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How to See Paris in 26 Hours

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Impossible, you say? You can judge for yourself shortly.

As I hinted in my last post, Peter and I made a mysterious side trip in the middle of our Switzerland adventures. When I discovered Paris was only four hours from Zurich by train, I pushed for us to go, particularly as we’d seen all we wanted to see in the area and our lovely hosts would be unexpectedly absent during the last few days of our trip.

“But, wait!” you cry. “How can you possibly see all of Paris during an overnight trip?”

The short answer is: you can’t. However, Peter and I don’t travel much. When we do, we visit family or go scuba diving. We are not returning to Europe any time in the foreseeable future. And this chance to sample Paris was too good to pass up.

So, how did we do it? A breakdown (times are approximate):

2:30 pm on Wednesday, March 20th: Arrive in Paris, 50 minutes late due to “signal problems” on the train. The Swiss train system is extremely efficient and almost always on time. As soon as we passed the border between Switzerland and France (like, literally just over the border), the train slowed to a stop for nearly an hour. I know the timing was just a coincidence, but still.

After leaving the train station, we wandered around the Right Bank on our way to Notre Dame Cathedral, nibbling on crossiants and one of the cured meat and cheese sandwiches that seem to be in every bakery and supermarket.

3:30 pm: Arrive at Notre Dame Cathedral. I eyed the line snaking around the corner, packed with people waiting to climb one of the Cathedral’s towers. I had thought to climb the tower myself, but with just over 24 hours in Paris, doing so was impossible. I didn’t mind. We only wanted a taste of Paris, after all. I guess my reenactment of the iconic scene from the end of The Hunchback of Notre Dame will have to wait until next time.

cathedral top

cathedral bottom

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The cathedral itself was more crowded than I expected for a chilly March day. I can’t even imagine how crazy it must get here in the summer. We still had plenty of time to wander around in search of beautiful lighting.

inside

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4:15 pm: Left the Cathedral and wandered across the river toward our second destination: Musée national du Moyen Âge, also known as the Cluny Museum. Not typically on tourist lists (particularly tourists only in the city for a day), this museum houses an exhibit I’ve wanted to see in person since I was fourteen years old.

tapestry

Toward the back of the museum, a circular room houses the famous “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries. Five of the tapestries depict the five senses, while the sixth (partly pictured below) is titled “À mon seul désir”, or “My Sole Desire” (French speakers, is this right? As you might guess, I know approximately [6.023 x 10^23/infinity]% of the language. And that’s because I don’t even pronounce “Bonjour!” correctly.)

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I can’t even tell you how brilliant the colors are in person. Just go.

The Cluny Museum is filled with gorgeous medieval art, but we didn’t have time to see it all. One of the casualties of limited Paris time, I’m afraid.

5:30 pm: Relaxed in the Jardin du Luxembourg, which toward the end of daylight looked especially bewitching.

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After resting our feet and shoulders (we carried everything in backpacks), we wandered north through the Latin Quarter and St. Germain Des Pres, pausing to take pictures as we walked.

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We were in search of paella maker on the Right Bank who ended up not being where we thought. Instead, this lovely woman made us crepes filled with Nutella or bacon. I think you can guess which I chose and which Peter chose.

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7:30 pm: Foiled in our paella dinner plans, we headed to the Louvre to take advantage of the late opening hours on Wednesdays, only to encounter crowds there, too. There’s not a lot of food immediately around the museum and we were both getting mighty hungry (seriously, we usually eat dinner around 6 pm), so we decided to head to our hotel and see what we could find. We took a few pictures on the way out.

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Whenever I ask Peter to take a picture of me, he takes a round dozen or two instead. That’s how I got this stop-motion sequence depicting my attempt to pose casually against the bottom of the Louvre’s pyramid:

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A tiny picture of the Eiffel tower at night:

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Our hotel was down south, mostly out of the tourist area. Peter found the hotel through his favorite bidding site for which a certain celebrity shills (I won’t name the website, but I will say we went where no man has gone before). At first I bemoaned the distance of the hotel from the city center, but in reality it was perfect. The Paris Metro is incredibly fast and easy to use, and being somewhat out of the tourist area allowed us to enjoy dinner at this gem:

dinner place

9:00 pm (!): Peter ordered some kind of open-faced sandwich with ham and cheese, while I went for the cheese, meat and pickle platter with bread:

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Normally I stay away from meals like this due to the high saturated fat content, among other things, as well as the lack of green (and no, the salt-packed pickles don’t count). However, I will say this meal is a real treat to be savored in a French restaurant. As a very “sometimes” meal, I didn’t mind indulging and didn’t feel a bit of guilt.

10:30 pm: Check into hotel and collapse into bed. Proceed to sleep soundly for eight hours (exhausting day in Paris: best sleep aid ever!).

8:00 am on Thursday, March 21st: Took the Metro to the Tuileries Garden and strolled through them on the way to the Louvre. We spent a couple of hours in the Louvre, which houses, among other works, the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. I have a few pictures from the museum, but in truth, it’s best to see the museum in person. I won’t bore you with blurry pictures of great art, but I will say that the museum was much less crowded than I expected, even around the Mona Lisa.

Of course, I would have loved to spend more than a couple of hours in the Louvre, but with time limited and an impatient Peter trailing behind me, I saw a few highlights and called it a morning. Besides, the signs are in French, and we all know how good my French is. Peter rejoiced when he saw the signs had no English translation.

12:30 pm: After our art consumption, we moved on to lunch at a little place a few streets away from the Champs-Élysées:

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This restaurant is run by two women in a tiny kitchen which still managed to turn out magnificent food. Peter and I went with a price-fixed three course lunch.

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Clockwise from upper right: Lentils and bacon with something deliciously creamy, onion tart, sausages and potatoes, quiche, applesauce, chocolate mousse (the best!).

