Hello there! Happy Monday!
Today I’m excited to share the first day of our European adventure with you. Just in case it’s helpful for anyone who is also planning a trip, we created our itinerary through a combination of:
- Tips from family and friends
- Internet sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and Hotels.com
- Guidebooks from Frommer’s and Rick Steves (whose podcasts were invaluable)
I’m happy to share more details via email or in the comments if you ever have any specific questions!
Our trip began with a flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia – by far the easiest leg of our journey. As I alluded to in my last post, we had a minor (though at the time, enormous) hiccup when it came time to fly from Philadelphia to Paris. Our flight was delayed, delayed and delayed again, then ultimately cancelled due to a mechanical issue with the landing gear.
Unfortunately, the problem wasn’t discovered until we had already boarded the plane, otherwise we might have been able to catch the flight to Brussels that left around the same time. With almost no options left in Philadelphia for the evening, we started exploring our worst case scenarios – staying overnight to catch the next day’s Paris flight, or flying into another European city that would then have a plane or train ticket to Paris available immediately upon landing. Either way, it looked like we were going to have to cut out nearly two days of our trip.
That is, until London swooped in to save the day.
At roughly 9:45 PM, we made our way to the gate of a flight to Heathrow with a 9:50 PM departure. It turned out there were exactly two seats left on the flight, and because we had only brought carry-on bags (the checked bags from the Paris flight were sent to baggage claim in another terminal, so we would have never made it back), we were given those last two seats and allowed to board. The doors closed right behind us.
It was a definite stroke of luck, one that I swear was enhanced by the penny I found on the ground right in front of the check-in desk at the London gate. (Thank you, Mr. Lincoln.) Either way, we were on a plane headed across the Atlantic. We were thrilled.
Perhaps it was the adrenaline still coursing through my veins, but I couldn’t have slept more than 45 minutes total on our overnight flight. Bobby was seated a few rows away and said he didn’t get much sleep, either. So when we touched down in London a little before 10:00 AM – the equivalent of 4:00 AM in Arizona – we were a bit loopy. But we managed to ask for the right directions to the Eurostar station at St. Pancras, and were soon on our way there aboard the Tube!
I had hoped there might be enough time to visit Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross – hey, when in London… – but when we got to the Eurostar station, they had a train leaving for Paris in 10 minutes. The next one wouldn’t be leaving for another couple of hours, so we quickly bought our tickets and
sprinted made our way to their platform instead. We would have loved to explore London, but will save that for (hopefully) another trip down the line.
The Eurostar train was great! The only seats left were in business class, so we ended up getting a nice meal during the two and a half hour journey. We were also given small bottles of wine. Bobby went with a Chateau Mugron Bordeaux while I chose the Grand Sud Chardonnay. Both were delicious and the perfect first tastes of what was to come.
It may come as no surprise that we slept for the remainder of our journey. The train was so smooth and speedy, it was easy! I remember falling asleep surrounded by the darkness of the Chunnel and waking up in time to catch a view of the French countryside. A direct flight to Paris may have been more convenient, but Paris via London was a pretty close second – we really enjoyed the Eurostar.
At approximately 3:00 PM in Paris, we arrived at the Gare du Nord station. A quick transfer to the local metro trains and a few stops later, we climbed the stairs at Charles de Gaulle Étoile and were greeted by a welcome sight: the Arc de Triomphe!
Our hotel was located right near the Arc de Triomphe, which ended up being very convenient throughout our stay. Just off Rue Brey, Hotel Tivoli was a cozy, comfortable and clean oasis after a long two days of travel. The staff members were helpful and friendly, too.
The room was very nice, with a king-sized bed (made by two twin beds pushed together), small balcony overlooking the street and yummy chocolates on our pillows. There was also a charging station with a nice reminder written on the wall.
We freshened up before heading out to make the most of our shortened first day in Paris. With less time than we had originally planned for, we pushed our major sightseeing plans back and enjoyed a walk instead. We made our way down the Champs-Élysées to Place de la Concorde, which held a special significance after reading Abundance. This was where so many royals and politicians regrettably – though I suppose that depends on who you ask – lost their heads.
From Place de la Concorde, we walked down Rue de Rivoli toward La Maison Angelina.
There was already a line outside the door of Angelina’s, and after going there I understand why! We decided to forgo the sit-down experience in favor of walking outdoors with our chocolat chaud, touted as the best hot chocolate in all of Paris. We also picked out a vanilla éclair to share.
We made our way to the Tuileries Garden to enjoy our treats by the Grand Bassin Octagonal. There were several chairs placed along the outside, and though it was a chilly afternoon in Paris there were several people taking advantage of such a peaceful moment. I can imagine that in the summer months, this area must be packed with tourists looking to soak up some sun.
As for our chocolat chaud…
We both agreed it was by far the best hot chocolate we had ever tasted. Can you tell?
The vanilla éclair was almost equally incredible, and I say “almost” only because the hot chocolate was just that good. The éclair was filled with vanilla-infused crème patissière and topped with white chocolate that had vanilla pod seeds mixed in. It doesn’t get more authentic than that.
We walked around a bit more before watching our first Parisian sunset.
We had originally planned to eat dinner at Chartier after reading rave reviews, but our late lunch combined with the rich treats from Angelina left us too full. Plus by the time we reached the restaurant, there was a line down the block! Obviously a few other people had heard good things, too. 😉 Although it was tempting to see what all the fuss was about, we decided our first official French dining experience could wait until the next day.
But our jet lag couldn’t stop us from paying a visit to Harry’s Bar!
One of my former Northwestern journalism professors recommended we check out Harry’s, which has an amazing history and was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. From their website:
In 1911, a former US jockey convinced a friend who owned a bar in New York to dismantle it and shift it to Rue Daunou in Paris. Harry MacElhone was then approached to open the bar on Thanksgiving Day, 26 November 1911. Since then, generations have succeeded one another in this mythical place. Authors such as Hemingway, Sartre and Blondin came to taste the most famous cocktails in the world, some of which were created here (e.g the Bloody Mary or the White Lady). Harry’s Bar has published a book recounting its extraordinary story. A century later, it is still an inescapable place in Paris.
How could I possibly say no to a Hemingway haunt after reading The Paris Wife?
The interior of the bar was awesome, decked out with college flags and memorabilia. Although Bobby and I unfortunately were not able to find the Northwestern flag on the wall (I later learned it was near a clock that we had failed to see), we really enjoyed our pair of Sidecars. True to the reviews, Harry’s was very generous with their pours. I only wish Ernest could have been seated at the next table. He would have appreciated such generosity, for sure.
We meandered back up the Champs-Élysées and ended our day in Paris the same way it began, with another breathtaking view of the Arc de Triomphe. Our trip was already a jam-packed adventure, and we were looking forward to much more excitement to come.
But first, sleep.