I apologize for how snobby the title of this blog post is.
“What did you do over the holidays, Genevieve?”
“Moi? Not much. Though I did spend Christmas in Paris.” (pronounced Pair-ee, of course)
I sound so privileged when I say things that way, I know, I know. But moving past that, I did want to share my travel experiences this holiday! As you know, I’m living in Spain at present as an Auxiliar de Conversación through the Spanish government’s ministry program. This means I’ll be in Europe from September through June, teaching English at an elementary school. Because we work as teachers, we get all of the same holidays off as the kids. This year (2016-2017), our break started on December 22 and lasts until January 8 – a perfect time to travel! Many auxiliares choose to go home for the long holiday break, by my roommate, Amy, and I opted to travel instead! I’m not sure how long I’ll stay in Spain, so taking advantage of long travel breaks is a must.
Our first destination was a city everyone should try to visit at least once in their lives. I’m talking, of course, about Paris! Paris is the capital of France as well as it’s largest city with over 2.2 million people in the center. It is known for being the City of Lights, and over Christmas it did not disappoint. In addition, there is amazing art, culture, fashion, and food in the city.
From Madrid, Paris is 650 miles (1200 km) northeast. We decided to head there on Christmas Eve by plane. We took all budget airlines to try to save money, and to get to Paris, we rode Vueling at the cost of €67/person. All of the budget airlines are pretty strict about your carry-on size, and Vueling did make Amy check to see if her hiking backpack fit to the specified dimensions (it did). The flight lasted about 2 hours and we arrived in Paris just after 10am.
Our trip started off rather chaotically once we got into the city center from the metro. We couldn’t figure out where the hell to buy our metro tickets to get to our stop! It was a mess. We ran all over looking for a ticket booth and the only two we found were out of order. We stopped and asked other tourists if they had any idea and they said they were running into the same problem! So it wasn’t just us. Finally, a Paris man used his card to get us through the other side of the gate so we could buy metro tickets. We were lucky we ran into him! Later, we found that our train tickets could be used more than once (*eyeroll* no other city is like that!). Finally we made it to our hostel.
We stayed at The Loft Hostel in Paris. It was pretty nice! We chose a mixed dorm with four beds. I’m not sure if it was because of the holidays or what, but the hostel wasn’t very booked. It ended up just being Amy and I in the room for the two nights! The rooms themselves were pretty cool too. Standard hostel style bunk beds, but everything was very clean and new.
I haven’t stayed in too many hostels, but Amy assured me that it is very rare to have a room to yourself! My only complaint was that the lockers there were very small. Our little carry-on bags wouldn’t fit in them, but our purses did. Since we had the room to ourselves, it didn’t really matter though.
Our first outing in Paris was to the Musse d’Orsay. It was a destination Amy really wanted to see and it was pretty neat. There are lots of impressionist paintings there. The building itself was made out of an old train station. One of the first things I realized was that this trip was going to bet rather expensive for me, being 26 years old. Unfortunately, France seems to be under the impression that those 25 and under don’t have their sh*t together yet, but once you hit 26, you do… and you pay. The museum was free to Amy, being only 24 at the time, but it cost me €12 to get in. That was a bummer. But it was a beautiful museum. I believe they do have free days for everyone but it’s like Wednesday or something and we weren’t going to be there on a Wednesday. So fine. I paid.
We spent a few hours in the museum and then decided to run around the town for a bit. We were already near the center so we wanted to check out the Christmas markets. The Christmas markets are close to the Eiffel Tower, so we headed that way and stopped for a few pictures with the iconic building of Paris.
It’s really difficult to get good shots in front of the tower since it’s such a massive structure! We instead opted for photos across the Seine River.
As we got closer and found the Christmas markets, our first stop was to get crêpes! I got apple cinnamon and Amy got nutella banana. Needless to say, it was a great decision. We then walked through the markets and got ourselves some mulled wine. It was my first time trying hot, spiced wine and it was delicious! The wine is made slightly differently in each country, but it’s always delicious. While there may not have been snow on the ground, it was still pretty cold. Hot wine was just the thing we needed as we browsed the markets.
We continued to walk around the markets as it got a bit darker. The sun set before 5pm so it got dark quickly! Amy said there was this macaroon place that she loved and we had to go there. It was called Laduree and it was right off the main street in Paris!
The selection of sweets was amazingly pleasing for my sweet tooth! There were small macaroons, big macaroons, cakes, cookies… deliciousness every way we looked. The line was a bit long, but luckily they gave us free samples as we waited! Each macaroon costs €2.10, so I was happy to get a free sample. Amy and I tried to be good so we only got three macaroons a piece (plus one waiting in line, so technically four total). Most people were getting gift boxes with tons of sweets. Unfortunately my macaroon budget didn’t allow for that. Still, it’s a must if you’ve got a sweet tooth like me!
