The first AirBnB experience I’ve ever had. I am not kidding when I say that I was sold on the movie poster of Chuck Norris on the wall. Besides, the place was conveniently located in the heart of the famous Parisian Latin Quarter, surrounded by many restaurants, bistros and cafés.
I wasted no time and immediately hailed a taxi to Boulevard de Grenelle to meet one of my best friends and frequent travel companion, Sabrina, who has been traveling Europe for a month already. It’s funny looking back that we initially planned this trip together, but later became an afterthought. One night over dinner, I mentioned that I will be pushing through with it, but with my mom instead. She told me she had also made plans with her sister. Surprisingly, our dates for Paris coincided. Another friend, Criselle, who happens to live a few blocks away, decided to drop by to give us a warm welcome.
Unlike other arrondissements, the Latin Quarter was spared from Baron Haussmann’s sweeping renovations of Paris into a modern city. With its narrow, winding cobblestone streets, the Latin Quarter retains much of its old world charm, giving us a glimpse of what Paris looked like during medieval times. This, plus the artistic and intellectual vibe of the neighborhood, are exactly the reasons why I was keen on getting an apartment in this part of the city.
Although unplanned, it is but fitting for Saint-Étienne-du-Mont to have the distinction of being the first church in Europe I ever have visited, specially since it contains the shrine of St. Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. Beautiful inside and out, it is unfortunate that people tend to overlook this church in favor of its more famous neighbor, the Pantheon.
Originally a church, the Pantheon is a shrine honoring France’s greatest men (and two women). During our visit, restoration work was going on, so it’s big dome (modelled after the Pantheon in Rome) was covered in tarpaulin. Also, the interior’s floor was covered with a thousand portraits which made for some interesting photos.
Admission and How To Get Here. €8.50 but free with Paris Pass. Metro Station: Cardinal Lemoine, walk 550 meters.
Housed in the beautiful Hotel Biron, Musée Rodin displays the entire collection of sculptor, painter, engraver, and sketcher, Auguste Rodin including "The Kiss", "The Gates of Hell", and "The Thinker" installed in its rose-filled garden. One of the funniest memories in all of my travels happened on the way to the museum, when Sabrina’s sister, Tricia failed to get off the train before the doors closed. I can still see the expression on her face to this day.
Admission and How To Get Here. €5 but free with Paris Pass. Metro Station: Varenne.
The world’s largest museum housing some of the most important art collections in history, the Louvre Museum is a must for anyone who is visiting Paris. As it tends to get very crowded, we opted to visit at night. It was a much more pleasant experience wandering through the galleries as there weren’t very many art enthusiasts or tourists that visit during this time.
Admission. €15 but free with Paris Pass.
Alternate Entrance. From the Metro, get off at Palais Royal Musée du Louvre. The underground shopping mall entrance of Le Carrousel du Louvre is the better option to use as the line here is never as long as the main entrance Pyramid line.
Best Time to Visit. Wednesdays and Fridays, between 18:00-21:45. Every first Saturday of each month the museum is open 18:00-21:45, admission is free.
After the Eiffel Tower, Chateau de Versailles is the most popular attraction in France. Evoking so much history, the palace gives an amazing insight on the lavish lives of former French royalty. Beyond its extravagance and beauty, just walking along the same corridors and gardens that Queen Marie Antoinette used to before she was carried away by the mob and put to death by guillotine is a very surreal experience.
Get Around. There’s a tram that goes around the palace should you ever get tired of walking. Its €4 a for a single ride
From the outside, the Musée d’Orsay looks like an old railway station, simply because it was - until it was converted into a museum back in the 1970s-1980s. Home to an impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings by artists including Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, and Renoir, the museum is quite an inspiring and exciting, if not overwhelming place to visit.
Admission. €12.40. Musée d’Orsay is NOT included in the Paris Pass.
How To Get Here. Metro Station: Solferino or Musee d’Orsay on the RER C.
One of the world’s most recognizable structures, a visit to Paris wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Eiffel Tower. cliché as it may sound. The impression you get once you are at the foot of (and up) the tower is really overwhelming.
Our first stop in Amsterdam was Bloemenmarkt, the colorful floating flower market along Singel Canal, right in the heart of the city’s UNESCO-listed Canal Ring. Shops in the market are located inside a row of floating barges, a holdover from days when flowers arrived in the city from the countryside by boat. Mom had a field day browsing for some stuff to take back home.
The reason we did a day trip to Amsterdam was to see a Jofelle, a friend of mine who lives near the city. We planned on meeting up after our visit to the Anne Frank Huis, however, it took us a long while to walk to the site, hence we missed our timeslot to enter the museum.
The Rijksmuseum is the largest art museum in the Netherlands and houses an impressive collection of art and sculpture from the Dutch Golden Age, which I know nothing about. My familiarity with Dutch art was only limited to Rembrandt and Van Gogh until the visit to the museum that day.
