A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Paris pt. 1

It is time for the second stop on our Summer Holiday, the much-anticipated Paris- city of love. I am going to divide our time in Paris up into two different posts (this has been determined after editing this together- it’s simply too much for one) and I am going to be splitting them by day for Paris (the rest should be fine simply by location). 

So, Paris, the city of Love. This was just a short few hours’ drive from Luxembourg City, so we looked around to see if there was anything on our route that we wanted to see. We had planned on 3 nights in Paris (giving us 2 full days, plus some, to see Paris). My husband managed to find a World War 1 battleground and memorial that he wanted to check out, so we decided to make a little lunchtime stop. 

Our first stop on this section of our holiday was Fort Douaumont. This fort is the largest and highest of the ring of positions that protected Verdun France. This particular fort has quite the history of capture and re capture in 1916 after being determined ineffective. The fort itself dates back to the late 19th century and a lot of the fort is actually tunnels and an underground network. During a tour you are able to walk through the hallways and listen to the history of the fort, how it was used by both the French and the Germans, as well as see some of the actual fire power that was used at that time. You can then walk above the fort and see the ramparts and exterior gun positions. 

While at Fort Douaumont, you are able to do a couple other things as well, such as walk the trenches and see one of the battle positions (which now serves as a memorial). You are also a very short drive (like a couple minutes max) from the Douauomont Ossuary, which is a war memorial from the Battle of Verdun in World War 1.

A rather large monument, legend says that it was designed to appear as a sword being shoved into the ground and you are able to climb the tower and see a panoramic view of the cemetery and grounds. The small windows on the exterior contain alcoves that hold skeletons of unidentified soldiers from both sides of the war. The cemetery is the largest of the first World War in France.  

We spent several hours in the area exploring and learning before hitting the road again and heading to Paris. We did not actually make it into the city until well into the evening, so we chose to simply check in and have an easy evening in the hotel unpacking and resting. 

We divided Paris up into two different sections, with an invisible line drawn somewhere in the vicinity of the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral. So, that first day was full of metro rides and “exterior” sight-seeing (Covid-19). While the second day was a more walking locations that were closer to each other. 

We started off at the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in the Montmartre area. This is the second most visited monument in Paris, a Roman Catholic church that stands at the summit of the highest point in the city. Built at the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century with the beginning of perpetual adoration in August of 1885. It boasts a dome of 83.33 meters, a bell tower of 84 meters, and an annual visitor/pilgrimage of 11 million.

I have to say, this basilica was incredible, not just from an architectural exterior, but also its interior manages to take your breath away. Inside, there is a mosaic of Christ in Glory which is one of the largest in the world. It is truly amazing to see. We did climb the dome and were treated to an incredible view of the entire city. You are able to see everything, and it was a real treat to feel like an eagle at the top. 

From the Montmartre area we started to work our way back into the city hitting some of the hotspots that we wanted to see. I will make a note, we did not hit Moulin Rouge as it was closed due to Covid-19. We knew we were somewhat “short” on our time, so rather than hop the metro, just to hop the metro again, we decided to skim a few things. However, we did hit the Palais Garnier. 

The Palais Garnier or Opera Garnier is THE Paris Opera house (think like Phantom of the Opera). Seating just under 2000 it was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III in the late 19th century. This is one of the mast famous (if not the) Opera houses and has inspired so many other Opera Houses and buildings (including the Thomas Jefferson building at the Library of Congress!). Of the era it was the most expensive as well as a masterpiece of the time. Now, if I thought I cried/got emotional at the Globe Theatre in London, it was nothing compared to how I felt at the Opera house. The Palais Garnier is easily the most beautiful, incredible, ostentatious, singularly “French” thing I’ve ever seen. It’s just mind blowing. From the Grand Staircase of white marble and painted ceilings, to the auditorium and the bronze and crystal chandelier, to the Grand Foyer with its gold and yellow opulence, there is not a single place that doesn’t just amaze and leave one breathless. 

If those things weren’t enough, I wandered down a quiet corridor and came upon something even more incredible. The Paris Opera House is also home to the Bibliotheque-Musee de L’Opera de Paris, or the Paris Opera Library-Museum and oh my goodness, was it heaven to walk through the walls and walls of books. Of course, most of these items are archival items including books, music scores, autographed items, photographs, and other “paper” items (a total of 600,000 documents!). There is also a museum attached to this section that displays paintings, costumes, scenery and scale models of sets. It is incredible (and it was like a little quiet slice of heaven in heaven). 

