After spending a day in London sight seeing, we headed to St Pancras early on the saturday morning to catch our first ever Eurostar.
St Pancras seemed far too big for its purpose and was a real 'headshed' as signage or instructions are very limited. The ticket machine failed to print our tickets and the ticket office is a long way from the ticket machines!The check in area was unclarified so you have no idea whether to just go straight through regardless of what train you were taking or anything!
Anyway got sorted and off to Paris we went.
Stepping out of Gare du Nord was quite an amazing feeling as everything did look as parisienne as it should do! We stayed at the Hotel Est which was a very short distance from both Nord & Est stations.
It was a bit rough around the edges but was quite quaint and cozy and not bad to say we paid very little for the entire trip.
We headed off to Sacre Coeur that afternoon and wasn't dissapointed with how beautiful it was and the views across paris were fantastic. I must warn you all that Paris is quite an expensive place and all will be revealed. To light a candle in a church there you are expected to pay 2 euros!
We headed down from Sacre Coeur into the Montmarte district - very pretty and evrything you want paris to be with lots of street artists and an elderly couple playing the accordion. Now here is an expense alert!!! We went to an irish pub in the montemarte district thinking it would a reasonable place to stop for a pint! not so! It worked out at £6 per pint in english money! My o/h had to look twice at the bill! We decided to be more careful as we had heard of places charging such money but thought it would just be the odd place!!
We wandered on and found ourself at Moulin Rouge - a very cheeky, sexually prientated district - not for the easily offended. Made us giggle though - especially the shop with a big blue neon sign board above clearly calling it "Porno Shop". No point beating about the bush I guess!
We found a pub here and managed to get beer at 5 euros a pint and that was only because it was happy hour!!! Pubs are very rare in Paris so it is not easy to find a reasonably priced drinking place!
Had evening meal at an Indian next to hotel - lovely prawn pakora starter - definately not like a british curry though. Went hunting for some cold tins of beer to take back to the hotel but no such luck.
Didn't wan't to get stung anymore for over priced beers.
Woke up after a broken nights sleep due to selfish guests banging around to a ludicrous level at 2 to 3 am in the morning (this happened every night we was there and I think when you stay in a hotel you should have more respect for your fellow guests)
After brekkie at the hotel which wasn't the best continantal brekkie in the world but is ok, we headed off to gare le est to invest in 10 carnets each for the metro system.
We went to Notre Dame which was fantastic! There was a service starting up while we was in there which provide some very eerie choir singing and organ music that added to the gothic feel of walking around the place - I could picture Quasimodo shuffling around on the upper floors and balconies (even if he might be just fiction :-)).
Bought some lovely replica gargoyles from a lttle stall along the river seine. This area of the river is absolutely stunning - the scenery and architecture is out of this world.
Walked over to the Pompidou centre - crazy looking building that thing is! Had a mosy round the general area and then decided to head towards the eiffel tower via Invalides - wow what a building invalides is! Inexpensive to walk round and you are in there for a few hours! The museums are huge! The concentration camp museum was quite moving and has some very graphic images. The walkways around the courtyard feel very da vinci code. The gold dome on top of the building is really stunning and we went into see napoleons comically huge marble tomb!
Our only complaint about invalides was that all explanations/descriptions were in french and they had ran out german & english leaflets leaving most tourists to have to have to guess what most exhibits were!
Headed to eiffel tower through some quiet streets and found a shop selling cold tins of beer! excellent! Had our tins in the park at the foot of the eiffel tower - it rained for the first time at this point actually but the place was rocking as a huge stage had been erected with a live band practising for the Bastille night celebrations the following evening.
The rain passed over and we eventually left the park and caught the metro back to the pompidou centre to find a fromagerie in that area that had been reccomended well on here. Stopped to sit in the sunshine at a little pub brasserie we found and had another beer and got mightily stung yet again! It came to 15 euros 80 plus tip!!! No more getting ripped off for us in future!!!
The cheese restaurant was closed but we ended up having a nice cheese and meat platter across the road from the pompidou center. It was reasonably priced and so was the bacardi mojitos that we sampled :-)
We headed back to gard le est and found a bar selling glasses of wine for 3 euros 50 so had one before calling it a night.
The key thing with Paris is to head off the beaten track for food and drink - look for quieter back streets and check the prices on the menus carefully and take into account that they sometimes will charge you extra for sitting outside without telling you first!
BASTILLE DAY!!! We decided to head to Champs Elysees today as the catacombes were shut when we go there.
The french are a strange race when it comes to organisation of large events!Now as it turns out lots was going on at the invalides in light of Bastille Day and the police had cordoned off many roads and herded huge crowds through small spaces.
They also shut some of the tube stations too including champs elysees where we wanted to get off - the metro system again has no english help and everybody was allowed to disambark the tube train only to be turned away at the exits by gendarmes that speak little or no engilsh! Back on the tube again hoping we could get off at the next one which thankfully we could! The heat on the metros is awful at times!
Followed the crowds that were heading to invalides which had a huge military presence. All of a sudden a whole menagerie of military helicopeters swooped in one at a time to land on the park area infront of the invalides - makes for good photos with that dome in the background!
Once the military showcasing of the helicopeters was done with we headed down the champs elysees in the crowd that the police was heading throung the cordoned areas. The Arc de Triomphe was a fabulous sight to behold! That area is very nice indeed! ideal for the affluent with more money than sense to spend silly money an a designer handbag or something.
