How to Spend the Perfect Birthday in Paris

Paris has been a dream destination of mine for years. In college, I planned to study abroad in Paris but those plans changed and I headed to Kenya for two months instead. I know, you probably couldn’t choose two places that are more different. I made the right choice by going to Kenya, but Paris has floated around in my head ever since. Two years ago, when I came to Europe for the first time, Paris eluded me again.

So when Ilinca suggested we head to Paris for my birthday instead of trying a blind booking, I tried to play it cool but was freaking out on the inside. Turning 24 in Paris is all I could have asked for. Dreams do come true, people.

First, we slept in until a comfortable time because we were still recovering from our bar crawl fun the night before. After squatting in our strange little shower, we headed out to find a cafe for breakfast. Because it was a Sunday, most of the cafes and restaurants were closed but we did find one that, thanks to Ilinca’s translating, offered to make us a little something. Apparently, all of the bakeries were also closed so the waiter said he’d find some kind of bread/breakfast related thing. We had no idea what he was bringing, but he said there’d be food so we didn’t care. We ended up with this bread and jam combination that resembled what I imagine a bone with marrow look like. but it was delicious.

Next, we snacked on fresh cherries we bought off the street on our way to the Eiffel Tower. The walk was surprisingly quiet given how touristy the area seemed. Souvenir shops and restaurants with “Eiffel Tower” in the name lined the streets but the area still felt residential, lived in, but quiet. We followed the signs toward the Eiffel Tower and suddenly there it was, right in front of us. I was so shocked and excited I just started squealing.

There’s this feeling you get when you’re standing in front of something you’ve seen in movies or magazines or Pinterest. You think you must be dreaming because there’s no way it’s your real life, that you’re actually standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, or Colosseum, or Berlin Wall. There’s no way. But there you are, really doing it, because you made the decision, created a plan, and went for it.

I couldn’t believe I was really there, in Paris, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, on my birthday. And that’s the magical thing about travel: You take this dream that seems so far away and impossible and make it happen. When you’re standing in front of some feat of architecture or staring a lion in the face (through the safety of your safari jeep, of course) you feel this intense bliss and sense of accomplishment. It’s the way that feeling makes my heart race that I’m chasing. It’s incredible. Have you ever had that feeling? How else would you explain it?

So we wandered around the base of the Eiffel Tower and finally found a grassy spot, spread out our jackets, and soaked up the sun. A musician sang and played guitar, children ran around, laughing, and tourists picnicked and drank beer while Ilinca and I relaxed and took goofy #Paris selfies.

After the Eiffel Tower, Ilinca had to catch a train home so I met up with my new friends from the bar crawl. Denys and Charlene had plans to see Notre Dame, the catacombs, and a show at Moulin Rouge in the evening and they invited me along. By the time we were all able to meet at Notre Dame it was too late to go inside. We had to leave immediately for the catacombs before they closed, and the line was way too long for us to make it inside in time. I wasn’t too disappointed; I’ve seen a lot of churches in my lifetime. What I haven’t seen are 4.5 million skeletons, so the catacombs were a much higher priority.

We flagged down a cab, which almost drove away without us after the driver couldn’t understand our frantic repetitions of the word “catacombs.” I had to pull out my phone and show him a Google image of some skulls before he finally said, “ah, catacombs!” Yeah, catacombs. Isn’t that what we said?

I have wanted to visit the catacombs since my high school French teacher told me they existed. Thanks for the tip, Madame Dudka. Millions of skeletons buried under the city? Hell yes, I want to see that. Which is why my palms were sweating and my heart racing while we sped through the city, the clock was counting down to 7pm, when the catacombs would close.

At five past seven, the cab dropped us off across the street. After a minute of confusion finding the actual location of the catacombs, we ran through the door and right into a very cranky French man who was not interested in hearing our excuses.

The catacombs were closed. Entering them now, he said, was “forbidden.” Apparently, I’m a quitter. I immediately asked for a refund. Denys persisted, asking why we couldn’t go in, it was only a few minutes past seven, and insisting that we would hurry. Finally, the grumpy catacombs man let us in and told us to be back on the street by 8pm. Deal.

The catacombs were incredible. I will write about it more in detail later, but it was the creepiest, coolest thing I did in Paris and I’d highly recommend it. There are millions of skeletons stacked perfectly through the winding halls, marked with the dates they were moved there. Grumpy-man caught up to us eventually and mumbled something about us taking photos with the bones. Whatever. Don’t work at a tourist attraction if you don’t like tourists. We made sure we weren’t the last people out so he had nothing to complain about.

Afterward, we ended up at a restaurant that vaguely reminded me of a Fridays. Especially once I realized they gave out free dessert and sing to you on your birthday!

Moulin Rouge! This was not even on my radar when I decided to go to Paris, but when the other girls said they had tickets my thought process was something along the lines of why not->yolo->treat yo self. The 11pm show was cheaper than all the others and I was able to get tickets last minute.

By the time we arrived, the line was not just down the block, it was around the corner and then some. The wait was well worth it. I’ve never seen a show like this. We each got a small bottle of “free” champagne (included in the ticket price) to enjoy while we watched some of the most incredible dancing. Two performers on roller skates, skating in circles on a platform while flipping in the air and doing tricks. At one point, they both wore headbands connected to each other and the man spun so quickly the woman flew in circles around him. While they were connected by only their heads.

My favorite part was when one dancer dove into a swimming pool filled with snakes and danced and twirled through and with the snakes in a slithering, super sexy performance. After the show, we even got another bottle of free champagne because the Moulin Rouge is incredible. My birthday had to end sometime but Moulin Rouge was a great place to run down the clock.

Have you ever been to Paris? What was your favorite part?

Originally published at on June 8, 2015.