Like a lot of people I’ve always dreamed of going to Europe, but it seems to be (at least in American culture) that we talk a lot about the things we would like to do, see, and experience, but put it off to when it’s more “convenient” or until retirement age. I found myself making these same rationalizations, so I made a deal with myself at 27 that I would be spending my 30th birthday outside of the U.S. and started planning and saving for a 3 week long trip.
By the time my 30th birthday was about to hit I had everything booked and ready to go. We fit in 7 cities throughout France and Italy and I filled my phone and memory card with hundreds of photos. Over the next several weeks I’ll be sharing how we explored, wined, and dined in each city. My goal is not to make an online photo album of my vacation, but to inspire someone else to go after that goal they’ve been waiting to start on. This was a life changing experience and the feeling of accomplishment I had knowing I got myself there is unparalleled to anything else I’ve felt. Even if you have zero desire to explore the same cities that we did, I still invite you to read along and hopefully take away some travel tips, tricks, and inspiration.
So let’s start with Paris..
To journey to Paris we had to first fly from Des Moines to Chicago, to Reykjavik, Iceland, and then finally.. the City of Lights! We couldn’t sleep at all on the plane so the first exciting order of business was not to seek out the perfect croissant, but to nap in our hotel room, which I might add was comically tiny. The elevator barely fit Chris and I in there with our bags and the hallway was the width of my luggage so it awkwardly scraped the whole way down the hall. The first thing I did when we got into the room was open the windows and take in the view of the picturesque streets and architecture. You could hear everyone speaking in perfect French in the streets below, church bells, sirens, and whiffs of delicious food and cigarette smoke, which I normally find revolting and yet it all fit and became charming in Paris. I also screamed, “I’m in ****ing Paris!!!!” and jumped on the bed because you know.. you kind of have to.
After a nice little snooze we ventured out for dinner and came across a traditionally French restaurant just a short walk from the hotel. The dinner special we wanted had run out so we wound up eating steak-frites. Yes.. I ate French fries my first night in France. Irony at it’s best I suppose! We were so grateful to our waitress for being patient and kind while listening to us stumble through ordering with our abysmal French.
We decided to wander a little bit after dinner and intentionally get lost.. well at least I did anyway. Haha I don’t think Chris was fond of my “Let’s get lost in foreign cities at night” mode of exploring, but he was a good sport nonetheless. We found a little market that had tons of cheap wine to choose from, picked a bottle, and I awkwardly “mimed” to the cashier that we needed it open. He laughed and obliged us by opening it and then stashing it in a bag for our walk back. All in all, a good first night in Paris!
The next day we slept in a bit and then ventured out for our first coffee and croissants. We walked a few blocks over to Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful palace that is now owned by the French Senate. It’s basically a massive park in the middle of the city complete with sprawling gardens, statues, and the famous Medici Fountain. There was a horde of people standing at the front of it all trying to capture that “Instagram shot” (which is something we ran into all over Europe) and I was about to give up hope when Chris suggested we take a seat at the edge of the fountain instead. No one else was doing this and only wanted to snap their photo and leave, but they truly missed out on the detail and beauty of the fountain itself. We sat there for quite awhile, finishing our coffees and just taking it all in, mentioning to each other every time we noticed something new. I could have easily spent the rest of our afternoon there, but since this was our only full day in Paris we had to maximize our time and move onto the next spot.
After the gardens we walked to a little cafe for lunch before heading to our next destination, Père Lachaise Cemetery. I had heard about how beautiful and old this cemetery was and I knew it was the resting place of many famous writers, poets, and musicians, including Jim Morrison.. and I owed it to my 15 year old, Doors fanatic, tie-dye-wearing-self to go pay my respects. What I didn’t realize was how big this cemetery actually was (110 acres to be exact)! We spent several hours walking around and admiring the natural decay, creepiness, and beauty of all the mausoleums and headstones. I received several bewildered looks from locals and tourists as I walked along in my spider web and rose dress from Vixen. But I mean if you’re in Paris, you might as well go all out!
We joined forces with another tourist and together we found Jim Morrison’s resting place, then we ventured on to find Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and picked out some matching mausoleums for ourselves.
I have to add in how ridiculously happy I was to be exploring a cemetery like this to start off the month of October and found a few ravens (my actual totem spirit animal) while we were there.
I took a photo next to this because I loved how weird and creepy it was, but a follower on my Instagram shared some additional insight about this guy.. She said that his grave is part of the folklore of the cemetery and he has become a symbol of fertility. The myth says that placing a flower in the top hat after you kiss the statue on the lips and rub it’s genital area, will enhance fertility, bring a blissful sex life, or a husband within the year. -Insert a thousand laughing emojis because this is the funniest myth I have ever heard! I did no flower placement, kissing, or rubbing on this statue FYI. I’m kind of a germophobe anyway so it makes me cringe a little.
Just like at the gardens I could have spent all day running around and exploring, but we had to make it to the Eiffel Tower before sunset.
We took an Uber across town to the Eiffel Tower and quickly hopped in line to see “The Iron Lady” up close and personal. We opted to skip the line to actually go up the tower itself and instead admired it from ground level. With just a bit of time before sunset we walked across the bridge over the Seine River to claim a spot at Jardins du Trocadéro, which provides a beautiful view of the tower.
It was starting to get pretty chilly so we just snuggled up close on the grass and watched the sun slowly set. You might be picturing this movie-like romantic scene and I hate to ruin it for you, but it wasn’t totally the case. While waiting for the sun to go down and the famous light show to begin, we had some prime people-watching time! There was a group of German tourists several yards in front of us that were doing beer bongs in the park (which was pretty funny actually) and we were asked about every 10 minutes if we wanted to buy beer, wine, or champagne from several gentleman selling them out of ice buckets they carried around. I finally caved and bought a bottle of wine (probably not the safest/wisest choice) and am happy to say those were my first Euros spent. We passed it back and forth while taking in the view, snapping photos, and kissing whenever we weren’t being asked to buy something. We made the most of it and it was still amazing and romantic.
We stopped at a grocery store on the way back and picked up meat, cheese, olives, and more wine that we ate in bed as our final “dinner” in Paris. The next day we packed up and headed to the train station for the next part of our trip in Avignon, but our Paris time didn’t exactly end there. I booked us round trip through Paris so we actually flew back there from Rome at the end of our trip and stayed one more night, which ended up being one of our favorites. I was able to connect with a new friend (Hey Claire!) and her boyfriend through the blog and we met up for drinks. We had such a good time swapping travel stories, talking music, differences between our countries, and learning new phrases in both of our languages. They even encouraged me to finally try foie gras while Chris ate a good ole American hot dog! Hahah
I look forward to connecting with them again in Paris and it was a good reminder of why I started this blog. To be able to connect with people from all over the world and find common ground whether it’s through recipes, travels, or our personal stories.
See our next stop of this vacation in Exploring Avignon!