France was the second stop in this journey, and we made sure to explore as much as we could within the five days we got to spend there.
Also apologies in advance, this is a long one.
I used Google Flights to book our flight from LGW to CDG for $52.50. Also there was a bus available to take from the airport into the city but it would have dropped us off at the Louvre, which was quite a walk to make back towards the hostel at 1:00 am. So we caught a taxi from the airport for a flat rate of $50.
When taking a taxi from the airport find the taxi line/desk area just outside. There may be a few guys inside the arrivals waiting area asking people if they want a ride and whatever cheap fare they try and sell you on, it's really not worth the risk.
We decided to split our stay in France between two hostels, the first of which was Le Montclair Montmartre ($34 /night). It was a little tight in the 4 bed room we booked but as we really were only there to sleep it was just fine, and we appreciated having our own bathroom rather than sharing one in the hall.
There was nothing wrong with the hostel itself and we never had time to make use of any of their amenities, but the location, even though in the wonderful Montmartre neighborhood, made us feel a bit uncomfortable walking home at night from the train station.
As beautiful as Paris is, I highly recommend leaving the city at least once to experience different regions or areas of the country, especially if this is going to be one of the only times you get to travel in France (or really any new destination). Paris doesn't represent all of France, so branch out a little bit.
For our first morning in Paris we got up very early and went to Gare du Nord to leave the city, and attempt to find a castle out in the middle of nowhere. Now, Pierrefonds is a small village about 15 minutes from Compienge, which is about an hour train ride from Paris (about 12€). Which seems simple enough... except for the fact that it was a Sunday and none of the taxi companies were open to take us to Pierrefonds from Compienge. DUN DUN DUUUN...
After a little bit of a worrisome time working with a woman at the station, she called a whole list of taxi companies and eventually got us a driver who was not only willing to take us there, but also bring us back when we were all done. Whew.
You may be asking why Pierrefonds? Well besides being absolutely beautiful, quaint and everything you would dream to see in a little French village, Pierrefonds is home to a stunning castle.
Welcome to Chateau De Pierrefonds (or Arthur's castle if you're a Merlin dork like us). BBC's Merlin was filmed here and it was actually really neat to walk through recognizable backdrops and scenery. We arrived early just as the castle opened for visitors and had the entire place to ourselves for about an hour. It's currently open as a museum of sorts but the opportunity to roam the halls and overlook the town was wonderful.
We returned to Paris fairly tired and decided to allow ourselves to nap for a little bit before seeking out the Eiffel Tower. On our way to the tower we passed by Pont Alexandre and got our first glimpse of the flooding that was currently causing so much trouble for the city.
(Excuse my blurry and grainy night photo but it was the only one I took)
Not too far past the bridge we started walking up to the Eiffel tower, peeking at it through cafe and shop lined streets. We stopped at a little market and grabbed some bread and cheese for a very inexpensive night picnic.
Everyone has this sort of brilliant and romantic and perfect picture in their head of the Eiffel Tower and to say the least, it sure wasn't what I expected. The structure itself blew me away (its always looked much smaller in photos lol), I could stare at the criss-crossing beams for days.
The downside (which really wasn't a bad thing, just unexpected) was that the park at the base of the tower isn't the romantic intimate grassy park they show you in movies. At least it wasn't on the nights we visited while we were there.
As soon as you enter the park it was fairly dark and you will most likely be approached by multiple men offering to sell you either mini Eiffel Towers, beer, champaign, or light up wands and toy things. After awhile you get used to them and simple say no and they'll leave you alone but you'll hear them constantly walking up and asking everyone else around you.
Don't get me wrong it was still an amazing sight, just as long as you're looking at the tower, I just really can't picture people proposing with the hundred peddlers buzzing around them.
We started to explore Paris on our second day, beginning with another free walking tour (Here). We all met at the Saint Micheal Fountain, passed by Notre Dame, the Palace of Justice, Pont Neuf - where many have relocated their love-locks, the Louvre, ending in Tuileries Gardens.
