Paris, Brussels, and Brugge
Preface: there are a lot of words. I couldn't stop. Totally understand if you're a "i just want to look at the photos" type of person. I wrote so much because I want to look back and read the little details that may leave my memory in the future. <3 also, this was my first time in Europe so i'm no expert but I wanted to share what we did, what worked for us, and other stuff.
BIG THANKS to all who recommended places and things to do!!! Especially Chloe, Taryn, Amanda, Alex, and Bharath.
BIGGER THANKS to my travel partner, Bri. I loved exploring with you and thank you for some of the images below :)
also thank you to sarah for taking me to the airport, zack for picking me up, cara & maya for a fun evening in montmartre, nick for helping me figure out my USD to euros situation.
and no thanks to the Paris driving (barf central), the staff at brussels train station, the 87 men who each asked me five times to buy their souvenirs, the guy who asked to draw me for his personal portfolio after I said 'no' seven times but still drew me and insisted I take the drawing but I didn't because homeboy wanted money, and the gal at the train station who paid 20 euros for the 50 cent WC and the woman took forever and a half to get her change...........
Day 1 // Arrival: We landed in Paris at 2pm. We were surprised that we didn't go through customs or have a tedious security check. We just had a brief passport check in Iceland. We arrived at our airbnb and couldn't wait to just take off our shoes and sigh at our view outside our Parisian window. Our plan was to get to the covered market to get some snacks for the following morning. It was really close to our airbnb but we went the opposite way three times before we called it quits and decides to dine at a cafe. We got a caprese salad, pizza, and pasta. Our dining experience lasted about two hours and GUESS WHAT? they didn't serve our meal two and half bites into our appetizer or BEFORE our appetizer. Paris is like, (sings) 'thiiiis is how we do it'. MMM HMM. i am so into it. when i order an appetizer before a meal here, i'm usually starving and need something before my meal but i don't understand WHY would my meal by served when i took a bite of my appetizer. After dinner, we stopped at a patisserie and got some dessert, breakfast pastries for the next evening, and a bottle of port blanc.
Day 2: We took the metro to the Louvre. It was everything that I had expected and more. After months and months of seeing beautiful photos on instagram, it was unreal that what I have seen on my phone was right in front my eyes. We spent a lot of time there, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousal, and Jardin des Tuileries. In between locations, we went to Nomad's for some apps: truffle scallop tartar (SOFREAKINGGOOD) and foie gras. We also stopped by Angelina because I read that they have the best hot chocolate AND BOY DO THEY. It's thick, rich, and sinful. We each got one but could've definitely shared one. We walked through Jardin des Tuileries and found two seats around Grand Bassin Rond. We sat for a short time but it was one of the most peaceful times. I people watch: people taking a snooze, having their lunch, drawing the scenery. We then go to Musee d'Orsay for a couple hours and saw the most beautiful art from Van Gogh, O'Keefe, and my favorite... Claude Monet. It was a delightful afternoon. Later that evening, we went to a jazz club at 38Riv. Apparently it's something you gotta do while you're in Paris and I'm glad we did.
Day 3: Whilst walking home from the jazz club the evening before, we passed a Turkish Kilims shop (rugs) and Bri said, "we need to go to this shop in the morning". And I'm so glad we did because I saw the most beautiful rugs ever. I've never really appreciated rugs as an art form but HOLYMOLY these rugs were works of art. After we looked at the rugs, we went to the covered market that we had tried to go to on day 1. We got some grub and headed back to rest for a short time before our next outing. We went to Laduree - macarons GAAAALORE. It was my dream to go to Laduree when I was in Paris. It was everything and MORE. The salted caramel will foreverchange your life...omg. After we got our delicious macarons, we took an Uber to the Eiffel Tower. Like the Louvre, I saw the Eiffel Tower in manymanymany photos on instagram but being there in person was breathtaking. It is so grand and while being up close and personal with it was a stunning experience- however I do prefer the view of it from a distance. After taking about 28345 photos of the Eiffel, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner that was walking distance from the Eiffel. We had a really lovely view. The Italian restaurant is small and sweet. Bri got a four cheese ravioli and I got a mushroom truffle cream ravioli. Side note: if i read 'truffle' anything, I AM ALL FREAKING ABOUT IT. After dinner, we went back to the Eiffel when it lit up. Took more photos and waited until the next hour to see it sparkle. 9:00pm hit and magic ensued for five minutes. It was a moment that I wanted to soak all the senses in. I listened to all the passerbys gasping, chattering in 27 different languages and cheering. I saw the Eiffel glittered like the stars. Though not a physical touch, I felt a moment of pure contentment and happiness. I smelt smoke all around me- and hadn't stopped smelling smoke during my entire trip (eye roll). And the aftertaste of the sweet limoncello shot that our waiter shared with us after dinner. If that magical moment wasn't enough, we went on the Big Wheel (8 euros for one ride- it was a short ride) for an incredible view of Paris in the evening. I didn't have my glasses with me so everything was a blurry, beautiful, bokeh mess. It was a little terrifying because I get nervous on the ferris wheel at Mall of America and the Big Wheel was much taller but it was a blissful experience - just don't look down.
