Travel Review: Two Days in Paris, France

23 Sep

The first stop on our three week Europe journey was Paris, France. To be honest, neither of us was hugely excited about Paris–it just wasn’t at the top of our priority list. But it offered a convenient staging point for the first few weeks of our trip and it was much cheaper to fly into Paris than into Germany when we purchased our tickets. As such, you should know that we weren’t intent on hitting up every attraction that we could. Mostly, we planned on wandering around the city seeing what looked interesting, making a stop by the Eiffel Tower, and recovering from travel. In addition, we found out that our cat was hit by a car our first day there, which sort of put a damper on things, so if I seem less than enthused about Paris, you know why! That said, I think we saw a good amount for the time we had there.

Review of Auberges Internationale des Juenes (AIJ) Hostel

We took a taxi from Charles de Gaulle Airport to AIJ Hostel in the Bastille district, which cost about €60. After 21 hours of flying, plus several more hours of layovers, we were absolutely exhausted and not up for navigating public transportation, so it was worth it!

We arrived around 11 a.m. AIJ has a lock-out period between 11 and 3 for cleaning purposes, which meant of course that we were unable to check in and rest right away. Thankfully they do have a luggage room and we were able to put our big bags in it. A word of warning–the luggage room is in the basement and it looked like there was some leaking, so make sure you put your bags up on the shelves if you can!

When we were allowed into our room just after 3, we found it was pretty good value for just €20 per person per night. The room was very spacious and exceptionally clean. We had space to put our bags and hang up clothes if we wanted; a safe; a sink and mirror; bunk beds; and a window to let some cooler air in. There wasn’t a fan, and if we were staying there in some of the hotter months I think we would have been a little uncomfortable.

Our room was a private double and did not come with an ensuite bathroom–apparently the four-person rooms do come with an ensuite. Instead, there was one toilet for women and one for men down the hall, and three unisex shower stalls. Again, everything was quite clean. I was worried we might run into issues with having to line up to use the amenities, but we never did. It’s possible our somewhat weird schedule helped with that, of course, but we found the number of stalls adequate for the number of people on our hall.

Breakfast in the morning was included in the price. It was a simple affair, but I’d say it was one of the better low-budget breakfasts we had on our trip. Included was one baguette with butter and jam, a madeleine (type of cookie-cake thing), box of juice, and as much coffee/tea/hot chocolate as you could drink. You could also purchase more baguettes and condiments for quite cheap if you were still hungry.

Free wifi was also included, but we found our connection was a bit spotty in our room on the 4th floor. It worked better in the common room where breakfast was served, but you’ll find that it gets pretty crowded there.

The only bad thing we have to say about AIJ was that the walls were a bit thin, but then again, I think most hostels probably have that problem! Everyone was pretty respectful of others’ sleep, but we did hear people coming back in late at night and leaving early in the morning. If you’re a particularly light sleeper this might be a bother to you, but it really can’t be helped.

Overall, AIJ was great value for the price. It’s pretty close to most of the main attractions and within walking distance of public transport too. The staff was helpful, friendly, and spoke excellent English, the place was clean, and breakfast was satisfying. Definitely consider staying here if you’re a traveler on a budget!

Attraction: Jardin des Plantes

After we stopped by AIJ to drop off our bags that first day, we were absolutely exhausted and felt disgusting–travel will do that to you–and so we didn’t want to do anything major. We ended up wandering around til we reached the Seine, crossed over, and found Jardin des Plantes. It was a nice open area where we were able to sit back with our books and read a bit. There’s also a zoo very nearby, which we wandered into for something like €9 each. The zoo wasn’t top-notch, but for a couple of people who were just trying to kill time, it was interesting enough to keep us entertained for a few hours.

We ended up eating lunch at one of the kiosks in the area which served various snacks and sandwiches which were a bit pricey for what they were–we found much better, cheaper fare the next day. But as I said, we weren’t up for doing much so the convenience was worth it.

We only spent a few hours here before heading back to the hostel to check-in as soon as we could. We took a shower almost immediately and promptly fell asleep, not waking up until the next day.