Even though we covered a lot of ground, the tour was more of a large overview of the various points of interest. We walked passed them with a brief history blurb for each, but didn't spend any time inside any of the buildings.
Afterwards, we returned to Notre Dame to see it up close and actually go inside. had never realized that I've only ever seen the front of the cathedral before. The sides and back (in my opinion) are more intriguing to look at architecturally than the front.
Once inside, you walk through a loop around the sanctuary where each alcove has its own alter and ornate stained glass windows. I would love to see what it would have looked like with the sunset shining through. Again we didn't pay for tickets to climb up the towers or anything but it was beautiful nonetheless.
Heading back to Montmartre we climbed up to see the Sacre-Coeur and get a good look at the views of the city on its steps.
With tummies rumbling we chose to actually eat at a sit down restaurant and shell out for a real meal. Just a few blocks from our hostel we stopped by a corner restaurant and took a seat at an outside table.
Water at restaurants is not free, just a heads up. It was something we forgot and were surprised when we asked for water and were brought (and charged for) a single bottle of water to share.
I ordered a hearty beef bourguignon which I sopped every last drop of, and crème brûlée for dessert. It was well worth the extra money and gave us a break from street sandwiches, though it wasn't something we could have done every night.
We moved to our second hostel a few blocks down the road from Le Montclair Montmartre. We woke up extra early to drop our bags at the new hostel and get to our train on time. But I'll get to the train in a little bit.
The second hostel we stayed at in Paris, Le Village Hostel Montmartre ($33/night) was just steps away from the Sacre-Coeur. Even though it wasn't very far from the first hostel the immediate neighborhood was vibrant and noticeably more upbeat and most importantly safer feeling.
Our room was on the top floor which we had to climb a narrow spiral staircase to get to, and as challenging as they got with all our gear (and on pub crawl nights) they were a large part of the place's charm. There was also a tiny elevator, which you could fit maybe two people in very tightly just not with backpacks. There was a market down the road, plenty of restaurants, a laundromat, and the Anvers and Abbesses metro lines just a few blocks walk away.
Once we dropped our bags off we headed to the train station to begin our next adventure, which was only a 4 hour train ride and 30 min bus ride away. We got a ticket from Paris to Rennes ($98), and then hopped on a bus to the Mont Saint Michel information center about a mile and a half from the island.
You had the option to take a shuttle out there or a horse drawn buggy (for additional fees) or walk along a path. Pinching pennies wherever we could we chose to walk, which was actually nice after being scrunched up on a train for so long. The closer we got the more beachy breezes came through and the island became much clearer.
Just before you get the the base of the island is a really great spot for a photo, though it was actually pretty windy so you may need to take a few shots before you can snag a good one.
So a very brief explanation of Mont Saint Michel:
An abbey was build on the top of this island and over the years was expanded upon and a town was built winding down to the base. It's surrounded by a quicksand that floods every night with the tide.
I would advise to eat big meals before and after you visit Mont Saint Michel as the restaurants on the island are VERY expensive, even for the simple ham and cheese sandwiches.
The town is made up of a bunch of touristy knick-knack shops and restaurants lining very narrow streets as they wind up to the entrance to the abbey. There were quite a few steps to climb up to get there and even we were a bit tired from the climb in the hot sun, but that did not stop our fellow elderly visitors (more power to them!)
Mont Saint Michel Abbey ($6 admission) was a stark contrast to the cathedrals in Paris with its very traditional and modest architecture. We wound our way through many high-arched rooms and halls all the way up to the top which greeted us with panoramic views of the coast, a beautiful chapel, and lovely garden.
We arrived back in Paris fairly late again, but had enough time to run to the Eiffel Tower and watch it sparkle before grabbing a jambon et fromage crêpe from a corner stand and taking one of the last metro trains back to the hostel.