Perhaps the title gives it away, but this is not my first trip to Paris and had I not have booked this with friends a way in advance, my first trip would have been my last! If you haven't already read Part I of my Parisian adventure, then I'll urge you to have a quick scroll through for context, because it might make sense when I say I was partially dreading my return.
I'll be real with you, the night before I left, I experienced my first ever panic attack. Now I don't pin it only to my previous experience of Paris, but a combination of this, and painful life events, together with being completely on my own at the time. I was okay. I am okay. And I did not let that stop me from going! Hell no!
With my backpack at the ready, I made the first leg of the journey into London to meet my friend, Thompson. You see, Thompson had somehow convinced me that getting the overnight bus to Paris would be a steal since it only cost a fraction of the plane or train ticket. This was his birthday after all, so I conceded and we headed into the busy, overcrowded Victoria Coach Station to board our bus among some questionable characters.
Well, unfortunately, on the way there our allocated seat numbers meant nothing as people all just sat wherever they wanted. Thompson & I were left with the naughty seats at the back - great for if you have long legs, terrible if you don't want to be squished between two other people and if you were hoping to be able to sleep at all. Very uncomfortable, my two words to describe the journey there.
The bus left Victoria around 7:30pm and took us all to Dover. We had to leave the bus to go through border control and then the bus boarded a ferry around 1am. We were given vague instructions to leave the bus but nothing clear or concrete as to when to return. Well, it was a nice break to be off the bus - or it would have been if a hundred screaming children were not wildly running around the ferry and if everything on the ferry wasn't closed. All seating was quickly taken up and no matter where we went, loud French kids were shouting, playing music and going wild because it was way past their bedtime and this was all very exciting.
We found a spot by a closed restaurant and a staff only entrance where we could lay on the floor and keep out of the way of the crowds. And you know what, we were still having a good time despite being tired and hungry!
Eventually we had to get back to the bus, of course we got lost and had no clue which bus was ours but we weren't the only ones. Needless to say, we did find our bus and eventually we made it to Paris Bercy Siene Coach Station at 6am.
This station was pretty grim, to say the least. Bathrooms were nasty and doors didn't close, it was dark and dingy, covered in graffiti and smelled of piss. We got out pronto!
So, guys, you decide for yourself whether it's worth the cost saving.
Paris; New Phone, Who Dis?
So, things weren't looking up for Paris Part II at first - though Thompson was determined to redeem it for me. We got some 3 day metro tickets and headed straight into Opera where we were to meet our friends, Claire & Mag.
Grabbing an overpriced coffee and croissant whilst we waited for our friends, we sat in the only open cafe with our bags looking rather suspect ourselves.
Opera had a different vibe to what I'd experienced before, it was literally a "new phone, who dis" moment with Paris, and at that time of the morning, streets were completely empty. We took the opportunity to explore a little bit and already things were looking totally different than before.
Jardin des Tuileries
These gardens are located between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre - and I can't believe I totally missed this first time around!
Completely tranquil, the gardens are beautifully kept with sculptures lining the walkways; the perfect place to walk, relax with a book, or capture some beautiful photos.
We grabbed a couple of chairs beside the Grand Basin pond, the fountain in the middle sprinkled water in our direction when the wind blew. Birds sung by our feet hoping for a few crumbs from our pringle pot, the sun shone on our faces and for the first time I felt absolute bliss. Maybe this was the Paris people spoke of!
Arc de triomphe du Carrousel
I had seen this from the Louvre last time but never made it across the road to check it out up close. If I had, perhaps I would have seen the beautiful Tuilerie gardens that lay hidden beyond.
Up close, this arc is so majestic in its Corinthian style architecture. It was an entrance of honour built somewhere between 1806 and 1808 to commemorate Napoleon's victories in the military. Even this early in the morning, the arc was buzzing with life as people walked through to the gardens or toward the Louvre.
Hidden Gems of Paris
Thompson & I united with our friends, Claire & Mag then grabbed a bite to eat in Saint-Georges. Claire lives in France and had spent a lot of time in Paris before, so she knew all of the hidden gems which I'd have never found by myself.
This restaurant is highly popular with Parisians, so much so that the queue to get in begins hours before it opens and their tables are first-come first-serve. We queued outside for a while, thankfully it wasn't raining, and then we were lead to the top floor for our table.