From the Opera House we took a quick metro bus over to The Louvre Museum. Now, The Louvre was not in fact open, it was scheduled to re-open (post Covid-19) the Monday that we were leaving so we didn’t get a chance to go inside. Instead we were able to see the pyramid, and the square without the crowds of people, which was pretty cool anyways.

I won’t hark on about this stop too much as we weren’t really able to visit the museum, but I will say that the controversy that surrounded building the pyramid entrance is actually quite interesting. Those who were against it had varied arguments from aesthetic reasons to being against the President at the time (along with the more important of the history of the Pyramid itself- not this glass design). Regardless, it was commissioned, and it provides a striking entrance and separates the Louvre from being “just another museum in another ‘old’ building” (besides the fact that some of the famous pieces of artwork reside there). 

This stop also gave us another glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as well as a smaller version of the Arc de Triumph, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.  From there we decided to walk over the Notre Dame. I will say, obviously, we didn’t get to go inside. However, it was still important to me to see it as this is a historic moment for the cathedral. 

The Notre Dame de Paris is a cathedral dating back to construction in the 12th century. It has gone through quite the long and storied history, but has only been desecrated once in the 1790’s during the French Revolution. One of the early restorations projects occurred in the 1800’s shortly after the Hunchback of Notre Dame was published. It was cleaned of soot and grim from the world wars in the 1960’s and then again in the 1990’s. During the most recent restoration in 2019 the roof caught fire and burned for 15-16 hours causing major damage. The Notre Dame is the Archdiocese of Paris, has an honorary title of minor basilica, and is the most visited monument in Paris.

When we visited we could see not only where the destruction occurred, but you are also able to see quite a lot of the restoration/rebuilding part of it. It’s almost like watching a surgery in action as you can see inside a lot of the vaulting and wooden roofing. The fencing all around the Cathedral itself depicts the fire, the damage (both internal and external), plans for rebuilding and what the rebuild looks like. So, even though we weren’t able to go in and revel in the beauty, I still felt like it was incredible to see. 

After the cathedral, we walked across the river to go to Shakespeare and Company. If you are a book lover (and a traveler) you probably have heard of Shakespeare and Company in some form.

It is an English bookstore on the Left Bank of Paris, right across from the Notre Dame. Opened in 1951 its location originally was home to a monastery. In 1964 the owner, George Whitman changed the name to Shakespeare and Company (on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth) after another bookseller that he admired, Sylvia Beach- owner of the original Shakespeare and Company. Not only is the store and incredible independent bookstore (which you can shop online at HERE), but it is also a community. Tens of Thousands (the website quotes 30,000, but I’m sure it’s grown in size) of writers and artists have stayed in the shop and worked. Called Tumbleweeds, they are asked to do several simple things: read one book a day, help out in the shop, and write a one-page autobiography. These are collected and then placed in the shops’ archive. These days the shop has grown from its humble beginnings and hosts the Paris Literary Prize, a literary festival, as well as weekly literary events. It was a dream come true to walk through the store, admiring all of the books on the shelves (and buying a few of them…) and just take in the atmosphere. 

From Shakespeare and Company, we simply wandered the streets of Paris for a little bit longer. We were able to view the Place Sainte-Genevieve, The Pantheon, and the Eglise Sainte-Etienne-du-Mont.

Then it was off to dinner and back to the hotel to rest up for Day 2.  

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Luxembourg City

I’ll start our Summer Holiday posts by saying, our ultimate destination we had in mind with this trip was the Normandy Region of France. My husband is a massive War History person, with an emphasis on World War 2. He had his heart set on visiting the beaches, the cemetery, and a couple other spots and I was interested in seeing them to. As opposed to last summer, this year we decided to stop for multiple nights at each location (a minimum of 2 nights a place). Spreading out our trip a bit more made it much easier for us pace wise (one of my biggest complaints from last year was by the time that we arrived at our last destination, we were so worn out from the pace of the first chunk that while we enjoyed it, it was a different enjoyment). 

