Twelve Hours in Paris


I really don’t need any excuse to visit Paris. It is one of my favourite cities for a myriad of reasons – the river running through its heart, the gruffness of locals, the architecture, the history, the food – I could go on forever and I’ve mentioned it in various posts on the blog before, both here and here.

However, when I saw that I was running low on some French pharmacy supplies and a fantastically low fare cropped up thanks to Eurostar and @London on Instagram I couldn’t miss the opportunity.  I booked for a day trip with hubby in mid-December, catching the 7:01 train from St Pancras and heading back from Gare du Nord at 19:15.

Arriving a little after 10:00 we headed direct to the Metro. I tried to use one of my carnet tickets from a previous visit and it wasn’t accepted by the turnstile. Frustrated, we headed to the ticket machine to purchase more but noticed a man nearby trying to get our attention and say something in French. As a Londoner, I instantly adopted my commuter bitch-face; a cross between “don’t dare talk to me” and “I’m not interested mate, naff off,” thinking he was hassling for attention or money or something. I can’t tell you how utterly mortified I was to hear him say in English that our tickets weren’t working because public transport was free today due to the high levels of pollution in the city! I mean, honestly, I went full Brit and died, dead. Once I realised my mistake I practically chased after him with apologies and mercis, completely red-faced and mortified. Boo hiss to city fumes, yay hurrah to a freebie! London should follow suit and adopt this immediately. 

I’d had breakfast on the train and possibly a light snack before I left the house, but my first stop was my favourite breakfast/brunch place Holybelly. We queued (you always queue here) but not for long and got straight to ordering the Savoury Stack with a cup of London Fog to wash it all down. 

Pancakes with fried eggs, bacon, homemade bourbon butter and maple syrup. WORTH IT.

Despite knowing I’d have to lug my purchases around all day, the next stop was City Pharma, the best pharmacy in all of Paris. You get bargains, attitude, advice, squished and poor from all the things purchased in one two-storey shop. I won’t remind myself of the small fortune I spent there but let’s just say I went way over budget, like WAY, but ensured I bought enough to tide me over to mid-May so it was totally worth it. *eyebrow* 

Purchases included favourites like Nuxe hand cream, lip balm and perfume; a huge bottle of Bioderma body cream and hand lotions; cans and mini cans of Caudalie grape water spritz; blotting paper, Vichy Aqualia day cream and a few small gifty things for family for Christmas. I think that was mainly it!

Walking back in the warm sunshine along the Boulevard Saint-Germain we took our time, popping into a cute vintage/retro shop that had me having many a flashback to my childhood and stroking the soft antique furs on coats and stoles. I have a personal rule to never wear anything I wouldn’t eat – cows/sheep/pigs/rabbit are fine as it were, but fox/bear/mink aren’t.

I saw signs for Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge – the museum of the Middle Ages, a place I’ve walked past so many times and always wanted to go in. In the spirit of adventure we walked around the block to the entrance, through security (this is now sadly implemented in most public buildings) and into a darling little courtyard. 


Walking inside I’m left wondering why I’ve never been here before – the space transforms into a tardis of antiquities and the most beautiful light. I’m annoyed I didn’t take more photos. Rooms were so varied with lofty ceilings all in stone downstairs to cosy darkened wood galleries upstairs. 

The chapel

My other reason for visiting was to see the exquisite tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn. I’d read about these beautiful C16 wool and silk hangings in history books before and love the romance of them being lost and then found in a castle. There are six in total, much larger than I had expected, filling the room from floor to ceiling. They depict the five senses with the sixth, À mon seul désir unconfirmed but thought to be a comment on how humans are the only species with unique desires. 

Ornate wooden carvings on benches

À mon seul désir

By this time my tummy was grumbling for a very late lunch and I almost sprinted to my other must-stop for food, Cafe St Regis. I’ve spoken about the lovely vibe in this place before; I’ve even eaten here alone and felt perfectly comfortable just people watching and resting, whilst filling my belly with delicious food and a Sweet Home Alabama
Needing to walk off our feast and with a few hours of crisp sunny weather left, we ambled along the banks of the Seine like the tourists we were!