The whole restaurant was beautifully decorated throughout with art, plants and stunning design. Walking up the stairs, the walls were lined with artwork of various shapes and sizes, the lighting was low. In contrast, entering the top room was light and open with a garden feel as ceiling to floor was decorated with green plants.
The food was delicious, we ordered stone baked pizzas and a pasta to share and we toasted Thompson's birthday with a crisp light French white wine.
Le Pavillion des Canaux
Put this cafe at the top of your list for brunch because I can guarantee you have never seen a place like this before. This cafe had a vintage home concept where all rooms were decorated differently as if it were a large 1950's home. Pick a room to have your brunch, would you like it to be the study? The bedroom? The kitchen? Or how about the bathroom?
That's right, you can have your afternoon tea in a bathtub, and nobody can tell you otherwise!
We chose the bedroom, it was better for a group of our size and super duper comfy. We shortly shared it with a couple of girls who sat on the bed for their coffees.
The brunch was a delicious feast of croissants, focaccia, the French equivalent of huevos rancheros, fruit, yoghurt and more! This was served with a choice of cranberry or orange juice and tea or coffee. For €24 we shared the brunch between 4 easily!
Hidden away in the Pantin neighborhood, this garden cafe is all the chill vibes you want on a lazy Sunday. Combined with the free concert courtesy of Sofar Sounds who provide intimate gigs in unique venues giving a platform to budding artists, this was ultimate chill.
We enjoyed drinks on some sun loungers whilst supporting new bands like Pembroke and Deputies. The only rule that Sofar Sounds gave was to listen and appreciate the music, showing respect to the artists rather than chatting amongst yourselves - which I think is fair enough.
I definitely recommend a visit here, especially if they have a gig on!
Paris is famous for art, but have you ever wondered where all these artists hang out? Well lucky for you, I have their address; 59 Rue de Rivoli.
Known as the "art squat" of Paris, every inch of this building is covered in contemporary art. The walls, the stairs, the doors, everything! You can spot it by looking out for a large pair of green boobs hanging off a balcony.
Be prepared for a real art submersion as each artist has their own room in this building and work on their art as you walk through.
It's everything you imagine when you think of an artist running away to Paris to pursue their dream.
Finally, a slightly less hidden gem; the Opera! When I think of going to the Opera in Paris, I imagine scenes from Little Women, Pride and Prejudice or Anne of Green Gables (some of you are too young for this) where they dress up in their fancy clothes and go for a romantic night out at the Opera with their suitors.
But I also think of dozens of rich people with their posh accents looking through those glasses that you hold up to your nose with a long golden handle.
Here's what you didn't know; the Opera in Paris is trying to reach out to a younger audience. So they actually have nights for young people only, and by young people - it's anyone under 26. You can go to the opera for as little as €10 on these "youth nights".
Not wanting to miss the opportunity to dress up, we wore our fanciest clothes and made a night of it. But don't be put off if you only have your jeans, there's no requirement to dress up for the youth nights.
Inside the Opera was absolute grandeur. I've never seen anything so regal! I would have paid the €10 just to have a look inside (which you can actually pay for tours, but it's actually more than €10).
We saw Don Giovanni which was 3 hours and we got a box which we shared with some others. The seating was a little hard to see right at the back but there were some spare seats further forward that we could occupy giving us a full view of the stage and more importantly - the surtitles (yes, it's a thing - surtitles are at the top, subtitles are at the bottom).
I loved the whole Opera, but I'll admit - after 24hrs of no sleep travelling on a bus from the UK, Mag & I started to fall asleep towards the end!
So, I think I can say that Paris more than redeemed itself for me - thanks to my awesome friends! It was like a whole new Paris, I saw places I'd never seen before and the scariest thing I saw this time around was a guy doing a wheelie in a Ferrari in the middle of the road. It was a wedding in the registry office in Montreuil which was near the airbnb we were staying in.
Extraness levels = 10000! But I couldn't resist a picture by the Ferrari.
To finish our night at the opera off, we went for a stunning night walk through Paris and revisited the Louvre. It was magical.
With crepes in hand, we were ready to go home.
Thank you my wonderful friends for redeeming Paris for me!