a workout as I tackled the 674 steps to the second floor.
I could’ve gone the extra mile to the third viewing platform I guess. But on that day, in that moment, I decided I was content with the views I already had. Definitely worth it in the end. Next time, I’d very much like to go that extra mile, particularly to see Gustave Eiffel’s restored office.
My final evening in Paris played out in the lovely Latin Quarter, a lively neighbourhood of atmospheric, cobblestone streets. It’s also home to Sorbonne University, dating back to 1257. The world’s first university, according to some historians.
As legend has it, those original scholars would roam the streets speaking Latin as they sought out local watering holes. And so the neighbourhood got its name. That night the entire district was positively joyous, a live band belting out Spanish rock from a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall bar.
A Long Ago Weekend in Paris.
Quite a crowd had gathered, with dozens of couples dancing wildly in the street. It was all so intoxicating I couldn’t help but smile and tap my feet along to the rhythm.
The Latin Quarter is also great for street art, with mural after mural on just about every corner. I stopped for a photo with none other than Alfred Hitchcock, created by Jef Aerosol. The artist, born Jean-François Perroy, is a stencil graffiti artist who’s been active around France since 1982!
I remember feeling how I’d perhaps underestimated Paris a little. And that even with my lackadaisical approach to taking in the city sights, I’d still covered plenty. Next time, dear readers, I’ll go deeper with a full series of reports.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.
I love Paris! ❤️
Thanks for dropping by!
You packed in a fair bit of Paris that weekend. I fell in love with the place when I was 15 and spent an entire week exploring at will. I’ve been fortunate to return many times since then and I love seeing the place evolve. Off there again shortly as my football team are playing in the French equivalent of the FA Cup final against Nantes.
Hey Sheree, you are indeed a Paris connoisseur. A week’s exploring at 15 must have been heady to say the least, any standout memories?
Climbing up Eiffel Tower, trip to Versailles and spending hours in the Louvre.
Ah looks like you had a great trip. I didn’t actually really like Paris when I visited the first time, but then on subsequent trips I got away from the more touristy areas and found it beautiful. Oh for a steak frites right now. Also….oh to be 28 again!!! 🙂
I would like to think that one day I’ll go back and explore deeper, but honestly not sure if that’ll ever happen. Abs yes, if I could be 28 again with the experience and wisdom I have now…
It’s a long while since I’ve been to Paris, not sure why as it’s so close to home. I’ve visited twice and can’t say it’s one of my favourite cities but places change and so do I, so perhaps I need to return and look again with fresh eyes. Thank you for reminding me of its iconic sights and hopefully you’ll unearth that masterpiece in one of your boxes some day.
I share your take it or leave it stance. I enjoyed my weekend, but have never held it in high regard, as so many people do. Then again, I accept that, as a first time visitor, my trip was mainly about getting a feel for the place and ticking off those essential iconic sights. I’m sure if I ever do go back I would approach my stay very differently.
Looks like you’ve seen a fair share of Paris in one weekend! Beaming with history and passion, just the thought of Paris conjures romance. That, and its alluring famous landmarks like the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and of course, the Eiffel Tower. The city is filled with medieval cobblestone streets, graceful tree-lined boulevards, and quaint riverside pathways and I very much enjoyed every moment of it many many years ago. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva
Thanks for swinging by Aiva, I appreciate your contribution to the thread.
I have never been to Paris but I’ve always wanted to see the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Louvre.
Hey! I think Paris definitely has that universal appeal. Stuffed with so many iconic landmarks, as you mention, and intrinsically tied to the ultimate sense of urban romance. Hope you get there one day.
But of course Paris. We should had met I was by the tuileries garden !! Cheers
Ha, if only I had known. I thought this post would make you smile, thanks for the comment.
hahaha yeah lots of memories thanks
Paris is a delight in any season and for any length of time. Our first trip there was on a tour in 1984 and we broke free from the organized activities with my rudimentary school French. We have been back twice since and still enjoy seeing similar and different sights. Glad you made it there Leighton, even to experience the €6.40 a cup cappuccino. We call that a “Can ya dig it” moment. Thanks for sharing. Allan
I think I could just about dig it Allan. I suspect I would dig it much more these days. Now you’ve got me listening to the Mock Turtles as I set about my afternoon teaching/blogging chores. I’d like to think I’ll make it back one day, but not sure. Thanks for visiting!
I’ve never been to Paris and don’t think I could go for a “dip your toe in the water” trip for a weekend or even a week. I’d need a longer visit that I doubt I could afford. Wish I could just drop into iconic spots for a few hours without having to go through all the unpleasant stuff of fighting crowds and queues and the like. Thanks for teasing me with your memories.
Totally relate to that Memo. If Sladja and I ever make it to Paris I think we’d like to really go for it in the way we do these days with our trips. Let’s see, you never know, there may be a window one day in between all the other stuff we want to do.
This makes me so excited to visit! Almost all of these spots are on my list. I’m very impressed you remember so much from 2006! Also, some people say going up the Eiffel Tower is overrated, but I say when in Paris. Not like it costs an arm and a leg and it’s a neat view.
I imagine you’re going to have the time of your life Lyssy. Glad this piece gave you a little inspiration.
Since we haven’t been to Paris, I can only enjoy other bloggers writing about Paris … even though it’s just for a weekend! Great pictures from the top of the Arc De Triomphe. Oh my, what an expensive cappuccino – I can probably buy 3 (or even 4) cups for that price here in SA 👀. You’ve got such great pictures of the famous ‘monuments’, like The Louvre and Notre-Dame Cathedral and of course The Eiffel Tower. The only reason why I would love for you to go back, is to surprise us with history on some of these famous monuments we have not heard of before 😉
Hey Corna, I would indeed love to go back and give Paris the royal LT treatment. Dive into the lesser known spots and find those wonderful stories. This article was tricky to put together based on limited photos and faded memories, so I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for catching up!