Notre Dame

Conciergerie

The dome of the Pantheon visible in the setting sun


I never tire of going through the courtyards of the Louvre. Take away the throng of the crowds, imagine the courtiers who have waked across these cobblestones. I wish I had glasses to view the past. 

With twilight came the time for us to make our way back to Gare du Nord for the train home, via the boulangerie to stock up on baguettes, tartes and macarons for dinner. Only 14.5km walked too which meant my legs and feet weren’t in bits by the end of the day.  A perfect Parisian trip!

Watching the sun setting over the Tuileries.

Curiosity Killed in Paris – encore!

I knew I should’ve taken the earlier train – it meant that I missed service on the breakfast menu at the increasingly popular Holybelly cafe and thus missed the savoury stack of pancakes that I’d been craving for a year!! (They were closed for refurbishment last time I visited in September.) And it meant I got in to Paris at lunch time so everyone will be queuing with me.

Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait and my alternative choice of meal, as recommended by one of the lovely girls there, was an experience and a joy. Two poached eggs, with that ridiculously amazing French bread that is crusty to the point of almost cracking teeth but is too temptingly delicious to leave be, plus salad and crispy bacon and the most wonderful baked beans I have ever had in my life. Quaffed down with a London Fog – earl grey tea with vanilla syrup and frothy milk.

Outside Holybelly

 

My delcious food, the pretty floor and Holybelly interior

Parisian metro

It was a seriously grey and miserable day

I’d decided to visit Paris again on a whim, as I knew hubby would be here for work and the tickets for £29 each way were released-instant decision made! I wanted to see if I could visit some of the places I didn’t on my last trip in September and pick up a few more bits from my favourite pharmacy. As the weather was so miserable I decided to spend the majority of the Friday shopping and spend Saturday doing the more touristy stuff.

My belly was full with deliciousness from Holybelly and my course was set: tackle City Pharma first, then try Sephora and Mac for some extra bits. I managed to pick up some clay masks from Argiletz, extra Nuxe goodies like the brilliant Reve de Miel lip balm and the oh-so-yummy smelling Huile Prodigieuse as well as lots of hand cream (I get through it so quickly!) and a mini Beauty Elixir spritz from Caudalie.

By the time I left (€50 lighter) it had started to rain and oh reader, Paris in the rain is not fun. I still needed to find my Mac bits and headed off on a wild goose chase to two separate stores but they had sold out of my exact shade. Oh well. The second store was very close to the Montparnasse tower and I briefly wondered whether I should head up for a touristy visit, but with the skies so overcast and gloomy I decided to save my €15 and promise to head back another time.

I had bought my usual carnet of metro tickets and hopped on a line taking me towards les grandes magasins making note of one of the more unsettling aspects of Paris since the attacks: when entering most shops you were asked to open your coat – to show you weren’t wearing an explosive vest, and bag – to show you didn’t have weapons.

By this point in the day I’d already walked 13km according to my tracker and I was feeling it. I headed to the hotel before the others for a freshen up before a much needed dinner.

Once reunited with hubby and his colleagues, we had a quick turnaround to visit one of my favourite chocolate and sweet shops – A la mere de famille situated just a 10/15 minute walk away from the hotel. I only wish I could give you smell-o-vision dear reader!

Shop exterior

Those floor tiles! Those huge labels!

Like an apothecary for sweet things!

This feast for the senses was founded before the revolution, in 1761 and maintains its old charm beautifully, from the counter filled with chocolates and jars with delectable treats to the beautiful floor tiles. There’s even a kiosk where the cashier sits! I learned that the French for marshmallow is not marshmallow with a French accent – *dies* – thankfully not me, that was hubby making me seriously embarrassed, but guimauves and I asked for one of each flavour of the huge fluffy sweets.

I also picked up a selection of macarons, not the fanciest of selections but delicious all the same. These are the plain almond biscuits without the colouring but with traditional fillings inside such as pine nut, almond, chocolate and salted caramel. My brain translated lack of colourants as basically good for you – if I’m wrong, I don’t want to be right!

