TRAVEL DIARY: PARIS
I decided to take a UK/Eurotrip splitting my time between Paris and London. Part one of my reflecting on my travels will be focused on Paris, as that is where we began our trip. We flew into the London Heathrow airport from LAX on Air New Zealand. It was a direct flight, which is ideal. It is almost a twelve hour flight from Los Angeles, but the airline provided movies for days, free WiFi the whole flight, and two meals. I’m not big on airline food, but I did pick at some of it as I hungry ass usually eats every hour. I watched Heat with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Some people love romance movies; I’m a sucker for mob and gang movies. Once that finished, I tried to sleep, but that didn’t happen. I did a bit of research on my phone, appreciating that the WiFi actually worked pretty well. I then decided to watch Bohemian Rhapsody, which I had not seen prior. It was phenomenal! Rami Malek, who played Freddie Mercury, really embodied the character he was playing.
Eventually, after the flight finally landed, we waited in the customs line for almost two hours and we were on our way. We had a roundtrip ticket on the Eurostar train to Paris that day. We weren’t wasting anytime! We took the tube, London’s transit system, to the Eurostar train station, making this trek not as overwhelming or complicated as one could have assumed. We took the Piccadilly line straight to King's Cross, which took about an hour. It’s probably the cheapest way of travel and there is space for luggage on the tube. Once we got to King’s Cross, we left the station and crossed the street to St. Pancras international station, where the Eurostar terminal is. This is also where the Harry Potter Platform 9 3/4 is. On a side note, if you plan on spending time in London, get an Oyster card. I will cover this more in the travel diary: london, which will be soon to follow.
Once we got to the Eurostar, we had to go through a quick security checkpoint and receive another stamp on our passports. Unlike our first customs experience, this took all of 5 minutes or so to go through. We made it to the waiting area, which was jam packed with fellow travelers. We got on our train and it was off to Paris we went! Truth be told, I was excited to watch the scenery heading to Paris, but I knocked out for the whole train ride. I woke up when we arrived and told myself I’ll be more present on the train back to London.
Prior to this, I had been to England a few times, but never France. Prior to my trip, I began studying French daily for three months straight and was ready to put the decent amount I learned to use. We had to find a taxi as I was not yet familiar with the Paris metro system. The taxi guy definitely took advantage of our American-ness and overcharged us. We rarely used taxis for the remainder of our trip, but definitely be cautious of this.
After what felt like a lifetime of travel, we got to our hotel, which was located close to the République and Bastille quarters. It was relatively accessible to all of the different neighborhoods, which worked in our favor as first-time visitors. However, for my next trip to Paris, I will be staying in a different area and hotel; just out of personal preference. Given that we arrived around 7:30pm Paris time and had barely slept in the past 24 hours, we wanted to eat and get some rest. It was a Saturday and very loud all night, which makes sense. What we were not aware of though is that for the past few months, Paris becomes heavily populated with protestors every Saturday. Most of the protestors are part of the Yellow Jackets movement, which is a populist, grassroots political movement fighting for economic justice that first began in France in November 2018. One primary concern of the Yellow Jackets is to protest increasing tax costs. They are fed up with the rising prices and increased cost of living. Every Saturday, majority of the shops, specifically those along the Champs-Élysées, barricade and close their stores. The Yellow Jackets break the glass, rob the stores and have even set fire to some of them.
Ironically enough, we had designated our open Sunday to heading to the shops at the Champs-Élysées, not knowing the damage we were about to see. We had a few days planned with activities and touristy type things but on Sunday morning, we woke up to a beautiful view of the Parisian streets and let the day unfold organically. We wanted to make sure we found the balance of tourism and “localism.” We also wanted to make sure we took full advantage of the shopping in Paris.
Being that I was a resident of the United States and over the age of 16, I was able to utilize the tax free shopping laws. Holla!! To give you an example, I made a few purchases at Louis Vuitton. When purchasing my items, I had to show my passport, proving I was a non-EU resident. They then ask if you would prefer your tax refund on your credit card or in cash, which you would later handle at the airport. Credit card is usually easier and you get a higher percentage back on your card. It can take up to six weeks to receive, though. I personally don’t have a credit card, so I chose to do my tax return in cash. They give you a form to bring to the airport. There is a specific area that handles tax returns. They warned us that the line could take up to two hours. Funny enough, at the conclusion of our trip, we got to the airport four hours early and there was not one person in the line. They said this varies on the season you are traveling, so make sure you are cautious of your time! Also, you must have the items you purchased in your carry on, as they may not give you the tax return if they can’t see the items. Of course, they didn’t ask to see ours, but better safe than sorry. Make sure to keep all of your tax forms together. I had multiple ones, but they pay you back in one sum. I took the tax return in Euros and exchanged it for American dollars once I got back to LAX.
