City of Love. City of Light. Paris has been romanticized for centuries through novels, arts, music, television, and films. But up close, what is Paris like? Below is our take.
Among the most iconic structures in the world, the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the downfall of the Bastilles. At 1000 feet tall, this doubled the tallest building at that time (Washington monument). After the Paris World Fair, the tower was used by scientists to study weather and later used as a radio tower. Today, at the pinnacle of the tower, there is still a small preservation of the apartment Eiffel lived in. At night, the tower lights up and for five minutes at the top of every hour, it sparkles with dazzling lights.
One of the most visited museums in the world, the Louvre houses a magnificent quantity of artifacts and arts. Nevertheless, most visitors are here for the great Mona Lisa. We were aware of long lines, the crowd, and the fact that Mona Lisa would be behind a glaring glass and at a distance, but we were still surprised at how small the actual canvas is. Be forewarned: you will be disappointed. This Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece took three years to complete. Originally, da Vinci set out to paint a landscape but he messed up. As the cost for a canvas was expensive, he painted Mona on top of his mistake. If only all of our mistakes could get transformed into world-renowned works of art. :P
The Seine River spans 37 bridges within Paris, one of which was a shooting location for Inception. It was once the site of water sports during a Summer Olympics. The Seine is also heavily featured in films. We read raving reviews about the river cruise but honestly felt underwhelmed as we have seen these sites already by foot. The audio narration gave little new insights (although it is nice that it was multilingual).
Arc de Triomphe
Standing 164 feet tall at the western end of Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France during the French Revolution. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. While the arc has historical significance, it is lacking in intricacies from a purely architectural view. After all, the arc mimicked the Roman Arch of Titus, and we’ve always been partial to original works.
The grandest boulevard in Paris and arguably all of Europe, Champs Elysees has chic boutiques and high-end shopping. This area greatly reminds us of Manhattan, but cleaner. Traveling in November, we accidentally walked into a winter carnival. The smell of hot wine and roasted chestnuts was extremely inviting.
General Traveling Advice
1. Arrange in advance for travel from and to the airport with your hotel’s shuttle service. This is more secure and cost effective.
2. Never exchange currencies at the airport. You will get a better rate in the city. Most ATM’s in the city do not charge a fee for use and we found the exchange rate was on par and current. Of course, you should check with your bank first and notify them of your overseas travels. Some banks charge their own foreign transaction fees. We are thankful that Capital One 360 offers a free checking account with a debit card that was accepted at all ATM’s we encountered without accruing any extra fees.
3. If you forgot to pack a European plug adapter, use the TV’s USB port to charge your phone (if available). Your hotel may also be able to provide you with an adapter.
4. Pack melatonin to reset your sleeping cycle.
5. A rule of thumb is to dine where the locals are. Avoid restaurants that cater to tourists. Make sure the waiter gives you the same menu as the one posted outside. Plan at least two hours per meal. Yes, we’re serious. Parisians are very leisure and seemingly never in a hurry. Their service is purposefully slow.
6. Buy your souvenirs far from iconic monuments for better deals.
7. “Bonjour. Parlez vous anglais?” will get you anywhere in Paris. We were pleasantly surprised how fluent in American English the Parisian locals are. We could barely detect an accent.
8. When possible, pay with a credit card that doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee. You will get the most bang for your buck (as the exchange rate will always be the rate for the date of transaction). Capital One offers a no-fee MasterCard credit card that proved to be extremely useful as MasterCard was accepted at all places we went.
We felt Paris’s nicknames were undeserved. The city did not carry a romantic vibe, although a walk down the Seine River does suggest a more appropriate nickname – city of PDA (public displays of affection). :P As for City of Light, we feel the nickname better befits Las Vegas. And yes, we do believe Paris in two days is totally doable. We walked 9+ miles in a day, but you can cut down on traveling time by using the metro (be sure to download the official app prior to your arrival to help you navigate the metro).