December 10, 2018
by Dan and Christina
With the family we took the Eurostar from London to Paris. Once we got settled into our AirBnB our first order of business was going out to a nearby bakery to score some macaroons. My sister is a bit of a fan and has made some herself, so we had tons of fun trying the bakery versions vs the supermarket ones. Also obtained was wine and baguettes. Fun side note on baguettes: you might think it’s a stereotype of the French, but the number of folks that we saw just wandered down the street with a baguette in hand was astounding.
After dinner we went to attend Saturday evening mass at Sacre Cour. The cathedral is perched on top of a huge hill. The view of the city is phenomenal and we got a nice look at the Eiffel tower all lit up and sparkly. The interior of the church is rather simple except for an enormous mural of Jesus, which was pretty cool.
The next day was our only full day in town with the family, and so we went pretty hard with the tourism. Our first stop was the allegedly most visited museum in the world: the Louvre. I had read that the lines to get in were pretty long, and we were going on a Sunday, which had me worried. We got a late start and arrived at noon, but there were hardly any lines for the security or the tickets!
Once inside we bee-lined as a group to the crowds surrounding the Mona Lisa. From there we split up to explore independently for two hours. Not only is the art in there fantastic, the architecture and lighting plays a big part of the experience. I wasn’t expecting to be so in love with the visit. [Note from Christina: The ceilings of the building were one of my favorite parts!]
I didn’t realize at all how massive the Louvre is. Just walking the whole building at a leisurely pace would probably take the better part of an hour. So there is absolutely no way to see the whole place in 2 hours or, really for the matter, a whole day. Still we all had pretty serious museum fatigue at the end of two hours (this is a real medical condition, trust me, I’m a doctor). We pretty much all agreed that if we were to do it again it would require packing snacks (yes that’s allowed… I know right!?) and maybe taking a strategic nap or two on a bench inside the museum.
After our allotted two hours we wandered off for food. Unfortunately the area around the Louvre really sticks it to you for a simple mediocre meal. Again, I really wish I knew about that snack situation.
Following lunch we paid a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral. The outside is super impressive, but I didn’t know much at all about the interior. Turns out, this was what the cathedral level in Time Splitters 2 was based on. It’s pretty obvious in hindsight, but it was fun to recognize while I was there. The stained glass was very impressive.
From there we headed to the Eiffel tower. We arrived a bit after sunset. It was cool to see it all lit up, but we were really hoping to go inside the tower during the day, so that was postponed until the next day. After having some fun photo shoots, we headed home and pretty much collapsed for the day.
The next morning we checked out of the AirBnB and stored our bags in the Gare du Nord station. We were able to get everyone’s things into two large lockers, so that worked out pretty well.
The next item on the agenda was to go out for a proper French meal.
I did some research on this and a ‘proper French meal’ in Paris generally means something super fancy and is described with words like “daring” and “inventive”. Not really what any of us cared about. But I found Le Bouillon Chartier which seemed to be a fine dining experience of classic French food for the common person. The prices were reasonable, the food was tasty, the atmosphere was nice. It was perfect. The main complaint of the place is that it’s busy and they shuffle people in and out too quickly. As a normal American family that wouldn’t typically bother us. But also we were on a tight schedule today so reading complaints about a place with service that is fast (by European standards no less) was perfect for us.
We were the slow part and took a long time to order food. But we were all super happy with what we got. The main event was the escargot. Christina and I were super proud of my sister who tried a snail (there may be a video of this…). My parents had never had snails before, either. My mom went into the meal willing to try just one, but then she ended up absolutely loving them. Way to go mom! And they are really quite delicious.
Then we were on a mission: summit the Eiffel tower or bust. To get into the ticket booth, you have to pass through security. The entire area below the tower is walled off and there is only one entrance on the north east side. Once through security we got worried when we saw the huge line to go up the tower. Luckily that was for the people getting tickets to take the lift up the whole thing. We were planning to walk up the first bit, which is my preferred approach for towers.
The line for the stairs was way shorter, and the tickets are less expensive. We opted to get the tickets that would take us all the way to the top which, no matter what, requires an elevator ride from the second floor viewing platform. It’s possible to buy the tickets in advance but only for the lifts, to walk the steps it seems that you have to buy the tickets in person.
It’s a pretty long hike up to the second stage. We were all worried about the line for the second elevator, but it turns out that it wasn’t so long at all. And the rather small viewing platform at the very top was also surprisingly not very crowded. All in all we spent about 1.5 hrs there. The view from the top is pretty great. I think the most interesting aspect of the city is that the skyline is minimal except for this one patch of skyscrapers off to the NE far from the center of town.
We then went straight back to Gare du Nord station to get the family on their train back to London, and their flight back out of Heathrow. We had a bit of a scary moment when their storage locker was out of order and wouldn’t open, but it didn’t take too long to sort out. So we got them to the Eurostar check in on time! It was really great to have my family join us and see what our life has been like for the last year and a half. I think that they had a good experience, and I hope we inspired some further travel adventures for them. It was great to have you guys visit!