After our sweets, we headed back to our hostel.
When we woke the next morning it was Christmas day! This is the first Christmas in my 26 years of existence that I haven’t been with my family for the holidays. It was quite weird and honestly didn’t feel too much like Christmas to me. There were no presents, no Christmas trees, no Christmas music… It was cool to be in Paris for Christmas, but I imagine it might feel more like the holidays if you’re with a family or a loved one. Not that my roommate wasn’t great, just that I didn’t have the warm fuzzy Christmas feelings I usually have when I wake up on Christmas morning.
On Christmas, there wasn’t a lot open. Part of this was due to Christmas falling on a Sunday. That and it was obviously a major holiday. Luckily the Eiffel Tower was open and we had read that there was ice skating there! It sounded like fun so we headed once again into the center. There was a ton of security around the Eiffel Tower. This is probably because of the recent Berlin Attack, which was fine by me. I would rather spend an extra few minutes in line making sure nothing crazy is going to happen and knowing I am safe. Since security was heightened, everything took a bit longer, but eventually we got in. To go up the Eiffel Tower, you can either ride an elevator or take the stairs. Again, if you’re 25 or younger, everything is a bit cheaper. To ride the elevator being 25 or younger cost €4.00 and to go up the stairs cost €5.00 (no idea why it’s cheaper for younger people to go up the elevator, but whatever). If you’re 26 or older, it costs €11.00 to use the elevator and €7.00 to use the stairs (maybe they think older people need more exercise?). Either way, we chose to do the stairs.
I didn’t think it was too bad! You walk up the stairs to the first platform. From there, you can get a pretty great view of Paris! Since it was the holidays, they also had an ice rink on the first platform. The best part about that? It was totally FREE to skate! The only requirement was that you had to wear gloves as you went around the rink. The lady wouldn’t hand you your skates if you didn’t first prove you had gloves.
It was a fairly small rink, but it wasn’t too busy. The ice wasn’t perfectly maintained, but that was fine. I always enjoy ice skating, but I never do it quite right and it always ends up killing my calves! I think I invert my feet a bit and don’t hold my weight right. After a few laps, I was done and ready to climb up to the second platform. It was also a really cool view from up a bit higher!
At the second platform, you can choose to go up to the very top (for an additional fee, of course) by elevator. We didn’t end up going all the way to the top. It may not have been snowing, but it was still pretty cold! Our view from the second platform was fine enough.
Hiking up the Eiffel Tower was a blast. I know it’s such a touristy thing to do, but it was worth it! I’m glad we went. After we left the tower, we decided to see more of the Christmas markets. I bought my mom some soap from there, since it was all hand-made and smelled incredible. Amy got an ornament. For lunch, we got raclette sandwiches… I have no idea how I’d never heard of these before Paris. They are AMAZING! The roll of cheese is so hot and scrapes right off into your sandwich of either sausage or ham.
Needless to say, I was very happy with my cheesy sandwich and Orangina drink (basically carbonated orange juice). As we sat down to eat, we tried practicing our French. There was this sweet little lady next to us who spoke a little English and helped us with a few phrases. She was so nice!
I think a lot of the time, people in Paris get a bad rap for being rude or snobby to foreigners. I’ve had friends tell me stories where the people in Paris were so rude to them for seemingly no reason. I’m pleased to say that was NOT my experience. I found the French to be very kind and helpful. Maybe it was the Christmas spirit in everyone, but all seemed to be in a good mood.
We ran around for the rest of the day checking out all the markets and doing some more sightseeing. We ended up going to Notre Dam Cathedral which was really awesome. Again, security was heightened so the lines took a bit longer to get in. Luckily, because it was a Catholic holiday, we were able to go into the church for free! It was beautiful.
It was right as the sun was starting to set (which is why my iPhone had trouble getting a decent photo). We went inside and found that there was a free church concert before mass started. We stayed for that and it was magical. A very cool place indeed. By the time we left, it was pitch black outside.
We thought it would be a good idea to grab some dinner at the Christmas markets again before going on a boat tour of Paris on the Seine River. The boat tour cost €12/person and there was no discount if you were under 25. The tour started at 9pm and we were on the boat ready to go. Of course there were other Americans who wanted to catch the 9pm boat as well but were late. They kept protesting, “It’s not our fault! He told us we could get a drink!” (Pointing to a worker inside). The French man was irritated and pointed to the large clock on the wall that read 9:01pm and told them, “The boat sets off AT 9pm!” But they continued complaining and the man let them on board (clearly irritated though). The tickets were open ended and they realistically could have gotten on again at 9:30pm, but they got their way and all was well.
