My young adult son and I have been travelling in the UK for three weeks before coming to Paris before our flight home.
I have filed nine reports on the UK leg of our holiday, and am adding Number 10 in the Paris forum. I hope it is of help, or interest, to anyone still in the planning stage of a visit to this wonderful city.
So, our story continues ...........
After three weeks in the UK, it was time to say goodbye and head for Paris.
We caught a black cab from our hotel, St Ermin's in Westminster, to St Pancras. It cost about £13 which I was delighted to pay for the ease of getting ourselves, and our luggage, to the station with minimum fuss and effort.
The Eurostar section of St Pancras was very busy on a Saturday morning. We had printed off our tickets in Sydney, and scanned them successfully for entry through to security and border control. All very straight forward. Finding somewhere to sit was a greater challenge! I changed our remaining pounds into euros while we were waiting, and then an announcement over the loudspeaker announced our 11:01 am train to Paris was ready to board.
A mass of fellow travellers moved towards the two moving foot ways leading up to Platform 10. It was very slow as the lines converged. Then, to add to the congestion, a boarding call was made for the train to Brussels, leaving from Platform 9 - by the same two moving foot ways! We laughed, as now another throng joined into the stationary bottleneck. But everyone was very patient and gradually the lines shuffled along until we were finally on the platform.
However, we were not home and hosed just yet. Everyone hopping into our carriage had suitcases, and the luggage storage was full, causing another impasse in front of us. By now, the rest of the passengers were on aboard and it was perilously close to departure time. There was no longer anyone from Eurostar in sight, so we squeezed on and I went to the other end of the carriage to see if there was any space left there. Luckily, there was, so Tom dragged our luggage through, got it stored and we sank into our seats as the train pulled out of the station. Phew!!
The trip was smooth and passed quickly. It was nice to see some French countryside on a sunny day before we pulled into Gare du Nord at 2:15pm local time. We joined the line at the taxi rank and it moved along quite quickly with a young lady at the front directing people towards the next available taxi.
Before long, we were at our hotel, Hotel Beaubourg, metres from the Pompidou Centre. My daughter and I had stayed here seven years ago, so I had opted to book it again for this trip. I had hoped for, and requested, the same room on the ground floor, opening onto the central courtyard but, unfortunately, this was not to be. We were allocated a nice room on the first floor, but facing the street, so we picked up quite a bit of street noise.
Having settled in, we decided to use our pre-booked Seine cruise with Vedettes du Pont Neuf. This was the only pre-arranged activity in Paris. We strolled down to Pont Neuf, and caught the 5:00pm boat for the one hour return cruise. It was a lovely way to see Paris and although it was my third trip to Paris, it was the first time I had been on the River Seine. It was something I had wanted to do, and I'm glad I did. Our guide pointed out the main sights and we caught our first glimpse off the Eiffel Tower - always a thrill!
We had dinner that evening at a little cafe off Place Georges Pompidou and looked in the local shops before they closed at 8:00 pm. Then we headed back to the hotel.
The room and beds were very comfortable and nicely furnished and the bathroom was attractive and quite roomy with a bath as well. The street noise was quite a problem, though. Although we were in a little side street, there was the usual city noises of roaring motor bikes and conversation from the street below. What set this apart, however, was somebody shouting at the world at the top of his voice - either very drunk or mentally unwell - for a good hour and a half in the early hours of the morning. And because I don't speak French, I couldn't even be distracted by what he was saying - it was just noise!
Anyway, that's all part of the experience of being in a different place, I guess: there will be plenty of time for sleeping when I'm home ;-)
The next morning was Sunday, so we had le petit dejeuner at an attractive cafe en route to Notre Dame - just a short walk from our hotel. The only thing marring our full enjoyment of this delightful experience was a couple of persistent bees who would not be dissuaded from approaching us and our jam and our orange juice! As Tom hates insects with a vengeance, he bolted his breakfast and went for a walk while I tried to be Parisienne and pretend the bees were not there! As the 10:00am bells from Notre Dame called us, we strolled along and entered this magnificent cathedral (no queues for inside but already a queue for those wanting to climb the towers) and stayed for mass.
As we left Notre Dame, there was now a very long queue for those waiting to enter the Cathedral itself, as well as the line for the tower. We were lucky to have been able to walk straight in.