Went off the beaten track in search of dinner and passed places charging as much as 12 euros a pint! THATS 10 QUID A PINT! One place was charging 9 euros 40 for Carlsberg!!!
Found a lovely brasserie with nice starters, steak & chips main for about 13 euros each - just the job and the wine was about 4 euros odd for a quart - the wine is cheaper to buy than the beer in paris! Some wines taste watered down though so beware - Honestly it is a minefield trying to find somewhere inexpensive and decent to drink & eat in Paris!!! It's strange to not just be able to walk in anywhere for a beer!
We eventually headed back to prepare ourselves (and purchase some little bottles of wine) to head for th e eiffel tower to catch the bastille fire works display that night. It was madness! Again the police had cordoned off way too may roads and bridges causing lots of people congestion!! We followed the crowds down to the park at the eiffle tower until we and many others saw the police taking all food and drink off people entering the park! Strange but true they was taking everything from whisky to Tropicana juice off people so a lot of people headed away again and like us sat along the river seine with a good view. Another strange thing was that unlike other places you go to, no one took advantage of the situation and had stalls selling allsorts of things? Just a few hotdog stands on one of the bridges (that was the only food option).
The fireworks finally happen at about 20 to 11 and it was quite a good display and a good atmosphere.
It was chaos getting bac k on the tubes as they put no extra tubes on and the ones that turned up every 5 minutes were already full! Somethinglike about 40 people aminute were piling on to the small platform and tube staff do not stop people shoving and pushing and crushing on to the tubes at a ridiculous level. That was a scary ride back that was!
At the interchange most tubes had stopped running which was stupid in light of the fact it was Bastille night!
The final day - 15th
We got up and checked out, the hotel offered us baggage storage which we were glad to use although it was just a bar area which isnt massively secure and had a load of skinhead sixth form type lads sat in there!
We went to the catacombes which was a real ly unique experience. Again not to expensive at 7 euro each and the queues dont last too long as they let 30 in at a time. The skulls and bones had been stacked in the most amazing intricate manner - even designs had been created with the skulls! The exhibit was huge! I never realised how big the catacombes would be and how many skulls and bones there would be!
You come out of he catacombes on a small street but if you turn right got to the main road and turn right again and follow the boulevard down you eventually get back to where you started.
Had a nice pizza and some wine in a quiet area near the denfert rocherau metro station.
We chilled out around the gare du nord area, sipped some more wine and did a little shopping before getting our bags and going for check in at the eurostar terminal at 5pm.
This was a bit chaotic as they were mixing passengers from two trains together and checking them in at the same time! There was no organised queues and there were some americans panicking and asking if they could go ahead of us through passport control as their train was 17.43 and ours was 18.13!
The french passport guy took his time looking through
each passport too!Then you go to yet another passport guy who scans your passport!
Eventually got on our euro star and now this is where the eurostar went very wrong for us and a hell of a lot of other people too!
About an hour into the journey the train slowed down and halted in northern france somewhere. The announcer (and all staff seem to be french and not always the clearest speakers)told us there had been an incident on the train ahead of ours and we hoped to resume the journey in about 20 mins or so! Hmm ok then! 25 mins passes back comes the french guy telling us it would be about ten mins or so! 40 minutes later announcer tells us that a train has broken down and the passengers are having to be transferred to another train and the delay would be longer than anticipated! We started to panic as our train from kings cross to doncaster was at 8.30pm!
We continued to sit there in the middle of nowhere in northern france! It was just fields and fields!
Another 40 mins passes and the french guy who tells the french speakers first goves out a long message and we can see some french people grimacing so braced our selves! "I am afraid we have no further news but the transfer is progressing"
Anyway the upshot of it is that we were sat there for 2 hours! We knew we were stuffed as far as our 8.30 train was concerened and hoped we could use a later one despite having had seat reservations which I hadn't even asked for when booking it! Half past 9 we finally got into london. All eurostar told us on the train is that we would be compensatyed with half price travel next time! No advice about people missing connections (hope the americans didnt miss their flights!!!). We ran through st pancras and as I glanced at the screens everything was delayed! Euro star has been badly designed as once one incident happens on the line thats it - the whole system comes to a halt! And on further research this has happened a lot on eurostar!
We panicked at kings cross and jumped on a trining that was just leaving to head up north to Doncaster.
Ideally we needed to know where we stood with the ticket but had we found an information desk we may well have missed the last train up north and been stranded after all! Ticket guy wasn't too amused at us! We told him what had happened and he said that eurostar should have signed a waiver as it was their fault - eurostar neglected to tell anybody that though! We also explained that we were frightened we may have missed the last train up north had we stopped to find any help at kings cross and I think he understood that and let us off. We missed the last train from Doncaster to scunthorpe that we were booked on and had to drag my o/h's stepdad out at midnight to fetch us!
The knock on effect of that delay was a nightmare! and if we had had to re-pay for expensive train tickets I would have gone nuts! Its alright compensating people with a cheaper eurostar ticket but you don't fell much like using them again plus they don't exactly offer much choice of destination!
Ah ready for another holiday now! Loved Paris - Barcelona is my favourite of the two cities though -Paris has some nasty japanese style toilets, lots of smelly men for some reason, and is ridiculously excpensive for beer and I hated eurostar - beware all future eurostar travellers!