Another exciting thing to know when shopping in France is that you don’t have to pay the import tax and fees that you normally would in the U.S. I saved almost $600 on my Louis purchases. It is definitely cheaper to purchase in Paris, and being able to see the original store is worth the while. Just know, you usually will have to wait in line to get in, or the queue as they call it abroad. Either way, get there right when they open or prepare to wait for a little bit. They also will make you throw out any drinks, like they did with my overpriced Starbucks coffee I had taken two sips of. Don’t worry, once you’re in the store they will provide you with a glass of champagne, maybe two, if you spend enough.
When booking our trip, we purchased our tickets for all of our activities in advance so that is was out of the way and handled before we even arrived. We booked a full day tour that included all of the “must see” Parisian attractions. We wanted to bang it all out in one day. The tour started first by walking us to the Musée de Louvre. The first part of the tour was under a 10-minute walk and the admission itself was included in our tour. Yes, we got to see our girl Mona Lisa! It was sort of funny seeing so many people act like madmen to get a photo of this tiny piece of legendary art. We spent about an hour touring the museum, which was filled with historical pieces you would most likely be familiar with. It was incredible really. I see how people can easily spend a full day in this place.
After we finished up soaking in the art, we got to go outside of the Louvre to see the famous pyramids. In fact, there are multiple pyramids, which I did not know beforehand. Seeing such a famous “landmark” in the flesh was surreal. As we walked away from the pyramids, we were able to see the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc was built between 1806 and 1836 in honor of those who have fought for the French, mainly during the Napoleon wars.
Once we took in the gorgeous architecture, we headed towards a dock on the Seine River. The tour has two boat rides included to bring you to the next attractions. Next on our itinerary was the Eiffel Tower. I think back to 2006 when The Devil Wears Prada came out and I couldn’t stop dreaming at age 12ish about seeing the Eiffel tower, sparkling in all it’s beauty. As the boat headed down the Seine, I took in the panoramic views of Paris and I began to see the tower peaking out. I felt chills. I hope everyone is able to see this view in their lifetime. It is stunning. We pulled up to the dock and hopped out. It was pretty incredible seeing this famous piece of architecture in real life. With the tour we booked, there was a lunch included at the 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant, which is located inside the Eiffel Tower. The included meal featured an appetizer, main course, dessert and a glass of wine. At first glance, when we were reading the menu, I was unsure of what I was going to order. I enjoy trying new foods, I’m not really a scaredy cat when it comes to food. I usually trust that if it’s on a menu, it cannot be that bad! My meal was actually bomb. We celebrated with our wine, got a lil’ bit tipsy! If given the opportunity to have a meal inside the Eiffel Tower, I highly advise!
After we finished up, we headed back towards the dock on the Seine to continue our tour to Notre Dame. This would be the last stop on our tour. I was raised in a Catholic family, so I was familiar with the famous Catholic Cathedral. Even if you weren’t raised Catholic, most people are familiar with the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was looking forward to exploring one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. We arrived and it was packed. Interestingly enough, some people were there to tour and some were there to pray. It was beautiful. We said a prayer, lit a candle, and enjoyed a moment of silence. After the tour was finished, we were free to do as we pleased. This is where we had a moment of being “lost in translation.” We were looking for WiFi to find directions back home but were having a tough time locating some. This was unusual because we had been finding WiFi on almost every block, if not every other. It took us a while, but eventually we did find WiFi and were able to look up directions to our next destination after aimlessly walking up and down streets for 45 minutes.
A big tip for those traveling without service on their phone, like myself… whenever you are on WiFi and are about to head somewhere: pull up your directions on your phone, for the metro or walking whatever it may be, and even when you lose your WiFi the directions will still work. Just don't close out of the maps app while you’re using it. You may want to bring a portable charger also, as keeping the app open may run down your battery a bit quicker. Free WiFi is available frequently throughout the city, but you do usually have to put in your name and email. I suggest putting in a fake one for both; it works 95% of the time. This little trick enabled us to actively follow directions on the metro, which eventually you can catch on to but is helpful in a place where English is not the first language.
Our next day, we left open. We went to breakfast at a cute little café and enjoyed our view of the Parisian architecture. I remember it being the sunniest day of our trip thus far. We finished up our breakfast and coffees and hopped onto the Metro towards the unique village of Montmartre, which I had been familiar with from both family suggestions and from my research online. We trusted our gut going through pretty cobblestone streets and found ourselves at a pretty populated set of stairs going up a hill. We assumed this way would be the right way to the top of Montmartre and we assumed right! In my eye view was a stunning white church called the Basilica of Sacra-Coeur, which translates to “the basilica of the sacred heart of Paris.” It is in reference to the heart of Jesus and his divine love of humanity. It was really a sight to see. We walked over to the left side and saw a view of Paris from one of the highest peaks. We were able to see the whole city, Eiffel Tower included. There was also a “lock wall.” This is where people can put locks on a fence and write names on them. A lot of people put their name along with a significant other, family members, or just solo. I think it’s a nice way to be able to leave your mark somewhere, no matter how small.
