Our trip to Paris was the most spontaneous, romantic trip I’ve ever taken, and not just because H proposed in front of the Eiffel Tower! I had been talking to my parents about our plans for Thanksgiving, and they kept talking about going to Europe for the holiday week. I was skeptical, since my family never does anything like that, until they called three weeks before Thanksgiving, said they were booking flights and a four-night stay in Paris, and asked if H and I wanted to come. I consulted H, and a day later we booked our trip to the City of Light!
This was my first trip to Paris, despite my high school obsession with Paris which manifested itself in a terrible sepia-print poster of the Eiffel Tower. I usually plan vacations to relax somewhere warm, like Barbados, or explore somewhere off the beaten path with lots of hiking, like Acadia National Park or the Azores. I was beyond excited when we booked the trip, though—I imagined myself strolling along the cobblestone streets of some chic neighborhood, living on chocolate croissants, kissing H under the Eiffel Tower, and exploring the historic passageways of the Bastille (this was before I did even an ounce of research and found out that the Bastille was torn down in 1789).
Since most people visit Paris in spring and early fall and all the other Americans were at home eating turkey, we didn’t have to deal with ridiculous crowds or wait for hours in line to get into museums in Paris. The airport in DC was still a nightmare, though, and we got to our gate ten minutes before the flight started boarding. Soon we were sipping complimentary champagne (thank you, Air France!) as the plane flew over the Atlantic, and then uncomfortably asleep in our seats until the flight attendants plopped breakfast bags on our tray tables. I knew I would sleep in my travel clothes, so I wore a cotton sweatshirt, athletic leggings, and sneakers on the plane. Over the ensemble I wore my camel coat, which I couldn’t fit in my overstuffed suitcase or backpack.
Once the flight landed, we piled into a taxi for a long ride in morning traffic past suburban office parks and then the distinctive “Paris Stone” buildings (and got our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!) Finally, we pulled up to the adorable Hotel Balzac, which is only a block from the Champs-Élysées. We checked in at the front desk in the lobby, which is lavishly decorated with marble floors, elaborately carved wall panels, and velvet chairs. When we got to our room I practically squealed with delight—we had a huge princess bed, a window with a Juliet balcony that looked out on the Rue Balzac, and a massive marble-and-mirror clad bathroom with a soaking tub. I was so glad we had asked for a free upgrade!
As tempting as it was to collapse onto the princess bed for a nap immediately, we convinced ourselves to change and meet my parents downstairs. I wore a pink roll-neck sweater, jeans, suede smoking slippers, and my camel coat, with a new bag I had gotten for the trip, which is small enough to wear crossbody under my coat but big enough to fit a tiny umbrella, my wallet, and my phone. We stopped at a newsstand to buy Paris Passes, which would get us access to every museum we planned to visit, and then took the metro towards the Louvre.
We emerged from the metro into bright sunlight and walked to Angelina, a café that’s famous for their hot chocolate. Angelina was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, with tiled floors, cream-colored columns, and gilt-edged mirrors and Romantic paintings of shepherds on every wall. For the first time I understood why people are so obsessed with Paris—the whole place had the curated, pink-and-white feel of a blogger’s Instagram feed. Soon, I was in total sugar overload after a cup of the richest hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted, a chocolate croissant, and fresh-squeezed juice. Afterwards, we walked around the Christmas market across the street in the Jardin des Tuileries.
Our walk in the gardens ended at the Louvre pyramid, and although I had seen pictures of the Louvre, I didn’t realize until I was there in person that the museum was the huge Beauty-and-the-Beast castle surrounding the pyramid, not the pyramid itself. Inside, the sheer volume of the Louvre was overwhelming, and it seemed like every sculpture and painting was straight from my AP European History textbook. We saw the armless Venus de Milo statue, the Mona Lisa, and the painting from the cover of Les Misérables in two hours, along with at least 200 other paintings of Venus and Mary (or Mary with Venus’s face or whatever artists were painting in the 18th century). My favorite piece was the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which was at the top of a staircase on a pedestal like a ship’s bow. The sculpture was even more impressive from the side—the windblown folds of the statue’s gown were so realistic you could almost feel the wind against your face.
The galleries at the Louvre closed at 5:30, and we were exhausted from a day of walking after a bad night’s sleep on the plane, so we found a table at a cozy café near the Louvre for an early dinner, which was evidently VERY early for Paris—I looked around while we were eating dessert and literally no one else at the café had started dinner. We went back to the hotel and were asleep by 8.
Tuesday morning, we were going to the Trocadero Steps to watch the sun rise over the Eiffel Tower. Since we were meeting our photographer there (H usually does my photography, but that makes it hard to get pictures together) I dragged my jet-lagged self out of bed before dawn on Tuesday to blow-dry my hair and wore the cutest day outfit I had brought for the trip: this winter white Gal Meets Glam dress, brown suede smoking slippers, and my camel coat.
The four of us took the metro to the Trocadero steps, then H and I met the photographer at a nearby café and hurried back over to the steps as the sky slowly started to brighten over the stunning view of the Eiffel Tower. Our amazing photographer, Cengisz, took a few test shots, then had me face away from H. When Cengisz asked me to turn around, H was down on one knee! It was the most perfect surprise proposal, and I practically screamed from excitement before I said yes.
