I had never been to Paris before. As we pulled into Gare Lyon after a brisk 200-mph journey from Lyon I was filled with anticipation about how this city would make me feel. After all, you only get one shot at experiencing Paris for the first time. Would it live up to expectations? Could it really be as beautiful as everyone says it is? Or would it turn out to be the crowded, gritty city that I had heard about from others?
Our first stop after arriving in Paris was Montmartre – a huge hill in north Paris that used to be an artist enclave (once the residence of Edgar Degas, Vincent Van Gogh and Auguste Renoir) and is home to the famous Basilique du Sacré-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart). Nowadays it is a trendy neighborhood that offers incredible panoramic views of the city, and boasts charming eateries and outdoor artist markets along its cobblestone streets.
The art markets were so charming, but beware of aggressive artists who will try to force you to pay for a cut-out silhouette or face sketch! (Francois was able to successfully fend off one such vendor.)
We walked up to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and for the first time, I set my eyes on the whole of Paris.
The notable part of the skyline that was missing – that I still hadn’t seen yet – was the elusive Eiffel Tower. When would I have the chance to lay my eyes on this architectural icon?
Not quite yet, as we next went inside the Sacré-Coeur. There are no photographs allowed inside, but the basilica was beautiful, historically significant and is definitely worth a visit!
On our way back down the hill we stopped at one of the sidewalk cafés to nibble on crêpes and take in the surroundings. So Parisian.
After that break, we continued our stroll in the direction of the Grands Boulevards. We were treated to eye candy the entire way.
Eventually we made it to our next highly-anticipated destination: Printemps.
Yes, the store.
No, I wasn’t interested in shopping (ok, that’s a lie, I was), but supposedly there was a nice rooftop café that had a view of the Eiffel Tower. So we went up to see.
After my heart settled back into my chest, I got us some sweets to enjoy as we took in the cityscape.
The roof didn’t just offer a great view of the Eiffel Tower – you can see the entire city from up there. Did I mention it’s free? I would have been fine with a Printemps purchase requirement (giving me an excuse to shop), but sadly I eventually left empty-handed.
Next we went across the street to the Galeries Lafayette to see the famous – and sprawling – department store.
What’s so cool about the Galeries Lafayette is the massive stained glass dome in the main atrium. They even hung an inflated Eiffel Tower Penis for all to enjoy! (Did I just say that?)
I enjoyed going upstairs to get a birds-eye view of the cosmetics kiosks below me. I liked that they projected to the entire open atrium, like brilliant advertisements in their own right.
Next we moseyed over to Place Vendôme. Once a plaza built to signify power, it now is the symbol of luxury with the finest jewelry brands in the world showcasing their most precious items in the windows lining the octagon.
A bronze column stands in the middle of Place Vendôme, made from 1,200 pieces of enemy artillery melted down and intricately carved into battle scenes.
We concluded the day at the Palais-Royal, where Louis XIV lived as a child before moving to the Louvre, and eventually Versailles.
And just like that, our first day in Paris was over. My feet were throbbing from walking all day in those uncomfortable sandals (poor choice on my part), but my heart was light after setting my eyes for the first time on such a beautiful city.
With that kind of an introduction, how could I not love Paris?