The night cruise was really cool and the lights of Paris were beautiful. Our guide told us all about the different bridges and pointed out some landmarks we went to earlier, like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dam.
On the left you can see the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night. On the right is a statue of Saint Genevieve, patron saint of Paris. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of my saint! Even though it did turn out a little low res.
This bridge, Le Pont Nuef, was cool because you can see all of the heads from the water. It reminded me of Game of Thrones a little bit 😉 These were the “friends” of King Henry, according to our tour guide. The boat tour was very fun and beautiful. The tour lasted an hour and afterwards, we headed back to our hostel.
This was our last day in Paris! We had done and seen a lot, but still left on my bucket list was the famous Louvre Museum. A trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Louvre, right? We headed over early to make sure we got a decent spot in line. Unfortunately, a lot of other people had the same idea.
Still, it wasn’t peak tourist season so the lines weren’t as long as they could have been. Once inside the Louvre, you pay €15 if you’re 26 or older and it’s free if you’re 25 or younger (with a valid EU residency card which we get through the Auxiliares Program – it is your TIE). Once again, Amy got in for free and I had to pay the fee. It was worth it though. There is so much to do and see in this museum. Our tour guide told us that if you spent 2 minutes in front of every work, you could spend a full 152 days at this museum! And that doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of time you spend fighting your way to the front to see things like the Mona Lisa.
Luckily, I made my way up there without too much difficulty. Just had to view her from a slight side angle. Oh well. This was definitely the most packed area of the museum. There were lots of other things to see as well.
I was so confused at first why everyone was running around with a Nintendo DS! Turns out that these people paid for a tour and the DS has a video walking tour on it. Certain paintings or sculptures will have certain markings for you to listen on the DS. In the gift shop, you can even buy the tour game for about €20! I thought that was really cool. I think it is great to incorporate technology into the historical arts. To me, anything that brings people/kids into learning is a great investment. Very neat idea!
After our tour of the Louvre, it was time to catch our Bla Bla car to Rennes, France! Rennes is about 220 miles (350 km) west of Paris. We had to get back to our hostel and then catch the metro to get to the other side of Paris for our Bla Bla car. It was a bit hectic and we were actually about 10 minutes late! Luckily, Amy has an American phone with international data on it so she was able to call and get a hold of our driver to let him know we were on our way. Our drive to Rennes was quite nice. We had one other passenger with us, which we were grateful for because he spoke English and French while our drivers only spoke French. Their car was very comfy and even though I rode the middle seat, it was a pleasant journey. The only downside was that there was a wreck about 12 miles (20 km) outside of Rennes which delayed us quite a bit. We stayed at an AirBnB in Rennes and our host was expecting us around 6:30pm but we didn’t arrive until after 7pm. We felt bad but the traffic was out of our control.
After we got in, we were pretty tired. We went to dinner and I had a quick shower.
I thought the shower was interesting. I’ve never seen a shower where the head wasn’t mounted and you had to hold it the whole time you took a shower! Amy said she thought it was pretty normal. I think I’ll stick with mounted shower heads though! After my shower, it was time to call it a night.
We were really excited for this day! We had decided to visit Mont Saint Michel, a beautiful little island with a giant abbey on it. The population of this island is around 50. It was initially founded by a hermit who gathered a small following to the island. The story I read said that the archangel, Saint Michael, appeared to a man in his dreams and told him that he needed to build a giant monument to God to honor him on the island. The abbey was then constructed over many years and is a very unique shape due to the island’s hilly landscape.
To get to the island from Rennes, you can take a bus, which will cost you about €22 round trip and is about an hour outside of the city. Here, there was yet another student discount for those 25 and under. I may have told the bus lady that I was 25 in order to get the cheaper ticket. Oops. Otherwise the ticket will cost you €30.
The bus was packed with tourists! It was clearly a popular day trip.
The sun was shining so brightly that day! It was absolutely beautiful. Because it was winter, the water was a lot lower than it is during other seasons. Normally there would be water surrounding the whole island!
To be honest, there isn’t a ton to do on the island. That’s probably why the last bus leaves at 5:30pm for the day. If you miss that bus, you better find a hotel or a ride home because you’re out of luck! We arrived at about 12:30pm and we figured 5 hours would be enough.
We ran around the fortress around the island and admired the view. We then decided that we should go take a tour of the abbey. Unfortunately, this was another one that was free if you were 25 or younger and they were checking IDs. I paid €9 to get in and Amy went for free. There goes the money I saved on the bus ride anyway. I was glad to have done the tour of the abbey though. It was beautiful.
