It’s the month of August in the year 2017. I’m twenty-one years old, and I finally made it to Europe for the first time in my life. I left Los Angeles International Airport fourteen hours ago with my mom aboard WOW Airlines, an Icelandic budget-friendly airline that allowed us a short opportunity to see Reykjavik on the way to Paris. Some shut-eye later, and I’m walking the halls of Charles de Gaule airport, listening to the boarding announcements in French, a reminder that I’m far away from home.
This is the beginning of my two week adventure in France and Greece.
First stop: Paris, France
We touched down in Paris as the sun was setting, so by the time we collected our luggage and found the waiting area for les navettes to our nearby hotel, it was already dark outside, and surprisingly very chilly. I was thankful for my one oversized knit sweater I had brought with me, and the boots and leggings I had worn on the plane. (Who knew Paris could be so cold in the summer?!) It turns out the next three days would continue to be chilly and rainy- something my friend I met up with Paris was saying was crazy since it had been warm and sunny up until the day I arrived. Great. Anyway, those three days were a grand adventure despite all the rain.
I learned that Paris is best seen through a combination of train and foot. (The “Health” App on my iPhone showed that I was averaging a walk of eleven miles a day!) Needless to say, I had zero guilt consuming the amount of pastries, cheese, baguettes, and wine that I did.
On the first day of adventuring in Paris, my mom and I met up with one of my friends from back home and her best friend. Being Parisian, she gave us a full-day walking tour of the city. We walked past Notre Dame, the Seine River, Champs Ulysses, Arc de Triomphe, and hopped on the train to Mont-Marte, an artistic haven just outside the main part of Paris.
Things to Do in Paris:
- Climb the Arc de Triomphe
This is way worth the 11 or so Euros to climb up to the top because of the incredible 360 view of the city. In my opinion, this is the best place to view the Eiffel Tower.
- Walk along Champs-Ulysees
There is so so much to see, and it’s a beautiful (but crowded) stroll with the Arc de Triumph standing proudly in the distance.
- Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral
Although I did not go inside (the line was too long), it was a breathtaking sight to behold from the outside.
- See one of the many world class museums
You have options such as the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Musee Rodin, Grand Palais, Musee Picasso… the list goes on and on.
- Visit the Opera Garnier:
This was a must-see for me, being quite the Phantom of the Opera fan. Also, worth the 11 or so Euros for admission. You’ll be transported in time, and it’s a magical experience.
- Spend an afternoon in Montmarte
See Moulin Rouge (or walk by it like I did), get your portrait sketched by a local artist, and sit in a cafe in a beautiful cobblestone street. You’ll feel the timeless nature of this creative town.
- See the Eiffel Tower by day and by night
We opted out of going to the top of the tower, considering we had already gotten an amazing panoramic view on top of the Arc de Triomphe. Instead, we walked to find the best view, and at night, went to a cafe with a view of the tower to watch it light up. It truly is something you don’t want to miss.
Where to eat in Paris:
In all things related to food, you’ve come to the right place. In Paris, there are endless opportunities for eating any cuisine you could possibly desire. My mom and I had breakfast one rainy morning at a boutique Patisserie known as Angelina. The presentation of the cafe du lait and pastries was a sight to see, and it was an experience to sit in a boutique cafe amongst towers of macaroons and small cakes, but the bill we racked up from a freshly-squeezed jus d’orange, cafe, and pain au chocolat was much more expensive than those three items should’ve been. Either way, it was fun to experience.
We found that street food and farmer’s markets are the yummiest and cheapest way to eat in Paris. A common occurrence was stopping by the local store for a small bottle of wine, some fruit, baguette, and cheese and we were good to go. I also highly recommend getting a crepe from a street vendor.
- WATCH OUT FOR PICK-POCKETERS. They’re absolutely everywhere in Paris
- Do learn to navigate by train. It’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of it, and is an easy way to travel all over the city
Paris to le Sud de France
Alas- on the day we were supposed to hop on a TGV to the south of France, we overslept and missed our reservation, thanks to jet lag and time difference. Since all the other trains to the South were booked, we were in a frenzy trying to figure out the best way to make it to Avignon in time for our morning tour of Provence the next day. We ended up taking an overnight bus from nearby the Gare de Lyon to Gare d’ Avignon; a total of 9 hours. I packed myself a book and some snacks for the ride, and I was good to go.
Next Stop: Avignon
We signed up for a tour of the lavender fields of Provence that was based out of Avignon. Unfortunately, it ended up being too late to see the lavender, as the fields had been already harvested by late July. On the bright side, we saw three beautiful Provencial country villages, each more charming than the next.
Next Stop: The French Riviera and Monaco
From Avignon, we took a three hour train to Monaco, where we had a hotel reservation for the week. We arrived around midnight, and exhausted, we went to bed, mentally recharging ourselves for a morning food tour in Nice the following day. This tour was one of the highlights of my trip because I have always wanted to experience an authentic French farmer’s market. To top it off, we had a lovely local tour guide who informed us on all things Nicoise, and put together a food-tasting experience for us.
Next Stop: Monaco
Oh, Monaco, you beautiful little provincial country of luxury by the sea. I absolutely fell in love with Monaco, and was so happy we made it our base camp to explore the French Riviera. Not only is it a short train or bus ride to the nearby towns that make up the illustrious French Riviera, but it’s also an amazing place to people watch. You’ll see beautiful people all dressed up in their luxurious items, driving luxury cars, hanging out on their luxury yachts, doing luxurious things. It’s a life of luxury here. (Where else do you see storefronts to buy personal jets and yachts as you stroll down the street?!)
Things to Do in Monaco:
- Visit the Palace of Prince Renier on top of the hill
- Visit Monte Carlo Casino at night. (This is the best time and place to people watch, trust me.)
- Take a train to the nearby towns- Eze sur Mer, Villefrance, Nice, etc.
- If you’re bougie enough, rent a yacht or luxury car to take you around
The French Riviera
I had high hopes for this place, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, this region is my favorite part of France (that I’ve had the privilege to experience), and I’ll 100% be back one day. Ever since I read Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald, ( a novel set in the French Riviera), I’ve always wanted to see the Cote d’Azur for myself. Fitzgerald described it perfectly:
“It was pleasant to drive back to the hotel in the late afternoon, above a sea as mysteriously colored as the agates and cornelians of childhood, green as green milk, blue as laundry water, wine dark.”
This stretch of coastline was absolutely gorgeous with so much to do and see. There are countless beach clubs where you can rent an umbrella and chair and lay out in the sun and swim around to your heart’s content. The one difficult thing about the French Riviera is that all the beaches are at the bottom of the cliff, so there’s a lot of uphill walking to do. However, this is great exercise and just my laziness talking!
VilleFrance sur Mer:
This coastal city was a bit more busy because of all its shops and easy access to the beach from the train station. I absolutely loved walking through the village of pastel-colored homes. Everything was so insanely photogenic that it was hard to walk because I’d constantly be taking photos.