First Trip to Europe, Day 9 – Strasbourg to Paris, Quick Trip to Versailles, New Year’s Eve

Josh and I got up a little early to finish packing and then went to Monoprix in Place Kleber to buy some drinks. We stopped in at the same pastry shop as the day before for pain au chocolate before returning to the hotel to check out. The hotel desk called a taxi for us, and this time our route was pretty short (I knew that first guy was going in circles!). We arrived at the train station in time for my parents to grab some breakfast before the train arrived. This time our seats on the train were facing each other with a table in between, which gave us a little less legroom but was much more fun. It would have been a good time to have a deck of cards!

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We arrived back in Paris at 12:35pm and hurried to the hotel via the metro. Our rooms were ready by the time we arrived, so we dropped our bags inside and went off in search of a very quick snack in order to meet our next tour guide at 2pm. We ended up with convenience store food from a little shop a few blocks away. We made it back to the hotel and inhaled our food while our tour guide, Jessica, chatted with us. We found her about a month before through Viator’s local guides site and asked her to escort us to Versailles for a quick afternoon tour. Since we had our metro passes (we reloaded them at a machine in the metro station before we left for Strasbourg), we all took the RER-C to Versailles. It’s a pretty long trip, about 40 minutes, but it’s a double-decker train so it doesn’t get as crowded as the regular metro.

Once we arrived at the Versailles station, we exited and walked just a few blocks uphill to the palace. Jessica left us to take pictures for a few minutes while she collected our tour tickets. We did the tour of the Grand Apartments and Jessica told us about each room as we went. I don’t know what else to say except that it was as opulent as I’ve always read. I remember quite a bit of French history, mostly from historical fiction I’ve read (don’t judge me!), so I really did find everything fascinating. We visited during the low season and it still got pretty crowded at times with other groups. Since we were a small group, we often stepped back into a window or door recess to hear Jessica above the other guides and groups. We sometimes had to move on to the next room before she could tell us about the previous room because of a large/loud crowd. There isn’t much to look at besides the largest furnishings and wall decor. The paintings and ceilings are ornate and worth the trip. The beds were exactly how I imagined them. The rest though was very sparse. Obviously things have to be removed to make room, or to showcase elsewhere, but there were no displays of personal items or things from the time periods that Versailles was occupied. It definitely isn’t a museum in that sense.

After the tour of the Grand Apartments, which wound in and out of the hall of mirrors, we headed outside to see a little of the grounds. The Hall of Mirrors is awesome, by the way. Impossibly crowded all the time, but awesome. Since our visit was in the late afternoon, we got the spectacular late afternoon light as we walked through. The sun continued to set as walked out away from the palace towards the gardens. Since it was getting dark and cold, we didn’t linger long, but we did have a nice view looking back at the palace and looking out at the Grand Canal. (If you click on the first picture below, you can view the pictures larger in a slideshow format!)

We parted with Jessica in the square outside Versailles, as she lives outside of Paris and needed to go a different way to get home. The four of us walked back to the train station and caught the RER-C back to Paris. It was much more crowded than on the way to Versailles earlier. I had looked up a restaurant that didn’t take reservations for New Year’s Eve dinner, so we slowly headed in that direction once we arrived back in Paris. When we arrived at the restaurant, many people were already seated and there was a line forming. It’s a tiny little place, but we walked in and managed to nab the last table! Contrary to most French restaurants, this place did make a list of names for the next seating and people who arrived after us were instructed to come back in a few hours. We were happy to squeeze into our table that backed up to the window on one side and the bar on the other (it really is tiny!), knowing that it was the last one. They do have a second floor with more tables (that were already full), but the main floor only seats 20-25 people.

Le Cafe Constant might have been my most enjoyable experience dining in Paris. The food was great and the server was more like what we Americans are accustomed to. He was chatty and spoke English, the hostess was super friendly, and overall it was still French but they obviously were used to many Americans eating here. The food was very modestly priced and we ordered from a special holiday menu. I had lobster ravioli, and we shared a bottle of wine. The food was awesome. We walked around the 7th just a bit after dinner and stopped to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower as we crossed the Champ de Mars on the way back to the hotel.

We finally had time to survey our hotel rooms and settle in a little after dinner. The Hotel Ares Eiffel is tucked back on a quiet street in the 15th, just mere blocks from the Eiffel Tower. This area is much less entertaining than the Latin Quarter. We were used to being surrounded by shops and restaurants, so while we liked the hotel I wasn’t crazy about the location. Being near the Eiffel Tower definitely has it’s perks (see stopping for pictures on the way back from dinner), but I didn’t enjoy the neighborhood nearly as much. If this had been the first hotel we stayed in, I might have had a much different opinion of Paris. If you’re looking for a quiet, romantic getaway, this area is for you. If you want to get out and explore and wander into a random restaurant on a whim, I wouldn’t recommend it. The hotel rooms were spacious enough, but ours again had very little floor space. I had to put my suitcase either blocking the Juliet balcony or the wardrobe. We moved the small stool under the desk so Josh could put his suitcase there on the floor. I loved the decor and the bathroom was very nice as well. This hotel definitely fit the stereotypical French hotel that I envisioned before visiting. The built-in hair dryer was inside the wardrobe in the bedroom (not in the bathroom), which made it kind of awkward to use. The TV menus were hard to navigate, but we did have several English speaking channels (none in Strasbourg, a few at the first hotel). The hotel staff was friendly here and even left a bottle of champagne in each room to celebrate the New Year.

After putting our feet up for a few hours, we took a bottle of champagne and headed back to the Champ de Mars to ring in the New Year next to the Eiffel Tower. The 2015 New Year is the first time Paris has ever planned a big shindig on the Champs Elysees, but we were all exhausted and it was very far from our hotel, so we decided on the Eiffel Tower instead. I kind of wish we had gone to the Champs Elysees, but as tired as I was it’s probably very good that we didn’t. The Eiffel Tower didn’t have any kind of light show or anything special at all at midnight. The strobes lit up like they do on the hour every hour each night and people yelled and popped champagne. A few random fireworks went off and we could hear and see the smoke from the fireworks at the Arc de Triomphe. I won’t say it was disappointing because there is nothing disappointing about being in Paris next to the Eiffel Tower to ring in the New Year. I do wish they had done a little something there though, as there were tons of people gathered.

We hung around for a little while drinking our champagne and taking pictures before calling it a night and walking back to the hotel. My next post will be about New Year’s Day and the Musee d’Orsay (my favorite!).

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