Itinerary: 3 days in Paris and a day in Belgium. Between this was a 3 day work trip to Dijon.
Day 1: Sacre Couer, Paris Opera and Eiffel Tower
Day 2: Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, Place Des Vosges, Luxembourg Garden, the entire Seine river bank.
Day 3(half): Plenty of eating around, Saint Chapelle, again wandering around the river bank, the Printemps and Gallery Lafayette terraces for views of Paris.
Belgium itinerary: Was visiting a friend in Leuven, so time was limited. Did a day trip from Paris, traveling to and from Paris in the night by bus. Not so comfortable, I know, but was worth the trouble. Wen to Gent and Leuven and spent only a few hours in Brussels, since this was just a couple of days after the Brussels attacks.
- The Seine river bank. Absolutely gorgeous, even better in the evening.
- The Paris Opera.
- Macaroons, food in general.
- Saint Chapelle.
- Ghent Old town and Leuven Old town.
Accommodation: Pointe Rivoli in Paris, pretty good location, ok rooms, no elevator, about 10 minutes walk from the Notre Dame cathedral.
Restaurants and eateries I liked: most of them are pretty touristy, but well, they’re good.
Le Petit Cler: Pretty close to the Eiffel Tower, had bread topped with goat cheese and vegetables. Really well done.
Breizh Café: Brilliant crepes, a little pricey but worth the price.
Saveurs Antika, for North African fare, a small, family managed restaurant, really good and wholesome Moroccan cuisine.
Jean Paul Hevin: brilliant hot chocolate, really good ( an not too expensive) macaroons, liked their flavors, simple ones, not too fancy-shmancy.
Café Angelina in the Louvre, again, very good hot chocolate.
Eclairs outside a stall near the Louvre, don’t really remember which one, but you need to try the eclairs.
Laduree: Again, good macaroons.
Crepe stalls around the city, look for one which makes them fresh.
Bakeries: I had breakfast at 3 random bakeries I would see on the way, not all were the same, so look for ones which are more popular.
Travel in and around Paris: Get a bunch of metro tickets, you get 10 of them at a discounted price, pretty affordable at 1.4 EUR a trip.
Travel to Belgium: Took an overnight bus from Paris to Brussels, it was a Megabus bus. Quite cheap, though very uncomfortable for night travel and the pick up location in Paris is a bit far away. But yes, very cheap ,for just 10$ one way.
Started the day with a really well made chocolate croissant and a pastry at bakery followed by a visit to the Sacre Couer. Very beautiful in the morning, when the light falls on it. The cathedral looks beautiful and imposing from the bottom of the stairs, so take your time looking at it. At the stairs, I was hassled by a group of men who wanted to make me wear a ring and then pay for it, but it seems it’s a common scam(I don’t know why does it exist), so just smile and move your way up the stairs, saying “no, thank you” all the way. Once you are past them, the views of Paris get better and better. Strolled around the building for sometime, took in the views from the balcony and walked back.
Next on the list was the Opera House. It was a building one of it’s kind, absolutely beautiful, infact it’s actually my favorite building in Paris. The Hall of Mirrors was the highlight here. Spent quite a bit of time admiring the interiors of the beautifully ornate building. Next on the list was the Printemps terrace. Such a beautiful view, the Opera house looks even more beautiful from the outside, it’s quite a building. The view of the Eiffel Tower was fair enough, the view of the entire Paris old area was quite exciting.
Now was time for some food, went to nearby Jean Paul Hevin, had a gorgeous hot chocolate and a few macaroons. Both were fabulous. Then, walked all the way across the river, the views of the museums(Louvre and the others) were great, the Seine was a great pleasure, gently flowing, boats cruising across, the sun was out, it was a nice day. Walked all the way uptil the Eiffel Tower. It was the least interesting site of the day. I didn’t really want to go up, so I walked all around it, found a pretty good restaurant, Le Petit Cler, had a good lunch of baked cheese on bread, relaxed around the lawns, admired the building, and set off to Trocadero. The view of the Eiffel Tower was pretty amazing from there.
It was late afternoon already, and had a train to catch to Dijon from Gare Du Lyon. Walked all along the beautiful Seine bank, across Parisian houses and museums, collected my luggage from the hotel and left for Dijon.
Technically day 5 of the trip, but am skipping the middle 3 days in Dijon. Arrived early in the morning from Dijon. Checked in at the hotel and headed off to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Lines were colossal outside the cathedral, but quick. Entered the cathedral, had a quick look and came out, way too many people for a cathedral. The outsides were spectacular though. Spent quite a bit of time admiring the exteriors. Walked the way till the Louvre, since I had a 10 AM scheduled entry. Wow, this place is huge!
I spent the next 5 hours walking pretty randomly through the sections. The Renaissance paintings were my favorite, followed by the Napoleon rooms. I find it difficult following audio guides, so I didn’t take them. Had a good look at the Egyptian works, a quick look at the Greek sculptures, a pretty good look at the Islamic work section. Then, MonaLisa had to be seen, but I could get only to about 10m away, I was happy with that. The corridors, ceilings, views from the top floors were pretty good, so take time to look out of the windows. I had a good chocolate eclairs at one of the stores, and a hot chocolate at the Angelina museum café.
