Head Home Previous Next Last

Plan B — Adventures in the City of Light

Mark Heckey is a retired city planner with a passion for writing.

Before the pandemic, there was travel. Forty million travelers visited Paris in 2016. As things open up and international travel becomes more available, it is a good time to look at independent travel as an option. My wife and I visited Paris for four days in 2016.

We like the flexibility and spontaneity of independent travel. For us, Paris became a launching pad for 22 days of independent travel adventure in four countries — France, Hungary, Austria, and Germany.

Independent travel, tourism outside of formal, large sized pre-booked tours, offers the traveler the ability to look at several options after arrival, follow a leisurely unscheduled pattern of activity, and places the tourist in close proximity to the natives, providing for chance encounters and random experiences.

Independent travel can also lead to missed connections, lacks the priority access of large tour groups, and can mean an occasional disappointing restaurant or hotel. If you like adventure, are flexible about schedule, and can handle approaching strangers for directions, then independent travel may be for you. In Paris, you must also develop a hybrid communication style of high school French, hand signals, and mime.

The Plan B style of travel involves knowing options for major tourist attractions and researching the "B" list attractions — the lesser known but hidden gems off the main highways of large-scale tours. These Plan B places often come with shorter lines, same day ticketing, and usually are much lower cost.

Hotel Tim, 5 Rue Linne,
the Latin Quarter vs. Central Paris

We booked a lower-cost inn in the Latin Quarter. The Tim is a 33-room boutique hotel located directly across the street from the botanical gardens and park, Jardin des Plantes. The Latin Quarter is located just southeast of the central city but in close walking distance of the metro railway station.

Our small but comfortable room overlooked the park gates. The tiny elevator barely allowed for two people and their luggage. From our fifth-floor window, early morning light streamed through the tall windows that framed the park and street scene below. We awoke to merchants sweeping the sidewalks, the smell of coffee and baked bread, the light chatter of pedestrians en route to work, and school children lining up to enter the National Natural History Museum, one block away.

There is no restaurant in the hotel but a great spread of cheeses, croissants, breads, pastries and yogurts are available in the lobby and guests can access a roof top terrace to enjoy breakfast and look across a multi-colored landscape of rooftops below.

And of course, there was coffee. The deep black French roast is abundant and served with a thick cream. The French yogurt is plain and unsweetened, a surprise to Americans, but fresh fruit and juice is mixed in, making a delicious breakfast. The cost of the Tim is about one-third of the downtown hotels.



St. Chapelle vs. Notre Dame Cathedral

During a typical September, the lines at Notre Dame are usually long. Now Notre Dame is closed from the tragic fire. We encountered a huge line.

Our Plan B was nearby, the gothic church of Sainte-Chapelle. No line, and an affordable ($20) tour ticket was available in 30 minutes. The church, built in 1242, functioned as the chapel of King Louis IX. Although much smaller than Notre Dame, it rivals that cathedral with the beauty of its tall stained-glass windows that depict scenes from the Bible. Twelve intricately carved medallions of the apostles top the masonry columns. The glass casts an aura of purple, rose, and orange light. The castle of France's medieval kings adjoins the chapel, now converted to government offices.

The Musee d' Orsay vs. The Louvre

The Louvre, the world's largest museum, is gigantic, occupying 780,000 square feet. It drew over nine million patrons in 2019. For even the most ardent lover of art, seeing the Louvre is an exhausting marathon. The Mona Lisa requires a two hour wait. It is estimated that it would take 200 days to see it all.

The Orsay is your perfect Plan B. Located in proximity of the Louvre, this museum can be seen in a day and contains the world's best collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. The building, a former train station, is covered by an expansive glass ceiling which casts natural light on the displays. I could not believe the stunning beauty of viewing the original paintings such as Starry Night by Van Gogh. The stars and water shimmered off the canvas.

Monet Gardens vs. Versailles

Versailles is a day trip event, nine miles outside of Paris. The gardens and palace are considered one of the most beautiful attractions in Europe. A 45-Euro ticket can get you a tour, musical performance, and night fireworks. The security check in line is long and the venue attracts 27,000 visitors per day.

For a Plan B, consider the Monet Gardens in the rural town of Giverny. Giverny is a 40-minute train ride to the northeast of Paris. The gardens are only a few acres but contain the walkways, bridges, flowers and trees that are depicted in many of Monet's paintings. The famous lily pads are still there.

Monet's home is now the museum filled with the artifacts of the painter. My wife and I felt as if we were living in his paintings, filled with the presence of the artist.

~ Mark Heckey











Last page
Next page
Previous page
Home page