Paris 2017: introduction

In February 2017 I had an important decision to make – should I share a good deal ($385) on flights from Raleigh to Paris with Leandra? If I did, it would mean returning, and while it was nice enough, Paris hadn’t been high on my list of interests for a return visit. However, we hadn’t seen the museums or several other sights on our first trip, so with that in mind, we scheduled a 4-day trip for October.

Since we had quite a few parts of Paris we wanted to see, we decided to get 5-day tourist pass which provided unlimited rides in any of the 5 paris zones, including the airport. Given the number of metro rides we took it certainly worked to our advantage. However, we will likely look into the Navigo Découverte pass for a future trip, as it was significantly cheaper. Something to remember for next time.

Although I was less excited about this particular trip than Leandra, in the end, we both enjoyed absorbing the art, the wine and food, and we’d return for a less touristy trip if the price was good in the future.

Where We Stayed

Grand Hotel Malher

We spent our first two nights in this cozy little hotel in Le Marais, well located two blocks from the Saint-Paul metro stop and surrounded by shops and cafes. Check-in was speedy, and we just barely fit our two bags into the elevator with us for the ride to the fourth floor. Our room faced the street, and a good amount of street noise came through the windows, so earplugs are recommended. Leandra was also annoyed by the lack of a coffee maker / electric kettle. Otherwise the room was comfortable, and the bathroom was spacious and clean.

our room @ Grand Hôtel Malher

Hilton Paris Opera

For nights three and four we switched to the Hilton since we had a free weekend pass to use up. Check-in was easy, and elevators large enough for us and bags. Our room was a little bigger than at Malher, and did have a coffee maker. The bed was rather firm, too much for us, and the pillows were very soft.

our room @ Hilton Opera

Breakfast on the second floor was quite nice, with a good assortment of baked goods, meats, and cheeses. Notably they had a very nice fresh orange juice, not that common in our Europe experiences.

The Hilton is next to Gare Saint-Lazare, so there are several metro and train options available, as well as a large shopping mall, but we didn’t find any interesting restaurants in the immediate area.

Paris 2017: Château de Fontainebleau

We decided to skip the uber-famous Versailles in favor of Fontainebleau in the hopes of much smaller crowds, and it worked out well for us.

The trickiest part may have been figuring out the trains in Gare de Lyon – there are a lot of options, and we wandered through several sections before we found an information booth that could help. Once we confirmed the correct train the rest was easy, including the bus at the Fontainebleau Avon train stop that took us straight into town (and was included on our Visite ticket, in addition to a 2 discount for the entrance tickets).

The outside is quite imposing and impressive…

Château de Fontainebleau

The palace has parts dating back to the 1100s, with many additions and renovations through the 1800s. Once inside, the opulence is rather staggering. Tapestries, carvings, and paintings adorn nearly every surface.

Château de Fontainebleau

Bedchamber for Anne of Austria @ Château de Fontainebleau  Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau  throne room @ Château de Fontainebleau

taking photos of the gardens

Château de Fontainebleau panorama

Altogether, we spent about 3 hours wandering the palace, and 30 minutes the flower gardens and fountains – a nice half-day trip away from the bustle of the city.

Paris 2017: museums

Musée d’Orsay

Wow. Just – wow. The Orsay covers mid-19th century to early 20th century, and simply has so many masterpieces. We visited on Thursday evening when they are open late until 9:45p, and thoroughly enjoyed the 2.5h hours we spent wandering the halls here. The upper floor filled with Monets, Van Goghs, Degas and so many others was awesome. Some highlights:

Musée d'Orsay

"In a Cafe" by Degas  "The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, View from the Chevet" by Van Gogh

"La Lecture" by Manet

Van Gogh @ Musée d'Orsay

Musée d'Orsay exterior

Musée de l’Orangerie

We bought the combined Orsay / Orangerie ticket, but we didn’t visit the Orangerie until our last day. A much smaller space, the ground floor consists of two large oval rooms filled with massive Monet waterlily paintings as part of his Nymphéas series.

Monet water lilies @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Monet water lilies @ Musée de l'Orangerie  Monet water lilies @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Downstairs is the Guillaume collection, with a number of interesting pieces from Modigliani, Picasso, and Matisse and others.

Cezanne @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Musée de l'Orangerie  Renoir @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Monet @ Musée de l'Orangerie

Musée du Louvre

The Louvre is seriously enormous. We arrived a few minutes after 9am (when they open) and were through security and the ticket desk within 15 minutes… we left at 2:30pm, and still had plenty of rooms we hadn’t yet seen. Thankfully, we were able to see all the sections that we were most interested in, as well as a few pleasant surprises. Some of the highlights:

upside down pyramid

Mona Lisa  portrait of fruit by Arcimboldo


Venus di Milo  Three Graces @ Louvre

Lamassus (713 BC), Mesopotamia

Law Code of Hammurabi  Louvre sculpture

Paris 2017: sights

On this trip we spent a lot of time inside the major museums and a palace, which will have their own posts. In between we wandered around the city enjoying the many Parisian sights, taking full advantage of our metro card.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame near sunset

Pont de Invalides
Pont de Invalides (bridge over the Seine)

Eiffel Tower  Eiffel Tower
we visited the Eiffel Tower twice, for late afternoon and evening photos

