After arriving at CDG in the morning, we headed over to La Defense to drop off our bags before heading to the Arc de Triomphe. We briefly took a look from the across the road before queuing to enter. We enjoyed the view from atop the monument before getting lunch from a nearby restaurant.
Afterwards, we took the Metro to Montmartre followed by the funicular to the top of the hill. Once there, we visited Sacré-Coeur and adjacent Saint-Pierre church. After walking down the hill, we took the Metro once again to Canal Saint-Martin where we walked around a bit before getting dinner near the Gare de l’Est.
We ended the evening with a quick stop at Les Halles where we got some dessert and walked around near the Saint-Eustache Church. After a debacle at the hotel involving wet carpets, we cancelled our stay and instead checked into the Le Méridien Étoile by the Porte Maillot station.
After landing at CDG, we quickly passed through immigration and customs and boarded a RER train, transferring once to arrive at the La Defense station. We dropped off our bags at the hotel and walked around the area a bit. La Defense is the business district of Paris and generally not known as a tourist destination.
There isn’t anyplace else in Paris that looks like this!
It started to rain a bit as we walked, though it stopped pretty quickly.
One of the most unique buildings in La Defense is this building, the Grande Arche de la Defense.
The Grand Arche is lined up with the Avenue Charles de Gaulle, which ultimately becomes the famous Champs-Élysées on the east side of the Arc de Triomphe. For some reason, the Grand Arche is rotated at an angle. Wikipedia explains:
The Grande Arche is turned at an angle of 6.33° about the vertical axis. The most important reason for this turn was technical: with a Paris Métro station, an RER station, and a motorway all situated directly underneath the Arche, the angle was the only way to accommodate the structure's giant foundations
This modern structure contains the CNIT (Centre of New Industries and Technologies).
This skyscraper has an interesting appearance. It seems to be new as it is still under construction on the Google Maps satellite view as of today.
There were a few sculptures on the large plaza above the RER and Metro station. And, a large sign advertising the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.
There was a bit of construction going on in this area, particularly on the east end of the plaza. Unfortunately, the construction marred the view towards the Arc de Triomphe. Well, no matter, as that was our next destination!
Arc de Triomphe
We took the Metro a few stops to Charles de Gaulle – Étoile, the station by the Arc de Triomphe. While there are timed tickets available for the monument, we hadn’t purchased in advance as we were unsure of our exact arrival time. We ended up arriving 30 minutes or so before the monument’s 10am opening time.
We had a great view of the Arc de Triomphe as we exited the Metro station!
We crossed the Avenue de Friedland to enter the underpass that leads below the roundabout that surrounds the monument. A better view from this angle!
After walking under the road, we queued to buy tickets from the underground ticket office. We arrived about 15 minutes before opening time. It wasn’t very busy and it ended up being a very short wait.
After buying our tickets and passing through a quick security check, we walked up through the stairs in one of the legs of the monument.
There are two floors above arch containing various displays and a gift shop.
This text, roughly translated using Google Translate, reads:
THIS MONUMENT BEGINS IN 1806 IN HONOR OF THE GRAND ARMY A LONG TIME INTERRUPTED CONTINUES IN 1823 WITH A NEW DEDICATION WAS COMPLETED IN 1836 BY KING LOUIS PHILIPPE I WHO CONSECRATES IT TO THE GLORY OF THE FRENCH ARMY
The most famous structure in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, stands nearby. It is taller than everything else in the area!
The Arc de Triomphe is formally the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (Triumphal Arch of the Star). The star in the name refers to the twelve avenues that expand outwards from the monument. We photographed each one of them! The biggest avenues are the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the Avenue de la Grande-Armée running in the opposite direction.
After enjoying the view, we descended back to street level.
An eternal flame burns at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The arch is huge, particularly when viewed from within the roundabout.
The structure is decorated on all sides.
Though, the narrow sides do contain less decorations.