Pic taken at hotel before they got squished in my bag/eaten in a breath. Marshmallows amd macarons!!

After a strange nights sleep (apparently I need a small monster of a cat to crush my legs or hear him purring on my chest to feel truly relaxed) it was time to set off and hit the tourist-y places. I was grateful for the early start to be able to get the metro down to the Louvre and be one of the first in to see the Mona Lisa before the crowds made me question life and the use of aggressive elbows.

A wonderful friend *waves to Nikki* sent me a note about the secret entrance to the Louvre. Secret? Well, not quite but I can’t tell you how much it cut down on waiting times. I HATE queuing and crowds and this basically avoided the worst of it. I hadn’t pre-purchased my ticket so I thought my best bet was to head to the underground entrance. Basically, get off at the Palais Royal Louvre stop and head for the Carousel shopping centre. This will bring you to the inverted pyramids. You can also access the Louvre via the Porte Richelieu if you have pre-paid tickets. I can’t say enough for being an early bird getting the worm here either, just a handful of people were waiting with me for the security checkpoint. 

The alternative entrance to the Louvre

 

This meant I could get to the ticket booth, pay my €15 and race to the Richelieu wing to see the lady with the enigmatic smile, without a million people joining me.

No, seriously. Look at all the emptiness I had! It was like a perfect dream scenario for me. I was tempted to dance on the stairs (no one would have seen me) in gleeful joy.  

Not a soul to be seen. Bliss!

  

The imperfect symmetry in this is making me twitchy

Just a handful of people were in this giant room waiting to see the Mona Lisa. I managed to get a moment admiring her by the barriers all by myself.  

The most famous woman in the world and her admirers.

  

After that I decided to explore the quiet museum a little more and make the most of the time I had to kill. I reckoned two hours at the Louvre would be more than enough for my back/legs/brain. I decided to visit the opulent apartments of Napoleon III and enjoy some alone time there. 

Entrance to the apartments

  

Dining room goals.

  

The Grand Salon. Very grand.


Once again I pretty much had the place to myself so did my usual “pretend you live here in the past” thing and let my imagination run wild.

Many moons ago I had read the brilliant La Reine Margot by Alexander Dumas which takes place in Paris and the Louvre around the reign of Charles IX and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. It is funny and gory and makes Game of Thrones look like Little House(s) on the Prairie. I imagined Marguerite running down this staircase chased by a crazed Catherine de Medici. 

Who have these steps greeted in times gone by?

  
Satisfied with my foray back in time I wandered around the rest of the museum.   

Very creepy, even in daylight!

  

The entrance to the Egyptian exhibits.

  

Claude Leveque’s UV light installation “The greatest show on earth part 2”

 
I thought this was a great use for the medieval moat and enjoyed walking around. I realised that some people were looking at me funny but put it down to a natural paranoia. Then I looked down at my top and realised why… 

my brightly coloured top was now neon and i was glowing in the dark!!


 My next stop was only a short walk away from the Louvre, at the Musee de l’Orangerie and I walked through a cold and bleak Jardin des Tuileries admiring the many runners and strollers braving the freezing temperatures. 
 

I loved the concrete entrance to the oval rooms

 
 I had pre-booked a ticket using the handy fnac website to visit the large, permanent water lilies exhibition by Monet in the oval rooms, specially built for his large paintings.    

Gorgeous spaces, a shame about the people!

They were beautiful spaces, I just wish it had been a little quieter so I could’ve had a longer sit down on the central benches and admired the work. One of the rooms was filled with art students sketching away and other tourists taking so many selfies to the point of making me want to rip the cameras out of their hands. I genuinely don’t understand why they think a picture of them duck-facing in front of exquisite work, by one of the most talented artists in the world, is a thing. *mini rant over*

detail of the waterlilies

 
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the museum for more paintings by artists such as Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Cezanne and more.  