Once they were on their way, Christina and I had a few hours to kill before meeting up with out Couchsurfing host Anais. We went to meet her and hung out and watched a movie together before bed.
The next day out we didn’t have much planned other than to walk around the city. We really expected to be able to find a nice cafe or library and hang out. This turned out to be more challenging than anticipated. First off cafes are only really open from around 11 am to 5 pm maybe. And even then they are not really places to hang out for very long. It’s more of a midday break sort of thing for French people. That was hard to wrap my head around and I wasn’t super comfortable with the concept of not being able to buy coffee at 8 am. Early morning coffee is not a thing in France, or at least, Paris.
After a pastry at a boulangerie with no WiFi, we found a promising free library near to the Eiffel tower, Bibliotheque Amelie. It was promising mostly because it was open at 10 am… compared to 1 pm for most of the other libraries. The hours kept in Paris were very strange for us. The library is tucked away up a set of stairs inside of some courtyard with government offices. We arrived only to find out that it was closed that day for staff training, but we ended up sitting in the waiting room chairs outside the library and using the WiFi anyway. Plus there was a bathroom and a really cheap coffee machine downstairs, so it all worked out.
We went to take a look at the Champ Elysees, which was pretty boring except for the lights and saw the Arc de Triomphe. By triumph arch standards, it’s pretty impressive. Christina got a short run in before we went to buy some groceries for dinner and meet Anais back at the house.
Christina was inspired by a veggie sushi dish that she had in London which was fake eel sushi made with sauteed eggplant. I was skeptical of recreating this, but it turned out quite perfectly. She just sauteed slices of eggplant in butter and soy sauce and they were amazing. We used apple cider vinegar for the rice and it actually turned out close enough to sushi rice. It was pretty amazing work with limited ingredients.
The next morning we said farewell to Anais (Thank you so much! It was lovely to meet you!) and took off early. We made our way over to the bus station near Bercy. We had some time to kill before our bus. It was cold and the not-open-early cafe situation was pretty dire. Even the Burger King wasn’t open yet. Luckily we were able to pay a visit to the Francois Mitterrand Library. This place is massive, with a forest courtyard in the center. I don’t even know what all is in the four huge towers attached to it.
To get in you have to go through security. They didn’t mind our huge backpacks even though they were clearly well above the specified limit. There was tons of space to work and free WiFi. It was all very cool and modern. This is definitely a great place to do some work in Paris.
When it was time, we made our way across a cool icy pedestrian bridge to the bus station. It was a bit of a waste land, but they seem to be trying to liven the place up. We hopped on our Flixbus to Lyon.
We were quite surprised to discover that the bus stopped for bathroom breaks every 1.5 hours, and this is a bus that has an on-board bathroom! After the long haul buses in Latin America and Southeast Asia, where at one point we had to argue vociferously for a bathroom stop on a long haul bus with no bathroom, this was a pleasant shock.
We arrived at Lyon and took the metro to our AirBnB, a private room in a shared apartment. Our plan was to just have some downtime and not do much after the visit with the family. Our hosts, Alex and Louisa, were very social folks, and they had friends over a few times during the week, inviting us to join, but mostly we just cooked our meals in and puttered around the house.
One day we went out for lunch to meet Janet, the mother of my friend Matt. Matt grew up in Lyon and is now living elsewhere, but he put us in touch (many thanks!). We met her at Les Gamins de la Place, where we enjoyed savory and sweet crepes with cider, and had a nice chat about travel and research. Thank you so much Janet, it was lovely to meet you.
Despite the cold, we found a time to go for a run in the Parc de la Tête d’Or near our the apartment. It houses a large botanical garden, a zoo, and a velodrome. It was the first time I’ve ever had a surprise lion on my run, which made the pack of deer a little later a bit less impressive.
The velodrome was closed, but we took a peek at it as we ran by, and interrupted our run to visit the botanical garden, which was free.
We made a point to go downtown and have a bite to eat. The main street was lit up pleasantly for Christmas, and the buildings on the Fourvière hill, including the basilica and the court house, also had some very nice architectural lighting.
We ate flat breads and enjoyed happy hour beers at Flam’s Lyon restaurant, which has a all you can eat deal, but I somehow managed to avoid overeating, though exactly how, I’ll never know.
I returned to the park on another day to do a ring workout, and was very discouraged to discover that though there was lots of playground equipment, there were no monkey or pull up bars to hang the rings on. Also, there were giraffes. Hi.
I nearly gave up, but then I found a nice tree and had a pretty pleasant work out, and I was very proud of myself for managing it despite the cold.
And so, after five pleasantly relaxed days in Lyon, we made our way back to the bus station, and our next destination: Barcelona!