One last look at the arch as we went to get lunch. We decided to eat nearby and ended up at Le Comptoir de l’Arc on Avenue Marceau, one avenue clockwise from the Champs-Élysées. Our main criteria were that it was nearby, open, and with a 4.0 or higher rating on Google Maps. It was just after 11:30am so still early for lunch by Parisian standards.
The restaurant wasn’t busy when we arrived with many tables still available inside. We ordered a beef tartare and duck confit. Both were good. The tartare was definitely different from the tartare we’ve had in the US. The duck had excellent flavor, the only negative was it was cooked too dry. The potatoes were very good too. Overall, an excellent first meal in Paris!
After eating, we walked over to Champs-Élysées to take a quick look around before going back to the Metro. Recently, we watched Netflix’s Emily in Paris. One of the episodes features an advertising campaign for McDonald’s.
There was a McDonald’s right in front of us! We decided to go in to check it out. Would they have macarons?
It turns out that this is the exact McDonalds that is featured on the show! And indeed, there were macarons!
We got one order of two macarons and a raspberry McFlurry. The macarons came with an espresso, or something similar. The macarons were pretty good. They were sweet but not overly sweet like most desserts in the US. The McFlurry was great as well. The coffee drink was excellent, better than anything we’ve had in an American McDonanlds by far! The restaurant was quite busy but we were able to get a table at the outdoor sidewalk seating area. So Parisian!
After enjoying our snack, we headed back down into the Metro to head to our next destination, Montmartre.
We arrived at the Anvers Metro station, just two blocks south of Montmartre.
We reached quickly reached the base of the hill where we saw the Sacré-Coeur perched above Square Louise-Michel. We decided to try taking the funicular up as it is part of the city’s transit system and included in our tickets. The funicular isn’t really a true funicular. It is two independent level cabins mounted on an inclined base. Each car is independently pulled by a cable rather than the two being linked on opposite ends of a single cable. While it seemed busy, we were able to get on the next one. It didn’t take long to ascend to the top.
There was a great view from the top of the hill, though we didn’t see any recognizable landmarks.
The area was packed with tourists and scammers. Completely ignoring and not reacting to the scammers turned out to be extremely effective.
We walked around the park a bit before heading up to the basilica.
The set of stairs right in front of the building were packed!
Sacré-Coeur has an observation deck up on the dome. We could see other visitors that had gone up from the entrance.
The inside of the Sacré-Coeur was large and impressive. While ornate in places, it was overall still rather clean and simply decorated.
The visitor experience was a bit different than we’ve seen in other cities. They tried to keep it quiet inside without much success. Also, it seemed that photography was not permitted, though possibly just in certain sections. But none of the staff cared about all the people taking photos on their phones so we didn’t worry about it either.
The gift shop didn’t have anything that interested us other than this little album magnet! It is a little magnetic book. We bought it because it was different than the typical souvenirs that one encounters worldwide. And it was quite small so it didn’t take up much room.
We decided to head up to the dome for a better look at the city. The entry point is a bit odd. It is below grade on the left side of the building.
While the basilica is free to enter, the dome has an entrance fee.
The route up mainly consists of narrow circular stairwells, much like what one would encounter in a castle.
The view to the northwest from just part way up. The interesting looking tower is the Chateau d’eau Montmartre, a water tower! Eau de Paris, the local water authority, has a brochure that describes tower. It reads (translated from French using Google Translate):
The current Montmartre water tower was built in 1927 rue du Mont Cenis, replacing the previous become too small. The whole is clad in a concrete facing enhanced with cornices with crenellations and arcades, which give it a style neo-Byzantine in harmony with the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. 43 m high, it is one of the architectural elements majors of the mound. Visible for miles around, it culminates at nearly 175 m above sea level, the height of the hill included. Originally, the building housed in its upper part only two drinking water tanks, one of 360 m3, the other of 310 m3. In 1938, a third tank of non-potable water, with a capacity of 200 m3, is built on the lower floor. The water stored in the water tower is distributed over the upper part of the mound. Drinking water supplies the homes, businesses and drinking fountains located within an altitude greater than 100 m; non-potable water is used for municipal services, for watering parks and gardens, the cleaning of streets and sidewalks and finally the cleaning of sewers.
