Weekend in Paris and Bruges Recap
Paris has been at the top of my bucket list for as long as I can remember. My dad and I first planned to visit back in 2020, while I’d be in Europe with a destination client – but I’m sure you can guess what happened to those plans. When the day of departure finally arrived in June 2022, it felt surreal to walk into the international terminal at BWI. I couldn’t believe it. I was FINALLY headed to Paris!
The main reason for my visit was to attend a retreat in the UK with Julie Paisley (that recap is coming in a separate post!). Dad and I decided to tack on a long weekend in Paris prior to the retreat. Since I was 20 weeks pregnant, I splurged and upgraded to business class for the redeye flight to London. This was the BEST move! The seats were so much roomier and I was actually able to get a little sleep on the flight.
I woke up somewhere over the Atlantic at 2am EST to blinding sunlight and a way-too-chipper flight attendant asking for my breakfast order. We were almost to London! From there, I took a train to Gare du Nord in Paris, where my dad met me.
Day One: The Catacombs, Tour Eiffel, and Discovering Mocktails
We rented a beautiful flat on Rue de Rivoli, in the fourth arrondissement. This is known as the “right bank” area of Paris. Surrounded by beautiful architecture and picturesque cafes, we were just steps away from Notre Dame and the Louvre. When I saw the view from our balcony and the spiral staircase leading to the apartment, it definitely felt like living in an episode of Emily in Paris!
First order of business after dropping our luggage: eat! We found a little cafe and split a salad and pizza. This was also when I made an important discovery: mocktails are a HUGE deal in Europe. As a pregnant woman, this was music to my ears! Everywhere we went had dedicated nonalcoholic cocktails, crafted to perfection, so I never felt like I was missing out by not being able to drink.
After our lunch, we headed to the catacombs for a creepy walk under the streets of Paris. There are six million people buried in the catacombs, with skeletons forming the walls in intricate patterns that seemed to stretch on endlessly. From there we went to Tour Montparnasse, one of the few (if not the only) skyscraper in Paris, so that I could see the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Paris has a height restriction on its buildings much like DC does, and its metro system is incredibly similar to ours as well. I felt immediately comfortable and at home in Paris, despite not being able to speak the language!
Day Two: Crepes, The Louvre, a Heatwave, and a Change of Plans
We woke up the next day ready to see more of the city – but there was one big problem. A historic heatwave was descending on Paris, and it was getting hotter by the minute. Temperatures would eventually rise to 104 degrees, and like nearly all of Paris, our flat was not air conditioned. Definitely not an ideal scenario for a pregnant American!
We briefly considered several options. Moving to an air conditioned hotel in Paris was one idea, but that wouldn’t solve the issue of how hot it was outside, and we didn’t want to just sit around indoors anyway.
With how easy it is to navigate around Europe, our sights were soon set on a getaway within our getaway – a cooler climate, or at least one less stubbornly opposed to AC. Ultimately we decided on taking a train to Bruges, Belgium later that day, where it was nearly 25 degrees cooler than Paris.
But first, a little sightseeing before our unexpected adventure!
Dad and I made our way to Montmartre to take in the views and a few crepes. Montmartre is known for its cobblestone streets, sweeping hilltop views of the city, and street artists. As the morning went by, the streets began to fill with artists on every corner. Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali once called Montmartre home, so it’s no wonder that it’s still beloved by the artist community today. The crepes were INCREDIBLE. We tried one savory with ham and cheese, and one smothered in Nutella, with espresso of course.
After breakfast we visited the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, located on the tallest hill in Paris, and strolled through the streets with no particular destination in mind. At some point we caught the metro back to Rue de Rivoli to pack a few things for Bruges before visiting the Louvre. Lunch was a quick stop in Tuileries Garden, where we sat in those iconic green chairs and people watched! Honestly, the Louvre was the only thing that was even remotely disappointing the entire weekend. It felt very much like an assembly line: we shuffled into the pyramid-shaped building in a massive line of people. The entire horde seemed to bypass every exhibit and make its way straight to the Mona Lisa, which was extremely underwhelming in real life. We both agreed that the Louvre wasn’t for us, and made plans to visit the Musee d’Orsay when we returned from Bruges.