We continued walking and saw a little white train. We found out it was just six Euros to hop on and take the 40-minute trek through the area. It was well worth it. We were able to see so much of this part of town, even where the Moulin Rouge show is performed. We grabbed a coffee and WiFi. *When in doubt, remember Starbucks will always come through with free internet.*
Next, we headed to check out a shopping center called Les Galeries LaFayette. Worth seeing even if you don’t want to shop. It looked like a palace on the inside. We then made our way back to our hotel. That night we were going to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle. At night, the Eiffel Tower is lit up, but if you get there the first five minutes of the hour it sparkles. It was so interesting the be there at that time. We were able to see this globally known sight at the peak of its beauty, along with a full moon. I also was taking in how there were so many people, differences in all of the groups, couples and solo travelers. People from every crevice of the world, all here to see the same sight. It reminded me of the connection between humans. We all have the power to dream and we all have the power to see. Question is, do you want to open your eyes? We enjoyed the view for a bit and then grabbed food. The next day was our last full day and we had a lot to do. We got some rest and woke up ready to take on the day.
For our final day before heading back to London, we enjoyed breakfast at Prêt-a-Manger. I co-sign this place 10x over! Affordable and delicious food for any time of the day, and you can find locations in the states as well. We wanted to hit the Champs-Elysées shops one last time, because when in Paris, right?? We ended up getting tipsy at YSL and finished our shopping up.
I guess you could say we were feeling ambitious or maybe it was the champagne, but I found myself hopping on an hour train ride towards the Palace of Versailles. We figured we were going to have about an hour to adventure through before it closed. I was advised to spend a full day there, but I guess we tend to do things on our time. The palace was breathtaking. I was so glad we had made it in time. Seeing such a historical piece of royal residence was worth the trek we made and I think we captured the basis of its excellence. The courtyard was manicured so well and had such an elegance to it. The interiors were a dream. I don’t even think photos will showcase the beauty but I will try my best. We headed back to the city area, got food, and smoked hookah. We got to our hotel at a reasonable hour and got to sleep. It was a good thing because our travel from France to London the next day went a bit different than we expected.
I woke up earlier than I was supposed to the next morning, very Stephanie-like. I saw I had texts from my cousin and am grateful I woke up to discover them waiting for me. She used to live in Paris and was a huge help for the whole trip; she came in prime time that day. She let me know that the employees at the Eurostar station were on strike. Apparently lines to get through customs were an extra 4-6 hours long and a lot of trains were getting cancelled that day. We originally planned to have breakfast but instead we went beast-mode getting our stuff together and headed to the station ASAP. I am so thankful we were aware of the strike beforehand because if we left at our original time planned, we would not have made it. We waited in the line about 2 hours; better than 6! What the issue was, was that all of the employees in customs were intentionally asking 6 million questions to each passenger, slowing the line down. They are protesting for better pay. Looking at the line behind us, it was really a blessing we got there when we did. We made our train with 9 minutes to spare and we were now off to our next destination, London.
Some tips to keep in mind while traveling in Paris:
Before we went through security, we took care of exchanging our money. I recommend doing this first and foremost, while still on U.S. soil to save money. Once overseas, there are different fees every time you do a currency exchange and it’s best to take care of business while on the home front. Also, if you are traveling to more than one country, you are able to exchange multiple currencies.
2. Of course there is a language barrier so expect that. Surprisingly, a lot of people do speak English, if you ask! The correct phrase to ask when in doubt is “Parlez Vous Anglais?” which translates to, “Do you speak English?” 8/10 times they will be able to communicate the basics with you.
3. Hold on to your bags. Make sure the zippers aren’t facing away from you and your things are in sight. Paris is notorious for pick pocketing. I wouldn’t trust anyone either. People may try to scam you. Simply respond “no merci” to their offers.
4. If you ride the metro, don’t take tickets from anyone. Buy them strictly at the ticket dispenser. Also, if you plan to be in Paris for a while and will be using the metro, buy a booklet of tickets, as opposed to one ticket every time you ride.
5. If you aren’t aware, in other countries, you usually need an outlet converter to charge up and use your electronics. You can purchase them on Amazon.
6. I am a daily coffee drinker. My typical coffee is a vanilla iced coffee with a non-dairy creamer. No sugar. This easy drink was actually hard to find. There are Starbucks around but a small iced coffee at a Starbucks cost me over $6 US dollars. If money ain’t no issue, be my guest. But when in doubt, you can always hit Prêt-a-Manger for a hot coffee.
7. Tipping: Unlike the US, where tipping is expected, a “service fee” is usually already included in your bill. Double check before paying so you don’t overpay.
8. My hair did not like the water in Paris. I advise bringing a hair mask or something to keep your hair hydrated.
9. It’s dirtier than I expected in certain places if I am keeping it real, so bringing hand sanitizer is always a good idea.
10. Check the weather before you pack. This seems kind of obvious, but I definitely packed for warmer weather and only brought one coat. Of course it was bright pink too, so it didn’t go with everything. Being the stylish problem solver I am, I did make it work! When all else is SOL, you can always buy clothes too.
Paris was wonderful. I look forward to making my way back there at another point in my life. Au Revoir!