So, time for a little bit of background.
I’ve been wanting to visit Paris for a long time. The museums, the gardens, the palaces, the monuments…the history in general is amazing and I knew I would love that. I’d read up on the not so great things, too, so I felt pretty prepared.
I was so keen that I even started teaching myself French. So it was with great excitement that I hopped on the Eurostar from London, as sad as I was to leave the U.K., I was even more keen to visit Paris.
Turns out, I kind of hate it.
Okay, no, that’s too harsh. There is a lot to love about Paris, but it turns out that despite all the people talking about the negatives…they still somehow understated them.
I don’t want to go too deeply into them because to be honest this blog is meant to remind me of the fun I’ve had, but I want to be honest as well. As a woman travelling alone, I’m obviously quite a target and I have been approached by so many dodgy people and scammers that it’s completely overshadowed the amazing parts of Paris.
I hadn’t stepped more than 5m out of Gare du Nord when someone tried to lead me alone into a parking garage.
I hadn’t even gotten between my hotel and Champs de Mars (five minutes walk!) on my first foray out before someone tried to convince me to give them money for a charity that didn’t exist.
I hadn’t even gotten within 100m of the Eiffel Tower before half a dozen people tried to sell me dodgy tower merchandise…The kind of sellers that are also known to pick your pocket while you are speaking to them.
And that was all in the first day.
Paris is in equal parts a beautiful city full of history, and a hole of crime and misery, and it’s so difficult to enjoy the good parts when the bad parts are so intense.
Anyway, let’s focus on the good.
So on my first day, I had prebooked to go up the Eiffel Tower. I’m glad that I did, because the lines were just as bad as people say.
I bypassed most of it thankfully, though even with my prepurchase ticket for my designated timeslot I was still in line for the elevator for a good 20 minutes or so.
I could have taken the stairs, but there was actually quite a line for them as well, surprisingly.
So eventually, up I went. The structure itself is not imposing and beautiful, and of course the view is amazing. I’m proud of myself, as someone who is scared of heights, for being mostly okay with the whole thing. It felt safe up there, so my fear didn’t quite kick in, but I wasn’t brave enough to head to the summit…half because of the height but also because of the hour long wait.
Of course, another negative had to present itself: none of my credit cards worked at the gift shop.
Now, before anyone thinks this is my fault, no, I definitely spoke to my credit providers in advance, so it wasn’t a security issue. No, my cards were not the old kind — they are the chip and pin ones that are meant to work in Paris, and no, I wasn’t even close to hitting my credit limit.
This didn’t stop the assistant from glaring at me like I was trying to steal from her in some weird way.
So instead I had to pay in cash, nearly emptying my wallet of the Euros I’d changed since I was told not to carry too much cash for safety reasons.
Ugh. Okay, it happens. I mean, the salesperson could have been less of a jerk, but still. I had enough cash, all was fine.
The elevator down had a huge line and by that point I was sort of tired after the horrible afternoon I’d had on the way to the tower, so I decided to take the stairs down.
Not going to lie, by the end my thighs felt like jelly. Also, oh look, this is where my fear of heights started to edge in.
The thing about going down stairs like these is you need to look where you’re stepping, and it’s really easy to accidentally look through the side grating to the very distant ground below. Especially when children keep dipping in and out in front of you so you nearly trip over them. Eeeeeep.
Nevertheless, I made it back to solid ground, and fought my way back though the dodgy hawkers to head back to my hotel.
I spent the night wondering if I’d made a horrible mistake coming to Paris,and wondering how mad I’d be at myself if I just stayed in my hotel room until I was due to leave on January 3rd.
The next day, I decided that since I’d already spent nearly €200 on various travel and museum passes that I should just grit my teeth and do the things I wanted to do. Fuck the dodgy people, and the rude people, and the fact that I felt uncomfortable basically everywhere I’d been so far.
I went to the nearest ATM, which is actually a member of a global alliance with my bank in Australia.
Guess whose bank card was refused at said ATM?
Why do you want me to hate you, Paris?
Thankfully I’d been smart and put some money on an international cash passport which did work, so I got some cash that way.
It didn’t exactly encourage me to continue with my day, but if I never come back to Paris, I don’t want to regret not seeing certain things.
With that in mind, I walked through Invalides to the RER stop there.
And…my travel pass didn’t work at the gate. Amazing.
The woman at the services desk let me through after I tried to explain the issue, but she didn’t try to fix it. And guess what? It didn’t work at St Michel where I had to change trains, either.
Argh. The thing about the RER is you need your ticket to enter and to exit. So of course I was basically trapped at St Michel until someone helpful went through the gates and got a staff member to help me through.
They changed my pass for one that worked. Apparently this is “a known issue” which is frustrating in and of itself because…well…fix it?
He told me the tickets can get demagnetised and I shouldn’t keep it with anything else magnetic. I told him I only kept it with the cards it came with…He told me they were magnetic.
Umm…So why were they sent to me in the same envelope knowing this would happen? Like seriously, I know changing the whole system is a bit much to ask but how about providing protective sleeves and warning people to keep them separate from everything? This isn’t rocket science.
Anyway, off I went, new pass in hand (and completely apart from anything even vaguely able to wipe it!) and honestly still not feeling great about Paris.
My first stop was Luxembourg Gardens. Although it’s winter, it was easy to see that it would be incredibly beautiful at other times of the year.
After that I wandered up to the Pantheon. I love how gorgeous and…I guess grand is the best word…some European buildings are. The Pantheon is one of them. I even fought through my weird phobia of death related anything to visit the crypt where Marie Curie is.
Side note: I studied Marie Curie in primary school and did approximately 20x more work than expected because I was intrigued.
