Paris at last – the amazing end to our 5-week trip

Paris trip report cover image

We headed to Paris on July 13 and were happy to arrive at a decent time. Our AirBNB apartment was easy to find, on the end of a street that was definitely not a touristy area! It was upstairs from a restaurant/bar and a pastry shop and close to an open-air market that had the most amazing fresh fruits and vegetables.

I had planned my trip so that we would arrive in Paris to celebrate la fête nationale. I had big plans…we were going to do something VERY French, something most tourists would never think to do. Every year, French fire houses host an evening for the people of the neighborhood to come and hang out. There was a fire station not too far from where we were staying, so we went.

Zbyszek is not really a party sort of guy, and he was a bit leery when I told him we were going to a Parisian fire station. As I said – it’s a very FRENCH thing to do, and not something that gets advertised as a tourist attraction! We arrived to find plenty of people hanging out, live music, and many firefighters chilling with their neighbors. They had beer and wine for sale, so we bought him a beer and he settled in.

Paris at last - the amazing end to our 5-week trip
Paris at last - the amazing end to our 5-week trip

A Parisian Fête Nationale

The next day was the big day – it had been a while since I was in Paris (or France) for le 14 juillet. I wanted to see La Patrouille, so we headed downtown to hang out on a bridge over the Seine. We found the perfect spot and as it got closer to the time, the crowd grew. We watched as the different planes flew overhead and laughed at the people on the Bateau Mouche who were completely oblivious to what they were missing.

Zbyszek really hates crowds, so I warned him that the Metro might be a bit crowded due to the holiday. Sure enough, after the end of the parade there were a lot of people on the trains. We were able to find some shops and restaurants that were open and spent the day relaxing and not really doing anything big. We walked around near Notre Dame and while I was sad to not be able to step on Kilometre Zéro, I was happy to see the progress on the rebuilding.

Since we’ve both been to Paris before, we didn’t want to do the usual things like the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. We did see both of them, but mostly just due to where we were – not because they were the goal of our excursion. I wanted to show Zbyszek a different side of Paris, and some things that he hadn’t seen before.

Paris at last - the amazing end to our 5-week trip

The best baguette in Paris

Every year there is a competition for the best baguette in Paris. The winner of the competition becomes the supplier to the Elysée palace for the next year – so the president is eating these baguettes daily. I have always loved the France is so egalitarian, and even the most regular person can afford to eat the same bread that the most powerful person eats. The winner of the 2023 contest wasn’t far from our apartment, and walking there would take us past the Père Lachaise cemetery, the biggest cemetery in Paris..

While I’ve been there before, Zbyszek hadn’t. We took a leisurely walk on the way to the Au Levain des Pyrénées boulangerie and I finally accomplished something I’d failed to do before: we found the grave of Chopin! I’ve looked for him several times and always gotten lost. This time, we were successful and found it.

When we reached the boulangerie, it smelled amazing. I bought two baguettes and we were lucky that they had just come out of the oven and were nice and warm. Zbyszek asked why I had bought two, but he hadn’t ever purchased such fresh bread before. We stepped out of the boulangerie and he tore off the end of the baguette. We each took a little piece and it was delicious. So delicious that he kept sneaking bites as we walked back to our apartment.

When we arrived at our apartment, the first baguette was almost entirely gone – just about 4″ remained! I told him that now he understood why I had purchased 2 – because otherwise, there wouldn’t be anything left for our dinner! This was one of the things on my bucket list, and now I can say that I’ve enjoyed the best baguette in Paris!

Paris at last - the amazing end to our 5-week trip
Paris at last - the amazing end to our 5-week trip

On the edges of Paris – la Defense

Another thing I really wanted to do was the VR visit of Notre-Dame. You can either do this outside of Notre Dame, or go to la Défense at La Cité de L’histoire. We took the RER out to the second location and got tickets to visit the entire “museum.” It was pretty cool, and similar to Puy du Fou in the combination of technology and dioramas with live actors and actresses. At one point it was a bit uncomfortable because the French “schoolmaster” grilled me on some poetry that I was unfamiliar with.

The best part of the visit was the Notre Dame experience. It’s a VR backpack and headset and you walk around a large empty room while you view the video. It’s amazing! You really do feel like you are there for the building and growth of the cathedral. You’re not just on the ground floor, but up in the vaults during the building. It’s a nice way for tourists who can’t go in the cathedral right now to still feel that they have seen it. We later found out that it’s available for the Oculus VR headset, so we bought it and have viewed it several times.

Our last day in Paris

Our five-week trip was coming to an end. My bag was still sitting at the Bordeaux airport, so I told them to just send it home to Arizona rather than trying to get it to us in Paris. We used our last day to visit a few places so I could run some errands. We went to the Arc de Triomphe so we could walk along the Champs-Elysées and I could get a Starbucks mug for my friend Karina. Zbyszek hadn’t visited the arc, so that was new for him.

We ended up near Les Halles for lunch, so I made him try another French treat – the Taco Lyonnais. We went to O’Tacos and he had me order since he had no idea what he wanted. He was a bit confused by the “taco” but I told him to just imagine that it was called something else. Really, the only thing these have in common with tacos is the tortilla. Coming from a state that borders Mexico, we have a LOT of experience with tacos and have definite views on what they should be. French tacos are delicious in their own way, but if you go in expecting Mexican tacos, you’ll be disappointed.

BTW, if you ever happen to visit Phoenix here are some of the good tacos: Tacos Calafias, Tacos Chiwas, Unos Tacos. If you want to try something delicious that isn’t tacos, we love Rosita’s in Tempe and Tortas Paquime.

Our final stop was the Sacré Coeur and Montmarte, another church that Zbyszek hadn’t seen. I don’t mind visiting it again because the view is great and there are a lot of places to buy cheap souvenirs for anyone who needs them.

The next morning we had to get up bright and early to meet our airport transfer service. The taxi driver was exactly on time and very helpful – he got us to the airport and even walked us to the check-in gate for our flight! We had to catch a Lot flight to Warsaw before flying back to Los Angeles. I was a bit bummed that there was NOTHING open for a snack/breakfast before our flight so be aware if you are flying out of Paris Charles de Gaulle at 7 AM – you won’t be able to get anything to eat.

In all, we had an amazing trip. Despite the missing luggage (which was returned to me exactly one week after I got back to the US) and the crown that fell out, we enjoyed seeing new things, travelling together, and we have a better idea of where we might want to live after retirement. It took a lot of planning to put this trip together, but in the end it all came together nicely. We had some memorable experiences and will remember the trip fondly.

If you missed the first three parts of our trip, you can read about them in part 1, part 2, and part 3. You can also listen to the episode of Join us in France when I was Annie’s guest.

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