The views from the top were absolutely beautiful. The land seems to go on forever.
The inside was also wonderful. There were so many little gardens and things you could see. There were a lot of prayer rooms, areas for the service, crypts, stained glass windows, and even an area where they used to keep prisoners!
The line waiting to get in and the actual tour itself took up most of our day. Once we got done with that, we walked around a little bit more and bought some souvenirs. I’m trying to collect beautiful water color prints of all of the areas I visit and Mont Saint Michel had some! They seem to range in price from about €3 – €20 depending on where you get them. Luckily they were only €3 here!
We enjoyed our one last walk around the village and decided to head back to Rennes as it was quickly approaching 5:30pm and we wanted to catch that last bus! The ride home was very peaceful. We got back to Rennes, went out to dinner, and called it a night.
This was a day we had to just relax and chill! It was the first day we didn’t feel pressured to go out and try to get stuff done as quickly as possible. Honestly, it was much needed. After so many days of go, go, go, it’s important to take some time to just relax. We had been doing a lot of walking every day and our clothes were starting to show it.
Seriously, our socks smelled like the roclette cheese.
So we walked around and did some much needed laundry. Luckily for me, the laundromat had free wifi! My phone did not have international data, so I wasn’t able to use it most of the trip. I could still record snapchats, but I wasn’t able to post them until I got back to our AirBnB or someplace with wifi, so that was really nice! I definitely realized that I took using my phone whenever I wanted for granted in Spain.
After laundry, we went to lunch at this fancy restaurant Amy wanted to try. It was a bit expensive, but we wanted to try some oysters. This area of France is apparently really well known for their oysters. I’d never had any so I figured why not?
They. Were. Awful.
Sorry if that is an unpopular opinion, but they tasted like slimy salt water! I’m glad I tried them (no worries about FOMO here), but I think that’ll be the last time I ever do! I had one and Amy ate the other four. To be honest, I’m not sure if she actually liked them or just wanted to like them, haha. But she powered through them, so good for her!
After lunch, we continued walking around and just enjoyed Rennes. After the hustle and bustle of Madrid and then Paris, it was nice to be in a smaller town. Rennes has a population of just over 200,000, but it doesn’t feel very crowded or busy. In the city center, it was definitely busier than the outskirts (where our AirBnB was), but it was nice. We checked out the old French style architecture. The buildings were really cute!
After walking around for a while, we went back to our AirBnB and chatted with our host for a bit. He was a nice guy. I personally felt like he offered a lot of details about his background, but maybe he was just using the English that he knew… Still, at least we felt very welcome in his home (despite his weird shower and the fact that the toilet was in a separate room from the rest of the bathroom).
We left again to get dinner and it was very nice. As we continued walking to the main plaza, we stumbled upon this crazy French video being projected onto one of the main buildings in the square!
I don’t understand French, but what I gathered from the video was that the queen of France had gone missing. There was a search team deployed to find her and it went through all of these different places around the world. Where was she in the end? Rennes of course! “The place to be!” as she said in English at the end. It was really cute and fun to watch before we called it yet another night.
This was our last day in Rennes! We actually finished our time in France this day. We had to book another Bla Bla car back to Paris to catch our flight to Hamburg at 3pm. We actually had the best Bla Bla car driver of all time. He took us straight to the airport which saved us a little bit of extra cash for the metros. That was pretty awesome. He was also just really friendly in general. We arrived at the airport with about six hours to burn. Luckily I had my kindle and a good book, so I was set. Next stop: Hamburg and Cologne for the New Year!
Overall Impressions of France
Obviously my taste of France was very small, but overall I really enjoyed it! The people were incredibly nice to us and we had a lot of fun doing the tourist thing. We were able to do and see a lot (even if it did cost me considerably more because of my age 🙁 ). It was nice though! Aside from one creepy French boy trying to hit on us on Christmas as we made our way to our boat tour, everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming. France definitely made me appreciate my Spanish knowledge! As much as I think I don’t know, I realized that there were a lot of things I couldn’t say in French that I could have easily said in Spanish. It was definitely a confidence booster in that regard! I also really enjoyed the food in France. The sweets and crêpes and cheeses were just amazing (if a little overpriced in Paris). I would have to say that France was a blast! We may have only spent 5 days there, but I would say that I really enjoyed each and every day.
Have you ever been to Paris? Rennes? Mont Saint Michel? What were your impressions? Are there any places in France that you highly recommend for visitors? Let me know in the comments below! Au revoir!