To Get Here. Take tram 2 or tram 5 from Amsterdam Centraal and get off at the Rijksmuseum station.
In Spuistraat, although the neighborhood is rapidly changing, there is an entire block that’s been taken over by street artists. Entire buildings, pavements, poles and benches are all covered in art - from the tiniest stickers to elaborate murals - created by the city’s finest street artists.
Marking one of the boundaries of the notoriously famous Red Light District and a part of the city’s China Town, Zeedijk is one of Amsterdam’s oldest streets. While walking we saw Louise and her twin sister Martine, reputedly Amsterdam’s oldest prostitutes turned tourist guides.
Upon getting back to Paris in the evening, we were met by Katharina, whom Mom and I met in Siem Reap back in July 2013. She arrived from Germany and also rented an apartment in the Latin Quarter, so we were practically neighbors for the weekend.
Katharina and I went for a Street Art Tour with Underground Paris. Since this was just the first week of a very very long trip, I figured it be best to take regular breaks from all the museums and churches. What better way to learn about a certain place and understand its people than by looking at what’s written or drawn on its walls, don’t you think?
Rue Dénoyez is a small street overtaken by graffiti and street artists, one of the few areas in the city where street art is legal. Here it is not uncommon to pass an artist hard at work. It is also worth mentioning that France’s most famous singer, Edith Piaf, used to perform at Café aux Folies, one of the most iconic cafés along the street, early in her career.
Place Fréhel is a small parcel of land with an origin that can be traced from the involuntary destruction of buildings due to the construction of the Metro Line 11’s tunnel. It used to be a parking space for scooters but has since been entrusted to urban art in an attempt to humanize the vacant lot.
When I saw first saw wall murals by famous French artist Julien Malland aka Seth GlobePainter at Parc de Belleville, I immediately fell in love. His vibrant renditions of children staring into or being sucked by colorful voids has become popular the world over. He continues to be one of my favorite contemporary artists to this day.
The View. Parc de Belleville is "Montmarte without the tourists" as it offers magnificent views of the Paris skyline with the Eiffel Tower.
The Sacré Cœur is everything you expect from a lavish European basilica. The steps and "terrace" of the church, which in my opinion, is very reminiscent of the Ruins of St. Paul in Macau, provides remarkable views of the Parisian skyline, where many of its most iconic monuments can be spotted on a clear day.
How To Get Here. Take the Metro to Anvers or Pigalle (Line 2); Jules-Joffrin (Line 12); or Abbesses (Line 12). Either climb the 270 stairs to the basilica, or take the funicular (€1) after a short walk from these stations.
Walking around Montmarte, It is easy to understand why it has inspired many artists over the years. Being a melting pot for artistic ideas and writing inspirations, not to mention it’s village feel, the neighborhood really spoke to me, being some sort of an artist myself. There are just too many surprises on every corner. Next to the Latin Quarter, this is perhaps my favorite part of Paris.
I am not one to travel to some place just to see a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but if there is one nearby, I do check it out. The Banks of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, is one such site. How could it not be when Paris’ history and evolution can be seen from the Seine? During a morning walk along the banks of the river, was when I decided that I would come back to this city again.
I chanced upon Place Louis-Lépine, home to a flower market, and apparently, since it was a early Sunday morning, it becomes a bird market as well. It was so much fun to see the traders set up cages teeming with birds of all kinds – from doves, to macaws to canaries, all vying for attention.
How To Get Here. Metro: Ile de la Cité. Place Louis-Lépine is right across Sainte-Chapelle
The stuff of legends thanks to Victor Hugo’s novel, if Notre-Dame de Paris did not burn down a few months ago, I would have written something different about it. I guess for now, I just consider myself lucky to have seen and experienced going up the tower of this gothic masterpiece.
Back in the 90s I had a pen pal (so old school) from Slovenia (then a part of Yugoslavia). When Barbra found out that I was going to Europe, she booked a flight to Paris in order to spend the afternoon with me. We both decided onShakespeare and Company, as it seems to be the perfect place to meet up for the first time and celebrate 3 decades of friendship. It was even so funny that we ended up buying the same book as a gift for each other.
For lunch, my uncle who has been living in the city since the 80s, invited us over to his place at the 19th arrondissement. It is actually because of him that I included Paris in our itinerary, so that He and Mom can do some much needed catching up.
We treated ourselves to a relaxing afternoon watching various street performances such as break dancers, musicians, jugglers, and yes, mimes near the fanciful fountains of Place Georges Pompidou. As for the building itself, Pompidou Centre, with its exposed skeleton of brightly colored tubes, is very interesting.
So it’s our last night in Paris. This was the only time I got a glimpse of Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Arc De Triomphe. So if you asked me if I had experienced both sites, I would have answer "not really". Maybe next time.