Once Becky and I became engaged, we made it a goal to make 2017 our most memorable year yet. We agreed to make wedding planning as fun as possible by celebrating every contract-signing, venue walkthrough, and item checked off our list. We have been pairing our birthday gifts with checking items off of our respective bucket lists (Nashville and front row for Mumford & Sons in May for Becky. My bucket list still needs some work.) So when cheap tickets to Paris popped up on our radar, we jumped at the opportunity. We have both been to Paris before, independently during our college years, and didn’t quite have the best experience. I lived on three euros a day, eating baguettes for breakfast and lunch and dried soup packets for dinner. Becky had a similar experience when the ATM ate her card, leaving her with no money for five days. Needless to say, we weren’t going to let those experiences happen again. Instead, we hopped on a plane with one page of a scribbled itinerary and figured we would go from there. Each day was balanced between museum visits, soaking in the city, and photographing the people and places.
We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel, two blocks away from the Victor Hugo metro stop. It was perfectly situated between the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Turn right out of the hotel, and it takes you to the southern end of the Eiffel Tower. Once we checked in, we dropped our bags and immediately headed there.
One thing that was different from the last time we were there was the amount of cell phones. EVERYONE was there taking selfies. I guess we should just come to expect it in today’s age. Don’t get me wrong, we took a few ourselves, but opted to also find a quiet spot to sit in the gardens and soak up the beauty.
I brought four lenses with me (14-24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70-200mm) and paired them up with my Nikon d750. For weddings, my 70-200 is my workhorse; it never leaves my camera. However, on this trip, my 35mm Sigma Art lense hardly ever left my camera. I loved it for both street photography and the occasional landscape image. The two images below are shot with my 14-24mm. While the distortion would normally bother me, I think it adds to the majesty of the Eiffel Tower.
After spending some time at the Eiffel, we navigated our way to the Arc de Triomphe. We didn’t climb to the top, nor did we visit it at night. Instead, we walked the Champs Elysees before heading to the Luxembourg Gardens.
The Luxembourg Gardens were beautiful. If there was one thing I took away from the gardens, it would be that Parisians know how to live. Friends gather over bottles of wine, a gentleman brings a newspaper and lunch, teenage boys used a chair to host their chess game, couple stroll the grounds…everyone there seemed to be embracing the moment.
From there, we decided to stay out, grab a bite to eat, and head towards the Sacre Coeur to enjoy a hilltop view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower at night.
The Sacre Coeur, or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is located in the Montmartre area at the north end of Paris. A quick metro ride will drop you off near the base of the basilica; however, a hike of several flights of stairs will bring you to the church. Here, tons of locals bring bottles of their favorite beverage to enjoy an evening view of the city. We were there on Saturday, which made it quite crowded and loud (think EDM music playing nearby on crappy speakers.) Still, it didn’t take away from the view or the memories.
The next day was Sunday, April 1st. The first Sunday of any month is free museum entrance. Our plan was to wake up early and be in line for the Musee d’Orsay right when it opened. That didn’t happen. Between the jet lag and walking almost 10 miles on the first day, we were tired. We swung by the museum but the line was hours long. We decided instead to follow the Seine River to the island where Notre Dame is located and visit Sainte Chapelle chapel. On the way, we crossed Pont des Arts and saw all of the Parisian locks of love.
Becky was a little hesitant to see it Sainte Chapelle (10 euros for stain glass windows?) but as it turns out, it was one of our favorite stops on our vacation. At first, I was bummed. I thought all I got to see was the tiny little gift shop and statue located at the end of the room.
Tucked away in the corner is a tiny, winding staircase to bring you up to the chapel.
I think next to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, this was my favorite religious sites. IT was absolutely gorgeous. From there, we wandered our way to the Pablo Picasso Museum, where 5000 of his works are on display.
From the Picasso Museum, we headed west towards the Centre Pompidou, a controversial museum of modern art located in Paris. It sticks out like a sore thumb as the entire outside of it is very industrial and displays various colored tubes. On our way there, we ran into some talented street performers, who allowed me to capture some of my favorite street photography images of the trip.
The Centre Pompidou was closed as the workers were on strike. Why? I don’t know. Leave it to the French to strike over something. With that plan thrown out, we found ourselves with a few afternoon hours on our hands. We decided to make our way back to the Orsay and see if we could get in. After waiting in line for 45 minutes, we were one of the last groups of people admitted for the day. We only had 1.5 hours in the Orsay, so we walked quickly to see the main attractions.
A view of the Sacre Coeur from the a window in the Musee d’Orsay.
With our trip starting to wind down, we decided to stay out late, let the city sleep, and take photos of the beauty Paris offers at night. Photographing cities at night is one of my favorite things to do while on vacation. For me, the beauty and design of the city and buildings is exemplified at night.
The next morning, we took the train out of the city to visit Versailles. Even though we got there as it was opening, it was already packed. Rather than wait in the never-ending line for the palace itself, we decided to start in the gardens, located on the back side of the palace. The gardens were serene. Classical music played on hidden speakers throughout the gardens. Organized labyrinths of trees would open up with various sculptures and fountains. Spending a relaxing afternoon in the gardens is worth the trip itself.
After the garden walk, we went back to the front entrance only to find the line never moved. There were still thousands of people, snaking their way, waiting to enter the Palace. I noticed the first entrance and security checkpoint was about 50 feet away from the large golden gate to the Palace. While I am not proud of it, I told Becky to go stand there so I could “take a picture.” A few selfies later, we blended into the line and saved ourselves a few hours of waiting outside. You can see the line in the courtyard below. It snaked back and forth 5 times behind the first row of people you see. We would have been waiting 2-3 hours, easily.
Once inside, Versaille is ornate, regal, and majestic. The one disappointing thing is you probably only see 20 rooms of the palace. While you can go at your own pace, you are essentially herded from one room to another. There is no wandering and exploring. I suppose you can’t really have that as thousands visit every day.
After the Palace of Versailles, there was only one place left I was hoping to see – Galaries Lafayette. It is a very, very high end shopping mall with architectural features unlike anything I have seen in an American mall. Four open floors of the world’s most luxurious brands and thousands of tourists who, unlike me, were actually shopping. Need a 65,000 euro watch? No problem! Plenty to choose from.
As the evening began to set in and our trip came to an end, we got dressed up for our last night out on the town.
We ate at a tiny little restaurant that was recommended to us prior to leaving, 7eme vin, tucked away in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. It was the perfect way to end the trip.
Check back in a few days as I will post the street photography photos I took while I was there. If anyone is interested in purchasing any of the photos you see, I will make my portfolio available shortly. Thanks for reading!