Our third day in Paris began at La Défense. It is Europe’s largest purpose-built business district with 560 hectares (1,400 acres) of area, 72 glass and steel buildings (of which 19 are completed skyscrapers), 180,000 daily workers, and 3,500,000 square metres (38,000,000 sq ft) of office space.
As soon as I got there, I knew that I have arrived. I had not seen a skyline as stunning as this since Dubai. As crazy as it may sound, I could feel an increased level of oxygen and energy. I could have never guessed that a city like Paris could have a district like La Défense. It’s an architectural wonder. It’s in Zone 3 and normal train tickets aren’t valid for a trip to La Défense. We bought an additional ticket for 2.80€. There are a few shops and restaurants around, so you can easily spend half a day here.
After devouring the metal sights for an hour, we got on our way to Sacre Coeur.
Most times, not knowing what I am getting myself into serves me well. Like I never watch movie trailers. But this day wasn’t going to keep up the happy streak. I decided to go to Sacre Coeur, unaware of the 278 steps up a steep hill that it requires. What I also didn’t know, until very late, that there is a lift that can take you up.
We started walking up, stopping at quaint Parisian boutiques enroute (I saw a cute mustard beret at one of them and bought it the next day for 1/5 the price from a train station kiosk. Cute, right?) But my legs were totes stiff and sore by the time we reached the top. The view was cute, but the crowd…not so much. Couple of ladies literally stopped the traffic as they stood in the middle of the road to take a picture; I’d like to drink what they were on.
There were another 300 steps to the top, and I decided to skip it. We had a busy morning, we had Louvre in the evening, and I really didn’t want to kill myself half way through the day.
I have no idea what the inside is like but if you do intend on visiting, keep a day for it. There are plenty of quaint stores on the way up, a handful cafes and lots of insta-worthy views. Also, the lift is right at the main entrance of the park that leads to the church. Maybe I’d do it again, on a not so busy day.
On our way down and out, I came across fabric stores on Rue d’Orsel. Streets are lined with them, and they are quite inexpensive. From silks to printed chiffon, laces and jacquard, there was everything. If I were a fashion designer, going to Pakistan anytime soon or had an affordable tailor, I would have bought at least some yards of black lace. Please bookmark it in Google maps for your next trip to Paris, and thank me later.
Our next stop was a guided tour to Louvre. We made a detour and went back to our hotel. It was a very warm day and we had hiked up a long distance, so I had a quick shower, changed, and got on our way to Louvre.
I love the art of storytelling, and it was during this trip that I realised how potent paintings are as a storytelling medium. They show something, and leave it to the eye of beholder to draft a prologue and epilogue. Until recently, abstract was my favourite art form. Now, it’s realism from 1800s.
Louvre…the house of Mona Lisa. What do I say about it? The poor thing has more visitors than it can handle. It is next to impossible to look at a piece of art in peace. There are shoves, unintentional collisions, you need to step a little here or there to make room for an iPhone photographer, who is apologetic but also has an Instagram to take care of. I don’t know how can you do Louvre in peace because it is never not crowded. Also, our guide was AWFUL and that made things 20 times worse.
For me, it was a miss. Sitting on a cement block across from Louvre was probably one of my three favourite things from the visit to Louvre.
We had built up an appetite and took a train to Bouillon Chartier, where we planned on having dinner. It turned into a 3 course affair, seated next to strangers, and a rip in my black lace dress.
The restaurant had a waiting line, and the seating setup inside was communal. We shared a table of four with two absolute strangers. It was bustling, so much so that I watched a server run by me five times before I dared raise a hand. Quite an experience.
Starters included avocado with shrimp sauce and foie gras with bread; steak with pepper sauce and fries for mains; desserts were chocolate mousse and rum baba. My 3-course meal costed 20€; with drinks, it’d come up to 30€. All in all, it was a lovely experience.
After dinner, we walked back to our hotel. It was only a 16 minutes walk, and the night was too beautiful and balmy to waste.
It was our last day in Paris. Our train back to Cologne was at 17:55. We had breakfast, got dressed, packed, checked out and left our luggage at the hotel. It was noon already.
Our first stop for the day was Le Bon Marche. I had never been to this multi brand store, and all but gawked when I entered. It’s a beautiful 3 level store, which houses most luxury and couture brands, including Chanel and Louboutin. And as it was sale season, many last season collections were being sold for unbelievable prices. My friend got a pair of Fenty Puma By Rihanna sneakers for 25€ (they retail at 160€!).
Our next stop was Sephora, with a quick visit to MAC store first. I bought my first Ruby Woo, at 40% discount!
We took a train to Sephora on Champs Elysees, and arrived to a packed store. I picked up the usual Sephora face and foot masks, mascara (it’s one of the best that I have ever used) and went to get Scandal by Night by Jean Paul Gaultier. As a force of habit, I checked on Idealo.de for price comparison while waiting in checkout line and found it 20€ cheaper on Perfume Trader. So, I abandoned it. And just got my usual.
We wanted to squeeze in Victoria’s Secret, Paul, Laduree and a few other stores but it was already 4pm and we did not want to risk missing our train. As luck would have it, we saw Paul just as we were about to leave. Picked up a baguette, had a flan, and was about to attempt return again when…wait for it…we saw Laduree just across the street. We went to it but there was a queue that ran a little too long for the kind of time we had. So, dil per pathar rakh ker, we left.
We picked out luggage and Uber-ed it to Paris Nord. We still had some time and I really wanted to get Madeline for N. I went to Paul first, and then checked a few other stores at the station but no one had them. Finally saw them at De Neuville and bought some. Also got Financiers and coffee. As I paid, I looked at my watch and realised that I was late!!! I had a hand carry, purse, 4 shopping bags and a cup of coffee. I walked as fast as I could. I tried running but the coffee would spill. And then I heard the whistle! I dumped the coffee in the nearest bin, and ran.
I made it. Phew.
This was my fourth trip to Paris and I finally saw some of the charm. The trick is to steer clear of first five arrondissements; also, Uber is a breath of fresh air as trains are packed to the brim. No schedule is the kind of schedule you should have. Buy tickets in advance, and you can’t miss Moulin Rouge.
I have finally had my fill of Paris and would now like to explore more of France – especially south of France.