A Belgian Detour: Waffles, Breweries, and Canal Tours by Boat
Just a short train ride later, we were in the quaint little town of Bruges, Belgium. We planned to spend about 24 hours here to escape the worst of the heatwave back in Paris, and there was so much to do! Bruges is known as the Venice of the North due to the ancient, intricate canal system that snakes through and around the small city. In addition to being 25 degrees cooler than Paris, it’s amazing how different the culture and architecture was in comparison. The city is dripping with medieval charm. There are castles and belfries seemingly around every corner, and many of the buildings still in use today were built in the 1200s.
We took in the sights and eventually settled on a barbecue restaurant for dinner. Apparently barbecue ribs are very popular in Belgium, because we came across several places that offered them while we were here! The next morning, I got up early and took a solo stroll through the town. There was a street market in progress, and the cobblestone streets were lined with vendors offering everything from textiles to baked goods. We came across very few people that spoke English here, and almost everything was written in Flemish. My phone wasn’t working this morning, and I was very impressed with myself for being able to navigate around without a map, directions, or knowledge of the spoken/written language.
A tour of the canals by boat seemed to be the main attraction, but first we found authentic Belgian waffles for breakfast and made a quick stop into the torture museum next door. In the afternoon, we found the perfect waterfront table at an amazing brewery and spent hours there chatting with a couple we met. They were European but planned to move to the US soon – specifically, to the Annapolis area. It really is such a small world! Before we knew it, the day was nearly over and it was time to head back to Paris. We got back there just in time for a late dinner and more mocktails for me, then it was off to bed.
Day Four: A Quintessential Day in Paris
It was our last full day in Paris together, and not only that, it was Father’s Day. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend it than this trip with my dad! The morning was a bit overcast and the temperatures had cooled considerably, which was a welcome change.
We began that Sunday morning with an espresso and pain au chocolat at a little cafe, offering bits of our pastries to the birds visiting our table. Then we toured the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the oldest church in all of Paris. It was built in the year 1000, and its stained glass sanctuary was awe-inspiring.
From there, my dad had a secret destination in store for me. We strolled the streets, crossing the Seine again until we reached our destination: Shakespeare and Company! An eclectic English-language bookstore and library, this incredible shop features meandering reading rooms and scores of antique and secondhand books. Shakespeare and Co. has been a writing home for many authors and is a book lover’s paradise. Naturally, I had to make a few purchases!
Next, I treated my dad to a leisurely Father’s Day lunch at a fantastic streetside cafe just around the corner from the Musee d’Orsay. We stayed there for two hours, enjoying courses of French onion soup, a salad with the largest serving of bleu cheese I’ve ever seen, steak tartare, and of course – mocktails. As someone who is perpetually in a hurry and typically eats lunch at her desk or while multitasking, this meal was simply incredible. We talked, we people watched, we rehashed our favorite parts of the trip. It was perfect!
It was time to visit the Musee d’Orsay, and we were both so excited! Impressionism is definitely my favorite artwork movement, and we poured over the collections by the greats like Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, and so many others. The clouds gathered again as evening approached, but a little rain wasn’t going to spoil our grand finale: a stroll around the Eiffel Tower and a river cruise on the Seine. I got to FaceTime with Adam and the girls to show them our view. I can’t wait to visit again with them someday!
At some point during the river cruise, the skies opened and it began to pour. It was still a ton of fun, and all of us on the boat had our eyes (and cameras) on the tower, waiting for the light show to begin at dusk. Once it’s dark, the Eiffel Tower glitters with lights for just five minutes at the top of each hour. It never quite got dark enough during the river tour to see it, but we still had a great time!
Then, as we were walking the streets in search of a late dinner (it must’ve been 11PM at this point), we came across an alley with a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. We stopped to marvel at it for just a moment, and as we did, suddenly it erupted into light. We’d caught the light show after all! Somehow this was even better than having seen it from the boat. It was truly a core memory, and one I’ll never forget.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes to each other and our little flat on Rue de Rivoli. We enjoyed one last cafe breakfast in the district of Le Marais, and then Dad headed to the airport and I was on my way back to Gare du Nord. I had to catch a train back to London for that retreat – the second half of my European adventure was about to begin!