It’s now Wednesday and I’m still reeling from the incredible (if not overwhelming) two days I spent in Paris this weekend. I ate French cheese and an award-winning baguette in the sunshine under the Eiffel Tower. I drank wine from all the major wine regions in France. I saw the Louvre and the Jardin du Luxembourg and Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur. I walked nearly 25 miles in two days, toting either a baguette or a pastry in my purse at all times. And I ate extremely well. While I didn’t cross off everything on my checklist (how could I?), I was utterly awestruck by what I saw in this incomparable city, which for so many years had seemed out of my reach.
Before setting out on this solo adventure, I wrote a post about my plan for making the most of my short time (and limited money) in Paris. I also asked for recommendations and heard from a number of people about their experiences at restaurants and cafés that were not on my radar. In the end, the weekend was a combination of my research and planning, those recommendations, and serendipity. In this post, I’ve written about some of my favorite moments in Paris.
I began Saturday around noon after arriving from the airport and checking into my hostel near the Arc de Triomphe. I set out down the Champs-Elysées in search of coffee and a hearty breakfast, as I hadn’t had a morsel to eat at that point in the day. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best area for the budget-conscious traveler. At one point, when I was getting desperate, I nearly sat down at a terrace for a quick bite until I read the menu and saw that the petit dejeuner (little breakfast consisting of a coffee, orange juice, and a pastry) was 28 Euros.
I kept walking and eventually found a chain restaurant where I ordered roughly two liters of coffee, a croissant, and fromage blanc (essentially a yogurt parfait). Feeling energized from the caffeine and angrily fighting a hoard of pigeons away from my food (they seem to like croissants as much I do), I set off down the street towards the Louvre.
After spotting the palaces, the picturesque bridges, the lush gardens, and the grandiose museum buildings, I was ready to look for lunch. It was mid-afternoon and walking in Paris was much more of a commitment than I thought it would be. I crossed the Seine into the Quartier Latin, passing the famous café Les Deux Magots on my way to Boulangerie Poilâne for a pastry to save for later.
I then made my way to Breizh Café, stopping occasionally to snap a picture of little flower shops and adorable alleyways.
Breizh Café, famous for its creative crêpes and galettes (a term used for savory crêpes), was a priority for me. Every summer when I was a child, my mémère (French-Canadian grandmother) would make crêpes, rolled up with cinnamon and sugar inside, for breakfast for my brother and me. While I’ve never had one that compares to hers, every crêpe I eat brings me back to those summers. Hungry and a little nostalgic, I wanted to try one of Breizh Café’s authentic Brittany-style buckwheat galettes while I had the chance.
As soon as I got to the café, it started lightly sprinkling. I was moved to the bar inside, which at first was disappointing but turned out to be the perfect place for me. Though I was alone, I was endlessly entertained throughout the meal by the chefs at work behind the counter, delicately creating their masterpieces before my eyes. I also found a bookshelf nearby and got lost in the founder’s cookbook. The crêpe I chose to order off the menu was the one I found featured on the cover of the cookbook.
I also ordered a traditional cider from Brittany to accompany the galette. This region of France doesn’t make wine, but instead produces variations of the vibrant orange, dry cider shown here. It was a fun addition to the meal and perfectly complemented the melted comté cheese and sweet, juicy ham. The crêpe itself, in contrast to my grandmother’s soft and spongy homemade crêpes, was buttered and crisped in the pan to create a pleasant crunch in each bite. The contrasting textures and the intensely flavorful fillings made for a delicious and satisfying meal.
At this point, I had a few hours to fill before the wine class I’d scheduled for 5 pm. I spent that time meandering about (aka walking off that galette) in the Latin Quarter and the Jardin du Luxembourg. I dipped my feet into one of the ponds and watched mini sailboats scurry around one another, controlled by ecstatic children chasing them around the perimeter.
After some rest outside the Panthéon and a short excursion to the Arènes de Lutèce (built by the Romans before Paris was Paris), I walked over to Le Foodist, where the wine class was held. Scheduling for this class had been a bit of an ordeal, as it had been cancelled and then rescheduled twice before I arrived. In the end, I ended up in a private tour with a group of fifteen men in their thirties who were all in Paris together for a Bachelor party. This made for an interesting night, to say the least.
