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…
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.
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.
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!
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?