Sunday, March 6, 2016

Paris on a Sunny Day

Is there a more ridiculous question to pose than "what to do in Paris?"  But if you're an obsessive compulsive travel planner like me you want to know what you don't know.  Those secret little tidbits of advice that you can only get from someone else's experience.  One little piece of insider advice -- prepare for rain.  Pack an umbrella (or check your hotel lobby for an industrial size one).  Prepare to find indoor activities (museums, restaurants, cafes, shopping) to get out of the rain for sudden outbursts.  And then when you have the luck of a sunny day, make the most of it! Here's some of my favorite sunny Paris to-do items.

Paris is a big city, and even the most resilient walkers are going to need some help if you want to see most of the city.  The subway system is fantastic, but crowded and sometimes stifling hot.  If the weather is nice an even better way to get around is through Velib, a public bike share that has over 1,000 bike racks throughout the city.  It's incredibly easy to use.  Just sign up with your credit card on their website, get your passcode for the day, and then enter that code at the bike kiosk.  Then you just hop on, wheel around Paris, and drop your bike off at whichever station you are nearby.



You can bike to the Eiffel Tower and get some other nice tourists to take your photo --



And then bike to the Louvre to get your picture outside of the Pyramid (especially if you went to the Louvre on a rainy day and missed the photo-op!). 


And then bike to the Arc de Triomphe...


And then you will have all of your pictures from Paris wearing the same clothes so it looks like you just never showered on your trip.

But seriously, the Velib bikes are great.  Just make sure you take things at the right pace. Paris has really busy traffic (no surprise, right?) and the bike lanes are shared with the bus lanes. Which means you might be cycling along and then a line of buses are stopped right in front of you to take pictures of the Louvre.  What to do? You can patiently wait for the buses to move off.  Or you can try to hop the curb with your bike up onto the side walk and pedal past there.  Only are you sure you know how to hop a curb?  Exactly how long has it been since you last went biking?

I don't have a picture of me crying, trapped under my bicycle in the bus lane of a busy street where a nice Parisian man took pity on a dumb American by helping to unpin me from under my bicycle.  I thought I had broken my elbow, but luckily just a sprain.  Nothing like the combo of bruised arm and bruised pride to take back to the States as a souvenir.  At the time I declared Scarlett O'Hara style, "As God as my witness, I will never bike again!!"  But you should definitely try it out because I doubt you're as much of a clutz as I am.

Pere-Lachaise Cemetery
Walking around a cemetery might not be everyone's cup of tea, but this place is both hauntingly beautiful and oddly curious, both because of the celebrities and historical persons entombed within and the way modern humans find a way to pay their respects.  It can be a bit warm out here in full sun, so bring a water bottle.  There is a public water fountain near the entrance if you need a refill-- look for a little hunter green post (they're inconspicuous until you know what you are looking for).  Unless you're spooked out by drinking cemetery water of course.  The thought did cross my mind, but thirst won out.




Heloise and Abelard are buried here side by side.  Read their story if you need a reason to care about this brutal and sadly true tale of star-crossed lovers.


Jim Morrison's grave is barricaded off, but mourners don't need much convincing to jump the ropes.



By the way, if you are planning on touring the cemetery, maybe not the best day to wear your x-ray dress. Lesson learned.




Oscar Wilde's tomb is also sectioned off by a plastic wall, but people get a boost from friends to give the tomb it's age-old tradition of a kiss in red lipstick. 


Jardin du Luxembourg
This is a great place to take some coffee and pastries and just live the life Parisian. Interestingly the place seemed almost oddly devoid of the usual tourists; maybe because it's tucked away a bit deeper in the 6th arrondissement, not really nearby other major tourist sites.  The best place to people watch for sure in my opinion, and without anyone trying to sell you selfie sticks or umbrellas every five feet.



Little boat rental stands are available for grandparents to teach their little ones how to sail in the most picturesque way imaginable.  I mean, look at his little Gilligan's Island hat.




I know, I know.  It's sunny and bright and your suggestion is going inside a church?  But this opportunity is not to be missed -- the ceiling to floor stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle casts mesmerizing prisms of rainbow light all across the inside of the church.  Much like the complete wonder that is walking into La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona on a sunny day; the light seems to envelope the entire room, your entire being.  



Finished in 1248, Sainte-Chapelle was literally built as a jewelry box of sorts to house early Christian relics, including what King Louis IX thought was the Crown of Thorns.  Each window depicts stories from different books of the Bible, with one window at the back of the church depicting the King himself bringing the relics to the people of France. It was a strong political message, glorifying God with an incredible architectural achievement, and depicting the King in kind with other biblical figures of importance. I grew up thinking "Indiana Jones" was a potential career plan so forgive me if I'm boring you here.



This was one of my favorite places we visited in Paris, and definitely worth a trip in my opinion. For whatever reason people seem pretty down on it on Trip Advisor, so maybe this one is best saved for a full sunny day to properly appreciate the beauty inside.  Entry is 8.50 euros/ person

The Best Free View in Paris
This is a little insider's tip.  Sure you can pay to go up the Eiffel Tower, but then you are looking at a view of Paris below without an Eiffel Tower.  A great (free!) way to get your cityscape fix is to head to the roof at Galleries Lafayette. You can shop and admire the lovely art deco glass ceiling on your escalator ride to the top, and then enjoy a relatively tourist-free view on the roof.  Worth a trip even if it's a typical rain-and shine-and rain kind of overcast day in Paris.


Picnic on the Seine
The best place to celebrate your last evening in the City of Lights?  A picnic on the Seine is definitely where you'll find the Parisian millennial set hanging out.  Prepare for impromptu jam bands or even dance troops performing as you walk along.  The view and vibe are unbeatable:






To make the most of your picnic you need to hit up 3 places:  A boulangerie for fresh bread (they will slice it for you!), a frommagerie for fresh cheese (go for the goat cheese if you are feeling overwhelmed), and a wine store.  Make sure you pack a bottle opener so you aren't stuck with crappy twist top wine.  Noob mistake.  Then take your time strolling back to your hotel to catch the Notre Dame transform at sunset.







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