I turned 50. In Paris. With my boyfriend. Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan. Sometimes it’s better. I never imagined getting a divorce, moving to Spain five years later, and falling in love.
My boyfriend and I decided to go Paris for a short budget-friendly weekend to celebrate my milestone birthday. We booked a 6:30 am flight on Saturday. Arriving at 8:30, we took the RER B train into the city. It was very easy to navigate, even with no French speaking abilities. The train was expensive at 10 euros but probably cheaper than a taxi. Forty minutes later, we got off at Chatelet les Halles. It was the most confusing, long, and somewhat sketchy subway station. We followed the exit signs which took us through the shopping mall.
Having arrived a few weeks after the Louvre machete attack, security was very tight – which isn’t a bad thing. Except when you have to open your purse and bags at every venue. The Louvre announced that they were no longer allowing people to bring in luggage. We considered finding storage lockers since our check-in time wasn’t until 3 pm but then decided to show up at the hotel and simply ask if we could store our luggage.
As we were on a budget, I had looked on Rick Steves’ Europe
website and downloaded his app. I cannot recommend it more. I listened to his radio shows and Paris recommendations. It really got me in the spirit of the trip and helped me narrow down the top places to visit. Following Rick’s suggestions, I perused the booking sites, then checked the hotel websites to see if they had a better offer. They did. We selected an artsy boutique hotel called Crayon. It was located in the 1st arrondissement (district), five minutes from the Louvre – and very affordable. Plus they agreed to let us store our luggage there.
After dropping our things off, we headed to the Louvre. Even though it was cold and rainy, going to Paris in February was smart because there were no lines. The museum was originally 12th century fortress and later a royal palace in the 1500s. It has undergone many renovations over the years and the ceilings and detailed fireplaces are works of art themselves.
We spent five hours moving from room to room. I don’t recommend doing this! I suggest doing some research online first and deciding what highlights you want to see. My boyfriend loved the ancient Egypt room. I preferred the Greek and Roman statues. Winged Victory and Venus de Milo were thrilling but my favorite was Amour and Psyche. I could have left the museum happy after that. But then I would have missed seeing Mona Lisa! It’s worth mentioning that even with the thin crowds, she still had a large audience. And there were at least two security guards and a partition so bring a good telephoto lens!
We stumbled back to the hotel for the evening. Because we were so mind-numbingly done. The Hotel Crayon was charming. Except for the fact that the elevator was broken. And we were on the 6th floor. Which sucked. The room was small but we had everything we needed. The bathroom was modern and ample. With only 3 or 4 rooms per floor, there was no noise – not that we would have heard any as we were pretty much dead to the world.
I had grabbed a sandwich, chips, three drinks, two bananas and a chocolate bar from the local grocery for only 12 euros. Much more reasonable than the restaurant menus we had seen along the way.
Sunday morning we headed toward Notre Dame
– which was also very close to the hotel. My boyfriend wanted breakfast so we took a bridge over the Seine and ended up at a corner place overlooking the cathedral. Big mistake. The service was great but it cost us 32 euros for two coffees, two glasses of orange juice, toast, and a small English breakfast. No kidding. The same meal in Madrid would have cost us less than 10 euros. We had broken the cardinal rule of eating on a tourist street. Don’t eat on a tourist street. Ever.
Mass at Notre Dame was beautiful but a little distracting with hundreds of tourists walking up and down the perimeters. After that, we opted to forgo the Orsay and instead walked to the Musee l’ Orangerie. If you are at all interested in Monet or his contemporaries, this is the can’t miss place. We both in loved the museum. The Water Lilies were donated by Monet in hopes that they would give Parisians a respite from their hectic lives. The two oval rooms were very peaceful with benches in the middle for sitting and admiring the works. The place offered weary tourists a respite as well.
After some time gazing at the Water Lilies, we headed downstairs to the rest of the gallery. We found the perfect amount of paintings by Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse to name a few. There are only around eight small rooms which make the museum manageable.
After a well-deserved hamburger and steak lunch (36 euros), we headed back to the hotel for a rest. It was my birthday and my boyfriend wanted to take me up the Eiffel Tower.
Refreshed from our siesta, we walked back to the Louvre and caught the 69 bus. I had read that the 42 and the
69 public buses
are a great way to see the city on a budget. I would agree. Less than 2 euros versus the over 30 for the tour bus. We found our stop and walked about five minutes to the tower. The night time view was spectacular. Again, a February trip meant that there was no line. We arrived around 9ish and caught the elevator after going through 2 security check points.
The downside of going in February was that the top of the tower was like the tundra. I really thought my phone was going to be ripped out of my hand from a gust of wind. The other side of the tower was calm and a lot warmer. Every hour the lights twinkle and it’s a can’t miss. We were unsure of the last bus so we took a taxi back to the hotel just as the 11 pm twinkle happened.
On Monday morning the sun finally came out so we walked over to St. Germaine and poked around smaller neighborhoods. We also walked along the river and admired the river boats which was charming. I grabbed a box of seven macarons on the way out (which didn’t last the train ride back to the airport) and we were off.
I’ve heard over the years that Parisians can be rude. It definitely wasn’t our experience. We made sure to greet everyone in French and then ask if they spoke English. We had to pantomime with the ones who didn’t but we always figured things out in the end.
It was truly a magical and romantic way to turn 50- and we didn’t break the bank doing it!