Flying home to Miami from Barcelona last June, I was faced with the unpleasant prospect of enduring a four-hour layover at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport. I’m still not sure if it was the knot in the pit of my stomach thinking about having to sit at the airport for four hours or just the idea of being so close and yet so far from the allure of the City of Lights that prompted me to come up with my frenetic plan to “do Paris” in just one day.
All of Air France’s European flights connect through Paris. And what I had recently discovered was a little known travel loophole that allows passengers to schedule their connecting flights up to 23 hours after landing in Paris without incurring a stopover surcharge or penalty. So instead of booking my connecting flight to Miami with the original four-hour layover that was suggested (and the best that Air France could do), I opted for the maximum 23-hour layover and turned my “connection” in Paris into a wonderful – albeit extremely fast paced – adventure in one of the most enchanting cities in the world.
I land in Paris. In order to make the plan work, I couldn’t be slowed down lugging baggage all around the city. The solution was staring me right in the face – literally. I’d take a room at the Sheraton Hotel that is conveniently built right into CDG Terminal 2, just steps away from where you come out of customs when flying on Air France. Smart move. Within 45 minutes of landing I was dropping my bags in my hotel room and heading down the escalator right outside the entrance of the hotel to catch the direct RER B train into the heart of the city.
As I climbed the steps and emerged from the Metro at the St. Michel stop, the awesome site of Notre Dame made my heart skip a beat. I had seen the cathedral nearly a dozen times before, but various parts of the monument had been undergoing renovation for nearly a decade. Seeing the sparkling facade – sans the familiar scaffolding – literally took my breath away. I had to make a quick stop inside. There is just something so mesmerizing about standing inside that ancient, holy place and gazing through the spectacular stained glass panels.
After exiting Notre Dame, a quick dash into the meandering streets of the Latin Quarter led me to the delectable treat my stomach was rumbling for – a warm apple crepe from my favorite stand at the end of Rue de Huchette. I decided to enjoy my midday snack as I walked along the Seine River while enjoying a favorite Parisian pastime – people watching.
My next stop was the Eiffel Tower. Normally I would have just jumped back on the Metro but since it was such a beautiful day I decided to take the Batobus up the Seine instead. The Batobus is a relatively inexpensive river boat service for tourists that makes several stops at major attractions and is a wonderful way to take in the majestic architectural grandeur of the city.
After a pleasurable ride up the Seine, I made my way towards the Tour de Eiffel. After purchasing my ticket and taking the elevator up to the top observation level I drank in the entire city pinpointing all the major sites of Paris spread out below me. On a clear day the view is spectacular and should absolutely not be missed!
Jumping on the Metro I next made my way towards Montmartre and got off at the Blanche stop – right in front of the Moulin Rouge. After walking over to the ticket office and making a reservation for that evening’s 9pm show, I began my trek up the steep and winding streets leading to the Sacre-Coeur. Stopping a few times along the way to check out the many quaint shops and interesting buildings – not to mention all the artists and their works that Montmartre is so well known for – made the journey well worth the time and effort.
After a visit to the inspiring Sacre-Coeur, it was time to find a café and not only enjoy a good, authentic French meal but also take a much needed break. Adventures like this can be tiring!
Positively giddy after a scrumptious dinner and heavenly glass of wine, I realize it’s time to head to the Moulin Rouge for the 9pm show I have a reservation for. Instead of walking down, I take the funicular – an elevator built into the side of the hill. It’s a lot quicker and it’s much easier on the feet.
As I exit the Moulin Rouge I am bombarded with the neon signs that hallmark Paris’ red light district. Darkness had fallen upon the city while I was inside watching topless dancers strut around the stage in enough feathers and sequins to put Las Vegas to shame. Going to a show at the Moulin Rouge is something you sort of have to do when you are in Paris but it’s something you’ll likely only do once – just so you can say you have done it!
Although fatigue is definitely setting in, I know there is one last thing I must do before I call it a night. So I jump back on the Metro (thank God for the Metro!) and within minutes climb the steps up from the tunnels and emerge on the Champs Elysee. A visit to Paris just wouldn’t be complete with taking a stroll up the stately boulevard towards the floodlit Arc de Triumph. Despite the fact that it’s almost midnight on a Tuesday, the street is still bustling with activity.
Catching the last RER B train, I head back to Charles de Gaulle airport – and to my hotel room where a hot shower and clean, soft bed are calling out my name.
Up and out of the hotel, another benefit of staying at the Sheraton is that I’m just a few steps away from my departing gate for my 10:00am flight to Miami.
As I sit in my seat on the airplane gazing out the window awaiting takeoff, I think about all that has transpired in the past 23 hours: a visit to Notre Dame, a boat ride up the river Seine, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower to see all of Paris spanning below, exploring Montmartre on my way to the Sacre-Couer, enjoying a delightful meal at a local café, catching a show at the Moulin Rouge and taking a late night stroll up the Champs Elysse towards a floodlit Arc de Triumph…
I suddenly realize I have let out a rather loud and audible sigh – luckily the person sitting next to me doesn’t seem to notice. I can’t believe how much I would have missed had I opted for the boring four-hour layover and just sat in the airport!
So if you’re ever in a situation where you have the opportunity to “do Paris” in a day and you feel yourself hesitating because you don’t think it’s enough time to do or see very much, remember this tale of my whirlwind adventure and just say… Oui!
Helpful Web Sites
Interested in planning your own trip to Paris? Here are a few Web sites that can help:
Paris Batobus (stops, prices, schedules)
Moulin Rouge (showtimes, prices)
Paris Metro (maps, schedules, prices)
Eiffel Tower (official site)
Charles de Gaulle Airport (official site)