After the Pantheon I walked to Notre Dame Cathedral. The line was long but moved very fast, so I was inside quickly.
What a gorgeous place. I am not a religious person but I really do love old churches. People put so very much of themselves into them, and you can feel that when you visit.
I didn’t realise that the entrance to the towers was actually outside until I’d been inside. By that point, the line for the towers was so insanely long and moving so very slowly that I decided to move on. If I found time, maybe I’d go back another day.
Then, I went to Saint Chapelle. The first floor was dark yet beautiful, but the second floor was absolutely breathtaking. There aren’t really any words for it. I didn’t hear any particular shocked noises in Notre Dame, but I heard them from nearly everyone as they stepped out of the stairwell to the second floor at Saint Chapelle.
When I was done basking in the unbelievable stained glass, I visited the Conciergerie. The ceilings here are just magnificent, and the information about the prison was interesting as well. It wasn’t quite as visually captivating as some of the other places, but it has a real sense of history.
After, I took the metro to Musée d’Orsay.
The line was crazy. I mean even for someone with a prebooked pass so I was on the shorter line…wow. I waited for nearly an hour to get in.
Still, it was worth it. The museum is huge and filled with amazing things. Honestly I didn’t know how much I loved Monet’s work until I got to see it in person. I spent several hours in Musée d’Orsay before I decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel.
I knew the easiest way back was to take the RER from the station below the museum, then change at the next stop for the metro line to near my hotel.
Except my pass was somehow demagnetised again. FFS.
I had it alone in a pocket, I can only assume the security checks at Musée d’Orsay wiped it. Considering these security checks are everywhere I don’t understand how they haven’t done something about this!
So once again, a staff member let me through (but didn’t fix my pass!!) and thankfully where I changed to metro had open gates for some reason. Plus side for metro lines is you only swipe in, not out, so I only get embarrassed by a failed pass once per leg of the journey instead of twice.
On day three, I made my way to the metro fully prepared for the fact that my pass wouldn’t work. I tried anyway just in case, subjecting myself to glares from people when my pass failed. Ugh.
The service person let me through, but once again didn’t replace my pass. This must happen all the damn time because he barely even looked at it.
So, I went on my less-than-merry way, but determined to see some lovely things. Which I did.
My first stop was Musée de l’Orangerie, which houses some of Monet’s waterlilies. Holy crap. Aside from being incredible they are also massive. I also bought a waterlilies rubix cube at the gift shop because why not and thankfully my credit card worked just fine this time.
Next stop was wandering down through the Christmas markets along Champs-Élysées, then the metro to Arc de Triomphe.
At the services counter at that metro someone actually replaced my pass, so it was nice to have one that worked.
Arc Dr Triomphe was awesome. Honestly I didn’t realise how big it was, and even seeing it from the outside I didn’t realise how many steps there would be!
I thought I was going to die before I made it to the top of the stairs, but I managed to get up there, ready to fall over with legs shaking, lungs screaming, and people behind me sounding as bad or worse than me hahaha.
Not going to lie, I sat on the seats by the stairs in the first area for about ten minutes before I went up any further, even though it was only about two flights of stairs up through the next room and to the terrace.
Thankfully the stairs down were much easier (and again my credit card worked at the gift shop!).
After visiting the Arc I made my way back in the direction I’d come from, heading past l’Orangerie and Tuileries to the Louvre.
It may seem weird to have gone back and forth but I’d heard from several sources that afternoon is quieter at the Louvre than the morning.
As far as lines go, it was about the same as Orsay, but much faster moving.
Having said that, I wouldn’t want to be at the Louvre for a busy time, since you’d never see the “big” pieces. By that, I mean Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Winged Victory.
Since the Louvre is so damn big, there was just no way I could see everything (nor could my feet survive it) so I focused on my own interests, mainly Greek and Egyptian artworks, plus a visit to the Mona Lisa just because how can you go to the Louvre without seeing it?
There were honestly some amazing pieces, I can see why the Louvre is so popular. Having said that, I think I was lulled into a false sense of security by Venus and Winged Victory. Yes, both were busy, but within a few minutes you can get a decent view.
Not so with Mona Lisa.
The crowd there was unbearable.
I tried to get a peek through the hoards of people buy being 5’3″, I failed.
I was near the back debating where to try to get closer when the choice was taken from me by groups of people crowding in behind me and pushing me forward. It was like a fucking moshpit, but with less room to breathe and more people trying to take selfies with art.
At one point I literally caught an elbow to the ribs that made me lose my breath, and at another I got clobbered by a backpack. But the thing about this crowd was that the only way out as forward. No one would let you move back, lest you move them back too.
What the actual fuck, people?!
So after about 20 minutes of horrible, crushing, slow forward momentum, I made it to the front. I got like two pictures (only because I didn’t want to have gone through that horror for nothing) then I begged the security guy to let me out straight away.
There were people happily spending 10 minutes taking photo after photo in that spot, I just wanted desperately to be anywhere else. It was honestly awful.
Unless you absolutely need to see the Mona Lisa, I do not recommend that experience at all.
I’m glad to say that had been my last stop, because if I hadn’t already seen everything I wanted to, I’d have missed out, because I definitely wasn’t hanging around long after that.
So back to the hotel I went, thankfully with a still working pass.
I did try to visit Angelina’s for some highly recommended hot chocolate, but the line was over 100 people long (?!?!?!?!) so I turned right around and headed back to the metro station. Nope, nope, nope.
So…yeah. my first three days in Paris have not been what I’d hoped. I did still love the things I wanted to see (mostly) but my overall experience has been severely lacking. Hopefully the next three days I have here before I move on to Disney change that, but honestly I’m not holding my breath. 😕