If you have seen literally any of my social media recently, or indeed know me in real life; it will have been hard for you to have missed the fact that I finally visited Paris. And it was everything I ever dreamed it would be.
Back in February, on my nineteenth birthday my family gave me a whole bunch of euros, & told me that this year they were going to take me to Paris. And I cried SO hard. Paris has always been a massive dream of mine, but I didn’t see it coming this soon at all & I was so overwhelmed & excited that I couldn’t handle it. The next day I bought a few travel books from my local charity bookshop & then Friday 22nd July finally came around, & I was finally going to Paris.
So I’m sharing with you my Paris (& France) diary so you can see what a beautiful place it is as well as preserving the memory for me. I hope this can help give you a sense of how magical this city really is.
Friday 22nd July
Avoiding the Friday rush, we’d gotten a ferry from Dover at ten in the evening on Thursday, arriving into Dunkirk at 2am. Luckily we were staying in a nearby hotel so after a short drive (& a very interesting parking situation) we checked into a nice little room & fell asleep to the sound of Dunkirk’s very noisy seagulls. We woke up at a painful 7.30, & had a nice little French breakfast of croissants & Nutella in the hotel before quickly moving on to Lille, to park our car near family’s home & collect our Metro tickets they had so generously given us.
Then it was onto the Metro, to go the two stops to the major train station to get our train to Paris! Unfortunately we weren’t organised to book in advance (stupid us) so the next available train was in a couple of hours, leaving us enough time to find a little restaurant in Lille to have lunch. We had a great waiter who we made a deal with for him to speak in English & us to speak in French, so we could both practice. I had the only vegetarian thing on the menu which did turn out to be quite nice, & we all had our first alcohol of the trip; Leffe beer for my Mum, a margarita for Lucy & wine for me.Then we were into the station & onto our DOUBLE DECKER train to Paris!
It’s only a one hour journey from Lille to Paris, & the second we were there I was buzzing. I was half expecting to see the Eiffel Tower at any given moment so was half expecting to cry at any given moment, but we got onto the Metro & made it a small way across the city to the Champs-Elysées.
Taking my first steps onto the Champs-Elysées was amazing. It’s basically the Parisian equivalent of Oxford Street – except with Chanel’s & Louis Vuitton’s placed between the H&M’s & the Disney Store. Trees line either side of the huge cobbled street & the French flag hangs from each lamppost. Of all the Parisian streets to make my debut on I think this was the best.
Because of our bags & how exhausted we were we got a taxi to our hotel. If you’re visiting Paris & want to treat yourself, I highly recommend Hotel Powers, where we stayed. We were only there for one night (any more & we’d have stayed somewhere cheaper) & it was gorgeous, extravagant yet welcoming with the friendliest staff & beautiful rooms. Still, it was cheaper than a hotel in Central London would have cost us. Everything in France is cheaper, most notably the alcohol; they don’t have minimum price laws for booze at all so it’s amazing.
After settling in, exploring the room & having a quick photoshoot on the balconies, we headed off to make the absolute most of our twenty four hours in Paris.
We started with the closest, the Arc de Triomphe. At the top of the Champs-Elysées it was only a fifteen minute walk from our hotel, though you scan see it the second you turn into the road. Photos don’t really do the size justice, because it’s absolutely massive at fifty metres tall (!!!). The Arc de Triomphe was built to honour all those who fought & died for France in the French Revolution as well as the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories & generals inscribed on the walls. It also stands above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. It’s a really beautiful setting too, as it stands as a centre point to a whole bunch of roads the all meet in the middle. You can climb the towers but we didn’t have time for that, though it is something I plan on doing in the future.
Then it was on to the start of the crazy plan I’d put together to allow us to see as much as Paris as possible in our very short time there. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the French Metro system: even though you often smell like pee, we couldn’t have done it without you. You have to bear in mind, we were starting our day of site seeing at seven in the evening.
Our first stop was at Blanche Metro station, to see the Moulin Rouge. It’s a cabaret that was founded in 1889, & is most famous for being the “spiritual birthplace” of the modern can-can as well as of course, the 2001 cult classic film under the same name which won two Academy Awards, three BAFTAs & three Golden Globes. The building’s legacy is huge & has inspired countless art, music & films with its large red windmill.