Soon, we reached an outdoor section that led closer to the dome.
From this outdoor portion of the route, we could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance as well as the cluster of skyscrapers that form La Defense.
A small copper statue sits between the dome and bell tower. It depicts the Archangel Saint Michael slaying a dragon.
Noticeably higher than when we first saw the water tower!
The view from the dome was fantastic! This was the view to the east. The building below, directly adjacent to the basilica, seems to be the guesthouse. The row of buildings just beyond the line of trees are a bit more colorful than the typical Parisian structures.
To the south, we could see the park in front of the basilica. The funicular is hidden in the trees to the right, though the glass covered upper terminal can be seen. We could also see the Eiffel Tower from here. It was blocked by trees when we were down at hilltop level.
The view zoomed in a bit and looking directly at the Eiffel Tower. Everything in Paris tends to blend together when viewed from afar. It is incredibly hard to pick out individual buildings of interest. The Arc de Triomphe is visible here, roughly half way between the Eiffel Tower and the right edge of the photograph. The Musée d’Orsay, a former train station and a future destination for us on this trip, can be seen at the left edge of the frame.
After spending 15 minutes or so at the top, we started to make our way back down. The route was different but very similar to the one going up.
The route was mostly down but did involve going up a bit.
The Eiffel Tower once again. The figure protruding from the building is a spout used to channel water away from the building.
Around and round we go…
After returning to ground level, we headed to the exit after taking a short break in front of the basilica.
We then walked over to the Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, a Catholic church from the 12th century. It is the second oldest church in Paris. Although it is just across the street to the west of the Sacré-Coeur, the only way to access the entrance is to loop around to the west side of the building.
Like Sacré-Coeur, the Saint-Pierre de Montmartre was mostly plainly decorated.
Wikipedia describes this statue:
The church displays a statue of Our Lady of Montmartre, also known as Our Lady of Beauty, the patron saint of the artists of Montmartre. It was donated to the church in 1942 by a Montmartre painter, Prince Gazi. It is now the object of an annual pilgrimage on November 11, renewing a tradition that dated back before the French Revolution.
After his head was cut off, Denis is said to have picked it up and walked several miles from the summit of the hill, preaching a sermon the entire way
After a quick visit, we looped around the church’s north side to return to the park in front of the Sacré-Coeur. There wasn’t really any place to get a good view of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre. However, we did see it from the road between it and the Sacré-Coeur.
The significantly larger Sacré-Coeur from the same place.
We decided to walk back down rather than take the funicular again.
These yellow flowers caught our attention because they look a bit like Black-Eyed Susans, the state flower of our home state of Maryland. But they also seem to resemble Orange Coneflowers. Neither species is native to Europe. No matter what they are, they added a bit of color to the park!
There were many people enjoying the grassy slope below the basilica.
Almost to the bottom! The road leading to the Metro station seemed to be even busier than the park and the basilica above!
One final look at the Sacré-Coeur before walking two blocks to the Metro.
We took the Metro 2 line to the Colonel Fabien station on the east side of the Canal Saint-Martin. We walked to the canal and started heading to the south along it’s west side.
The water was very calm and peaceful! At this point, we were ready for dinner. However, most Parisian restaurants don’t serve food until at least 6pm, often as late as 7pm. We ended up walking through the nearby Jardin Villemin to ultimately end up at Bouillon Chartier, across the street from the Gare de l’Est (East Station).
We decided to try some items that we’ve never had before. We started out with two appetizers, the pork snout with vinaigrette sauce and escargot. The snout was definitely interesting. The texture of the meat was soft, though the bit of cartilage was very similar to ear cartilage. The sauce didn’t really do anything for us. The snails tasted good and the juice was nice for dipping bread, though perhaps that isn’t quite a French thing to do.
