We planned our trip to Paris since Rishi’s parents and sister were visiting us for a month. This was a short trip, and I made a list of important places after looking through dozens of Things to Do in Paris websites. Rishi’s friends also had their parents over just before us, so we took some suggestions from them as well while planning our trip.
Day 1 – 28 July 2022
Since we were planning to drive to France, we got ready and left early in the morning. We wanted to have a break from sitting in the car the whole time, so we had planned a stop in Brugge, Belgium, on the way to our destination. Bruges, or Brugge, the capital of West Flanders in northwest Belgium, is distinguished by its canals, cobbled streets, and medieval buildings. Its port, Zeebrugge, is an important centre for fishing and European trade. The song Char Kadam from PK was shot in the city.
After parking our car in the parking lot, we walked to the Grote Markt or Market Square. The market square is the heart of the old town. It is ringed by banks and many guild houses converted into restaurants. The most prominent buildings on the square are the Belfry Tower and the Cloth Hall. However, in all four directions of the square there are unique buildings that provide a glimpse of Bruges’ glorious past. The statues at the centre of the square are of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, two freedom heroes in the struggle against the French at the beginning of the 14th century. In Market Square, there is a Historium, which is a historical experience attraction. It takes you back in time to medieval Bruges (15th century). The square was filled with beautiful architecture whichever way we looked. We did not visit the Historium since we did not have enough time to spend in one place.
We then walked to Burg Square, which is a square and former fortress in Bruges. It is one of the main squares in the city. The most impressive building in the Burg is the Town Hall. This beautiful Gothic Bruges City Hall was built in 1376, making it one of the oldest in the Low Countries. In the corner of the square, down from the Old Court House and the Stadhuis is one of the smallest buildings, the one with the most interesting history, the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The facade of the Basilica is ornately decorated with gilded statues and medallions of the Counts of Flanders and their partners. Just next to the Basilica of the Holy Blood are a few brasseries and restaurants. Rishi bought some waffles for us, so we enjoyed the ambience of the beautiful square along with the delicious dessert.
We then walked along the canals from Burg Square to Gruuthusemuseum. The canals have for centuries been the veins of the city, winding through Bruges and treating us to a magnificent view around every bend. We passed Rozenhoedkaai (Rosary Quay) on the way, which is the city’s most popular spot for photography, a centuries-old Instagrammable hotspot. Once upon a time, rosaries were sold here; today it provides one of the city’s loveliest views. The entire stroll was delightful, with picture-worthy scenes.
We reached the Gruuthusemuseum, which is a museum of applied arts in Bruges, located in the medieval Gruuthuse, the house of Louis de Gruuthuse. The collection ranges from the 15th to the 19th century. The campus had a canal passing through it, which looked very cute.
We then walked to the Church of Our Lady. Its tower, at 115.6 metres (379 ft) in height, remains the tallest structure in the city and the third tallest brickwork tower in the world. The interior demonstrates the heavily ornamented Baroque style in the side aisles and chancel. The church was quite charming.
Finally, we passed the Saint-Salvator Cathedral, which is the cathedral of Bruges, Flanders, in present-day Belgium. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint-Donatius of Reims and the Verrezen Zaligmaker.
After finishing our tour of the city, we proceeded to our destination for the night in France. We had booked a 2-bedroom apartment in Nœux-les-Mines, which was just a little further from the Belgium-France border.
Day 2 – 29 July 2022
We got ready and left early and reached Paris by 11:45 am. Paris is the capital and most populous city of France. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of the principal hubs for science, trade, fashion, diplomacy, and gastronomy. It earned the moniker “the City of Light” in the nineteenth century due to its prominence in the arts and sciences and its extremely early implementation of a street lighting system. The city is so pretty that we couldn’t stop clicking pictures on the way to our destinations.
We could see the Eiffel Tower from afar. We also saw the Arc de Triomphe on the way to our first stop. The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most famous monuments in Paris, standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
Rishi had already booked a parking spot for 3 days in central Paris. We parked our car and then walked to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is a wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. The tower is 330 metres (1,083 ft) tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building and the tallest structure in Paris. Its base is square, measuring 125 metres (410 ft) on each side. It is a spectacular wonder, and seeing it for the first time was incredible. We sat under a tree in the Champ de Mars and soaked in the view. We had brought Litti from home for our journey, and we ate it there. It was a little moment of Biharis in Paris!
After lunch, Nupur and I decided to explore the area and maybe go to the first level of the Eiffel Tower. The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m (906 ft) above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union. Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or lift to the first and second levels. The climb from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the climb from the first level to the second, making the entire ascent a 600-step climb. Although there is a staircase to the top level, it is usually accessible only by lift. The line for the lift was huge, but the stair line was way smaller in comparison. So we joined the line for the stairs but later left it because I was not sure if I would be able to climb that much and have the energy to visit other places that day. We clicked pictures under the Eiffel and left.