Bearing in mind the weather forecast, and that fact that we had only two days left in Paris, we opted for a two and a quarter hour ride on the the HOHO bus with Les Cars Rouges. The stop was right where we were at Notre Dame, so we bought our tickets and found good seats upstairs on the open-top bus. Just a note: be aware that the one day ticket is for the day of purchase only, not for 24 hours from first use.
The bus route has nine stops at Notre Dame, Musee D'Orsay, Opera, Champs Élysées, Grand Palais, Trocadero, Champ De Mars and Musee Du Louvre, and passes by just about all of the key sites that most visitors to Paris would wish to see, including the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomph.
We opted not to get off, but to get the overview of Paris while the weather held and as time-effectively as possible.
By this time, it was early afternoon, so we headed back to our hotel to briefly freshen up, then set off to the Marais, just around the corner. On a Sunday afternoon, it was busy with many of the interesting and designer stores open for business. The cafes were humming. We stopped for the most delicious ice cream and iced coffee at Amorino. I think it was a creamy gelato, served exquisitely with the different selected flavours arranged in the cone, like petals on a flower! We took our goodies to the nearby Place Des Vosges and enjoyed them, sitting on a bench under the leafy trees, while others stretched out on the grass in the summer sunshine and relaxed or had a picnic.
On the way back, we passed the most marvellous band of older performers who had attracted an appreciative crowd to hear their wonderful music. It sounded like the Paris of the '40s - sublime.
What a magical day to spend in Paris!
That night was a lot quieter (until 4:30 am) but that was good enough for a better sleep. We had breakfast at a local cafe, then headed on foot along Rue De Rivoli until we arrived at The Louvre. We were happy to just enter the magnificent courtyard and see the famous glass pyramid. The forecast was for rain and finally, on Day 23 of our 24 day trip, down it came! And I discovered that my water repellant coat, bought for the holiday, wasn't :-(
But we ploughed on, umbrellas up for the first time, and headed for Galeries Lafayette to buy some extra gifts to take home. Everyone else was getting out of the rain, too, so it was rather busy. We had coffee upstairs, with the famous view of the Opera, then tortured ourselves, trying to choose just the right things for our family at home.
The store is amazing, with every top brand you can name represented. Tom, who has a fondness (addiction?) for watches, came away with one which will always remind him of Paris. He had two items on his list to purchase when we left Sydney: a trench coat from London and a watch from Paris, and he now had both - a happy chappy!
We then trundled back to the hotel in the rain, me looking a lot like a drowned rat despite the coat with hood. It was not the stylish look I had hoped for in Paris - I could tell from the indulgent smiles of a few people I passed that I was attracting sympathy, rather than admiration. Another reminder that I've reached that "certain age" - oh well! At least I'll have Paris.
I was also sheltering the gifts we'd bought under my coat, as they came in paper carry bags rather than plastic. Yep, now that I think about it, I probably looked deformed as well. A new scam in the making for TA travellers to worry about ;-)!
We went back to our room to dry off, then went for dinner to Les Fouines in Rue St Martin. It was the second time we'd eaten there. We both had a cheese omelette, served with a really nice small green salad and crusty bread and, for dessert, creme brûlée, as we were in Paris!
Tomorrow, it's a taxi ride to CDG for the start of the long journey home to Australia.
We've had just a taste of Paris, a soupçon of what this revered city has to offer. But, somehow, you don't need a lot of time to know that you're "here", in that place celebrated in history and art and in so many films, novels and songs. Standing on a bridge, watching the Seine flow by; seeing the many thousands of padlocks on bridges, glistening gold in the sun as they celebrate love and commitment; listening to the bells toll from Notre Dame; passing the magnificent Hotel De Ville a couple of times each day; seeing the French bulldogs and poodles out for their daily walks; looking up at the glorious craftsmanship on the facades of buildings; stepping out of our front door and seeing the bright blue tubes on the Pompidou; remembering to look the "wrong" way when stepping off the footpath; sitting in sidewalk cafes and watching the world go past - a crash course in experiencing Paris but enough to make memories that will last forever.
We had a wonderful time and I thank the Parisiennes for their patience and graciousness with my pathetic school girl French (how did an order for two Coke Zeros result in two glasses of red wine???) . Everyone who assisted us in shops and cafes was pleasant and helpful.
Who knows, perhaps we will be blessed with the opportunity to return again. I hope so :-)
For those worried about such things, be reassured that we felt perfectly safe and experienced minimal approaches for petition signing or any other scam. Nothing aggressive that couldn't be easily managed by continuing to walk on our way. Maybe we were just lucky but, as they say, "be alert, not alarmed" ;-)