We then walked the ten minute distance to Pigelle Metro Station & that short walk was FULL of sex shops. Literally every single shop along from Moulin Rouge was either selling sexy underwear or showing girls in sexy underwear. I even saw novelty dildos SHAPED LIKE THE EIFFEL TOWER. We also maybe got mistaken for prostitutes as we stood on a street corner waiting for my mum to take a photo of a leafy alley – a car slowed down & the guys inside started winking & asking us questions in French yes, but male attempts at seduction is a universal language. My sister was thrilled by it though so it wasn’t all bad.
We got the Metro to our next stop – Madeleine. Yes there is a whole place in Paris named after me, & I have never felt more famous in my entire life. There were Madeleine street signs, Madeleine shops, Madeleine coffee stands, Madeleine posters & of course the massive Madeleine Roman Catholic Church.
We stopped at Les Gourmets de la Madeleine for a Nutella & banana crepe which was amazing, & was eaten on the flower adorned steps of La Madeleine. It’s full name is L’église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, & it was originally a Jewish synagogue that was seizure by racists & turned into a church to honour Mary Magdalene. Bit of a rubbish backstory to be honest but it’s still a grand old building that shares a name with me so I wasn’t too displeased.
We then walked along Boulevard de la Madeleine until it became another, way more boring street. We carried on walking, trying to find a place where artists display all their work but after an hour we were unsuccessful & starting to struggle from our adventures & got a taxi back to hotel.
We were exhausted & crashed in our hotel beds for a while (which were SO comfy they were the type of pillow where your head sinks wayyyy into it. Once we’d gained a small amount of energy again my mum & I went on a mission for dinner. We ended up at Pomme de Pan on the Champs-Elysées where we placed a slightly shakey order in French & left with drinks & baguettes. When in France…
After eating my sister & I weren’t ready to stop just yet. We left our Mum in the hotel to rest up & went out to find the Eiffel Tower, to see it for the first time while it was all lit up & beautiful against the night sky. It was only a fifteen minute walk from where we were staying & when we turned that final corner & saw it all sparkly before us I was totally overwhelmed. We crossed the Seine & walked up the boulevard towards it but did have to stop eventually for me to cry. It’s hard to explain but the Eiffel Tower just represented so much to me: like i said, I have always always always wanted to see Paris. It’s held a special place in my heart from films & stories k so much mire, but I never thought I’d be able to see it so soon – especially after the year I’ve been having health wise. So to actually be there sat right in front of it made it seem like I’d achieved something by being there, like everything could be okay because I was there. Of course it’s also just a really beautiful building so I could just be a sucker for architecture deep down.
Just as I managed to calm myself down Lucy got really excited because she saw some “squirrel’s” in the buses behind me. We then realised they were rats – like really big, massive fat rats – which freaked Lucy out a lot but made me really happy because it made me feel like we were seeing behind the tourist-y face of Paris. I felt like if Paris could show me it’s ugly rats then it accepted me as an honours Parisian. I imagine that won’t make sense to anybody but I like it so we’ll leave it at that.
After my emotional outburst I was suddenly very… giddy (for lack of a better word). We joined the crowds & stood for photos right by the Eiffel Tower, which called for a lot of awkward angling in both poses & camera work. We also say a man walking by trying to sell a sketch of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy which was just too surreally a personal thing which made me very confused. It’s nice that my childhood hero was there with me at my first visit to the Eiffel Tower.
I think the special thing about Paris is that it’s so welcoming. I’m only talking about my experience, but a lot of big famous cities I’ve been to as a traveller it’s felt a little obvious that I was an outsider. But Paris makes you feel at home, & connects you with all the other people who are the same as you – there’s so many shared laughs & situations with total strangers. It’s not that it’s lost to tourism, it just creates a really lovely atmosphere across the whole city which is why it’s such a wonderful place to be.
We then started walking back up the river, stopping at various places for hundreds of photos. We were there just long enough to hit midnight, when the Eiffel Tower starts twinkling for five minutes. It really was beautiful, & I’m so glad we were determined to go out & see it at night despite the exhaustion. It also meant we got our very own midnight in Paris moment.
