First Trip to Europe, Day 2 – Christmas Eve, Montmartre, and the Eiffel Tower

We started our first full day in Paris early by local standards, waking up well before the sun. I had no idea that the sun doesn’t rise in Paris until after 9am in the winter! Since mom and I take longer to get ready, we sent Josh and my dad to look for breakfast. They returned with pain au chocolate, mini baguettes, butter, an assortment of jam, Nutella, coffee, and orange juice for all of us. This is apparently very common and easy to obtain at any bakery in Paris. It is what I saw described as a French breakfast on some menus. If you stop in at a brasserie for breakfast, you will also have the choice of an “English Breakfast” or “petit dejeuner anglais”, which will include everything mentioned above plus 2 eggs and bacon or ham.

The weather forecast called for highs in the low 40s and wind, so we ate our breakfast in the room and bundled up before heading downstairs to meet Pablo, our tour guide for half the day. Pablo was a last minute change to our itinerary. We had booked a local guide through ToursByLocals a few months before our trip, but she had to cancel the Friday before we arrived in Paris due to a death in the family. Mom and I frantically emailed every local guide we could find, and Pablo was a friend of another guide who was unavailable that day. He is from Chile, but is married to a Parisian and has spent many years in France. We met Pablo in the lobby at 9am, and he suggested that we walk up to the Pantheon and through the Luxembourg Gardens before taking the metro to Montmartre to tour the Sacre Coeur Cathedral.

We walked up the street and wound through the Latin Quarter a little, with Pablo giving us more insight into the student-filled area. When we finally reached the Pantheon (I think we took a bit of a circuitous route, as it’s not very far from our hotel), we realized it was closed, or perhaps not yet open. This was a little disappointing, but we stopped to take pictures of the outside and the pretty Christmas trees set up in square. The area facing the Pantheon seemed quiet (it was Christmas Eve) and very nice. We walked down towards the Luxembourg Gardens next, which I imagine look much different in spring or summer! The trees were bare but the grass stays green, and it’s still a nice place to stroll. We saw a few people out walking dogs or jogging, but mostly we had the gardens to ourselves. I would love to see the Luxembourg Gardens covered in snow. We walked down a tree-lined path to the center of the gardens, then around to the Palais du Luxembourg and the Medici Fountain. Pablo told us the history of the palace and the fountain while we stopped to take pictures and take in the view.

Next we headed towards the metro and Montmartre. We exited the metro at the Anvers station and walked up the shop-lined street towards the funicular. I highly recommend riding the funicular instead of trekking up the 200+ steps. It’s included in your Navigo pass, or you can use a metro ticket from your book of tickets. Keep in mind that it will cost you one ticket for the way up and one for the way down. If you’ve never ridden a funicular, it’s just a funny shaped, enclosed tram that carts you up and down the hill. There is a turn style at the top and bottom where you can scan your Navigo or insert your metro ticket. We exited the funicular at the top and walked just a few steps over to stand in front of Sacre Coeur and an amazing view of Paris. You can’t see the Eiffel Tower from this exact spot, but you can see for miles. It was a little hazy (and still early in the morning) when we visited, but this would be a great spot for pictures on a clear, sunny day. Looking up at Sacre Coeur, on the other hand, is a spectacular view any time. As you can see below, we paused to take pictures in both directions. I love the shot of all four of us here. You can see how we dressed for this day. I wore a sweater dress with a long-sleeved shirt underneath for extra warmth, two pairs of fleece lined leggings, tall boots with thick boot socks, a black scarf I borrowed from my mom, and my black down-filled coat. It’s hard to tell here but this coat comes to about mid-thigh on me. Funny story about the borrowed scarf… The ONE and ONLY thing I forgot at home was my black Pashmina scarf. I planned to wear it on the plane and realized once we got to the airport that I left it hanging in the coat closet at home. I would have worn that scarf almost every single day. Don’t leave your Pashmina scarf at home!!!

After our photos we climbed the remaining steps to the cathedral and went inside. The cathedral is beautiful and the highlights for me were the mosaic and of course the stained glass windows. You are not supposed to take pictures inside, so the following were taken on the sly and should be considered contraband…

When we finished our circle around the inside of the cathedral, we left the way we entered and went to walk around Montmartre. Pablo showed us beautiful streets and buildings, and the Place du Tertre where artists set up canvases daily to paint or draw for tourists. Pablo suggested we sit for a coffee or hot chocolate at a restaurant facing the square. I was glad he suggested this, as I was a little wary about sitting down in a Parisian restaurant for the first time on our own. We read everything we could get our hands on before the trip, but I was still not sure exactly how we Americans would be received and how my minimal French language skills would serve me. Pablo had a lively discussion with the waiter as we entered, and they eventually came to a decision that we should go upstairs to have our coffee. I think because it was nearly lunch time, he may not have appreciated us taking a large table just for drinks. The waiter was friendly to us though, and took our order and returned with our coffees, hot chocolates, and vin chaud quickly. This is something we didn’t experience often (ever?) in our later trips to restaurants. I’m inclined to think there is no such thing as what Americans call quick service in France. It’s not a bad thing, just be prepared to take your time even when stopping in just for a coffee. My hot chocolate was good, though I thought it was curious that hot chocolate is served with sugar cubes on the side. I think some places don’t sweeten it beforehand, but I don’t remember ever using the sugar cubes myself.