The class was, in short, a dream. My philosophy towards wine has always been to simply drink what I enjoy. To me, knowing what I like is more important than knowing all of the technical jargon and intricacies around wine. At the same time, learning about wine has been a way for me to find out and have a better understanding of what exactly it is that I like and why. This was the impetus behind registering for the class. I love learning about and tasting new wines, connecting certain scents and sensations to specific regions and grapes. Plus, I’m a sucker for party tricks.
In this class, I learned about the different regions of French wines, the most common grape varieties in France, and some anecdotes behind the vineyards that grew the wines we were drinking. I learned how to tell where a French white comes from without smelling or tasting it, only by observing the consistency of the wine tears on the glass. I learned how to identify the origin of a French red based solely on its opacity. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how to open a bottle of champagne with nothing but a glass (or a sword if you happen to have one handy, which of course we did).
After the wine class, I was feeling a little nibbly and could tell I needed a snack before setting of to explore a bit more. I headed towards the Seine and sat down on the banks of the canal, dangling my legs over the edge. To my left, the sun was setting over Notre Dame.
To my right, a group of French teenagers were chain smoking and harmonizing to a guitar. I took out the apple tart from my from purse, admiring it and my surroundings before taking a bite. The crust was flaky and buttery and the center was fruity and sweet. I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe this was how I was spending the evening. I savored each bite of the pastry before laying back on the ground, listening to the music and the hum of the boats floating by. Once I was good and rested, I was on my way.
I walked to the Notre Dame to get a closer look. I was able to enter the cathedral easily because it was later in the day and the lines of tourists had all but dissipated. As with all the most notable places in Paris, I was struck by the sheer size of the church. The detail and the colors of the stained glass inside were breathtaking. I walked around the entire building, noting the gargoyles famously depicted in one of my favorite Disney movies. Right on cue, “God Help the Outcasts” began playing in my head on repeat.
From there, I walked along the Seine until about 9:00 pm. I crossed over towards the Louvre, walked through the palace courtyard to the sound of a clarinet solo playing in some distant corner, and continued straight to Bistrot Victoires on the other side. This was another one of my top priorities and just happened to be a short walk away when I was starting to think about dinner.
Bistrot Victoires is well known for its traditional French cooking as well as its affordability. Most restaurants I walked past that day would’ve cost me 30 Euros or more for a similar meal. At Bistrot Victoires, I paid 16 Euros for an insanely flavorful duck confit (duck cooked in its own fat) and a glass of chardonnay. Every item on the menu was mouth-watering, and I would recommend this place to any traveler on any budget. I’ll certainly be back if I’m ever in Paris again.
Before I knew it, it was 11:30 pm. I was exhausted after walking 13 miles on 3 hours of sleep that day. I’d seen nearly everything I’d set out to see (albeit on a more superficial level than I would’ve liked). It was time to head back to the hostel and relax before another long day of grazing and exploring the city.
After a quick breakfast at the hostel, I started my day in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. This area, up on top of the hill near Sacre Coeur, I knew to be the “bohemian” part of the city. This was where artists like Van Gogh and Picasso had lived before they became some of the most beloved painters in history. This was where the radical politics of Paris were centered. This was also where some of the best food could be found.
Following my tourist instincts, I decided to book a walking tour for this morning. I’ve found in my travels that, while I enjoy wandering on my own, I often don’t realize the significance of the buildings, parks, and shops I’m looking at unless a local is explaining the history of it to me. As I describe in my post “On Tours and Turrón,” walking tours have become a favorite way for me to explore and also get a more in-depth understanding of the city I’m visiting. This is how I’ve learned some of the most interesting stories in Spanish history, and also how I’ve found the best food.
I left a little time in the morning before the tour to hunt down one of Clotide Dusoulier’s favorite croissants in Paris. I made my way to one of Gontran Cherrier’s shops, just up the hill from the Moulin Rouge. Cherrier, a celebrity chef in France, hosts a TV show where he scours the entirety of the country in search of the best bakeries. I was met at the door of his shop with the pleasant smell of baking bread and a surprisingly tame line of mostly French customers. I ordered two croissants by happy accident (my French is that bad) and sat in the shade to eat one before the tour began.
On the 2.5-hour tour with Discovery Walks, I learned about the history that brought the “starving artists” to this area, once a village outside the walls of Paris. I saw the extravagant home of Dalida, famous street art (including the mould of a woman’s breast which she’s plastered all over the walls of the city), and the building where Picasso painted one of his most famous artworks, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. To my delight, we also visited Le Grenier au Pain, whose baguette was rated the best in Paris in 2010 and 2015. This distinction, awarded once a year, means that the winning bakery provides baguettes for the President every day for a year!