So, in keeping this in mind, our first stop on our Summer Holiday was Luxembourg City. Luxembourg is a smaller country bordering France, Germany, and Belgium. It was a good first stop to have as there wasn’t a lot, a lot to do, but it was somewhere that we wanted to see. We visited the capital, Luxembourg City, which also happens to be one of the European Union Capitals. Luxembourg itself has quite a long, hard fought history that has formed it into the independent country it is today. The city of Luxembourg is actually listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site and on the whole, we spent a lovely time there. 

We arrived in the afternoon on Wednesday and checked in to our hotel. We stayed at an Ibis outside of the center of town (actually at the airport), but public transportation was very easy and there was a bus stop right at the hotel. The hotel itself was nice and clean and had plenty of modern amenities. The boys loved staying in the bunk beds and it’s a chain that I wouldn’t mind staying in again (and we did later in the trip).

After getting settled we headed out to start wandering around. We didn’t have any major plans for that first night as we wanted to do the city offered “Wenzel Circular Tour” which would be a full day long event. So, instead of doing much planning, we hopped on a bus and just headed for an overlook. 

Our first “view” of Luxembourg City was Le Chemin de la Corniche, one of the “most beautiful” balconies in Europe (claimed by a Luxembourg writer- so maybe a little bias? Ha-ha).

Between the overlook and the walk leading up to it, you can get a fairly good look at Luxembourg City and its history (you can see the Grund and the Casemates). This spot was built by both the French and the Spanish in the 17th century and, once the fortress was dismantled, was levelled off. I will say- it was a beautiful look out point and it was really nice to see the river cut between the houses and roads.  

We headed away from the balcony as a good amount of the spots over there we were planning on seeing the next day, and headed into the old town area of the city. We made a quick stop into Saint Michael Church.

This is the oldest church in Luxembourg and its location has been mentioned back to the 10th century. This particular church area has, similar to the city itself, had quite a turbulent history with the current standing church dating to the 17th century. You can see from the interior that the church itself is on the smaller side (in comparison to other churches and cathedrals), but still grand and incredible in its own way. You are also able to see areas that showed some of the previous structures that have been destroyed and rebuilt. From the church we wandered towards the main square and towards some dinner. We ate dinner at a restaurant called La Boucherie (Colton’s pick because they had a cow statue…) where we dined on meats and beers. 

After dinner we decided to walk over to the Adolphe Bridge.

One of the more well-known bridges in Luxembourg this is a double deck arch bridge (with the lower suspension bridge opening in 2018 for pedestrian and bike traffic). Originally built in the early (very early) 1900’s this bridge is known to the people as the New Bridge and has stood as a symbol of Luxembourg independence. The lower deck has become a large tourist attraction and we decided to take our chance and walk across (this was before I realized that it was basically just another lower road, rather than any form of “scarier” bridge). It did provide a unique view of some of the lower walkways and was a fun experience. 

Our full day in Luxembourg City was the day that we had planned to see it all. Luxembourg City Tourism offers a free, self-paced and guided walking tour called the Wenzel Circular Walk. It covers the history as well as the modern touches to give you a full picture. It also takes you through some of the nature walks. We knew that Luxembourg City wasn’t big, and we figured this was our best way to “see it all” (as tourist offices tend to be good places to start in these cases). You can start at the tourism office by picking up your guide pamphlet, which is also offered in a kid’s version with activities, and head out on your way. 

***A Quick Interjection here- if you don’t check my Tips & Tricks post coming on Wednesday (which will have A LOT more details about this walking tour and my full thoughts on how best to see the city) I would recommend stopping at the tourist office, but also making sure that you have downloaded into your phone the pamphlet from the website. The tourist office gave out a City Promenade guide, which will guide you to most of the same sites, but the signs and guide can conflict with each other, so having both options is better. The two pamphlets have different stopping points (mostly because I think they are actually different) and they cover different spots.  We ended up following signs at some of the points and putting the pamphlet aside- especially around the casemates area.***

I’m not going to go through every single stop on the tour, but will give a general overview and highlights of some of the big ones. The tour starts in William Square (which is kind of tucked almost “above”/”parallel” the new square that holds more restaurants and other spots) and covers the town hall, statues, and the Grand Ducal Palace. From there we walked through to the Cercle Cite and the other squares, and then over to the Bibliotheque Nationale (The National Library- we found two libraries by happenstance in Luxembourg City) and the Cathedral to the Blessed Virgin. 