Sacré-Cœur interior  Sacré-Cœur
Sacré-Cœur was fine for a quick visit, the views of Paris are expansive but you can’t see the Eiffel Tower clearly from the city viewing point

Moulin Rouge
Moulin Rouge

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe, 12 (!!!) streets meet at this huge traffic circle

Av. des Champs-Élysées
, complete with guys renting luxury vehicles by the hour

Canal Saint-Martin
Canal Saint-Martin

bubble hair  admiring the art
the street art scene was strong along Canal Saint-Martin

Paris 2017: picnic in Luxembourg Gardens

After visiting the Musée de l’Orangerie and several other sights on Sunday, we took the metro down to the Saint Germain area and picked up picnic supplies for a relaxing lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens.

and a ham and cheese baguette...  buying champagne...  

We chose a bottle of chilled champagne from La Dernière Goutte, a ham & cheese baguette from Cul de Cochon, and a chocolate tart topped with gold leaf from Gérard Mulot. I had saved nice plastic cups from our first hotel, so we had vessels for the bubbly.

pouring champagne in the park

champagne and a chocolate tart

A big band was playing in the pavilion and the people watching in the park was very entertaining. Once we finished our picnic, we wandered the grounds, enjoying the landscaping and watching families sail their rented boats in the small lake in front of the palace.

Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Gardens

If the weather is good you will not be the only people here on a weekend, but I highly recommend a trip here regardless.

Paris 2017: food & drink


Lunch @ Le Petit Marche –  Having just landed and dropped off our bags we needed lunch, quickly! Even at 1:30p this restaurant was packed, but they managed to squeeze us into a small table. Unfortunately they were out of the Ravioles de Royan, so I ordered the Salade China, a chopped salad with lots of soy/sesame chicken, carrots and lots of Asian-inspired ingredients that was quite good. Meanwhile Leandra ordered a strange take on steak tartare with asian-influenced spices that was lightly grilled on the top and bottom. She enjoyed it as well.

lunch @ Le Petit Marché

Dinner @ Bistrot L’Oulette – After wandering through d’Orsay we were quite ready for dinner. My red wine braised beef stew was amazing, as was Leandra’s cassoulet (although it took about 10 minutes for hers to cool down enough so she could eat it). We split a bottle of red wine that went great with our meals but the most memorable part was the chocolate tart. Flaky and light, absolutely delicious.

chocolate tart @  Bistrot de l’Oulette

Cocktails @ Little Red Door – on the advice of our friends Anna and Loren, we walked the .7 mile to this hidden cocktail bar. On arrival the doorman had us wait until seats were ready before letting us in, probably 10ish minutes. Once seated we perused the suggested cocktail list which were each inspired by architecture styles. I choose the Functionalism, tequila with citrus cordial and functional oils floating on top. Leandra went with the Brutalism, mixing mezcal, St.Germain and other flavors with a sprig of fried baby’s breath flowers!

Little Red Door Eric @ Little Red Door


Breakfast @ Pauls – Pain de chocolate and hot chocolate to go? Yes please.

Lunch @ La Galerie des Pains – quick takeaway ham sandwich on a crusty baguette (of course!) from a cozy bakery in Fontainebleau, eaten in Jardin de Diane.

Snack @ Boulangerie Martin – with a late dinner planned we needed a snack, so stopped for take-away pastries. I choose the eclair with raspberries and Leandra a cheese tartlet, and both were quickly consumed in a small park by Notre Dame.

Dinner @ Au Bourguignon du Marais – our table wasn’t quite ready for our 9pm reservation, so we were asked to sit at a side table and given menus and a light appetizer while we waited. A few minutes later we were shown to our table and introduced to our waiter who was quite warm and personable. I went straight for the Boeuf Bourguignon, Leandra the Tartare traditionnel, and neither of us regretted our choice! To top it off we split the Crème brûlée with bourbon sauce. OMG.

  creme brulee!


Lunch @ Creperie Beaubourg – Crepes! I tried their house cider to go with my ham and cheese crepe, while Leandra stuck to wine with her  mushroom and roquefort crepe. Both were fine, but not great. We sat outside under the awning enjoying the people watching around Stravinsky square.

buckwheat crepes @ Crêperie Beaubourg

Dinner @ Al Caratello – reservations got us a window seat at this busy little Italian restaurant in Montmartre. Leandra ordered the gnocchi bolognese while I ordered the mushroom and ham pasta. Everything was excellent. All tables were full during our meal and there were rotating groups of diners taking smoke breaks in the street out front. The owners also have a place across the street so one waiter was frequently shuttling cocktails to the other location. After we paid our bill we were offered a small glass of limoncello to end our meal. Lovely.

Ristorante al Caratello

my date enjoying a limoncello  pasta and my glowing gnocchi @ Ristorante al Caratello  


Lunch – picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Dinner @ Les Philosophes – another busy restaurant, even at 9pm on Sunday. I went for the wild cod fillet in coconut milk curry sauce, while Leandra choose the French Onion soup and pork pâté (Thierry Schweitzer).  Service was a bit harried here, it was definitely more difficult to get a server’s attention than at other restaurants. I did like the fact that you could get varying sizes of several wines by the glass (25cl, 50cl, bottle).