From Cathedrals to Sewers – Paris in a Day
Our time in France was getting to be like a blur. Nine days in three different cities, countless pain au chocolates, baguettes and cheap wines were contributing to the confusion.
After six nights in wine country, we pulled into Paris’s Gare de Lyon train station without a clue what we would do in the City of Lights for the next three nights. Constant travel does that to us. We start to research our next destination, but quickly get overwhelmed and start to neglect our current location.
Big cities like Paris can be the best or absolute worst places to wing it. Things can be sold out, we can waste half a day trying to figure out what to do – or – we can put our big-girl travel panties on and get a general outline together and then see where life takes us for a few days. Luckily for us, Paris was brimming with activity that required little advance planning. Even luckier, we had an Airbnb host who upon meeting us at our flat, mentioned that Paris was celebrating Les Jurnees du Patrimoine (European Heritage Days). One weekend a year, a number of otherwise closed buildings open their doors to the public, along with special events hosted by museums and other regular Paris attractions. We quickly found ourselves immersed in this fantastic city under some of the most strange circumstances.
We took to the streets to find a few Les Jurnees du Patrimoine gems and in about four hours accomplished more than we typically would in an eight hour work day.
We started the day by getting lost at the Bastille Sunday Market in a maze of fruit, vegetables, cheeses, fish, meat and bric-a-brac stalls. A quarter of a rotisserie chicken, a hunk of cheese, a few apples and a baguette later, we were well stocked for the day.
Soon, we were walking through the stables of the Garde Républicaine (responsible for providing security in the Paris area and for providing guards of honor – including escorting urgent organ transplants).
Next, we impatiently stood in a line with about 200 people in front of us to visit the bell towers at Notre Dame for free. Ten minutes later, we ditched the line and just walked in the front entrance to wander the aisles while mass was happening. An even better choice with the tower bells ringing in our ears and the incense from mass consuming the air.
In pure Paris tourist style, we walked along the Seine stopping to relish being in the midst of amazing architecture and some of the most famous places in the world like the Louvre.
God knows why, but we went to the depths of the city to tour the stinkiest place in Paris, Les Egouts de Paris, and learned about the history of the Paris sewer system. Yes, it even had us walk through areas that continue to be in operation.
In pure Jill and Dave travel style, we searched high and low for a wine shop open on a Sunday (FYI – Paris is basically closed on Sundays) and popped the cork on a nice French rose to complete our picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
After some coaxing, I jumped on stage at the École Militaire, a military training facility, and held what I think is a semi-automatic weapon. The nice military man was speaking to me in French so the only thing I picked up was that the heavy gun weighed a few kilos.
With no coaxing, Dave posed for a few pictures with Parisians dressed up as Napoleon’s guards.
To finish our grand walk around Paris, we spent the rest of the afternoon people watching among the many areas of the incredible Luxembourg Gardens.
And to top it off, we had a great dinner at a friend’s house (thanks Matt and Lauren).
For two people with no plans in Paris, I would say we had a pretty good day. France was no longer a blur and Paris was becoming a highlight of the trip.