This is part two documenting our Honeymoon in France travel series – click here to read part one.
After our fabulous first day in Paris, we were eager to get out and explore again on day two! We had a full-day bike tour of the Palace of Versailles planned, so we crawled out of bed and wandered downstairs to eat breakfast at the hotel before making the cross-city trek to the Gare Saint-Lazare train station. The dining room was a small room tucked off from the lobby, but it was cozy. The tables were pre-set with place settings as well as a whole spread of jams to choose from for the assortment of breads they brought out. There was also a self-serve station where we could help ourselves to cheese, meat, yogurt, or cereal. When asked what we would like to drink, we opted for hot tea. This triggered a puzzled look on the server’s face and he even asked if Americans drank hot tea. I thought it was a strange question, but I guess I had never really thought about it. Americans usually lean towards drinking coffee, and we probably would have as well if we knew it was going to be a cup of freshly roasted, pour-over or french press coffee. But because most placed usually aren’t up to speed with craft coffee, we typically opt for hot tea when we are unsure. It never lets you down. 🙂 Our first breakfast in Paris did not disappoint; our favorite part was the flaky, buttery croissants. I’m drooling just thinking about them!
As we walked down the street from our hotel, we took it all in. We were surrounded by awe-inspiring architecture with the aroma of freshly baked bread drifting through the streets. The sun was shining and even though it was still chilly, it was the start to a beautiful day. It was only 7 AM, and Paris was still mostly asleep. We passed a few delivery trucks and friendly neighborhood cats on the way to the metro. We found our way to the Gare Saint-Lazare train station, but we ended up at a Starbucks across the street since we had some time to spare before we needed to meet the group for the tour. The concept of the Starbucks was neat, there was a small area downstairs where the counter was, large enough for the line to form at the registers. After ordering you were allowed to go to the large seating area upstairs, and the baristas were very strict about this — they were stopping anyone that walked in and tried to go upstairs without ordering first. You couldn’t even sneak off to the toilettes if you needed to because the code to get in was printed on your receipt. The culture was very different than back home, but we quickly adjusted. We spent a few minutes upstairs drinking our coffee while looking out over the train station before wandering back across the street to meet the group.
Once we arrived at the designated spot for our tour we noticed a few other couples awkwardly standing around as well, so we joined them. Eventually the tour guide showed up and introduced himself from Blue Bike Tours, and started calling out names of the people scheduled on today’s tour. We didn’t hear our name, so he double-checked the list while we pulled up the confirmation email. WHOOPS, it was definitely Wednesday, and our confirmation email said Thursday… so we were a whole day early! We had no idea how we mixed this up, because throughout the entire planning process we thought the bike tour was the day after we arrived. It was even firmly in the itinerary for Wednesday. Oh well! We hung around to make sure everyone showed up for the tour in case we could just switch days, but unfortunately everyone showed up. We felt so silly getting up early and taking the trek all the way across town just to find out we had the day for our tour mixed up. We almost turned around to go do something else, but then we remembered we had everything we needed to go spend the day in Versailles anyways. Our navigo découverte would get us to the city and our museum pass would get us in to the palace and gardens; we would just have to explore on our own sans bicycles. We figured that would be the best option so it didn’t disrupt any of our other itinerary. If this was the only thing that went awry during the trip, we would survive!
We hopped on the train and took the 30-minute ride to Versailles, France. We got there before the estate opened, so we waited in line since it wasn’t too long yet. Once inside the palace, we explored all the wings. Because it was so large, we walked through all of the ornately designed rooms but only lingered in a couple rooms such as the Hall of Mirrors — which just so happened to be everyone else’s favorite place to linger as well. The palace was massive and by the time we reached the gardens outside, we were hungry so we whipped out the map to find a place to eat. We ended up at Brasserie de la Girandole, which was hidden in the middle of a hedge garden. It was a cozy area and our feet were already tired from walking, so we stopped and had lunch. We were really wanting those bikes at this point!
After lunch we explored more of the gardens, the park, and even walked all the way to the back of the grounds to see the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate. Marie-Antoinette’s Estate was probably my favorite of the entire trip. It looked straight out of a fairy tale with the beautiful landscaping and thatched roofs. When planning our trip out, these places throughout the estate seemed so close together on the map we could hold in our hands, but in reality we walked 3-4 miles to get to the back of the estate. Just as we were both thinking, “And now we have to walk back up?!” we saw a sign for a tram and hopped in line! It was worth the few euros if our feet were spared.
We walked back through Versailles and caught the next train back to Paris, happy for the 30-minute rest we would get on the train. We played the remainder of the day by ear, but we knew that we wanted to see and climb up the Arc de Triomphe. We ended up walking down Champs Élysées, but not actually going in any of the shops. We found ourselves in front of the Arc de Triomphe, but ended up walking almost all the way around the Place Charles de Gaulle roundabout because we couldn’t find the underground tunnel to actually get to the middle. Hah! We eventually found it and snuck to the front of the line because we had a museum pass – that was a handy time saver since it was late afternoon and it seemed like everyone had the same plan of climbing the Arc de Triomphe. The 284 steps to the top weren’t too bad, and the worst part was the narrow staircase that made me kind of dizzy because we were climbing at a pretty good pace. Once we reached the top, it was beautiful! I think this was my favorite viewpoint of Paris so far. We were only 50m from the ground which was the perfect angle, and we also had an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower.
After descending back down the 284 steps of the Arc de Triomphe, we ended up taking the metro to Ile de la Cité, one of the two islands in the heart of Paris. We admired the amazing views of the Seine river as well as the exterior of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, and ended up stopping for dinner at a local café, Aux Tours de Notre Dame. It was on the corner of an intersection right across the street from Notre Dame and a prime spot for people watching. We picked a table along the sidewalk, ordered a bottle of wine and food, and participated in what became one of our favorite things about Paris: the café culture. We relaxed for a while just enjoying each other, the city, and the food. We eventually got back on our tired feet and meandered across the Seine back to our hotel, but not before stopping at Monoprix and picking up a bottle of Moët & Chandon to cap off the night. 😉
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