Travel tales

Autumn in Paris: How did I do?

Autumn in Paris

Back at the start of September before I headed out to Paris to spend autumn house-sitting in St Germain, I came up with a list of things I wanted to see and do with my six weeks in the city. They varied from the big-name museums to the lesser-known off-beat attractions, as well as some of the events taking place while I was out there. So now I’m back home, how did I do? Did I finally make inside the Louvre and up the Eiffel Tower? Has my French improved beyond ordering drinks? And how about those ambitious plans to get out of the city and see more of France? Well here’s how I got on…

Louvre by night

The pyramids outside the Louvre by night

Visit the (inside of the) museums

After being daunted by the queues and bypassing the Louvre on every other visit to Paris, I did finally make it inside this time (late night opening on Wednesdays and Fridays are the saviour of the queue-phobe). The size of the place is truly overwhelming but I did manage to see the Mona Lisa and probably about 0.5% of the total exhibits. It’s definitely somewhere you could come back to time and time again and see something different each time. I also loved the Impressionists in the Musée d’Orsay, in a recently refurbished new wing on the top floor. And the sculpture garden at the Musée Rodin was beautiful, though my timing wasn’t great as the lawn was half-covered in a marquee for fashion week. There’s free entry to Paris’ museums on the first Sunday of the month which is a great time to try out something new – the Arts and Crafts and Natural History museums are on my list for next time.

Get a view from above

The Eiffel Tower is probably the symbol of Paris so I was determined to finally make it up to the top this time. A couple of weather- and queue-related abortive attempts later it came down to my last weekend but I got there eventually. Pre-booking your ticket is a really good idea if you don’t want to wait in line, or you can avoid the crowds by making dinner reservations in the tower’s Jules Verne restaurant if you’re feeling flush. I managed to make do with a glass of champagne though (tough work I know!) whilst soaking up the views from over 300 metres up. I also got to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré-Cœur Basilica and Montparnasse Tower for views across Paris from all angles, day and night – see my article on Paris’ top viewpoints for the run-down on each of them.

Eiffel Tower at dusk

The Eiffel Tower at dusk

Discover the more ‘unusual’ attractions

When I decided I wanted to see some of the less-well-known Parisian attractions, I had no idea how many great things I would come across. From the spooky catacombs with their underground bone stores and the ornate cemeteries at Père Lachaise and Montparnasse, to the raised Promenade Plantée park on an old railway line and the hidden art of the Metro. That’s as well as the events like the unbelievably busy Nuit Blanche all-night arts festival and the harvest parades at Montmartre’s Fête des Vendanges. There’s so much going on in Paris it’s hard to keep up, but I picked up some good pointers from the Bonjour Paris website about what was happening when and where.

Get out of the city

I thought that with six weeks in Paris I’d have seen and done everything and want to get out and see more, but I underestimated the city. Once you start scratching the surface you find more and more things to see and do, and I could’ve kept myself occupied for twice as long. So the ambitious visits to Fontainebleau, Giverney and the Alsace didn’t happen this time, but I did make one trip out of the city – to the Normandy beaches. The Palace of Versailles has eluded me yet again though, so I’m going to have to come back again soon to finally see it.

Le Bonaparte cafe

Bonaparte Cafe in St Germain at night

Eat and drink (plenty)

This one was never going to be too much of a challenge. Being on a budget and having a lovely apartment kitchen meant I didn’t take full advantage of the city’s restaurants, but did get to indulge my love of French supermarkets. So for six weeks I stuffed myself on cheese in every form, from soft goats cheese to potent blues (and the not exactly gourmet but completely addictive Apéricube cheese cubes!), baguettes, croissants and elaborate fruit tarts from the patisserie, risottos made from six different types of mushroom, tender steaks for €4, delicious salamis and smoked hams, as well as wines – red, white and sparkling – for less than half the price than at home. It’s probably a good thing I don’t live there all year…

Take lots of photos

The plan was to work off the food and wine with lots of walking around the different neighbourhoods of Paris and taking lots of photos, and I did pretty well on this one. I took hundreds of photos on my wanderings around the city and got some I’m really pleased with – helped by the beautiful autumn weather. You can see them all on my Flickr site. I did manage to get a few good night shots too as I’d hoped, but the old ‘get up for the sunrise’ plan didn’t quite materialise, unsurprisingly to anyone who’s ever seen me in the morning!

