There seems to be a running theme with my birthdays and going away; this year we continued the trend. I was extremely lucky and celebrated my 24th birthday in the city of love – Paris!
This wasn’t a birthday surprise; we planned it quite far in advance which gave us plenty of time to organise decent fares on the Eurostar and reserve a beautiful flat right in the centre of the 10th arrondissement through Airbnb.
Our flat was located on the 5th floor of a wonderfully old Parisian building at the base of the beautiful Canal Saint Martin. The very modestly-sized flat had everything we needed for our three-night stay and we felt like true Parisians for the duration. Did I say ‘modestly sized’? Ok I mean teeny tiny; it was our teeny tiny Parisian studio flat. Literally your toes could touch the kitchen counters when the bed was pulled out… The size really did add to the charm though and as a nice little touch our lovely host left us out gorgeous treats from the local Patisserie as a welcome gift.
I was actually really fascinated by the apartment building, it was a stereotypical white detailed building with flowers in the windows and a huge big communal door on the entrance to the street. Inside the apartment was a twisting, winding staircase and at each level stood an ancient communal toilet and washroom. Obviously these are no longer used and everyone nowadays has their own facilities, but it was fascinating to get a glimpse into what life in Paris in one of these buildings must have been like in the past! This is something I love about Airbnb – you really can experience real city living rather than just staying in a non-descript hotel room.
We arrived in the city around about lunchtime and after dumping our bags (and having a good catch up with our eccentric host Jide) we set out to wander the city. I’d been to Paris a few times when I was younger but this was Miles’ first time in the city so we certainly enjoyed putting out tourist hats on!
Our first stop of in the city was at the trendy area of Les Marais, a stones through from our flat. This is the perfect place to head to if you fancy cool clothes shops, interesting boutiques, lovely restaurants, buzzing bars and interesting architecture. We stopped off for a gorgeous lunch at Rose bakery on Rue Debelleyme followed by a carafe of red wine at La Perle where we sat out for a bit and watched the world go by. Interestingly enough this is the exact bar where John Galliano embarked on a very highly publicised drunken tirade back in 2011…
We sat here for what felt like 10 minutes but what was actually closer to a couple of hours before heading around the area and doing a little bit of shopping. If you’re ever in this area of Paris make sure you pay a visit to Merci, it is the coolest store with the most amazing interior products. I hate to think how much time we spent in there…
That evening, all shopped out, we did a bit of an impromptu bar crawl and ended up sipping wine at Le Saint Gervais on Rue Vieille du Temple and enjoying a delicious cheeseboard until we eventually crawled back to the apartment absolutely exhausted.
The next morning – my 24th birthday – we woke up early and sat out on a street corner and had a delicious breakfast of croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. There was a fantastic flea market on selling incredible vintage bits and bobs from art work to furniture. There was so much stuff we fell in love with – it was such a shame that we wouldn’t be able to squeeze it on the Eurostar back home. I still regret not buying this vintage school chart which had a 1950’s Christmas scene on it…. I often scour the internet for trying to find it.
Having filled ourselves up on French pastries, and shopped until we dropped, we headed across to the icon of Paris – the Eiffel Tower. I visited the tower with a school trip 10 or so years ago and I remember being really gutted that we were only allowed to go as far as the middle viewing platform – why would you go up the Eiffel tower and not go right to the top?! So this time I was determined that we must travel right to the tip – and what better a time than on my actual birthday!
That was until, however, we noticed the queue for the lifts – over a 2.5 hour wait! It was crazy. We queued for a little while before deciding that we didn’t want to spend our day queuing and therefore were about to give up on the plan of reaching the top of the tower. That was until Miles spotted the queue to the stairs – that’s right the stairs all the way up the tower. And guess what – there was no queue. No queue at all. After a little persuasion (Miles trying to persuade me that is) we climbed all the way to the top – all 700 stairs – and made our way up to the heavens to admire the gorgeous views.
I think the sense of achieving made the whole visit completely worth it – it was fantastic. Oh and extremely windy!
Having spent some time up at the top of the Eiffel Tower, we came back down to earth and decided to take a wander.