Then we finally went back to our hotel to get a little sleep become day two of our adventuring.
Saturday 23rd July
I will admit, though I was very excited to get out & see more of Paris the 7am alarm was not fun to experience.
However, the wonderful shower facilities at Hotel Powers got me through that difficult time & helped get me Eiffel Tower ready, as our first stop was to collect our tickets to go inside the building. We decided to take a different route than me & Lulu had taken the night before, which turned into a near fifty minute walk. Instead of the fifteen minute from the first attempt. Still, it meant we could grab some croissants from a cafe & see it from a different angle so it wasn’t all bad.
We’d bought our tickets from a tour guide site we’d found online which meant we got to skip the queue, & were lead by a lovely French woman who sang Edith Piaf to us while we were waiting. I mean we were totally scammed by the company but at least we skipped the queue & got some lovely entertainment.
The Eiffel Tower really is HUGE. When you first see it from afar, it doesn’t seem all that, but then you keep walking & walking & it keeps growing & growing. It’s square base measure 125 metres on each side, & the whole structure is now 324 metres tall. When it was first built in 1889 as part of the World’s Fair, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world – a title it possessed for forty-one years until New York City’s Chrysler Building was finished in 1930. The people of France then stuck a seven metre aerial on top to win back their title, & they weren’t overthrown again until the Empire State Building finished construction being eighty-one metres taller. Sorry France.
Our tickets took us straight to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, which really is quite high up enough already. Paris from above really is so beautiful, & we were really lucky with the weather with not a single cloud in the sky, so the city looked all pearly white below us, with the bright blue Seine cutting through the middle. There’s also a tiny gift shop on the this floor, with a little selection of souvenirs: I went for a white Eiffel Tower ornament that Lucy spotted & said would look perfect in my room (it does). We then braved the lift & went all the way up to the third floor – which really is just stupidly high. If the tower hadn’t have got that extra aerial then the third floor would be basically the top, so it really is quite the hight from the ground. But, there is a champagne bar up there so it’s all worth it. There’s also a height chart & a kissing spot to pose next to – SO CUTE. Once we were all done soaking up the view we finally descended. Though it was a stunning experience & I’ve never been one to be afraid of heights, I was very happy to be back on the ground.
We then bought lunch & sat to eat in the sun under the Eiffel Tower. I had french fries (very appropriate) & when I accidentally dropped one about ten million teeny little birds flew over to fight over it. The view from under the tower has always always always been known to me as the one from Funny Face so it was wonderful to sit & appreciate it for a while. After our food we ventured up the long green behind the Eiffel Tower for some full length shots & an ice cream.
We then went down to the docks of the river, to board a river cruise on the Seine. Our boat had an open top with two sets of wooden benches running all around & it was glorious in the sunshine. The hour long ride took us in a loop around the central part of the Seine, under twenty-two bridges & past many iconic places such as The Louvre & Notre-Dame. The whole journey a soundtrack of French music was played, which whilst basking in the sun on a blue skied day made it all feel very luxurious. Another nice touch is that a photographer took each group’s photo at a prime point in front of the Seine before boarding, which you could purchase from a stall after the trip. Our photo was HELLA CUTE so I bought it, & it’s now framed in my room. The only downside to this wonderful cruise was that it left me with very pink shoulders – top up on your suncream guys.
Though certain people (*cough* Mum *cough*) were starting to doubt how much of Paris we really could still see in our remaining hours I was determined to get to a few more places. So, we got a taxi over to Notre-Dame…
I’ll admit, Notre-Dame originally wasn’t high up on my list of things to see in Paris. But once I was in the city, I was absolutely adamant that I could miss seeing it, & I’m so glad I changed my mind. Notre-Dame is absolutely one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen, & photos really can’t do it justice. Seeing it up close in person is a just astonishing, truly; because the intricacy of the work is just stunning. Construction for the cathedral began in 1163, which is just stupid to comprehend too. And of course, it’s wonderful seeing the real setting from the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I was just sad I didn’t find my Esmerelda.
Unfortunately we couldn’t make it inside the building due to the enormous queue & our ticking clock on our remaining time. I would have adorned to have seen those huge stain glass windows, but they’ll have to wait for my next trip over.
