PARIS

Big cities have never really held my interest. I once turned down an internship opportunity in New York City because the city was too chaotic and noisy for me (look at me now, living in Milan and surviving city life just fine).

But Paris was always the exception to that. Though I had never been the Europe prior to 2014, I had long been intrigued by Parisian culture. So many famous writers and expats lived in or visited Paris and found inspiration in the city: Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach, Sherwood Anderson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sinclair Lewis, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, etc. The more I fell in love with literature, the more I wanted to experience Paris myself.

When I had ankle reparation surgery around Christmas time in 2011, I spent three weeks high on pain killers and re-watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris until I memorized the script. My friend and I had a fancy (as fancy as college freshmen can get) candlelit dinner with a beautiful nighttime picture of the Eiffel Tower filling our laptop screen and sitting right there on the kitchen table with us (see below). Not to mention, Passport to Paris was totally my favorite Mary Kate & Ashley movie (until Winning London came out and rocked my world, but I digress).

AmeFj_nCEAEkN4-Needless to say, when I studied abroad in Europe like every unoriginal privileged American college student, I knew Paris would most definitely be a weekend trip. Luckily I only had classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, meaning I always had a four-day weekend and got an early start on my traveling. I found a round-trip easyJet flight from Milan’s Malpensa airport to Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport for 75 euros (yes, it can be that cheap to fly in Europe. Check out http://www.skyscanner.net to find budget airline trips). I flew in on a Thursday afternoon and flew out on a Sunday morning, so I had two and a half days in the city. It takes WAY more time to experience the fullness of Paris, but I still left feeling beyond satisfied with my time there.

MY (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED AND TOTALLY CLICHÉ) ITINERARY

The Louvre

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Take a selfie with the Mona Lisa because you’re in Paris and Beyoncé wasn’t even above it. If you’re a student, go after 6 p.m. on a Friday because you get in for free with your student ID or a copy of your student visa. Afterwards, cross the street to visit the Arc de Triumphe du Carrousel (not the real Arc, but just as beautiful) and enjoy a relaxing night stroll on the lawn. From here, you can see the Eiffel tower sparkle in the distance at the top of every hour. My friends and I sat on the lawn for hours soaking in the perfect night weather (it was Halloween weekend) and watching people stroll by.

Notre Dame

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Notre Dame is a MUST see by both day and night. We attended morning mass along with several other tourists, and walked around the entire lower level to admire the stained glass and read about the history of the church. There’s just something about stepping foot into such a historic, sacred place that makes your heart quiet. Listening to the congregation sing traditional hymns was soothing, especially during such a jam-packed weekend. A few quiet moments were needed in such a hectic, tourist-busy city.

Shakespeare & Co.

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This is an absolute for any aspiring writer or lover of classic literature. This was my number one place of interest in Paris, and it’s located conveniently across the river from Notre Dame. Although the original Shakespeare & Co. was located in the Spanish quarter, the current location is charming and still gives you the feels when you step through the door. There’s a nifty reading loft to accompany the winding paths of bookshelves, and the employees are friendly and knowledgeable. They’ll even stamp your book with a Shakespeare & Co. stamp upon purchase. I could have spent an entire day in this store. But, alas, you can’t just stay in one little shop when you’re in the City of Lights…

Versailles

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Versailles is about 45 minutes from Paris’ city center via the RER C train. You must buy a special Versailles ticket at the train station. I found a very helpful webpage regarding how to get to Versailles from Paris here. Bring your student ID or a copy of your student visa to get in free to the palace! In all honesty, it’s not like Versailles is expensive but when you’re a college student on a budget, any saving helps. Plus, it makes you feel better when you pay for the little train tour around the gardens (which is worth every penny because the garden is huge and there is no way you can fathom it’s depth or beauty by overlooking it at the castle). Seriously, this place felt magical. My friends and I ate lunch here, and they actually have some filling, healthy, and delicious options (I had a small baguette sandwich and fresh fruit).

As fate would have it, we plopped ourselves down at a table next to two older couples with noticeable American southern accents. Being an Arkansan, I had to know where they called home. Naturally, they were from Arkansas and my heart exploded into a million little happy balloons. We bonded over Razorback football right there in a cafeteria in an extravagant palace in France.

That’s my own little love story about Versailles and even though you probably find it uninteresting and unhelpful, my point is that Versailles is worth an entire day of your life and you won’t want to leave. Also, it’s just a short five minute walk to and from the train station and there is plenty to stop and see on the short journey in-between the two: shops, courthouse, etc.

Eiffel Tower

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Well this is an obvious one. As if you would go to Paris and avoid the Eiffel. We preferred sitting across the river with wine in hand, overlooking the tower and enjoying the night air. We had an amazing Airbnb host (more about her below) that met us for drinks at a nearby restaurant were we had a clear view of the tower. For an older crowd, this might be prefferred, as most people will want to sit on the lawn on the other side of the tower. We didn’t end up paying for a ticket and climbing to the top (we heard too many horror stories about pick pockets and the crowds and opted for Montparnesse Tower instead), but I’ve had many friends that had positive experiences when they paid to climb to the top.