Attraction: Notre Dame

In the morning we headed off toward some of the main attractions in Paris. Our first stop was Notre Dame, which is about a fifteen minute walk from AIJ. Neither my husband or I are religious, but we were able to appreciate the beautiful architecture and history all the same (and, in his case, sing “Hellfire” under his breath!). Notre Dame is free to get into, though there are places to leave a donation, and you are able to take non-flash photography. Lots of stuff to see in there, and it was fun to hear the bells a few times while we wandered around!

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It looked like there are tours of Notre Dame that you can take–for a fee, obviously–but we decided against it. If you’re particularly interested, though, it might be worth looking into.

Attraction: Jardin des Tuileries

The Tuileries Garden is the giant garden near the Louvre. Some people are going to ask, where’s the Louvre on this list? Scandalous, I know, but we didn’t go in! We just weren’t interested enough to wade through a crowd, wait in a giant line, and pay money to see the Mona Lisa over the heads of dozens of people. We did take a photo outside of it, though–does that count for something?

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I was much more interested in seeing the Tuileries Garden, simply because I’ve been reading several books set during the French Revolution and nearly all of them mention the characters walking through this garden. The entry is through the archway (Arc de Triomphe) near the Lourve. It was gorgeous, but beware: tourist scammers operate in the area. We were approached by several Bosnian women who wanted us to sign a petition and hand over money. At first we thought they were in need of directions as they were asking everyone around, “Do you speak English?” and holding what looked like a map (was actually a list of signatures). Don’t be fooled–they aren’t giving the money to blind children in their home country or whatever!

Anyway, through the garden there were lots of pretty flowers, some fountains, bunches of statues, a goat, etc. etc. etc. We ended up eating at one of the little cafes towards the end (there are two across from each other, but I can’t remember their names–we went to the one on the right). I had the most amazing chicken sandwich there for a reasonable price. After, we sat in some chairs nearby and read for a while.

Attraction: Les Invalides (Napoleon’s Tomb)

My husband’s favourite part of Paris was visiting Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. He loves wars, empires, guns, swords, and the Napoleonic Era, so it was perfect for him. I was quite interested too, though not as much.

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Les Invalides is across the river from the Tuileries Garden and down a bit. It’s a huge building with a golden dome. Tickets are about €10 for an adult with reduced prices for students, and with it you could spend hours and hours in here if you have the time. There’s a little bit (well, a LOT) of everything here–old armour from the 13th century, weapons from World War II, clothes and uniforms, model artillery, and, of course, Napoleon’s Tomb.

The tomb itself is gorgeous–it seems like everything is made of gold and marble, no expenses spared. My husband thought this was one of the coolest things he saw on the trip, and I also appreciated the history. We spent several hours here and I’d say it’s time well spent.

Attraction: Eiffel Tower

Of course, no trip to Paris is a trip to Paris without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Initially we had been planning on going up into the tower, but when we went to pre-purchase the tickets online everything had already been taken for the only full day we had there. It’s possible we could have asked at the ticket office when we got there (I’m honestly not sure if you HAVE to have a prepaid ticket or not) but it was on the Champs de Mars that we learned about our poor cat getting hit by a car, and we ended up rushing back to the hostel to get some stable internet so we could figure out what to do from there.

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That said, we did stay long enough to appreciate the tower and get some good photos in front of it (before we decided to post one to Facebook, where we got the news!). There were also some amazing Nutella crepes to be purchased at one of the kiosks in the area. Another word of warning, this is another place rife with tourist scammers! In this case, we found a lot of people trying to sell us bracelets and roses (they were very grabby too–kept touching us, which made me hugely uncomfortable!).

Beneath the tower are lots of little souvenir shops and carts–probably a bit overpriced, but convenient nonetheless.

The Final Verdict?

I’m glad we decided to go to Paris because I think it’s one of those necessary stops on a trip to Europe. That said, I’d say it was probably my least favourite place we went on our trip. This was, of course, due in part to the reasons I listed above–we were jetlagged, looking forward to other things, and got some pretty stressful news that affected our time there. But aside from that, Paris is fairly dirty (we passed two disconnected toilets, a torn up mattress, and lots of other rubbish just lying in the street on our walk to Notre Dame) and the scammers made me feel uneasy and uncomfortable.

That said, if I had to do it again I wouldn’t skip Paris. The activities we did–in particular seeing Les Invalides–were totally worth it and we definitely enjoyed tasting some delicious French food.

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