We then had a brief stop in a cafe to regather ourselves over a milkshake. The cafe was really amazing; really authentic French, though we didn’t have the time (or the stomach) to try the snails.
We then hopped into another taxi over to the Louvre, which is just awe inspiring. Established in 1793, The Louvre Museum is the world’s second most visited museum & hosts a huge amount of art including the Venus de Milo & of course, the Mona Lisa. Apparently the museum’s collection is so large that if you were to spend just thirty seconds looking at each piece, it would take you one hundred years. Which is just ridiculous.
Again, we didn’t have the time to go inside the museum, but did see those famous glass pyramids & dip our hands in the cool water of the fountains outside. I’ll see that Mona Lisa smile someday.
We then walked up the Place du Carrousel, through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. This smaller version of the Arc de Triomphe doesn’t have an as significant meaning behind it, which made it okay for us Brits to copy it & make our Marble Arch in London. It was also one of my top places to see due to it being a backdrop for a photoshoot of Audrey Hepburn in the film Funny Face. I tried to recreate the shot of her with no success, but was very glad as always to have been in the same steps as her.
It was getting late now, & we needed to start slowly heading back to the hotel. We walked up through the Jardin des Tuileries, up to the Grande Roue de Paris, which is a big old ferris wheel at the bottom of the Champs-Elysées. The gardens are really beautiful, & quite big once you’re there. All our shoes got very dusty from the walk, turning mine & Lulu’s black shoes a dusty grey. At the top, at the Place de la Concorde, everything was all set up for the Tour de France, which was taking place the next day. Tour de France is an inside joke in my family so it was a little bit stupid to actually be there.
We were planning on walking all the way up the Champ-Elysées but oh my it is a long road, so we got in a taxi & asked to be dropped off at the Disney store opposite the street back to our hotel & save ourselves the exhaustion. Of course, we couldn’t not go inside once we were there, so we did have a sneaky little visit in there too – where they had an array of plush toys from French centric films like Beauty & the Beast, & had pictures from the Aristocats & Ratatouille filling the windows. I was hoping to find a Paris/Disney hybrid souvenir like I’d found in Verona on a school trip five years ago but all they had were t-shirts & Minnie Mouse toys in tiny Paris t-shirts, which wasn’t really what I was going for. Still, they had a nice sparkly Eiffel Tower inside right by a Tinkerbell suspended from the ceiling so it was nice to see.
I then ran out to a little newsagent stall outside – the kind that are dotted all along the streets of European countries. I bought a handful of postcards & my travelling tradition, the local issue of Vogue. And we all know that Paris Vogue is one of the best. While I was buying those, Lucy bought a little Stitch plush toy that wasn’t particularly French themed at all but she was very pleased with. Happy with our purchases, we finally headed back to our hotel.
We we were treated by the hotel staff we were now well acquainted with, & after getting our bags decided we had time to savour our last moments in Paris by going to the bar. We drank French wine reading French magazines & giggled with the bartender, all pretending that we weren’t about to leave just twenty four hours after arriving. But we finished our wine & ate the strawberries we were given, & left to get a taxi to the Paris Gare du Nord train station.
I was very sad to leave. I think I would have been quite grumpy had I not been so worn out. I did make a last minute dash to a Relay store in the train station to buy the most touristy souvenirs I could find, which turned out to be some Madeleine cakes, some oreos, a sandwich & a little ornament of three Paris monuments. Then it was onto the train (still amazed by the double decker) back to Lille. As we pulled out of the station, I was already writing a list on where to go on my next trip to Paris.
In Lille, we went three stops on the Metro to where my Godfather lives, where we welcomed by our family with big hugs & lots of wine. We ate a lovely home cooked meal outside & talked & laughed while the stars come out, until eventually exhaustion overcame us & we went up to bed. Like I said, leaving Paris broke my heart but these people were the best reasons to leave it.
The next day we were experiencing a different side to France, in the south very close to the Belgium border. My Godfather & family took us to a wonderful Flemish restaurant basically on the border, which had a beautiful view from one of the few tall hills in the relatively flat area. The food was all locally sourced, & they had special drinks like violet lemonade & rhubarb juice (the first was pretty but the latter tasted better). We then explored the grounds, & saw the lookout points from the edges of the hill which pointed in the directions of other cities such as Rome, Oslo & Liverpool. There’s also a nice old Moulin (a mill) with sails painted in the colours of the French flag. And there were a load of dogs being walked around so that was ACE.
