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  • Writer's pictureJulie Stevens

Paris: Our Brief Love Affair

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Three friends & three days in the City of Lights.

Paris France Eiffel Tower Travel
Julie, Mayume & Tracey

Sometimes in life, you are given the opportunity to travel with those most precious to you. When this gift presents itself, you must take it. This is how I ended up in Paris with two of my best childhood girlfriends, Mayume & Tracey. This was our first time in the City of Lights, and we arrived with a lot of excitement and very little French. C'est la vie.

I'm currently living abroad, just outside of London, so the first part of the trip was spent visiting me in England. We then boarded the Eurostar for our two-hour train ride to Paris. With only three days to explore, we wanted to make sure we could take in as much as it had to offer, without feeling exhausted at the end of our journey. Paris is one of the most romantic, fashionable and cultural cities in the world, along with its world-renowned gastronomy and outdoor terraces and cafes. As with most great cities, if you only have a few days, it can prove to be a daunting task just knowing where to start.

After some online research, Mayume hooked us up with the most amazing travel experts, Tournesol Travel. They were an integral part of our trip's success. Lisa Dunoyer, Founder and President, presented so many wonderful ideas, including must-see excursions, restaurants, hotels, and even made travel arrangements to and from the train station. The great thing about her assistance in this planning process was that we could take part in as many or as few suggestions as we desired. The itinerary she put together showcased Paris in the best possible way. We took a cruise on the River Seine, strolled the historic hallways of the Louvre Museum, enjoyed a fabulous food and wine tour with a local guide, dined at the famous Le Train Bleu and viewed Paris by night from the deck of the Eiffel Tower. We also had plenty of free time to explore Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur Basilica, shop, relax and people watch while sitting in the local cafes. Lisa moved to Paris after university, where she met her husband Francois. Together, they created Tournesol Travel, a luxury travel company specializing in creating dream vacations to France. Today, they split their time between France and the US.

Our Hotel

Les Dames du Pantheon is located in the 5th Arrondissement at the heart of the Latin Quarter. This boutique hotel offers luxury and elegance, just what you might expect from your Parisian stay. An elegant mix of contemporary and antique, you may feel like you've been transported back in time. We had an unobstructed view of the Pantheon in one direction, and the shooting location for Gabriel's restaurant from "Emily in Paris" in the other. With two adjoining rooms, it was perfect for giving us our own bit of space, while still providing our need for a childlike slumber party.

Pantheon Paris France
Pantheon Paris, France - View from our room.

After popping the cork of our Moet & Chandon, graciously given to us by Tournesol Travel, it was time to catch a taxi to the River Seine. We were headed for our river boat cruise. One travel tip when hailing le taxi in Paris, make sure they take credit cards before you get in. Some drivers only take cash, and this can prove tricky if you find this out after reaching your destination.

Seine River Cruise

A cruise on the River Seine is high on our recommendation list for things to do in Paris, and a beautiful way to experience the city and its many historical attractions. The tour guides speak several languages, and that alone is music to your ears. Our one-hour voyage started at Notre Dame Cathedral and led us on a journey to the Musée d'Orsay, the Louvre, City Hall, and under several bridges, including the famous Pont Alexandre II. The weather was perfect, and from the moment we left the shoreline, Edith Piaf was happily stuck in my head.

Video by Julie Stevens - Taken from our River Seine cruise.

The Louvre Museum

They say it takes 200 days in the Louvre to see the 380,000 objects on display, 35,000 of those pieces being artwork. That is a lot of art! The collection is divided among eight curatorial departments: Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Art, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, Paintings, Prints and Drawings. We experienced the crash course version of Western Civilization's finest works to say the least, but it gave us an appreciation for the talent, hard work and dedication of our finest visual artists.

You may want to experience the famous Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace or The Wedding at Cana. Take your time, look up, and enjoy the hues, textures and palpable atmosphere of centuries gone by.

We purchased our museum tickets online several weeks before arrival. This ensured no lines at the entrance and a hassle-free check in.

Louvre Museum Paris France Art
Louvre Museum

Mona Lisa Louvre Art Paris France
Mona Lisa - Photo by Julie Stevens

Le Train Bleu

Tournesol Travel put together an amazing list of restaurants, from casual outdoor cafes, to upscale dining. We had the pleasure of feasting at Le Train Bleu, or The Blue Train. It was originally built in 1900 and is located in the Gare de Lyon station. It received its name from the blue and gold color of its original sleeping cars, and was once the luxury train that connected the north of France with the French Riviera, transporting the rich and famous of the world at that time. It's Michelin-starred, and yet affordable. The interior feels like it could have been adopted from a section of the Louvre Museum, with the ornate ceiling and rich, vibrant decor. We dined on fresh seafood, pasta and velvety blueberry cheesecake. The real dessert was being serenaded by a talented French server.

Video by Julie Stevens - Le Train Bleu

Food & Wine Tour

One of our favorite excursions was the food and wine tour through the neighborhood of Marais. I try to schedule some type of tour with a local guide whenever I travel. They are privy to the insights of the location, and in my experience, always have endless knowledge and humor to share. It's also a great way to meet other travelers. We connected with other Americans, Canadians and a lovely woman visiting from Dubai.