Our tour guide told us the story of how the baguette first came to be. It was originally invented for the workers building the metro system in Paris. At the time, workers would bring thick loaves of bread to work with them and at meal times they’d have to cute the bread with knives. Apparently, after a long day of working, they’d sometimes get drunk and start fights. People were killed with those knives, so someone had the idea of making the bread into an elongated shape that could easily be torn apart. With the baguettes, the workers no longer needed the knives! That’s how one of Paris’s most cherished culinary traditions began, according to our guide, as a weapon against violence.
We continued up the hill, passing iconic restaurants like the Moulin de Galette (above), where Renoir’s famous impressionist painting Bal du moulin de la Galette was painted. We soon made our way to the small vineyard that I had been looking forward to exploring for weeks. This region in France was once covered with vineyards, but today this is the last one.
And for just 30 Euros a bottle, you can buy the wine made from these grapes which, according to our guide, is “absolutely disgusting!”
We ended the tour with another history lesson at “the best view of Sacre Coeur.” The guide explained that most Parisians actually hate the church, built by the government at the city’s highest point as a reminder of its dominion over the people of Paris. It was constructed in response to an uprising of working-class Parisians against the government in a lesser-known revolution that took place in the 1870’s. The government squashed the rebellion and then proceeded to tax Parisians heavily to fund this church, which would stand as a reminder of their defeat. I found this story fascinating and was grateful for the context while looking up at the extravagant architecture of the church.
After the tour was finished, I set off on my own back into the excitement of Montmartre. I stopped at Le Grenier au Pain again and ordered half of a baguette tradition (the more rustic version of a typical baguette) for my dinner later that night. For lunch, I ended up at Café des Deux Moulins, where the movie Amélie was filmed!
I was greeted by an Irish waiter who kept making jokes about French food (Why doesn’t McDonald’s serve escargots? Because they only serve fast food!) and ordered the French onion soup (even though it was 85 degrees at this point… a questionable choice on my part). I resisted the temptation to become the ultimate tourist by ordering the crème brûlée for dessert.
Instead, I headed towards a neighborhood called Le Marais (a lengthy walk that I underestimated, once again), stopping at a patisserie for a few macarons.
After a ride on the metro to save my aching feet, I nestled in the shade outside the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum with exhibits outside in the park, to have my much-needed dessert. I could’ve napped there after such a long walk, listening to the fountain and the conversations of Parisians and tourists all around me.
I began gearing up for the grand finale of my trip: dinner in the park underneath the Eiffel Tower before the light show. From the art exhibit, I walked to Le Marché des Enfants Rouge, an outdoor market tucked into the alleyways between buildings. By the time I arrived, most of the stalls were closing. Luckily, I was only here for cheese and fruit, the last remaining stalls.
I sampled a comté, aged for 30 months according to the man behind the counter, and bought it immediately. I also bought a small amount of organic mimolette, the bright orange cheese in the corner, to bring home (which I have yet to try). In addition, I bought figs and fat French blackberries. I made my way towards the Eiffel Tower, again by metro.
By the time I reached the Champ de Mars (the park in front of the tower), it was almost 8:00 pm. The sun was getting low behind hazy clouds. The city’s concrete was starting to cool off. I laid out the spread, sampling the juicy blackberries, hardly able to wait long enough for a picture.
This baguette, preceded by its reputation, was actually all it *cracked* up to be. After carrying it around in the heat all day, it still was notably more delicious than any other baguette I’ve ever had. The crust was thick and flaky while the inside was doughy and chewy and light, filled with cavernous air pockets. Paired with the best cheese I’ve ever tasted in front of one of the most iconic and romantic man-made structures on planet Earth, it was certainly a meal to remember.
The sun began to set as I explored the park around the tower, waiting for the light show to begin. I sat beside a row of rose bushes and watched families of tourists with Disney hats and T-shirts, merchants selling plastic keychains, and Parisians going about their business.
In the end, I met another woman my age who was also spending the weekend alone in Paris. We laughed at the coincidence, and at the irony of being alone in the city of love, especially at the Eiffel Tower at dusk. Eventually, a man walked up to us offering a cheap bottle of champagne (for the fifth or sixth time). “I was going to buy one but I didn’t want to finish a whole bottle myself,” I told her. She smiled and said she had had the exact same thought.
No longer alone, we split a bottle.