Picnics in Paris: Sacre Couer, The Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame

Ah, Paris, the city of lights and love and romance and essentially every American girl’s dream international destination. I spent two little days in Pair-eee last summer, and made it a point to see some of the highlights… the Arc de Triumph, the Sacre Couer, Notre Dame, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower. No trip to Paris is complete without a picnic under the Eiffel Tower at night when it lights up.

The Eiffel Tower at dusk

The Eiffel Tower at dusk

Let me be super up-front about Paris: I hated it. I did not have any desire to include Paris in this trip. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t seen any Audrey Hepburn films before going, or because France was often the brunt of “Go America” jokes throughout college, but this attitude prefaced my visit. Partially because of this, and partially because Spain was incredible, and also probably because I was hungover, exhausted, and somewhat homesick, Paris just fell short for me. Yes, I am glad I went and saw the iconic sights, but I have little desire to spend my money to visit again. That all being said, looking through photos a year later has sweetened my perspective a tiny little bit, and I’ll do my best to give you a straightforward account of my Parisian weekend.

As with the rest of Europe, Paris is home to some notable churches and cathedrals. I visited two – the Sacre Couer (it means Sacred Heart) and the Notre Dame. Sacre Couer is up on a hill in the city, and if you’re determined enough to walk up numerous flights of stairs, it overlooks the city. Similar to Spain, open container laws don’t seem to exist in Paris, so our first evening there we made the hike with some wine and a picnic to enjoy on the steps over the city.

Looking up at the Sacre Couer at dusk

Looking up at the Sacre Couer at dusk

It’s free to enter the cathedral, and the steps continue down to a little landing that overlooks the city. It’s pretty awesome at dusk for the sunset. As you can tell, we weren’t the only ones with this idea… it was full of people drinking wine and picnicking on the steps. One of the most disappointing parts about Paris, for me, was the abundance of pushy homeless people and beggars. While there had been plenty of homeless in Spain, I didn’t really pay them much attention unless I wanted a cold beer on the beach. They let you be and didn’t disrupt passerby’s. In Paris, however, it was the complete opposite. Every significant landmark was filled with beggars pushing cheap trinkets at you, or trying to sell you over-priced bottles of wine. If we politely said “no thanks, we have wine” they would press the subject, soon followed by another eager beggar. It definitely took away from the “romance” that Paris is associated with.

The same situation was prevalent under the Eiffel Tower, but we persisted and had a picnic dinner there my second night in Paris.

At night, the tower is not only lit up, but every hour on the hour, the lights glimmer for 10 minutes, sort of like a moving Christmas light display on American house. I do recommend bringing a picnic to have dinner on the grassy quad in front of the Tower one night, but definitely stop at a market and buy your wine before you arrive. Paris, unfortunately, is not on par with Spain’s €2 bottles of wine, but a bottle in the market for €13 is still less expensive (for great wine) than buying from someone off the street.

While I didn’t enjoy a picnic at the Notre Dame, the birds certainly did. We opted not to pay to climb the Notre Dame, after having seen plenty of cathedrals throughout Spain (you can read about my amazing tour of the Sagrada Familia here), but going inside the main cathedral is free.

Notre Dame in Paris, France

Notre Dame in Paris, France

I had so much fun outside of the church, channeling my inner Mary Poppins and feeding little sparrows bits of crackers. Children, likely bored with the historic tours their parents were dragging them on, were gleefully holding out palm-fulls of crumbs and the birds would perch on still hands and snack. Of course, I couldn’t resist joining the kids…

Feed the birds, two pence a bag...

Feed the birds, two pence a bag…

I was only slightly freaked out that a living animal was sitting on me fingers. This is also sort of a way for me to include that I went to the Notre Dame but nothing crazy happened, so I’m justifying adding it to this post because picnics and birds need to eat too. Just go with it.

It felt so nonchalant and European to eat baguettes and cheese and sip wine in public in front of iconic landmarks throughout one of the most notable and fantasized-about cities in Europe. I may not have loved Paris, but after having now seen Pretty Face and Charade, I feel a little more glamorous knowing I, too, have traipsed the streets of the city just like Audrey once did.

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