Now was time for lunch, I had decided on Breizh cafe, famous for it’s crepes, a couple of metro stops and a 10 minutes walk away from the Louvre. Reached there to find a HUGE queue outside, so took a pick up and had it at a park just outside the café. The crepes were absolutely delicious, I had a buckwheat vegetarian crepe stuffed with mushroom, garlic, cheese, very well made and perfect. I also had a sweet lemon-sugar classic, which was also very neat.
By this time, it was almost 4 PM, the plan was to head to Saint Chapelle. However, it was almost about to be closed. So I began walking pretty much aimlessly towards in the opposite direction where I came from, which was the other side of the river. Came across the beautiful Luxembourg gardens, this was generally a very busy part of the city. Then headed to the Pantheon, which was a superb building, walked down to the river, again, very interesting university buildings and architecture.
Came back to the river bank, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The sky had turned a beautiful evening blue, there was just enough sunlight. All the riverside buildings looked very beautiful, the bridges had a very nice ambience. This was the Paris I had come for! Wandered around the river before going to the Louvre museum courtyard. It was beautifully lit, and I would call it one of the top sights in Paris.
Dinner was at Saveurs Antika in Bastille. It was a nice, quaint, family owned Moroccan restaurant. Brilliant food, had a vegetarian couscous. Very flavorful. Later, though I was pretty tired, walked back to the hotel immersing myself into the Parisian environment. Now, the next stop was Belgium. Took a megabus to Brussels. Getting to the Megabus stop was quite a task! Boarded the extremely uncomfortable bus, consoling myself that atleast I paid very little for it (10$).
Day 3: Belgium: Leuven, Ghent and a little of Brussels.
Arrived early in the morning at Brussels. Took a train to Leuven from Brussels. Business seemed to be as usual, it had been just 4 days since the blasts. My friend stays pretty close to the old town. The old town area, Groot Begijnhof, Grand Béguinage was just around. The entire area was fabulous, there were plenty of churches, old houses and buildings, spires and domes, all having antique hues. Very dreamy and beautiful. Plus there were bridges and tiny canals and plenty of greenery. And it was a rainy, overcast, misty morning.
We then walked to the Arenberg castle, walking on trails around the area. It was quite picturesque. Next was the Heverlee Sunday market. I got a couple of pastries, which turned out to be really good. And plenty of cheese to take home. The cheese was really good! Next was the Bibilothek at the KU Leuven, the view from the top was really good. The old town buildings were really neat. Overall, it was a very fine city, certainly worth a few hours. Plus, having a friend staying there helped.
We then boarded the train towards Ghent. I had pre-booked a weekend special ticket, which came at half the cost, about 10 EU for the whole return journey. We reached Ghent, took a tram to the Old Town. And wow! I was quite blown away. For the next 3 hours, we walked all around the Old Town. This was just the Belgium that I had imagined. The canals, old houses, the main cathedral, the castle, the bier-houses were all very neat. The waffles I had at one of the stands would always remain unparalleled. The crunch, mostly derived from sugar crystals was the distinguishing factor. We actually wanted to go to Bruges, however, that would have been far away, so this was the perfect alternative. We left late in the evening, reached Leuven late in the night, the Old Town had been well lit up.
I took my luggage, and left for Brussels. Got down at the train station close to the Grand Place, strolled around the square for quite a while. It was definitely overwhelming and truly grand. It was all lit up for the night. Definitely one of the most amazing sights on the trip. Walked through the Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, it was all glittery and glamour. I enjoyed the walk through it. Then walked to the train station from where the bus back to Paris left late in the night.
So, the day was quite an active one, definitely a little hectic, but very enjoyable. I definitely need to come back to Belgium sometime, to have more of the waffles, and to buy chocolates, since most chocolatiers were closed on Sunday that day. And I would like to spend more time in Brussels as well.
Day 4: Paris again.
Reached Paris early in the morning, getting from the megabus stand to the city was a struggle, too much of walking to the metro. Checked into my hotel again, just for half a day! I had to go to the Saint Chapelle. What a beautiful building it was, I had never seen such detailed work in stained glass. The chapel also reminded me of the scenes in the series “Vikings” when the Vikings conquer Paris.
Next, I wanted to go up the Notre-Dame towers, I waited in the queue for more than an hour in the rains, and realized the queue had moved only a little, so I decided to leave the queue and just wander about the city. I walked all the way along the river to the Gallery Lafayette terrace. And wow, what a view! You could see the clouds roll all over into Paris and move away. Now, it was time to head back, had lunch at one of the crepe stalls followed by a pastry at a bakery. Picked up my luggage from the hotel and headed to the CDG airport.
So ended the trip, a little bit hectic, but I guess, worth it.
3 Days in Dijon
Well, I was at a conference, but still got some time to look around the city. The Old Town is beautiful,and worth a few hours for sure. Plus, several good restaurants.