Notre Dame cathedral, Paris

Improve my French

Ok here I have to confess to not doing quite so well. The constant exposure of seeing and hearing French around me has helped my accent and understanding, but I haven’t really spoken it enough. My food and drink and supermarket French got a good workout (I now know the word for a Monoprix loyalty card in French…) but other than that I had English friends staying so didn’t get to use it much. I did do a French conversation class but I think next time I’ll sign up for some intensive lessons to make me use it more.

So overall I ticked most things off my Paris ‘to do’ list, but the more I did the more I found to do, so I’ll definitely be back soon. But what did I miss? Do you have any recommendations for my next visit?

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  • Reply
    Anita Mac
    November 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Brilliant trip! Looks like you covered off a few good things. I am still waiting to go in the Louvre and up the Eiffel Tower – next trip to Paris!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks, it took me about 20 years and a lot of Paris trips to finally make it up the Eiffel Tower and in the Louvre but glad I managed it at last this trip!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Hi Lucy, I’m just discovering your blog and I really like it 🙂 I’m in love with Paris since I studied there 8 years ago. Living in Nice now I try to go back at least a few times a year. What I like the most is just to walk around in the city – I find it’s the best way to discover new things. Other than that Centre Pompidou is really nice but I am sure you know it already.
    Other than that, if you need tips for visits to other parts I’d be happy to share some so don’t hesitate!

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm

      Thanks so much. I just love wandering around the city too, you always stumble across something interesting and unexpected. And thanks for the offer of some more tips – I’ll let you know when I’m next planning a Paris trip.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Reckon you did a pretty good job Lucy. Some of those photos are stunning! Specially like this one of Notre Dame- I mean, how many shots must there be of it, but this is a beauty.

    I only ever managed a 3day trip so my list is pretty long. Must do Giverny and Fontainebleu also

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm

      Thanks Jo. The good thing about having a few weeks somewhere is that you can wait for the perfect weather and get a few practice shots in! Giverny and Fontainebleu are on my list too – I might have to do a trip to that part of France without stopping off in Paris as I always get stuck there!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Really enojoyd reading this. Going to check out your photos now!

  • Reply
    Becoming Madame
    November 27, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    I have tons of recommendations! The next time you ar thinking of coming over, send over a sign. I’ll put together another list for you! 🙂 Safe travels.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 27, 2011 at 11:34 pm

      Thanks so much, I will definitely get in touch next time I am heading over to Paris!

  • Reply
    November 27, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Nice post. Great pictures.

    If you want to study French, check out Click “Langue française” on the left. Underneath that is “Dictionnaire” which is also very helpful.

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      November 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm

      Thanks for the tip, I’ll check it out. I learnt French years ago but have forgotten so much, I’m hoping that it’s still in the back of my memory somewhere and I can coax it out!

  • Reply
    Ship's Cook
    November 28, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    You did pretty well I think,

  • Reply
    November 28, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Nice job. I never tired of stores and photos of Paris.

  • Reply
    Ian Rees
    December 1, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I’m so jealous! Sounds like you had a lovely time and covered most things. I’m definately going to try to visit next year.

  • Reply
    Ian Rees
    December 1, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Reblogged this on This is my life and this is how it reads… and commented:
    I’ve only whizzed through Paris – in a manic rush to get from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar to London during the disruptive few days in 2010 caused by the Icelandic volcano.

    Lucy’s post really makes me yearn to revisit and take plenty of time to soak up the city’s atmosphere – I especially like her photograph of the pavement cafe in St Germain.

    Click-through and see for yourself 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy Dodsworth
      December 1, 2011 at 8:46 pm

      Hi Ian, thanks for reblogging! Paris is such a great place to soak up the atmosphere in one of the many cafes, hope you manage to make a trip soon.

  • Reply
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