We hugged my parents, of course, and then decided that since H had booked two hours of photography to get Cengisz at the Eiffel Tower so early, we would finish the photoshoot. We took about a million more pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, then took an Uber to the Louvre for more photos there and at a nearby café while my parents got breakfast. At the end of the session, the photographer left and it was just H and I, engaged, at the most adorable Parisian café in the rain—literally the most romantic moment of my life!
We met back up with my parents at Napoleon’s Tomb and the Army Museum, which boasts an impressive display of medieval armor, Napoleon’s last horse, and a massive exhibit on World War I and World War II. Napoleon’s tomb was a cathedral-like building that was taller than it was wide, with a dome that stretched three stories above us and the crypt a story below. Once we emerged, it was almost three and we were ready for lunch at a café, where we toasted our engagement with champagne.
That afternoon, we took naps and then my dad and I started working frantically on making a reservation for dinner that night (making international reservations is not my strong suit). We got a table at Le Fouquet’s, a restaurant on the Champs-Élysées that was founded in 1899 and has walls covered in photos of celebrities who have dined there. I dressed up in a navy lace cocktail dress with black pointy suede pumps and a fabulous faux-fur coat (AKA the reason I had to fit everything into one suitcase, since everyone already made fun of me for overpacking without me bringing a second suitcase for my eveningwear). The restaurant was amazing—we shared a bottle of wine, our food was delicious, and our waiter brought a crêpe pan over to our table to flambé the crêpes Suzette we had for dessert!
Wednesday morning, I woke up a little later than I had on Tuesday and sleepily ordered breakfast from room service, which was perfect—sipping coffee and leaning dangerously out the window to watch street traffic on Rue Balzac is one of my favorite memories from the trip! Once we had polished off the last croissant, I got dressed for a day of sightseeing in a white cable-knit sweater, houndstooth miniskirt, black tights, black ankle boots, and my camel coat.
We took the metro to the Musée d’Orsay, which was originally a train station and had huge clocks around the museum. Walking through the galleries, we could see the transition from the studied, idealized art of the Academy, which echoed the classical style we saw at the Louvre on Monday, to the stylistic, imaginative Impressionist paintings. I loved seeing the Impressionist paintings of Paris, since some of them were of places we had been during our visit!
After the Musée d’Orsay, we took an Uber to the Île Saint-Louis, which is one of the tiny islands in the Seine that make up the oldest part of Paris. We had lunch at a café and then walked across a bridge to the Île de la Cité, where we saw the Notre-Dame. Next, we explored the Sainte-Chapelle, where we spent most of our time squinting at the tiny stained-glass vignettes trying to identify scenes from the Old Testament. Our final stop was the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned during the French Revolution. Despite the serious setting of the Conciergerie, H and I couldn’t stop making jokes about asking for a restaurant recommendation. Walking to the metro, we had a perfect view of the double turrets of the Conciergerie, with the Eiffel Tower behind it, glowing in the gentle light of sunset.
That night we went to a comedy show at the tiny, historic Theatre Des Nouveautes, which opened in 1921. Afterwards, we ate at an equally historic restaurant, Bouillon Chartier, which was founded in 1896. Bouillon Chartier was enormous and full of people—I felt like I was inside one of the paintings of turn of the century Paris we had seen at the Musée d’Orsay earlier that day!
After another perfect room service breakfast, which I ordered in terrible French that the kind Hotel Balzac employees pretended to understand, we left to catch the train to Versailles. Once we managed to get on the correct train, the ride was surprisingly short and soon we were walking towards the palace of the Sun King! I wore a cute but impractical outfit for our day at Versailles: a navy sweater with flared cream-colored cuffs, a white wool skirt, and pointy leopard mules.
We started our self-guided tour and were quickly overwhelmed by room after room with extravagant gilded walls, marble floors, and massive artwork. The Hall of Mirrors was spectacular, of course, and I loved seeing Marie Antoinette’s bedroom. Once we had seen the main palace, we decided to rent a golf cart to explore the gardens and see the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, which are smaller palaces to escape the stress of life in the main palace, obviously. The Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon were less crowded than the main château, and the Grand Trianon had a beautiful pink marble terrace that I fell in love with instantly. I had thought we wouldn’t need the golf cart, but I was glad we rented it—it was too chilly and rainy for the mile-plus walk to Trianon and back.
We made our way back to the train station, got back to Paris by mid-afternoon, and had a late lunch at a café on the Champs-Élysées. That night, we had tickets for a champagne cruise on the Seine. I changed into a black off-the-shoulder cocktail dress with the same black pointy-toed pumps and faux-fur coat I had worn on Tuesday night, and we took an Uber to the base of the Eiffel Tower, where our boat was moored. Since the cruise departed at six, we got to see the hourly light show, where the Eiffel Tower sparkles, as the boat was pulling away! We all enjoyed sipping champagne as our sommelier pointed out landmarks and bridges along the river. After the cruise, we weren’t very hungry since we had eaten lunch so late, so we had appetizers and crêpes at a Japanese fusion restaurant.
The next morning H and I thought we would have time to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, but of course we were running behind and it was a mad scramble to pack and get to the airport. For our travel day, I wore a white button-down shirt, jeans, and snakeskin ballet flats—I was trying to wear something comfortable for the long flight without wearing anything that would make it obvious that I was a terrible American tourist (athleisure!). Our flight home was smooth, and although I was sad to be back to reality after our vacation in the City of Light, I was so excited to celebrate our engagement with our family and friends!