The Eiffel Tower hides its head in the cloud

  

My next stop took me south/left of the river to the stunning Pantheon, sat on top of a hill in the fifth arrondissement. This huge building has been a church, science display and mausoleum in its many incarnations. 

Foucault’s Pendulum tells the time

It also houses the mesmerising Foucault pendulum a simple contraption that demonstrates that the Earth rotates. A brass-coated lead ball swings from a long wire secured in the ceiling of the dome and the plane of the pendulum’s swing rotates clockwise 11° per hour.   

Make sure to take a trip down to the crypt to visit the tombs of some of the greatest French writers and people in history including my pal Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo and Voltaire.  

Voltaire’s tomb

 

My iPhone photography skills do this vast expanse no justice!

 

By this point, around 1-ish,  I was hungry again and being so close to my favourite spot I decided a brisk walk down the hill and across the river to Ile St Louis and the wonderful Cafe St Regis

Interior

    
I’ve written about this gorgeous little place before from my previous trip, but it’s worth saying again. There are many cafes and bistros in Paris but this one holds a special place in my heart for being an oasis of calm. Dining as a woman alone can sometimes feel intimidating or uncomfortable but I was welcomed with a warm smile as if they knew me as a regular visitor – I guess I practically am though!

So delicious!

I didn’t have to be back at Gare du Nord to meet hubby and his colleagues until 4 so I had some time still to kill. I settled in and ordered a hearty meal of Croque Madame which is Croque Monsieur (bread, ham and cheese, all grilled – so basically hammy pizza!) but with an egg. Utterly delicious.

As I felt so comfortable there and I was in the middle of Wet January I decided to order a little cocktail to wash all the food down. I chose a Sweet Home Alabama – Amaretto, Southern Comfort and Stolynichaya vodka. Let’s just say it was potent. *hic* I had to order crepes with Nutella to ensure I wouldn’t be too wobbly on my feet. That’s my excuse for stuffing my face and I’m sticking with it!  

Drinks that have three spirits but taste like fruit juice are dangerous!

  

All the Nutella!!

 

I rolled out of the cafe over an hour and a half later, satisfied and very cheery, pausing to stop and listen to the amazing pianist on the bridge connecting Ile St Louis to Ile de la Cite and briskly avoiding the crowds by Notre Dame. I thought I would kill time by heading to the lovely Cité metro station but I ended up being distracted by the spires of Sainte Chapelle. 

Checking the time I still had an hour until the meeting time and I really didn’t want to hang around Gare du Nord. There was still a bit of a queue for Sainte Chapelle but if you walk up, past the police at the gates, you’ll come to a non-description entrance with a National Monuments board for the Conciergerie. 

The stunning fairytale building that looks like a medieval chateau from the other side of the river – that’s the Conciergerie. It was once part of the Royal Palace complex, together with the Palais de Justice and Sainte Chapelle and served as a prison. 

 This huge space (imagine the parties you could host!) greeted me as I walked down the steps into the lower hall, the Hall of the Men at Arms. I had NO IDEA this vastness existed and I was in it for a mere €8!

It was originally a massive dining hall for the many thousands of staff that serviced the palace complex. 

The gorgeous staircase to the kitchens that sady no longer exist!

 The Conciergerie gained infamy during the Revolution holding prisoners who would then be transported to the guillotines across the city. The most famous prisoner was Marie Antoinette and they’ve preserved the chapel created in situ of her cell as well as a mock up of the cell itself. I found the different types of cells really interesting – you could pay for a private suite! – and the roll call of the many names of political prisoners was harrowing. 

A pretty stained glass panel in Marie Antoinette’s chapel

Just visible is a high water mark from a flood in 1910, about 3 metres high!

  
It was finally time to head to GdN and meet up with hubby and his colleagues. Although my time in Paris was pretty short I felt like I had managed to do as much as I possibly could within the time frame and still enjoy myself. I checked my tracker, I’d managed to walk nearly 20kms despite taking the metro nearly everywhere! I was exhausted but happy. I just needed one final item to pick up for the journey home – delicious demi baguettes. A bien tôt Paris!

Gare du Nord to take me back home