Our guide Charles led us on a ride of savory and sweet. Our first stop, le fromage from different French regions, paired with a lovely Bordeaux. We nibbled on creamy Rocamadour goat cheese, an aged Cantal with peppery, nutty flavors, and finally Nettle Cheese with garlic and herbs. Next stop, an award-winning chocolatier. We sampled three types of dark chocolate, each with its own unique flavor and texture. Just a side note, shopping is encouraged at each layover, not that we needed any convincing. We made our way to the famous Boulangerie Poilane, where bread is artwork, Popelini's Cream Puff House, where we chose our own delectable flavor. I opted for the daily special, chocolate-pear. Then, we had a quick stopover at La Chambre aux Confitures, where they specialize in French homemade preserves. If you are a falafel fan like I am, then a stop at L'as Du Fallafel will make your day. Don't try to time the crowds, it seems when your reputation precedes you, the line never goes down. No worries, it will be well worth your wait. Our seventh and final stop of the tour was a sit-down meal at a cafe on Rue de Rivoli. We dined on salami. ham, bread, smoked salmon, and the piece de resistance, escargot. Don't knock it until you've tried it, as they say. It's delish!

Marais is one of the oldest districts in Paris, and definitely worth a visit, whether with a guide or on your own. Known for its courtyards, narrow cobblestone streets, historic buildings and thriving galleries and cafes, you could easily spend a few days here.

Escargot Paris France Food
Escargot in Paris - Slippery little suckers!

Montmartre & Sacre-Coeur Basilica

Montmartre is a neighborhood I've heard about many times over the years, and it's always been on my list of things to see in Paris. It has the feel of a small French village, which is quite the contrast to the bustling streets of downtown Paris. It's a photographer's dream destination and has appealed to artists for centuries. You can feel the creative juices that once flowed through this part of Paris, and still does to this day. If you're looking to be eternalized, you can have your portrait painted in the main square by one of the many talented artists.

Montmartre Paris France Travel
Artist in Montmartre - Photo by Julie Stevens

Montmartre hill is set at the highest natural point in Paris, so make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. You can either test your lung power by opting to walk one of the staircase options, approximately 300 steps, or you can take the 1.5-minute funicular ride from the bottom of Montmartre hill to the base of the Sacre-Coeur. It costs the basic metro fare of 1,90 euros and is included in the various metro passes. We chose the stairs to help burn off our morning croissants and macarons.

And there, standing majestically on Montmartre Hill or Mountain of the Martyr, is the iconic Sacre-Coeur Basilica or Sacred Heart Church.

Sacre-Coeur Paris Montmartre France
Sacre-Coeur Basilica - Photo by Julie Stevens

It boasts one of the best views of Paris, and offers a grand mixture of architecture, religion and history. The entrance to the basilica is free and reservations are not required. We didn't take advantage of it this time around, but I would recommend spending the small fee to go up into the tower for an even greater panorama.

The Iron Lady

If seeing the endless lights of Paris from the Eiffel Tower is on your travel bucket list, reserve your tickets online prior to your visit when possible. The lines can get very long, especially during peak travel season. Tournesol Travel handled all of this for us, and even recommended taking in these spectacular views at night, which we did. The tower was built to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution and completed in 1889. At just over 1,00o feet tall, it is the showcase of Paris. It welcomes approximately seven million visitors per year and is considered the most popular monument with an entrance fee in the world.

Eiffel Tower Paris France Travel
Eiffel Tower - Paris, France - Taken before our ride to the top.

It was exhilarating for the three of us to ride the elevator to the observation deck. This is something we've seen in many a romantic film, and here we were experiencing it in real life.

It's a quick 2-3 minute journey to the second level, where you'll find specialty shops and take in some spectacular views, then the second elevator to the summit takes another 4-5 minutes. Glimpsing the lights of Paris by night is truly spectacular, as is taking in the Champ de Mars park, Arc De Triomphe, River Seine and Grand Palais. It's a picture-perfect postcard on a massive scale.

A bientôt Paris!

We found the French to be charming and hospitable, with just the right amount of wit and sarcasm. They listened patiently while we stumbled through our Frenglish phrases, and we even managed to throw in some Spanish from our recent online language courses. No bueno! Take heart, this is the joy of traveling to a foreign country. Just do your best.

France is a delight for the senses. The sounds, smells and tastes are incomparable to any other country we've yet explored. Try new things, escargot anyone? Grab a bottle of Bordeaux, some cheese, a baguette, and sit in one of the many glorious gardens around the city. Do touristy things. Walk as much as you can, listen to street musicians sing "La Vie en Rose" and smile at all costs. You're in Paris after all.

If a trip to France is on your travel list, please get in touch with Tournesol Travel. And if you're contemplating traveling abroad with a few of your besties, I can't recommend this experience enough. It was an honor to share these memories together, and I know that we will be reminiscing about our time in Paris for years to come. A bientôt Paris!

Friends Travel Paris France Eiffel Tower Berets
Friends For Life

For more of our Parisian escapades, watch my latest YouTube video of our time together in the City of Lights.

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