Day 4: Started with some cheese and fruit because we were heading to the train for Brussels. We bought our tickets through Thalys... it is a super nice, comfortable train. It included a meal so I was all about it. We arrived at our Airbnb and to my surprise there was a balcony. So I made some tea and sat outside for a bit. I don't get sick often at all but with being on a plane, in cars with crazy ass drivers, and the train, the motion sickness hit. I never felt like I was going to throw up but my head made me think I was still moving which was tripping me out. Anyway, I had to take a moment to just lay down before we walked to the city center. OK GUYS the city center is bananas. I was taken aback by the beautiful cobblestone streets, cute shops, and charming buildings. I kept turning in circles in hopes to travel back in time. Imagine being in brussels 500 years ago... Brussels had captured my heart. We continued to walk around to find food and randomly saw Bia Mara- fish and chips. "Sure, why not?" We had no idea how popular this place is so we looked it up and it had AMAZING reviews. We learned that they use freshfreshfresh fish. A different fish for each type of battered fish. I got the classic panko and bri got a basil lemon tempura. It was so delicious.
Day 5: in the morning we took the train to brugge. it's an hour west from Brussels. um top town on my list I've ever visited. the charm level was 100 (i feel too old to say that but whatevs). the city center was beautiful as well. we had lunch and roamed around the shops. and we stumbled upon a flea market. i had feeling that I was going to find my ring. if you didn't know, i collect rings. I started collecting them when i took my first solo trip to Colorado. since then, every 'highlight' trip or event, i added a ring to my collection. i was dead set on finding a ring in Paris but didn't had much luck. when i saw the flea market, I just had a feeling that I would find it. i don't make it a mad hunt or focus too much on it... i let fate bring it to me. and it did. coincidentally enough, i think bri asked me what kind of ring and I said, '"an opal". AND HOT DAMN, the ring i found is a freaking pink opal. what was even more awesome was that bri found a ring too. <3
Day 6: Back to Paris we go. We arrived just before our brunch reservation. I found Au Zaganin via instagram and this place was featured on one of them. and i knew we needed to go. my perfect meal includes a little of everything which was what this brunch was. to start off brunch, we had a ginormous bread basket. I mean, yes please. They offer two options for brunch: classic and premium. It is beautiful presented on the plate. On mine there was: a small, simple balsamic vinegar salad, sweet potatoes fries, fruit, yogurt, a squash bisque business, scrambled eggs w/ chorizo, banana chocolate brownie, two pieces of fish, and foie gras on toast. Yup. After brunch we went to our Airbnb in Montmartre. I was especially excited to stay in Montmartre. It's a trendy, hip neighborhood and I was definitely not cool enough. Montmartre is incredibly charming and beautiful... I could really see us living there. In the afternoon, we met up with friends from Rochester who were in Paris the same time as us. I don't see them often (maaaaybe once a year?) and we live 1.5 hours away!!! But I'm all about meeting in a different country if that's what it takes ;) We walked around a bit and saw Moulin Rouge and lots of famous cafes that were in movies like, Amelie. We then had dinner and walked more until we ended up at Sacre Coeur - The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, Le Consulat, and La Maison Rose. We took in the evening views of Paris at the top of the infamous Montmartre stairs... which i thought there's one but there are many. To end the evening, I had a chocolate crepe.
Day 7: We spent the last day exploring Montmartre and went to the Dali museum. It was an interesting experience because I didn't know that Dali was an artist of different mediums. We roamed around Le Consulat again because I wanted to see in the daylight. Still mega charming. Took 9382 photos of the buildings. We ended the evening stopped at a bar for a drink and free tapas- hell yeah. I ordered a Ti Punch, which made me wonder why people order it, let alone why it exists. it was muddled limes and a shot of hard liquor. omg. i didn't want to die before dinner. so i asked for a soda to pour it in my drink. LOL. after getting almost schwasted, we went to a fondue place and drank wine from baby bottles. I STILL DONT KNOW WHY FROM A BABY BOTTLE.
Paris Metro: While researching, a blog recommended Paris Metro for navigating the metro. You need Wifi for it but it was incredibly easy to use. You look at the map and determine where you want to depart and arrive and it'll tell you the route and even what direction you need to go.