We drank our hot beverages and rested our feet before mom and I ventured down to the basement bathrooms. You will find bathrooms are hardly ever on the ground floor in France. They are always either down one floor or on the top level. I never encountered any of the scary “hole in the floor” toilets I had read about though. Everywhere we went had stalls with locking doors, normal toilets, and toilet paper. It seems weird to have to say this, but I read some really crazy things before we went. After our pit stop, we bundled back up and went out to see a little more of Montmartre. We walked past a water tower that was styled to match Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Radet from the year 1717, and more quaint side streets on our way back to the funicular. As we walked we did finally get a full view of the Eiffel Tower through some trees. It wasn’t a great photo spot, but if you walk around Montmartre you will find some amazing views. After the funicular ride down the hill, we walked back through the tourist shops and I bought my own black scarf for 5 euros. We asked Pablo to end our tour near the Galeries Lafayette, which we wanted to peek inside to see the Christmas decorations. He rode the metro with us to the right stop and pointed us in the right direction before we parted.

Something Heather showed us that we didn’t quite understand until later was that most metro stops have more than one exit. When you exit the train, most of the time you can find a map along the platform that shows the neighborhood and attractions nearby. The exits are numbered and the map tells you which number exit to take for which attractions. This is especially important in the larger stations like Chatelet, Gare du Nord, and Saint-Michel. These stations have a labyrinth of underground walkways to connect you to different metro lines, so they may have 4 or more exits that each can lead you out several blocks away from your intended destination.

We wandered around just a bit, stopping to see the Christmas window displays, before we found the entrance to the Galeries Lafayette. There are several buildings that all look promising–some are Printemps, there’s a Galeries Lafayette Homme–but you want the main Galeries Lafayette building with the large dome. We walked inside and headed towards the middle, where we found the gigantic upside-down Christmas tree. We took the escalator up several floors for a better view. I had no idea the tree was going to be upside-down, and apparently this is the first year it has ever been done. It was spectacular! The dome and giant arches would be a sight to see any time of year, but if you’re in town around Christmas make sure you pop in to see the decorations! I had a dual purpose for wanting to visit the galeries after walking two whole days in my tall leather boots. My feet were killing me and my left foot was pinched and blistered. I needed another pair of boots. The shoes occupy an entire floor, so we made our way down and wandered through the super expensive, high fashion shoes until we found the more practical (cheaper) looking brands. Short boots are all the rage in Paris right now, so I settled on a soft, flat, leather pair that wasn’t too expensive. I wore this new pair of boots every single day for the rest of our trip, save two half days that I wore my tall boots and then switched back after a break. They were life savers!

The boots I bought at Galeries Lafayette

The boots I bought at Galeries Lafayette

Once the boots were paid for, our main concern was food! It had been a long time since breakfast and we were famished. We left the Galeries Lafayette and went in search of a restaurant for a hot lunch. We walked about a block away and went in a place called Le Royal, a French bistro with (thankfully) a menu offered in English. It was our first time sitting down to eat anywhere in Paris, but our waiter was nice and spoke English with us. I got my first croque-madame here! It’s a toasted ham sandwich with melted cheese and a fried egg on top. I could eat the heck out of one right now. These are definitely something I’m going to be making at home, but probably with turkey since I normally don’t eat pork.

My first Croque-Madame

My first Croque-Madame

I would like to say that our adventures continued through the rest of the afternoon, but I’m pretty sure that our feet were not used this much walking and we were exhausted already. We made our way back to the Latin Quarter and slowly walked our way back to the hotel through the Rue Saint Severin shops and restaurants. My memory is a little fuzzy, but this may be when I stopped in at Maison Georges Larnicol to buy a box of macaroons. I tried macaroons at several places over the course of our stay, but these turned out to be my favorite. We rested in the hotel for the rest of the afternoon until it was time to make our way to the Eiffel Tower for our visit to the top! I changed into my new shoes and we all bundled up and headed to the metro.

The stop for the Eiffel Tower puts you out just a block away, but we made a right turn where we should have turned left and came up the opposite side (back side?) for our first up close view. This was probably a good thing, as it was less crowded and we were able to stop and marvel and take a million pictures. We wandered around a bit and ended up at a crepe stand in front of the tower where I ordered a banana and nutella crepe (soooo much sugar) and a hot chocolate to serve as my dinner. I managed to knock over my hot chocolate when I was shimmying into my seat at the picnic table, and the manager was kind enough to bring me a new one after we cleaned up the mess. After we ate it was time to get in line for the top of the tower. We purchased our tickets (made a reservation?) online months before our trip, so we were able to go straight to the line for the entrance. It was short and we were soon in the first elevator taking us to the second floor. Everyone gets off at the second floor. We had a ticket that allowed us to continue on to the top, so we wandered around and took pictures and then found the second elevator.

When we got to the top, there were two levels. One is open air and one is enclosed. We took a spin around both. Gustave Eiffel’s office is at the top of the tower as well, and you can peek inside. You can purchase champagne to toast, but we were too busy taking in the view and taking pictures. It was in the enclosed level that Josh managed to thoroughly surprise me with a diamond necklace he bought for me before the trip. It’s saying a lot that I had no idea about it! It is beautiful and I’m still shocked that he managed to buy it and hide it from me.


He’s pretty good, huh? I think I’ll keep him.

This is pretty much where our Christmas Eve ends. We took the metro back to the hotel and called it a night. I’ll talk about Christmas Day in my next post, which includes a church, a river cruise, and a wonderful Christmas dinner! If you didn’t start from the beginning, make sure you read Day 1 – Getting to Paris, and Day 1 – The Hotel and First Night in Paris before you continue!

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