We decided to take advantage of the Chunnel during our London trip and hop over to Paris for a couple of nights. We weren’t expecting to fall so immediately in love with the “City of Love,” and really regretted not staying longer. Our Chunnel Eurostar experience was, overall, a bit of a disaster – chalk it up to poor planning and bad luck. We didn’t reserve tickets in advance, nor did we realize that you have to arrive an hour early to clear customs and security. We saw that there was a 10:30 am departure and arrived at the station at 10 am expecting to get on the train. The first available seats were on the 3 pm train, so we spent the better part of a day in the freezing cold station in London. Once on board, the ride is just over 2 hours. In hind sight, we would have finished sightseeing in London so that we only had to take the Eurostar one-way to Paris then fly home from there.
We arrived to Paris around 5 pm, and took the subway to Le Marais where we had booked this AirBnb for two nights. The accommodation and location were perfect for us and we would gladly stay there again. There are plenty of shops, galleries and trendy restaurants in this district and we would love to spend more time wandering these streets on a future visit. Our apartment was in the Jewish quarter where falafel shops and Jewish bakeries line the streets. We didn’t actually eat any of the falafel since we were on a time crunch and wanted to make every meal count (think cheese, baguette, chocolate croissants and aligot), but from the looks of the queues, they must’ve been tasty.
On our first night in town we browsed through a few shops and galleries before making our way to Jaja for dinner. We were really taken aback by this restaurant as everything from appetizer, wine, meal, dessert, service and ambiance were remarkable. We’d prepared ourselves for rude and snappy encounters around Paris due to our lack of French language skills, but that was not what we encountered at all, anywhere. Jaja is adorable with fantastic, affordable French cuisine, we had thick cut salami, a veal special, the quail and a sampler of dessert cheeses before leaving on cloud nine. We wandered the streets a bit longer after dinner despite the drizzle of rain, the city truly is charming.
We had one full day in Paris and we lucked out with sunshine and clear skies. We sat down for coffee and a variety of pastries at Poilane, a boulangerie near our apartment, the shop keeper didn’t seem to speak a word of English but we communicated easily with gestures and smiles. We wandered through Le Marais a little longer before setting off to see the rest of city. We walked about 15 miles today, down the bank of the Seine where we passed souvenir vendors, book stalls, painters and a variety of characters. We marched through the courtyard of the Louvre, though didn’t have time to go inside, nor did we want to be indoors on a sunny, temperate day like this. While the inside of the museum will have to wait for another trip, the outside was shocking to see, SO BIG – it’s hard to really grasp the vastness of it from photos! Naturally, we stopped for a selfie by the iconic glass pyramid and then took a moment to laugh at the hoards of people posing for “perspective shots” with a fingertip on top of the pyramid’s point.
We kept walking, through the Jardin des Tuileries which was bustling with people out soaking up the nice weather. The stroll was pleasant despite the garden being quite brown and dead this time of year. We passed by the Ferris wheel and continued on Champs-Elysees through the shopping district up to the Arc de Triomphe. Honestly, Champs-Elysees was a little underwhelming coming from London’s Regent Street where the holiday light displays and crowds may have spoiled our expectations for this other famous shopping strip. Although, I imagine lit up at night it would be a spectacle. We made our way to the Arc and then turned down Avenue Kleber toward the Eiffel Tower, stopping at Corner Café for a little pick-me-up of French onion soup and espresso. This was a great route to take as the tower itself was hidden behind buildings throughout the whole stroll, until we ascended the steps of the Place du Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower was majestically revealed. After a few selfies and a pristine shot from another tourist where just the tip of the tower is sticking straight out of the top of Ryan’s head (?!), we descended into the Jardins du Trocadero toward the Seine for a closer view of the tower, though we did not cross the river or intend to go up into the tower at all. We walked back along the river toward Le Marais, stopping to scoop up a street artist’s rendition of the Eiffel Tower for our sweet niece.
Back in Marais, we found a cheese shop with another friendly French shopkeeper, she helped us select three delicious cheeses (Petite Bee, Comte Millesime, Bleu de Laqueuille) then pointed us down the road to a boulangerie (French bakery) for a baguette and a wine shop for a Bordeaux blend. Ideally, we would’ve found a park to enjoy this snack picnic-style as recommended by the shopkeeper, but clouds and chills were starting to roll into the city so we went back to our apartment to cozy up, indulge and relax. We did a bit of laundry and napped briefly before another walk around Marais and dinner at Ambassade d’Auvergne. This restaurant is known for their aligot (mashed potatoes with cheese); they serve heavy, rustic dishes typical of the Auvergne region of France. We were seated between two blind men on one side of us and what we will now consider to be a typical French date, where a middle aged couple was sitting on the same side of the table staring into each other’s eyes and making out until their food went cold on the other side of us.
The next day we set out early for a Champagne tasting tour through the Champagne region around Reims. We caught the 8 am train for a 45-minute ride from Paris to Reims station where the guide, Eric, picked us up along with one other couple. We visited two small champagne houses (Pascal Ponson and Ernest Remy) and one large house (Taittinger). The nice thing about the small houses is that they are not open to the general public, so it was just the four of us and our guide, Eric at both of them. We examined the press where juice extraction takes place, this process is highly regulated in that a certain quantity of fruit must produce a predetermined volume of juice; with the first extraction being labeled “cuvée” and second press “taille.” We discussed the addition of sugar during the bottling process to determine the classification along the spectrum of brut to demi-sec. Similar to the Brunello wines we learned about in Tuscany, Champagne is named for the region rather than the type of grape so sparkling wine of the same type of pinot noir or pinot meunier grown outside the region must only be referred to as “sparkling wine” and never “champagne.” At Taittinger, we toured with a large group and their own staff member, it was less personal but still interesting as the large houses sit on a massive collection of tunnels previously used to store weapons and traverse the city during World War II. The tunnel system now serves as a temperate cellar for champagne storage and aging, really neat! Eric took us to an included lunch at a traditional brasserie called Le Boulingrin where we enjoyed chicken, mackerel, a large dessert sampler and a local, biodynamic champagne. Eric was passionate and knowledgeable throughout our tour and we would highly recommend the experience to any bubble loving friends visiting the area.
We departed Reims around 4 pm, picked up our luggage from the train station in Paris then went to catch the Eurostar back to London. Of course, unattended luggage was found in the station triggering a security threat and delaying our train for 3 hours. We did make it back to London later that night, but as with our London to Paris Chunnel experience, another chunk of vacation day wasted in the train station.