Also known as the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Luxembourg this is the largest church (and only Cathedral in the country) in Luxembourg. Dating back to the early 17th century, this was originally a Jesuit church that was then consecrated and elevated to a cathedral in the late 1800’s. Something interesting I learned was that this cathedral had a fire as well (thinking along the lines of Notre Dame in Paris). In the 1980’s (on Good Friday actually) there was a fire in the towers that destroyed the church bells, the west tower collapsed, and the roof was partly damaged. This cathedral was incredible with all of the artwork and stained glass, it was just a special place. 

From the cathedral we stopped at a couple more monuments, but mostly made our way over to the Bock Promontory and Casemates.

At the Promontory you are able to see several things, the original, uncovered foundation walls of the very first stronghold, the original castle bridge,  and the Bock Casemates right below the street. These are the longest casemates of the world and are able to be walked through during certain times of year (unfortunately not for us due to Covid-19). However, we were still able to walk along the wall, the defenses, see the holes in the wall where canons would go, and much more. 

***This is where we started following the signs for Wenzel Walk, as opposed to the City Promenade map that we were given at the Tourist Office. The signs are placed at various spots that allow you to get the most out of the “lower” portion of Luxembourg City.***

Heading downwards, we walked through the Grund Gate and along the wall of the Promontory towards the Wenzel Wall.

We crossed the water at the Stierchen, which was really cool, then walked down the stairs and along the water. This was probably my favorite part of our entire day as it was basically (at this point) a nature walk. It was beautiful. If you would like, you are able to walk through “Neimenster”, which is now just a social cultural center, but has quite the history as an abbey, a prison, and a military hospital. We chose to head up the stairs to see some more of the tower and lookout points from the original fortifications. 

The signs then gently nudge and directly back around towards Adolphe Bridge through a series of walled pathways (original fortifications) before dropping you at the base of the Bridge. 

And that pretty much concluded both our walking tour of Luxembourg City. It also concluded our time in Luxembourg as we ate some dinner, headed back to the hotel to get ready to leave early the next day. Which concludes this first post of our Summer Holiday.  

Travel & Covid-19: My Experience

We recently got home from a trip to several different countries outside of our own (we currently live in Germany) and I figured I would share a little insight into OUR experience. Obviously this is all very new and things are constantly changing from location to location, but this is what I experienced and saw. 

This isn’t a debatable post, nor is it a place for opinions to be spewed one way or the other, I want to make that very clear. This is a place for those who may be traveling soon or want insight on what travel even looks like currently. Also, I don’t have the current accurate case numbers for Covid-19 and I wouldn’t share them if I did. These numbers and information changes daily and I would refer you to check the WHO, EU, or CDC websites for further details. Finally, I am going to give a very brief rundown of our situation. My husband is in the military and we are stationed here in Germany (I don’t talk about this much and wont moving forward very often, but need to address it for the sake of this post). We have our own restrictions set in place by nature of his job, above the European Union and Germany restrictions which do include where/how we travel currently. 

Another – shorter & quicker – note we traveled to Luxembourg, France, Belgium, and a smaller town in Germany. I would say we experienced everything from strict enforcement to relatively relaxed enforcement in terms of recommendations and Covid-19. I feel like we experienced enough to actually speak about not only what we did, but how we felt and what the experience was like. I’ll be sharing everything from masks, to shopping, to border crossings and finishing up with my thoughts. 

I’ll start by saying that masks are recommended across the board in Europe. In some countries they are required, but not all (for example in Brussels they were mostly recommended, but not required and in Luxembourg they were required inside at all times). In countries that require masks, they are required in any indoor situation (so a museum, church, store, etc.). They also recommend and ask that you have a mask in any outdoor setting where being able to be physically distant from others is not feasible. You are not required to wear a mask outside (unless that specific establishment ask that you do) and I found that most places that had outdoor exhibits chose to minimize the amount of people allowed in at one time over requiring a mask. One final mask note in regard to dining out. In the countries we went to, you wore your mask to enter the restaurant, go to the bathroom, and leave the restaurant. The wait staff wore masks through the entirety, but you were not required to wear one once you were seated at the table. 