Great overview of Paris; you covered a lot of ground on your first visit! I remember feeling the same way when visiting the Eiffel Tower. I was physically pushed away from my husband and teenage daughter (at the time) as the crowd rushed for the elevator door on the top floor; not a pleasant memory. On the other hand, we arrived at opening to visit the Louvre and had the place mostly to ourselves; a rare treat! It certainly draws millions of tourists every year; but it is an iconic place to visit.
Thanks for reading and for your welcome thoughts. I think you’re right and that The Louvre alone is worthy of justifying a second visit. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll make it back.
You certainly saw a lot in one weekend especially considering you didn’t research it! I also have only spent a short amount of time in Paris when I was much younger,and this reminds me I need a return visit. Maggie
Thanks for dropping by Maggie. I think, looking back, what I did was more or less fine for a first visit. If there is a next time I’d definitely like to get beyond those surface layers. Appreciate your input to the thread!
I read your article with interest and it made me reflect on my own experience of living in Paris for over a year now. It’s true that at first I went back to all the known places, where the tourists congregate. Then comes a second level, looking for lesser known places. My current treat is to pass by a street I’ve never been to before. There is often a sculpture, a garden, a shop, an old house, or simply a plaque evoking someone famous, something more, which increases the weight of Paris. My great joy is to walk randomly in the streets, changing direction according to the mood of the moment to always discover something more to add to my knowledge of Paris.
I think what you describe is how you really fall in love with a place. Without time constraints one can peel back the layers and immerse. I’ve been able to do this with London and several other cities across the world and… well… it’s a privilege, no doubt. Thanks for reading and for your comment.
I got so excited when I saw this post! It actually surprises me that you’ve never had a long visit in Paris, let alone France, a country that I spent four years in and had visited Paris countless of times…however, it looks to be that your whirlwind of a weekend there was a solid one, as you checked out the highlights. Glad you paid the 12 euros to ascend the Arc de Triomphe, as I personally find its views to be one of the best in the city. Given that you’re just a hop away, I’m sure you’ll return to it someday soon (granted, if you want to)! PS I’ll be publishing a post related to Paris next month, so stay tuned!
One day…. I wouldn’t rule it out, you never know. Looking forward to your Paris post!
Hi Leighton. We absolutely love Paris and really don’t understand why it sometimes has a less than perfect reputation. Have visited many times over the years and it never ceases to work for us. Love its different districts and the different characteristics. By the way, I’m glad to be able to comment – when I tried to comment on your last few posts it came up with “error 404 – site nit available” or some such wording. Glad to be back fully on board!
Hey hey, thanks for stopping by and giving your two cents. I have no idea why this has happened but it seems my reposts just go into a black void for you guys. Really don’t know what the solution is. In any case I’ll be doing brand new travel reports for the foreseeable, so it should be back to normal for you. Hope you’re enjoying your last days in Egypt!
My favourite city, I simply love it! Like Phil and Michaela I simply cannot understand why anyone would not 😆 I’ve been at least seven times and never tire of it. But I’ve never (yet) been in the Louvre! You seem to have covered a lot of ground in your two days and seen a fair number of the key sights, even if serendipitously. But yes, you really must go back!!
I’d be open to going back to Paris. The problem, so to speak, is that when I look at all the stuff we want to do I wonder where exactly I’d fit it in. But hey, one never knows how the ongoing life journey will unfold. Thanks for reading and commenting Sarah.
We’re the same, we rarely go back anywhere. But we make an exception for Paris because we both love it and it’s almost in our back yard so to speak – we can get there quicker than many locations in the UK 🙂
Love the architecture in Paris and have French friends living in the 16th but every time we go I can’t wait to leave but love it. Weird!
Ha that is weird, but I think I know what you mean. Thanks for stopping by Gary.
Paris was one of the first places I visited when I started to travel. Similar to you, I also didn’t take many pictures or notes about our trip. I also regret not spending much time admiring the Arc De Triomphe. I thought it was such a rip off to pay that much to climb up for the view. I guess this means that I’ll just have to return.
How curious that we both had similar Arc De Triomphe thoughts. Thanks for checking out this piece, I guess we both need to squeeze in a return visit one of these years.
Two of my very favorite movies, ever. You hit so many notable spots. I know history is your thing. My choice in Paris has been the art – some wonderful smaller museums (although I was in the Louvre many years ago when it was not so mobbed), the outdoor artists in Montmartre, the outdoor cafes, and the French food. It’s always interesting to me what choices different tourists make!
If there is a next time I’d definitely spend some time hanging out in Montmartre. Great to hear you’re also such a huge fan of those movies.
wow for a pieced together from memory that sure was a thorough and wonderful tour of this city. I am taking notes and adding to my Paris list for this fall. I’m with you on the movie Amelie, by far one of my absolute favorites!
You’ll have a blast in Paris Meg, I’m sure. Thanks for reading!
Wow there are a lot of historical landmarks in Paris! The Arc De Triomphe looks magnificent!
Glad you liked this article Allie, appreciate you catching up with my recent pieces, cheers!
You managed to do so much for someone who didn’t research! I do hope you find your rolled up painting. I really regret being such a rushed traveller in my younger days and should have observed all those painters for longer.
Hey! I relate to that feeling of not fully observing things in the younger years. I’m sure if I ever return to Paris I’ll drink in so much more of the so-called “lesser sights” and all the little discreet details that make Paris so special. Appreciate your contribution to the comment thread!