WhatsApp: Free international messaging. You also need wifi.
BIM: Thanks to Chloe for recommending this app. It's an instant restaurant reservation app. You can plug in your location.. it only has like 4 major cities on there though... Paris being one of them. You can find restaurants that are near you, in your price range, and if they have a free table for you. Since reservations are a always good idea, esp for dinner, it's a handy tool!
Where we ate:
Pizzeria Vito/Caffe Vito: 12 Rue des Archives, 75003 Paris, France
Nomad's (scallop truffle tartar): 12-14 Rue du Marché Saint-Honoré, 75001 Paris, France
Angelina (pastries and hot chocolate): 226 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France
38Riv (jazz club): 38 Rue de Rivoli, 75004 Paris, France
Laduree (macarons): 75 Av. des Champs-Élysées, 75008 Paris, France
Il Grigio (italian restaurant by the eiffel): 147 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris, France
Bia Mara (fish & chips): Rue du Marché aux Poulets 41, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Au Zaganin (brunch): 81 Rue de Rochechouart, 75009 Paris, France
Le Refuge du Fondus (fondue and wine baby bottles-- they only have two types of fondue for 22 euros each: meat or cheese. it includes white or red wine and a dessert. cheese is served with diced baguette and meat is served with oil in a fondue pot with 4 different sauces and potatoes, I think. I wouldn't recommend this place for dinner unless you get the meat fondue but... why wouldn't you get the cheese?): 17 Rue des Trois Frères, 75018 Paris, France
- it was just the two of us so getting in at restaurants was never an issue. If you're traveling with 4+ people, make reservations or go a bit early. We went to breakfast, lunch, and dinner at "normal" American times and beat the crowd every time.
- we bought book of ten tickets at the metro to split and that was perfect.
- Get a hotspot and int'l data activated for the trip. I did not do this because I didn't even think about it but Bri had both and it was incredibly handy when we needed to research train tickets, how to get home, etc.
- make sure you let the bank know you're leaving the country. You don't want to freeze your card while you're over there.
- Bring GOOD ASS walking shoes. This is so key. And comfortable doesn't mean ugly shoes... I brought my All Birds, Mimi sandals, Keds, and ankle rain boots. I would take only two pairs next time.
- Tipping. We tipped a bit generously at the beginning and learned that tipping isn't customary as they make a good wage.
- I always had cash with me. It was easier. Be sure to have small bills and coins because some get in a tizzy when you don't have exact change or pay with a larger bill amount.
- Bring outlet converters. I bought mine at target. You get three for $7 or so.
- Depending on how long you're staying, find a place with a washer and dryer, that way you can pack less and wash your clothes halfway into your trip. I believe I had 4 outfits that could be mix and matched for a different look. I also brought a few small pieces of jewelry to add to the outfit (thanks for the tip, lizabeth).
- Headphone jack adapter or bluetooth earphones. I didn't have either so my (iPhone 7) headphone jack didn't fit into the one on the plane and I couldn't watch anything.
- If you bring home souvenirs, chocolates or anything that melts, put it in your checked bag.
- Pay attn to any gate changes, train station changes. Always be alert because changes can be last minute- we almost boarded a plane to Athens sooooo.... You can rely on the locals and don't be afraid to ask anyone and everyone. We were waiting for the train to Brugge at station 16 because the staff told us that's where we needed to go but it was actually station 11. With about 1 min to spare, we ran over to station 11 and made it just in time. not all trains that go to the same direction depart at the same station.
- As hard as it may seem, try to get on their sleep schedule. I'm super glad we did because if I woke up past 11am, I would've felt that I wasted my time.
- Restaurants with a handwritten menu out front are typically the best as the menu is always changing because of what they have fresh. That being said, we did go to a lot of restaurants that have a set menus and they were all delicious.
- There are a lottttt of smokers in Paris. I am not sure what you can do to minimize it but I just wanted to make note of that because I think i know what my cause of death is: secondhand smoking.
- The best place to stay is arrondissement (arr.) 1 & 8. Arr. are just neighborhoods. 1 & 8 are really central. Imagine walking past Notre Dame on your way home! People tend to stay near the Eiffel but it's out of the way. All the main cafes, shops, etc are along the seine.
- Bridges: do not stop long on the bridges with the locks. Friends have experienced locals trying to snatch their things. Keep your belongings close! This also goes for Île de la Cité (the island).
- That being said ^, I felt extremely safe during all times of the day. I also felt that navigating around was also easy.. to the point where I would be comfortable with traveling alone in Paris!
I think that's all I have for ya. Feel better to ask questions and leave comments if you have Paris tips and recommendations :) <3 Thanks for reading all of this if you did.