Public transportation was something that I was the most intrigued about as it is what we use the most when we travel. We rely on a metro or bus system, so when figuring our trip out, this was what I wanted to know the most about. AND aside from a mask requirement and limited seating options (to ensure people from separate households minimize contact) everything seemed business as usual. The limited seating falls into this: if someone is sitting on a seat, the seat next to them (or in some cases behind- basically the seat touching them) should not be occupied by someone other than a member of their own household. Obviously they would prefer that you not get on a train that is already close to capacity (so don’t pack in like sardines), but there wasn’t any sort of force enforcing that. Public Transportation seemed very…”business as usual, but with masks”.

Everywhere we went, no matter mask requirement, you could count on markers (whether signs or tape on the floor) directing the flow of traffic as well as minimizing the amount of people in an establishment at one time. There is no disruption in any way to doing things this way. In fact, I somewhat prefer it. Most tourist locations know their sights the best and know the best way for visitors to get the most out of their visits. They have engineered the markers to take you along the best routes and allow you to get the most out of your visit. Marking the direction of traffic not only allows them to safely have people on the premises, but minimizes a lot of flow problems and allows you to end up seeing exactly what you want to see without a crowd of people or backtrackers. We didn’t run into any issues with making it into locations or museums due to the smaller group sizes, nor did our wait time to anything get too astronomical (except our last day at a suspension bridge). Honestly, I found it to be a bit more enjoyable. 

Since we are on the topic (kind of) of the smaller tour groups, I will say we didn’t see an overwhelming number of tourists, until we came back to Germany. Paris seemed almost empty (and in fact a few people that have been previous to Covid have said my pictures made it look almost like a ghost town) and most of the “tourists” we did run into were “within country” folks (people who are sticking within borders). I will say, it was a bittersweet addition to our trip. I know how important tourism can be, how many are suffering and dealing with Covid (in any way from actually being sick, to dealing with job cuts, to being higher risk for it), BUT I would be lying if I said that we didn’t enjoy being able to truly enjoy the various spots without all of the crowds. It was a unique experience. 

No matter what country you were in, whenever you entered an establishment there was a hand sanitizer station set up. These varied from just regular sanitizer bottles, to fancy foot pump bottles, to wipes (in only one or two locations). It was expected that when you walked in, you sanitized your hands (and our kid’s hands) and then again when you walked out. What varied the most with this from country to country was the guidelines of what to do after you touched something. This is a guideline I’m not even sure what or how I would advise, but we saw one location where they sanitized items right after you touched them, others would take them to the back (I’m guessing to wait out some time period), and some would do nothing at all (now some of this made sense depending on what it is that the store was selling), but otherwise shopping wasn’t very much interrupted. Most places had some form of clear material around their cash registers and I found stock wise things were good. 

A note on dining out in restaurants. We found that we didn’t need a reservation 90% of the time. Of course, you can make one to guarantee you have a table (as you would regularly), but it wasn’t required. We were able to walk into most restaurants and find a table to eat. Tables were placed at generous spacing and those in the middle would occasionally have those same clear barriers on either side of the table. As I already stated, masks were required until you were seated at your table. In the strictest location, restaurants had paper recyclable menus, but most had standard menus that would get sanitized after every use. Wait staff wear masks through their entire shift, but that is really the only “abnormality” (you could say). 

As far as crossing borders, we didn’t run into any issues. The European Union (and our little area) has open borders and at this time there aren’t any border checks for the countries we visited. Of course, you can always get randomly stopped and screened, but we didn’t actually experience that. We drove so I can’t speak to what planes or trains look like unfortunately. 

My Thoughts/Feelings

Honestly, I was a bit nervous going into this trip. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what the right steps to do to prepare, how paranoid I should get, etc. Now that we’ve gone and done it I have no fears. Well that may not be entirely true, I am definitely still worried about Covid and everything involved with that, HOWEVER I didn’t feel…unsafe in that sense whatsoever. Basically, a lot of what you do (just in general with travel right now) is going to be what you’re comfortable with. We wore masks inside even if they weren’t required, because that is what felt right for us (for numerous reasons). We tried to stay physically distant as much as we were able to and only going into places that we really wanted to. I think once we got into the swing of things it became second nature quite quickly. It really wasn’t all that bad. 

So, that’s that! Do you have any questions that I didn’t cover or that you want a bit more information on? Let me know!