01 – The Second Honeymoon
02 – Conquering Medieval Stairs
03 – Urinating in Brussels
04 – On to Paris
05 – Seeing Louvre
06 – A Police Story
07 – The Sun King’s Blingy Home
08 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky
09 – Hangin’ with Our Royal Neighbors
10 – Sending Ourselves to the Tower
11 – Raining on the Parade
12 – Her Majesty’s Beverage in the Sky Again
Today was the day that I skipped two major client meetings of the year, to visit Paris. None of my coworkers believed me when I said I’d think of them aboard my Thalys train, so I’m writing this to prove my point.
First thing in the morning, we enjoyed the complimentary breakfast at the hotel, while being seated in the executive lounge. I was beginning to take my Hilton Diamond status seriously.
Breakfast at Hilton Brussels Grand Place
Then we took a local train to the Brussels Midi station, and boarded our very first train that crossed country borders.
Thalys, with seat-matching shirt
Train travel is so much easier than air travel
Paris Gare du Nord, where Jason Bourne had a few showdowns with the CIA
Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, and it has some of the most visited attractions and museums in the world. Most of my friends who’d been here love it, and many people seem in love with Paris obsessively. I always felt that there’s certain herd bias at work: Asian girls love Eiffel Tower and French pastries the same way white boys love ninjas and manga. I didn’t want to fall in the trap by assuming the city had romantic feelings for me, so I off-boarded the train with a particular sense of skepticism. I almost didn’t want to like the city. But I was intrigued, nonetheless. Taking my first breath of French air, I was ready to explore.
The first impression of the city was nice, for a different reason you might expect: everyone seemed to be in a rush. Drivers and pedestrians rarely yielded to each other. Honking, pushing, jaywalking, and near-misses were all over the place. The Metro system was utilitarian and smelled funky. Passengers regularly opened train doors and jumped off before the trains came to a complete stop. I’m not being sarcastic about this either – Hong and I are big city people at heart. The hustle and bustle energizes us like nothing else.
After dropping off our bags, we took a four-mile walk through Place de la Concorde, down Champs Elysees, to Arc de Triomphe, and back. The avenue wasn’t all that – if you’ve been on Fifth Avenue, Rodeo Drive, Ginza, or Orchard Road, Champs Elysees was merely a French copy of those. But the architecture was a treat for the eyes. Even as a non-artistic person, I enjoyed the Parisian buildings.
We assumed that eating Laduree macarons on a public bench was a French thing to do
Obelisk & Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde
Fountain of Rivers at Place de la Concorde
Selfie at Fountain of Rivers
A bunch of Ferrarris and Mclarens scattered along the avenue were for rent – for only 89 Euros you could drive one for 20 minutes!!
Lunch at a random cafe named George V
Arc de Triomphe
Selfie at the Arc
Guess what’s behind this luxurious gate? An Abercrombie store…
Tree-lined path to Abercrombie
L’église de la Madeleine
Galeries Lafayette, behind Palais Garnier. It was the most beautiful department store I had seen.
In the evening, we headed to Sacre-Coeur on Montmartre. This basilica was barely more than 100 years old, but the hill itself was a significant place for French Catholics. Saint Denis, the very first Bishop of Paris, was beheaded on this hill back in 250AD. Legend has it that after the beheading, Saint Denis picked up his head and walked a long distance, preaching along the way. The name of the hill means “mountain of the martyr”.
The Abbesses Metro station, situated on a hill in Montmartre, had a really deep spiral staircase
Me taking a selfie with the guy selling selfie sticks
The building was gorgeous, but a bronze knight with a weapon seemed like an odd decoration for a church
Awesome view of Paris
Selfie with Sacre-Coeur
View from the bottom of the stairs
For dinner, we ate at a cozy “Three Little Pigs” restaurant. Duck foie gras was on the menu and I knew I had to get it: never expected myself to like that sort of thing, but my calling was to try exotic stuff.
Duck foie gras
Moulin Rouge, at the bottom of the sacred hill
After a casual walk-by of Moulin Rouge, we ended the night by returning to InterContinental Paris – Le Grand.
This InterContinental had a great history and was among Paris’s five-star hotels. Unfortunately, our experience left much to be desired. We made two requests at reservation – early check in and high floor, both among standard options. We received the complete opposite on both. Not only was our room on the lowest possible floor, our room was not ready until two hours past standard check-in time, causing us to inquire with the front desk four times within a 5-hour window! That should have been disappointing for a five-star hotel, let alone that I was a top-tier loyalty member with IHG…
Funky set up of two beds, and a drawing of Palais Garnier
Welcome gift – juices and some fruits