There are many things that had gone wrong in this trip. For a lot of people, traveling to Europe half prepared can spell disaster. Not in my case though. Well, sometimes a series of wrong moves and a little “come what may” philosophy can actually lead to something right. Here are some of the unplanned things that I did in Paris that actually made my trip nothing short of magical.
Forget Michelin Star
I wanted to eat in a Michelin Star restaurant in Paris, but I didn’t know which one and I didn’t make any advanced bookings. The thing is with Michelin Star restaurants is that you can’t just make an appearance at their doorstep and ask for a table. Bookings are a must. Fortunately, Michelin Star restaurants are not the only place you can eat good food. It’s Paris! Good food is everywhere! So what I did is that I scoured the alleys to look for “unrecognized” but decent restaurants, et voilà! I found one in Quartier Latin (the latin quarter) that served an epicly tasty french onion soup! It’s the kind that made me say “GGGEEEZZZUUSS, that’s the tastiest f****** french onion soup I’ve ever tasted in my f****** life!” For those of you who’s curious about this restaurant, it’s called “Le Bistrot” and it’s at Rue Saint-Severin, close to the Saint-Michel RER station.
Paris is the best place in the world to just take your time, walk around and bask in the beauty of the city. So, I spent a lot of time just doing what the french call the “Flânerie” (strolling). I tossed the idea of booking for a city tour aside as they usually tend to overload you with too much historic facts and they would drag you from one spot to another before you could inhale the fresh air. I went to explore the city on my own, at my own leisurely pace.
People often make the mistake of doing too many things in too little time when traveling to Paris. Their heads are just filled with ideas fed by countless unsolicited suggestions from friends and family; bombarded by stacks of information from popular guide books. I can’t say that I blame them because there’s a lot to do and see in Paris. Well, when I was in Paris, one of the things that I really loved doing was to do NOTHING.
There were times when I would just get a baguette from some boulangerie and sit by the river Seine as I watch boats pass by. There were also times when I would just walk around a park (like Jardin de Luxemborg or the Tuileries garden) listening to french accordion music and people watch. Occasionally I would interact with other tourists (sometimes locals). Waaay better than squeezing in the overly crowded galleries of the Louvre museum, or queuing to go up the Eiffel tower!
Spend the whole day in museums
I am a lover of art. And Paris is the best place to see art. But the museums are massive! The Louvre alone has several wings and hundreds of galleries which you definitely cannot explore in 1 day! The Louvre is beautiful inside out. It’s the kind of place where you should take your time to explore and to savor each second. Don’t rush! But if you only several hours, FORGET about getting in because the queue is ridiculous. Strike a pose at the façade, take as many photos as you like and move on to your next destination.
I had more than enough time to burn so I didn’t pass on the opportunity to go inside the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa “in person”. The experience wasn’t exactly how I imagined it though as it was ridiculously crowded (even though I went there early in the morning). I had imagined that I would be in awe as I look at Mona Lisa straight in the eye. Unfortunately, the crowd ruined the experience. There was a multitude of misbehaved tourists taking photos (with blinding flash) of the painting. The gallery staff didn’t seem to mind, then I realised it might not actually be the real painting.
The Denon wing of the Louvre museum is where most tourists would flock to as this is where the Mona Lisa painting is exhibited (first level). But the Richelieu wing is also worth the visit. This is where the Napoleon III’s appartments are. The rooms here are obscenely lavish and you’d probably spend most of your time looking up at the chandeliers and ceiling art. The Richelieu wing is surprisingly not as crowded as the Denon wing. Personally, I enjoyed exploring this part of the Louvre more than any of the other wings.
Museé D’Orsay is another famous museum in Paris. I didn’t initially plan to go to this museum as I’m not really a big fan of impressionist art, but I was glad that I dropped by because I ended up loving this museum. In fact, this is my favourite museum so far!
My fondest memory of Museé D’Orsay was when I saw the famous “Starry Starry Night” painting by Van Gogh. I was awestruck by it’s beauty that I actually stood there for about 20 minutes, just staring at its magnificence. And unlike the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, I can easily tell that this is actually the real thing! The museum staff stood guard beside it, ever ready to jump on the next tourist who attempted to take a shot.
Forget about climbing the Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is the very first Parisian monument I ever laid eyes on and it is my favourite landmark in the world so far. I love the Eiffel tower so much I would spend several hours a day just to marvel at its beauty. But I didn’t think it was necessary to climb it. The Eiffel Tower (in my humble opinion) is best viewed from afar. You will definitely spend hours just queuing if you don’t book any of those “skip the line” tours. So if you’re like me who didn’t manage to book a tour in advance, there are many ways you can spend those hours exploring the other corners of Paris instead.
If you want a good view of the Paris skyline, you can actually head up to Basilique Sacré Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart) which sits on top of Montmartre. Bring a bottle of cheap wine and a piece of baguette, find a good spot, sit back and watch the sun set over Paris. That’s exactly what I did! Beats queuing at the Eiffel Tower!
The Montmartre Neighborhood
After watching the sunset at the basilica, I spent a good couple of hours just strolling along the streets of Montmartre. There are a lot of interesting places in Montmartre which i think is best explored without being rushed for time. There were a lot of restaurants around the area and I would have loved to stay there longer. Unfortunately I had other plans for the night.
Watching a musical at the Mogador Theatre
I chose to spend my last night in Paris by watching a musical. Again, this was one of my “you’ve got to be
kidding right?” moments as I only did the booking 2 nights prior to my return to Paris (from Bordeaux). The musical? “Belle et la Bete”. Oh well, it’s nothing really fancy, it’s just basically Beauty and the Beast….IN FRENCH!
When the play started, the prologue was in french. I thought, oh ok, maybe it’s just the prologue that’s in french. But when Belle started singing in french, that’s when I said “what the f!” Well, it’s good that I can actually understand french. Although the translation of some of the songs sounded quite odd and at times unromantic, the hair raising performance (and I meant that in a good way) became the redeeming factor.
Like I always say, I am not the obsessive-compulsive type of traveler who has the compulsion to always do everything “right” when traveling. I’m simply the brute force attack, trial and error kind of guy who loves to occasionally get lost and make mistakes. Spontaneity is my niche. I am terrified by surprises but once in a while, I welcome random but pleasant ones.
My trip is far from perfect and I made “little” mistakes here and there. My schedule was an utter mess and I did burn quite a “few” extra bucks, but for me this trip was generally a success. There were no rules or plan to follow and no expectations to be met. Just pure magical experience. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.