Arc de Triumphe

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This is probably the only time I’ll willingly stand in the middle of traffic, but I’m a sucker for cliché touristy pictures. This is the real Arc de Triophe (de l’Etoile), which symbolizes those who fought and died for their country in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Underneath the Arc lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for WWI, so this is a must-see if you’re into European and war history. We went after a day at Versailles and sitting by the Eiffel for a couple hours, so we got to the Arc around 10 p.m. I personally prefer it by night, and it was significantly less crowded than it would normally be during daylight hours.

Montparnasse Tower

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As previously mentioned, we skipped the Eiffel Tower and opted for Montparnesse Tower, which offers a 360 panoramic view of the city. We watched the sunset from the roof, and enjoyed the indoor top level of the tower, which featured 360 panoramic windows and a highly overrated and overpriced snack bar and gift shop. It’s only 15 euros to ride to the top and you’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like. Like most attractions in Paris, you can bring your student ID or a copy of your student visa to get in for a reduced rate (you save 4 euros in this case). It was a bit chilly on the roof at sunset, so bringing a light jacket is recommended if you’re going in September or October, when it’s still warm during the day.

Travel Tips:

Airbnb. I’m a big advocate for Airbnb, as they are generally safer (personal opinion) than hostels for female travelers and if you travel with friends, you can split the cost and spend the same amount of money as you would for two or three nights in a hostel. Plus, additional there is privacy and overall hygiene is better.  My two friends and I stayed in a charming, spacious studio apartment in the heart of the 6th quarter, with two metro stops right underneath the house and another within a five-minute walking distance. Delphine, the owner of the apartment, was absolutely wonderful and provided us with anything we needed: towels, shampoo, bottled water, comfort, travel guides, etc. She even treated us to drinks overlooking the Eiffel Tower on our last night! Her studio runs around $50 a night, so between three girls for the three nights we were in Paris, I spent only $50 on accommodation for an entire weekend. Delphine has a queen bed and two big comfortable couches (also, her decor and overall vibe is on point). She has nothing but five-star reviews on her Airbnb profile.

Traveling to the City Center from Charles de Gaulle. Your hostel, hotel, or host should provide you with directions to get to your accommodation. Taxis can be anywhere from 40 euros upward, depending on where you’re going. I had to take a taxi to the airport when I was departing back to Milan because the metro didn’t run that early, and it cost 60 euros. So the cheapest and easiest way to travel to and from Charles de Gaulle airport is by the RER B train, which is located on the bottom level of the airport. The ticket costs around 10 euros and travels directly to the Gare du Nord metro station, the busiest metro station in Paris (serving metro lines 2, 4, and 5 and RER B, D and E). It also attaches to a train station serving Eurostar.

Public Transportation. The best way to see Paris is via public transit. The have buses and metros serving the entire city, so nothing is more than a five to ten minute walk. We each got a 10 ticket bundle for the weekend, which was more than enough. Here is a great TripAdvisor page regarding all of the rates and how to figure out the system. The only additional information I would add is that it’s good to have some coins for exact change, because often the machines in the metro stations don’t give change and there isn’t always someone working at the ticket counter. Also, some metro stations don’t recognize international cards. Lastly, pay careful attention when you’re riding a bus. Don’t rely on an intercom system to announce an upcoming stop. Often, the bus drivers don’t stop unless someone pushes the button for the next stop, nor do they announce what the next stop will be. So it’s important to pay attention to how many stops have passed and keep looking at the bus line maps located throughout the bus.

Safety. Pick pockets are common in Paris, so always make sure your bag is zipped and you have at least one hand on it. Metro stations and high-traffic tourist areas hold a higher risk for theft. For female travelers, I recommend traveling in groups. Although Paris isn’t known to be a highly dangerous city, it’s not free of crime. Furthermore, don’t sign any petitions for any social causes because the petitioner will then demand you pay him/her money. Don’t let someone in the street put a bracelet on your wrist. If someone drops something directly in front of you, keep walking (I know that sounds rude, but when you bend down, someone will come up behind you and pick pocket you). Be cautious of the overly friendly local helping “guide you through the city” and don’t buy tickets for attractions or transportation from anyone other than an official office or website. These are all common knowledge, but you would be surprised by the amount of people that need to hear this when trying to travel as conveniently and cheaply as possible. Lastly, make sure you travel with copies of your passport (and visa), but try to leave your real passport hidden safely in your hotel room.

Student Discounts. Paris offers student discounts at most of their attractions, so be sure to bring your student ID or a copy of your student visa. It can save you upwards of 100 euros. Some places only accept student IDs from schools and universities in France, but other places accept a copy of a student visa from anywhere in Europe.

Overall, for two and a half days and three nights in Paris, I spent approximately 300 euros for airfare, accommodation, food, public transportation, and souvenirs. I experienced as much as possible and hit everything on my check list. Hope you find this useful as you plan your time in the City of lights!

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