We walked up towards the Arch de Triumph before wandering down the Champs Elysees and taking in the hustle and bustle of the crowded street. We took a stop of at Laduree and enjoyed their delicious macarons – my absolute favourite.
We then wandered up towards the Louvre and milled around the grounds. There’s a gorgeous park right opposite the Louvre called the Tuileries Garden which is full of lovely fountains and open spaces which we thoroughly enjoyed.
We kept wandering through the gardens until we hit the Champs Elysees again, and enjoyed some mulled wine at the Christmas market. My absolute favourite festive pastime! We also tried a delicious typically French winter dish; Pommes Aligot which essentially is mash potato with cheese and garlic. Oh yum.
That evening we headed back to our apartment and nibbled on cheese and French bed whilst sipping red wine and getting ready for the evening ahead.
Miles took me to the most delicious vegetarian restaurant called SOYA in Canal St Martin –this was literally one of the best meals I’ve ever had, completely delicious! I had a vegetable lasagne which, even though it sounds very run of the mill, was incredible. We finished by birthday evening by sipping on margaritas at Café Chilango. Perfect!
The next morning, a little fuzzy from the night before, we woke up early ready to make the most of our last day in the city. We grabbed some coffee and a breakfast to go at Ten Belles just off the canal before heading out for a morning of treading the pavements.
Our first stop was the incredible Notre Dame Cathedral which was just completely stunning.
From there we wandered across the bridge and made our way over to Montmartre. I absolutely love this area, all the artists out on the street, the quirky individuals and the amazing bars and restaurants.
We sat out at a pavement café and enjoyed a delicious lunch of Croque Monsieur before wandering up towards the Sacre-Coer. We were lucky to be met with the most gorgeous weather which just made the experience even more memorable.
After having a little wander in the area, and spending far too long in the Aesop store, we took a walk back down the hill towards the famous Moulin Rouge. We actually popped in to see how much a show was, turns out it was WAY out of our budget! After taking a few snaps outside the iconic windmill we found ourselves bam smack in the middle of the red light district. Ooops – we swiftly left!
That afternoon we made an interesting stop of which is slightly off the usual tourist trails. We ventured deep underground to visit the hidden world of the Paris Catacombs….
As you enter the building you descend down a narrow, stone spiral staircase, ending up 19 metres underground in the darkness of the quarry tunnels. These tunnels run below much of the city, covering over 175 miles in total. They were first started in the 12th century to mine the limestone and gypsum used to build some of Paris’ most famous buildings, like the Louvre and Notre Dame cathedral.
Originally Paris’ larger churches had their own cemeteries on the outskirts of the city where they had buried their dead since Roman times. But as the city expanded, many of the cemeteries were were absorbed into the city and had no more room to grow. So by the late 17th century only the rich could afford a proper church burial, and the poor were sent to the ‘Cemetery of the Innocents’ to be buried in mass graves without coffins. This got more and more overcrowded, and the decaying bodies started to pollute the groundwater and spread diseases to the living. The government put through decrees to try to limit the cemetery’s use, but with a lack of other ideas and the cemetery being a big source of revenue for the church, they needed another option – which is where the quarry tunnels came in. The bodies of the dead were moved from their current graves and moved deep down under the Parisian streets in the catacombs.
The bones of over six million people now fill the catacombs, about three times the number of people living in Paris today. It’s such a surreal place with the bones artistically displayed throughout the narrow tunnels of the ossuary. There’s even a sign that warns ‘stop, this is the empire of the dead’ as you enter. Spooky!
That evening, exhausted – we headed back to Canal St Martin for our last meal in the city. We wanted to have a traditional French meal and the food at La Marine surpassed all our expectations. If you’re ever in this neighbourhood of Paris you MUST go here. I went all out French and dined on beef bourguignon whilst Miles opted for a fish dish. We had to wait almost an hour for a table to become free but it was completely worth the wait. Amazing.
Unfortunately that brought our weekend in Paris to an end as we were catching a train back to London early the next morning. We had such a lovely time in the beautiful city and cannot wait to come back and explore further at some point in the future!