We also ordered two main dishes, calf’s head and pig’s feet. We’re not sure exactly where on the head the veal meat comes from. It was very soft and fatty with a layer of soft skin. Definitely very different. The pig foot’s cooking style resembled German pork knuckle. But the feet has significantly more bone and less meat. Overall, these two items were interesting and well prepared but probably not something we’d order again.
While this meal wasn’t bad, we did decided that we would order less adventurous items for our next meal!
Earlier, while walking from the Metro to Montmartre, we passed by a gelato shop that looked promising. We discovered it was a chain and had another location at Les Halles, a nearby station that we would have to transfer at to return to La Defense. We took the Metro line 4 from Gare l’Est and made our way to Amorino, a French gelato chain which also has locations in the US.
The ordering style was different from most gelato or ice cream shops that we’ve been to. There are various sizes but the number of scoops is up to you. They seem to adjust scoop size to ensure the correct amount. We got four flavors – pistachio, espresso, strawberry, and blood orange. While it was good, it wasn’t as good as Buonissimo in Nürnberg, our favorite gelato place that we’ve been to in recent history. Still, it was quite satisfying after what turned out to be a rather hot day.
Afterwards, we took the scenic route back to the Metro. We passed by this huge church, the Église Saint-Eustache. It was already closed for the day but is on our list of places to visit if we have time.
Upon returning to La Defense, we checked into our hotel. After entering our room, a Junior Suite that we had been upgraded to, we found out our carpet was damp. Very unusual. We spoke to the front desk by phone and had difficulty explaining the issue. Ultimately, someone who spoke a bit better English took over and came up to see the problem as well as with keys to a different room. We went to the other room where the same problem persisted, only not as bad. At this point, it was getting late but we also didn’t want to stay six nights in a room with wet carpet. We decided to cancel the stay and walk. I can’t remember exactly how many times I’ve walked from a hotel but this is probably only the 3rd or 4th time out of hundreds of nights overall.
It took us awhile to figure out where to stay. We decided on the Le Méridien Etoile, between La Defense and the Arc de Triomphe. We had originally considered this hotel but decided against it due to mixed reviews as well as the hotel in La Defense being cheaper and better connected to mass transit despite being a bit far away from the city center. We only booked one night as it was late and we weren’t sure if we wanted to stay for the entire trip. There are plenty of hotel options in Paris so we weren’t too concerned. The Le Méridien was around 30% or so more expensive but still significantly cheaper than equivalent options in the center of Paris.
We took the Metro line 1 three stops to the Porte Maillot station. There is quite a bit of construction going on in the area along with some reorganization of the station’s exits. We ended up exiting from the furthest possible exit from the hotel! We ended up walking by the Le Palais des Congrès de Paris, a combination convention center and mall, to make it to the Le Méridien. Luckily, it was much cooler outside after the sun had set!
It was pretty late when we checked in but they were able to find us an upgraded room on the 7th floor. We ended up making it into our room by around 10pm.
One concern we initially had was the bed size. In the US, a Double bed is fairly small compared to a King or even Queen. Many rooms in Paris have beds that are described in English as Doubles, plural. This seems to be roughly equivalent what we would call a King bed. We booked the cheapest Doubles room type but were upgraded to a club room, though it was functionally exactly the same as what we had booked. We were happy that the room was in decent condition and the carpet was dry. The only downside was that the shower door had been removed, meaning the floor got very wet during showers. Not a unique problem though given the current trend of placing doorless showers in hotels, though typically the opening would be further away from the showerhead.
While this room mostly had a courtyard view, we could see the very top of the Eiffel Tower poking up from behind the adjacent buildings. It ultimately ended up being a longer night than planned, with the hotel change taking up an hour and a half of time.