Wanted: Advice on Traveling in Paris and Rome

As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, Josh and I are planning a pilgrimage to Europe. (I am resisting using an !!!!!!! on the end of that first sentence.) Since we got married in 2011, we’ve thrown around the idea of doing a Europe trip but never really moved forward with any plans. We weren’t even researching it, honestly. Then while Josh was deployed, he got an email about an incredible opportunity. That Man is You (a national men’s group that has a chapter at our parish) was making a pilgrimage “Into the Heart of the Holy Family” in France. After reading the itinerary, we felt God calling us to be a part of this pilgrimage. Then! We figured, heck, we’re already over there…might as well extend our trip and do some exploring on our own. Thus our general itinerary was born: Rome for 7 days (with one day in Assisi perhaps), Paris for 3 days and then meet up with the TMIY pilgrimage group in Paris. During our time with the group, we’ll stay in Paris (and the surrounding area) a few more days and then go to Mont San Michel, Bayeux, Omaha Beach (the D-Day beaches), and Lourdes. We’re terribly excited! The video below gives more details about the pilgrimage

Also, see this precious video about pilgrimages and Mont San Michel.

However, the last time I was in Europe I was with an EF Tour group from my school. I was in 9th grade. It was fantastic. (thank you, mom. seriously.) But that doesn’t help me too much in regards of how to plan our own European adventure! Our time with the group is all planned out, but we’re still setting our own schedule for the days we have on our own in Rome and Paris.

Here’s where I need your advice, O, Seasoned Travelers! While this is certainly a spiritual pilgrimage for us, we also want to enjoy the culture, art and food of Rome and Paris. We imagine spending our mornings and early afternoons visiting holy sites  (we have our papal audience and scavi tickets reserved!) and our late afternoons and evenings spent at leisure, soaking up all we can of the local side of Rome/Paris. Afterall, God is very present in the ordinary, too! Any general suggestions? Any mistakes you made that you want to caution us against?

I’m open to any and all suggestions! Here are some specific questions though.

Rome Questions

There’s so much to see in Rome – Church and world history and art overload. What do you think is an absolutely “must see” and what may get alot of hype, but can be passed up?

What are the best areas in Rome to experience life as a Roman?

What do you think is the best way to get around Rome? Did you find it walk-able?

What is your favorite church in Rome?

What was your favorite food/restaurant(s) during your time in Rome?

Did you find that most people spoke English? What sort of Italian phrases would you have found useful?

Paris Questions

What are your Top 3 Must Sees of Paris?

Which arrondisements lend themselves to leisurely strolling with lovely (but not extravagant/not $$$) shops and food?

As a tourist, did you find that Vélib’ was an enjoyable and realistic way to get around? Did you feel overwhelmed/confused/lost/like you were going to get hit by a car and die? Any tips on that?

There are so many art museums. We plan to visit the Louvre. Are there others that you loved?

Food. Tell me your favorite places to eat. Especially delightful places that may be off the beaten trail a bit – we want to try and experience more of the local scene and not simply fall into tourist traps because we don’t know where else to go!

I am a lover of vintage and treasure hunting. Any particular shops that you would recommend?

Should we plan to see any shows? Any that you suggest?

What French phrases would have been helpful to know? Or did you find that most people knew and were willing to speak English?

7 responses

  1. Hey! I just found your blog, and saw this post–that is crazy wonderfully epic that you and your husband are doing that! My fiance and I were in Europe for a study abroad semester last year, and it was such a blessing. We didn’t eat out a ton (trying to scrimp on money before our wedding and whatnot) but we did so many wonderful things!

    Rome: Get to the Vatican early in the morning, security usually opens at 6:45 a.m. or something. At 7 a.m., the doors open, and religious sisters and a few lay people rush in to get to Mass. Seriously, when we were there a year ago, so many priests just poured out of the sacristy and started celebrating private Masses on all of the side altars. Definitely my favorite memory in Rome. It’s so peaceful, serene, intimate, and incredible. Also, Old Bridge Gelateria is close to the Vatican, and it’s probably the best deal on delicious gelato in Rome. The Basilica of St. Cecilia in the Trastevere area is beautiful, too. Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest public places of worship dedicated to Mary, and that’s awesome.

    Also, if either of you has a St. Maria Goretti devotion, Nettuno is a one-hour train ride outside of Rome–it’s a very fun half-day trip. The basilica is huge, beautiful, and right next to the water (the beach is kind of dirty, though).

    Paris: Notre Dame is obvious, but it’s wonderful. Also, Sainte-Chappelle always has a HUGE line, but it’s absolutely beautiful if you want to wait it out. There’s a cool museum, Les Invalides, which has tons of French military historical stuff and Napoleon’s tomb, and we liked going there (of course, people who aren’t into museums with mostly guns, cannons, military uniforms, etc. wouldn’t like it probably). Also, my then-fiance and I decided to go to a Paris cemetery, so we looked at the biggest one on the metro map and went there. Random, but it was really beautiful–most of the graves were tiny chapel-buildings, it reminded me a bit of “Phantom of the Opera.” Also, Eiffel Tower by night is very cool.

    Sacra Cour, just outside of Paris, is a must-do. The crepes there are great. The Basilica is wonderful, and has had perpetual Adoration for over a hundred years. They have dormitories to stay at, which are just 6 euro or something for one night (you have to e-mail in advance to reserve, and you have a certain curfew for that night and need to make a holy hour).

    Lourdes: The Soubirous family is buried in the cemetery, so that’s pretty cool. There are fantastic outdoor Stations of the Cross in Lourdes, as well.

    I hope this helps! Happy planning and traveling! God bless!~AnneMarie

    • AnneMarie,

      Wow! I’m so glad you stumbled across our little blog – your advice is thorough and fantastic! Thank you for sharing. My husband would LOVE Les Invalides, so I’ll definitely have to add that to our itinerary. Thank you again for stopping by! May God bless your engagement and your marriage 🙂

  2. Well my advice may not necessarily fit for this trip but I’m going to offer it all the same.
    1. Ditch the tour as much as possible. Yes go and listen and learn and find out some great and important facts about the beautiful things you will be seeing and then in the afternoon, wander away from the group and explore on your own.
    2. Talk to the people who work at the hotel/hostel, are the waitstaff, cafe patrons- all the locals to find out where they go and what they love about the area. I have always valued the home-spun perspective on a well-known and visited place. They will offer great little gems that the average tourist just wouldn’t see.
    These are my top traveling tips. I’ve visited a lot of places and it has always served me well, offered my a unique perspective on famous locations.
    Shelly

    • That’s a great point, Shelly – ask the locals. I think I mentally skipped over that idea because I assume that I won’t be able to communicate well with locals, but I’m sure many of them speak English and/or will find humor in broken Italian!

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