A couple of weeks had passed since my last short trip, so it was time to plan the next spontaneous escape! Thinking about interesting destinations that we would be able to reach from Cologne without necessarily having to board a plane, we decided to go to Paris on the Thalys high speed train. I already did this – the Thalys and the stay in Paris – some months back when my brother and I started our Interrail trip, so I knew it would be nice. Plus, I had never seen Paris in fall or winter, so it was a quick and easy decision. By the way, I’d like to take the chance and introduce Tanja, the friend I’m doing all these spontaneous trips with. We will also be doing a big trip around Asia next year.
So after my Chinese test, which I still had to attend at uni, we headed straight to the central station and boarded the Thalys to Paris. I really liked the hostel I had previously stayed at with my brother, so after our arrival at Gare du Nord, we took the Métro and had no problems finding the hostel. After check-in, we headed straight to Sacre Coeur and enjoyed a great view over the city while the sun was slowly setting. We even caught a glimpse of some fireworks somewhere in the city below us. On we walked down the Montmartre hill to Moulin Rouge. We kept on walking more or less aimlessly through the streets and when at some point we weren’t so sure as to where we were, the locals we asked for directions to Sacre Coeur told us it was too far to walk to. In the end, it wasn’t and we found our way back home safely – only stopping for a dinner of baguette and cheese at a park along the way. We ended the day with a chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) close to Moulin Rouge, another view of the now lit-up city from Sacre Coeur and a stroll through Montmartre’s artists’ district.
After a quick breakfast of café au lait and croissants at the hostel, we took the Métro to Les Halles station in the city center, where we started our first great walk through Paris. First we had a look at the Centre Pompidou with the Nici de Saint Phalle statues and then went on to Notre Dame cathedral. They were holding a mess at the time we went in, which made the whole atmosphere even more impressing. Through the Quartier Latin, the student district, we made our way to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where we spent some time relaxing and enjoying the sun. On we went, past the Odéon, the national theatre, and the Institut de France onto the Pont des Arts. I knew this was a famous spot for love padlocks, but I was still amazed at how many were there. As we walked around the Louvre and through the Tuileries Garden, we realized it was time to warm up a bit (the temperatures stayed only little above 0°C during the entire trip) and also to have some lunch. We found a great place close to Place Vendôme, where we had some delicious carrot and grapefruit soup. I really liked the fact that the place gradually filled up with locals while we were eating. With people actually waiting to get a free seat, our choice couldn’t have been that bad.
We passed the Madeleine and went back to the Place de la Concorde. Ever since we booked the hostel and train tickets, we had planned on going to the Christmas market on the Champs Elysées, which we had imagined to be really nice. Unfortunately, it was mainly kitschy and not Christmassy at all, with Jingle Bells blaring from speakers everywhere and mostly cheap trinkets being sold. So we cut that part of our walk short, headed to the Seine and walked towards our next goal: Trocadéro, to take a look at the Eiffel Tower from there. The weather had changed from bright blue skies in the morning to rain at that point of time, so we made a last stop at the Arc de Triomphe and then boarded the Métro back to our hostel in Montmartre. After a quick nap we had a nice dinner of chèvre chaud (salad with warm honeyed goat cheese, grilled eggplant and roasted ham) at a restaurant recommended by the hostel’s receptionist and then finished off the evening with some red wine in the hostel.
As it kept on raining, we looked for some indoor activities and decided to visit the Paris catacombs the next day. However, when we left the hostel the next morning, it wasn’t raining anymore, so we decided to try and walk all the way to the entrance of the catacombs near the Tour Montparnasse in the southern part of Paris from our hostel in Montmartre in the northern part of the city. While still in Montmartre, we went to see the bar featured in the movie Amélie. Although we didn’t go in, the bar seemed nice from the outside and we really liked the area surrounding the bar, with all its little shops for fruits, vegetables, cheese, fish, and even little fruit tarts. As we made our way south, we even found a little Parisian Japan Town close to the opera in the Rue Sainte-Anne. I bought some Japanese tea and was really happy to be able to talk in Japanese with the shop clerk.
Again, we passed Place Vendôme and the Tuileries Garden, crossed the Seine and walked on through the government district. We even walked by the prime minister’s residence by chance – and I’m pretty sure one of the houses in this area was used as a set in the movie The Intouchables. At some point, we finally arrived at the Tour Montparnasse. With a few detours and breaks, it had taken us more or less three hours to walk there. So we found ourselves another restaurant serving organic food. We only went in for a short coffee break, but we liked the shop so much, we stayed for lunch and another coffee in the end and decided on skipping the catacombs entirely. It was a nice walk, but we were exhausted and not especially keen on walking another 45 minutes underground. So we took it easy, and then finally headed to the closest Métro station, made our way back to the hostel to pick up our luggage and then again to Gare du Nord to board the train back home.
It was a wonderful trip, despite it raining quite a lot. The more I used my French, the more comfortable I felt with the language. I felt so at home in the city, I actually hope to be able to live in Paris some time. And I want to speak French more in the future and might look for a tandem partner after the holidays. Hope to see you again soon, Paris!!