Next, we walked to the Pantheon, which is a monument in the 5th district of Paris. The edifice was built between 1758 and 1790, from designs by Jacques-Germain Soufflot, at the behest of King Louis XV of France. It was flipped between religious and secular roles over the decades before becoming a Pantheon honouring France’s greatest leaders in the state, military, arts and science in 1885. It was a massive building with a beautiful interior and sculptures. Since we had visited the Pantheon in Rome as well, we were not as impressed by the architecture. I did want to visit the top of the building, but the ticket sales for visiting there had stopped just a few minutes earlier.
We then walked to Notre Dame, which is a medieval Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. On 15 April 2019, while Notre Dame was undergoing renovation and restoration, its roof caught fire and burned for about 15 hours. The government of France has said it hopes the reconstruction can be completed by Spring 2024, in time for the opening of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Since it was not accessible, we saw the building from the outside.
Our next stop was Sainte-Chapelle, which is a royal chapel in the Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics. The Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité. Although damaged during the French Revolution and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collections anywhere in the world. Soaring arches and medieval stained glass create a stunning and spectacular display.
Finally, we walked to the Louvre, which is the world’s most visited museum. The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built in the late 12th to 13th century by Philip II. The Musée du Louvre contains more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments, with more than 60,600 square metres (652,000 sq ft) dedicated to the permanent collection. The Louvre exhibits sculptures, objets d’art, paintings, drawings, and archaeological finds. The Louvre Pyramid is a large glass and metal structure designed by the Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. The pyramid is in the main courtyard of the Louvre Palace in Paris, surrounded by three smaller pyramids. The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. Completed in 1988 as part of the broader Grand Louvre project, it has become a landmark of the city of Paris. Since we did not plan on going inside, we sat outside the entrance and enjoyed the vibe there.
We then took the metro to our parking spot. On the way to the car, Rishi bought a cake for Nupur’s birthday while I tried to distract everyone else and took them to the parking lot. The cake was in a box tied with a ribbon, and I thought Nupur might have already realized what it was, but she realised when we reached home. We had packed ready-to-eat food from Haldirams and Taco Wraps. Those came in really handy during the entire trip.
After dinner, we drove back to the Eiffel Tower to see it sparkling. To obtain its sparkle effect, each side of the tower was fitted with 5,000 metal casings containing a 6W xenon bulb, for a grand total of 20,000 lamps and 120kW of electricity. The sparkling lights are very low-energy equipment. The sparkling lights are superimposed over the golden lights for 5 minutes at the beginning of each hour until 1 am. We reached the front of the Eiffel Tower at exactly 12 a.m. We were stuck in a jam when the sparkling started. I got out of the car and tried to take a few pictures. Then, we could finally park in one of the free parking spots near the Champ de Mars. We then sat on the Champ de Mars and Nupur cut the cake with the golden Eiffel Tower behind her. After the cake was cut, we clicked pictures while waiting for 1 am, when it would sparkle again. The last sparkling lights at 1 am have a special little feature; the golden lights go out and the tower is left only to sparkle for 10 minutes! We did not realize we had seen a special feature until the next night.
Day 3 – 30 July 2022
We got ready and drove to Paris in the morning. We took a bus near the parking lot. We had to walk 1 km uphill from the place where the bus dropped us off. After climbing all the way up, we passed a shopping street and bought fridge magnets as souvenirs for everyone.
Our 1st stop for the day was Sacré-Cœur which is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica in Paris, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is located at the summit of the butte of Montmartre. The church is 85 meters long and thirty-five meters wide. The overall style of the structure is a free interpretation of Romano-Byzantine architecture. Some elements of the design, particularly the elongated domes and the structural forms of the windows on the south facade are Neo-classical. The nave is dominated by a very high dome, which symbolises the celestial world, resting upon a rectangular space, symbolising the terrestrial world. The two are joined by massive columns representing the passage between the two worlds. The plan of the interior is a Greek cross, with the altar in the centre, modelled after Byzantine churches. Other Byzantine features in the interior include the designs of the tile floor and the glasswork. The mosaic over the choir, entitled The Triumph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is the largest and most important work of art in the church. The interior was as stunning as the exterior.
We then walked to the Palais Garnier, also known as Opéra Garnier, which is a 1,979-seat opera house. It was built for the Paris Opera from 1861 to 1875 at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III. Initially referred to as le Nouvel Opéra de Paris (the new Paris Opera), it soon became known as the Palais Garnier, in acknowledgement of its extraordinary opulence and the architect Charles Garnier’s plans and designs. The façade and the interior followed the Napoleon III style principle of leaving no space without decoration. Garnier used polychromy, or a variety of colours, for theatrical effect and achieved different varieties of marble and stone, porphyry, and gilded bronze. The façade of the Opera used seventeen different kinds of material, arranged in very elaborate multicoloured marble friezes, columns, and lavish statuary, many of which depict deities of Greek mythology. The interior consists of interweaving corridors, stairwells, alcoves, and landings, allowing the movement of large numbers of people and space for socialising during intermission. Rich with velvet, gold leaf, and cherubim and nymphs, the interior is characteristic of Baroque sumptuousness. It was completely jaw-dropping, and we clicked pictures at every possible corner.