1:30 pm: Walked along the Champs until we got to the Arc de Triomphe.

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2:00 pm: Headed south until we reached the Trocadéro, which is across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower and offers excellent views.

Eiffel Tower

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I particularly like the guy craning backward on the left side of the picture below as he struggles to take a picture of his companion’s attempt to “hold” the tower.

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We opted not to go up the tower itself because of, again, limited time. Plus we heard it’s rather overrated. Anyone been up the Tower?

3:00 pm: We still had time before our 4:30 train back to Zurich, so I dragged Peter to La Sainte-Chapelle, only to encounter a huge line of people waiting to get in. Foiled again! One of the benefits of staying in Paris longer than a day is that you can remedy these foiled attempts the next day. Even so, I didn’t mind missing Sainte-Chapelle. Perhaps it will be an incentive to return someday.

4:30 pm: After loading up on French pastries and sandwiches, we embarked on our train ride back to Zurich.

And that, dear reader, is how you see Paris in 26 hours.

Q: Have you been to Paris? What are your favorite sights (or which sites do you most want to see)?

19 Comments

  1. I’m SO JEALOUS!!! Next time, bring me? What an amazing adventure!
    And, I would have chosen bacon AND Nutella. Muahaha

  2. It looked like a wonderful trip, Jessie! What a great way to ‘squeeze’ in Paris 🙂 Loved all your photos, especially of the food!! The last time I was there, I enjoyed walking around Place des Vosges, between the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. It’s a very pretty historic area I think you would like too. If I could go back, I’d eat my way through (as best as possible!) with Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris as my guide. And then promptly be unable to board the plane home due to food-induced roly-poliness 🙂

  3. You saw a LOT in 26 hours! I visited Paris over 20 years ago. My favorite part? Just walking around, eating simple sandwiches, crepes, and drinking lots of cafe au lait. I’d like to return some day! 🙂

  4. Ah Paris Paris, what a beautiful city! I went there two summers ago, you did really well to make the trip if it was only 4 hours from Zurich (feels like central Europe is so small, right?).

    The queues are everywhere in Paris, it’s the No1 tourist destination in the world Jess! I didn’t feel like going in the Eiffel tower at all. Of the places you didn’t go to I would say if you ever go back try:
    – the Musee d’Orsay, the art is beyond words and the building is an old train station and it’s magnificent. Expect queues!
    – Marais, the alternative, former-Jewish quarter. I had the best food at an Israeli restaurant there, best falafel ever! And pretty little bars too.
    – walk along the Seine by moonlight. It doesn’t get more romantic than that
    – Place Vendome and Place de l’Opera (Opera Garnier is where the action in the Phantom of the Opera takes place). The Opera is a building worth seeing from the inside too, and Place Vendome is where all the jewellery shops are hehe.

    In all, you need to go back!

    1. It sounds like we do!

  5. I loved this post, Jessie! Loved the fact that you guys decided to do Paris last minute and just hopped on a train. That’s exactly the spirit when you travel!! Kudos to you and Peter for doing almost all you wanted in Paris. I’ve never been, but that’s definitely one of my top places I’d love to visit in Europe. Thanks much for sharing your 26hr Paris experience with me. Oh! Had a good laugh at your stop-motion sequence. Go Peter! Haha! Take care, my dear.

    Sincerely,

    Spiderman 😉 😛 (Never gonna let that down. Lol.)

    1. Oh man, I will NEVER live it down … 😛

  6. Oh Paris! This post makes me want to go back so so badly! We’re hoping to take baby Lucy sometime this fall. I loved seeing you and your sweet man enjoying all the sites, and I admire all that you did in 26 hours! Hugs and love, my friend!

  7. ‘Mon Dieu’…I’m exhausted Jessie. It must be nice to have younger bones to energize you love bunnies ;o)

    I’ve been to Paris twice and can’t wait to go again hopefully within the next few years. The first time was all about the Architecture for which I was studying at the time. The second time was truly all about living ‘La Joie de Vivre’ and eating 8 times a day! Did I mention Hubby was with me on the second leg ;o)))

    Beautifully put together post Jessie…thanks for the memories.

    Have yourselves a great Easter.
    Ciao for now,
    Claudia

    1. Our trip was definitely more similar to your second Paris trip 😉 Have a wonderful Easter, Claudia!

  8. What a fabulous vacation! You must have LOVED all the cheese and chocolate of Switzerland. And the chateaux! My friend and I had a weird fascination as children with the Swiss Alps. Our Barbies frequently lived there.
    One of my +30 credits was a French course on Paris. There’s so much to see there and it’s an extremely iconic place, so we had loads of material to study. That said, I can’t imagine trying to see Paris in a day, but I’m glad that you two had fun.
    I read that novel about the tapestries too! I would translate it as TO my only/sole desire, but you’ve got the idea.
    I don’t know the name of it, but there’s a website that gives a full panoramic view from the top of the Tour Eiffel, so that should take care of what you missed.
    xoxo

    1. I had a good chuckle at the image of Barbies in the Swiss Alps 🙂 Thanks for the translation! I’ll have to check out the website you suggested – I’m sure it won’t be hard to find. Hugs to you and Mike!

  9. WHOA! You did so much in such a short amount of time! I’m impressed. It looks so amazing…

  10. I’ve been to Paris twice, once for a few days and once for a whole week. I agree that going up the Eiffel Tower is overrated, but I’m not the type of person who gets a kick out of climbing tall buildings. Matt and I picnicked in Champs des Mars beneath the eiffel tower as an alternative.

    I personally enjoyed Musee D’Orsay more than the Louvre because I like the art that’s housed there a bit better.

    Also, if you ever go back you should definitely check out Versailles.

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