We then went back to my Godfather’s, where we all had a big old nap. We emerged in the early evening to sit round the table & talk again for hours, over a very enjoyable spread of cheese & baguettes. It’s a stereotype for a reason – the French really know how to do cheese.
Monday saw us up & ready early, to visit the local supermarket. And let me tell you, the French really are giving away their alcohol. I’m pretty sure I mentioned earlier, but they don’t have laws on price restriction for alcohol like the UK does, & it is amazing. It was like eight euros for a bottle of Smirnoff vodka, which is like six & a half quid over here. Mind you, the French don’t have the same drinking culture as us at all so I think it all works out okay. It was also this supermarket where I bought popcorn flavoured tic tacs (!!!!!!!!) France you are doing it RIGHT.
After heading back, it was time to say goodbye to my Godfather & his lovely wife. I’m so lucky to have such wonderful, generous & loving people in my life & I hold them very close to my heart. We then packed up the car & left with my cousin (who’s not really my cousin but there’s not really a word for how we’re related) to go spend the day with my Godmother.
My Godmother lives in Lille too, in a beautiful little district with an entrance lined with trees. She had her other Goddaughter visiting at the time too, so it was fun to have us all together which is very rare! After basking in the sun in the garden & playing with a lot of lego with the little girl she childminds full from an amazing lunch (like, really amazing) we decided what we really wanted to do was to go to Noz, a local shop.
Now, Noz is quite a hard place to explain. Back in the days where we would visit our French family yearly, we would always make Noz a stop on our trip. It’s a warehouse type building, overspilling with the weirdest & most random things for little to no money & it is GLORIOUS. You can’t really get a grasp of what the place is like unless you’ve been, but I hope my purchases will give you some sort of idea as to how bizarre it is:
– a crappy clip art Paris pencil case (99 cents)
– a bumblebee water bottle (free I think it’s not on the receipt??)
– some milka mini eggs (99 cents)
– a Supernatural glass tumbler (95 cents)
– two life sized cardboard cutouts of Zayn Malik (30 cents each)
After the massive success of Noz we headed over to the nearest shopping mall, centred with a big Auchon, which is a massive supermarket chain in France. We traipsed through the shops together before stopping for a drink in a Pomme de Pain (now a firm favourite of mine after our late night baguettes in Paris). It was so lovely getting the chance to catch up with my Godmother, who I love so dearly though we don’t get to see much of each other at all.
We then continued our shopping adventure, & discovered the best place ever – a shop named Undiz that sells novelty underwear. After a quick browse I found the most perfect set for me, Princess Peach underwear. As a loyal player as Peach in every single Nintendo game, I felt I had found a true expression of my personality. They also had a Pokémon range which nearly brought tears to my eyes. (Here’s their website – I know you’re interested).
Then it was time to say our goodbyes. I love spending time with my french family, & it was sad that I didn’t get to spend days with them this time. But it was time to end our trip & head to Dunkirk for our ferry back to the mother country. We did make one stop at a little service station near the ferry port, where we bought a car air freshener with the scent “Rock”. It smells like a sexy man but stank the car up so much we had to put it back in it’s packet.
One fun thing about getting into the ferry port was the car search’s the security had to carry out before we boarded, just because we had two Zayn Malik cutouts on top of all our suitcases. But then it was onto the ferry, where I wandered all over the boat & went to the giftshop four times in a very tired & determined state. We eventually got home at 2.30am, & was too completely exhausted to be sad about being back.
This blog post is obviously dedicated to my family; to my Mum for funding & organising the trip; to my sister for sharing the holiday with me; to my generous family in France who were so lovely to visit. I love you all & I will cherish the memories of these few days for as long as I can.
There will be a video of the trip coming to my YouTube channel this weekend, once I’ve found the perfect Parisian music to accompany it – I’ll come back to this post & stick a link HERE when I’m done.
Till then, au revoir mon petit fleur.