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Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

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Oxford, United...
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Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

Not a 'question' really, but thought I shall share some of my experiences over the last Christmas period spent in Paris.

I travelled with my wife ( 5 months pregnant ) and my 4 and a half year old son. We travelled from London via the Eurostar.

The Eurostar - we booked well in advance, and for comfort's sake, booked the standard premier seats which were only a few pounds more than the standard class at time of booking. Very spacious, acceptable light snack options and a fairly quiet carriage. The child meals were more adult sized and type. Someone flooded the loo in the carriage ( of course ) so had to use the ones on the far side. There was also an armed French policeman patrolling the train and seated near our carriage...wondered if this was normal or a special occasion. Didnt see one on the way return.

Upon reaching Paris Gare du Nord, I went straight to eh 'billets' counter, hoping to buy the Navigo Decouverte. Wrong. After queuing for nearly 25 minutes, the clerk said I needed to go to a different counter, which was beyond platform 16, opposite to the information desk. I had read somewhere online that these passes can be bought in any ticket counter. Our stay was from the 22nd of Dec, to the 30th. So this pass was ideal as it serves Monday to Sunday and covers the buses, metro and the RER. We took small photos ( 2.5 cm X 3 cm ) of ourselves so saved a bit. Zones 1-5 costs 37.50 euros, plus 5 euro charge per card, per person. The amount was the same for the child. I bought is on a Sunday, for validity from the following Monday to the next Sunday. We had no travel plans for that night in Paris so this suited us just fine.

We headed to the exit opposite to this counter, as it had signs for 'taxi'. Bad idea. The guy saw our bags, the kid and said '50 Euros' to get us where we want to go. We had booked an apartment in the 15th arr., in a street by Avenue Suffren. I heard alarms go off in my head at that price so we retraced our steps all the way back to the first ticket counter and took the exit there, which had a taxi rank. The nice and polite driver helped us with our heavy bags ( we packed winter clothes, boots...) and it came to 18.5 euros in all, which we rounded to 20.

Settled in nicely, wandered out in the evening up to the Eiffel. We had dinner at Chez Ribe, tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187147-… A bit pricey, but as we found out later, in this district, this was the price you paid for a good meal.

Off to Disneyland we went on the Monday. Metro from Dupleix to CdG Etoille, then the RER C to Marne le Vallee. All the signs at CdG station are very clearly marked with the Disneyland mentioned, so you can't miss it. It too us about 40 minutes to reach. The entrance is right outside the station at Marne le Vallee. I had been here once back in 2000, but was on my own and after a couple of rides went off to Planet Hollywood for many drinks. Couldn't do that now !

The place was heaving, despite the windchill and drizzle. Christmas lights, a fantastic tree welcomed us. We had bought a 2 day/2 park ticket online in advance, and had a print out, so we skipped the the ticket queues and went straight to a counter meant for people with such vouchers, got our tickets and got in. For some reason my son had got it in his head that we were going to a disney 'shop', so he was puzzled, and gumpy as he does not like crowds. I think in his head he had the idea of the Disney Store we had been to in London. We bought him a little toy at the start and he was perky from then on.

We went on a few rides, attractions...( pinocchio, snow white....). Ate lunch before 12 to avoid the queues in one of the burger places. Its hard to cover everything over 2 days ...will be a good idea to select rides or attractions in advance and target them, and use the spare time if any to explore more. Suggestions:

1. Be one of the first in to the park..get there by 9 am. The queues are short for the popular attractions ( trains, It's a Small World, Big Thunder etc ) . The second day we went early and did 7 rides within 90 minutes.

2. Take a guide and a programme. It helps.

3. Take it slow...I saw people rushing to do everything, leads to tantrums, tempers and tiredness.

4. Eat early or take a sandwich lunch/snack.

5. Do not miss the Motor stunt at the Studios. I think it has 3 sessions a day. We saw Lightning Macqueen in action, along with several other stunts.

6. There is also a Disney Jr show in there, we went in to one with an interactive show with Stitch. It was hilariously funny. Even for me.

The best part of the visit was the parades. We saw a day parade with all the characters and Santa on day one. Later when the lights were fading, there was another well lit and fantastic parade with many other characters, stories and much fanfare.

Both the days - we reached early and left at around 6 pm back in to Paris. We wanted to have a good evening, either out or in and enjoy the next day, and these parks can tire you out. back packs, kids, cameras, toys, crowds...the day is lost before you know it. We had a 'Simply' supermarket opposite to our flat, so that was handy. We bought supplies, cooked meals, drank wine, beer,..legs were too tired to get dressed and venture out for dinner these two days.

It was a fun experience with family and we all had things we enjoyed. But glad we got it over with right away at the start.

Part 2 follows...

Paris, France
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1. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

Thanks for posting this - it's good to read what actually goes on at Disney. People often have misguided notions about crowds and the "do-ability" of all the rides and attractions. Sounds like you had a good time, though.

Oxford, United...
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2. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

Undoubtedly. One will need at least a week, or more, to get through the parks in a leisurely manner. But that would be bad for the wallet and in my case my sanity too...We were glad it wasn't icy cold or stormy as it is now in England.

Chicago, Illinois
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3. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

Thank you for sharing your first part of your trip! Looking forward to the rest :)

Oxford, United...
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4. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

Thank you. January does take over..back to work, back to school !

Disneyland covered the first 2 full days of our trip. As I mentioned before, it took a lot from us in terms of energy..luckily for us we had the supermarket opposite to us with some excellent seafood. We bought a range of fresh food from there in addition to my work and passion - beer. Mouse in a cheese shop, cat in a dairy farm - use your favourite metaphor; that was me with the range of beers and wines there. Everything in moderation of course and for 'research' purpose indeed ;).

Christmas day:

I got out of bed at 10.30 am. After a slow start, slow breakfast and very slow getting ready, we left the flat around 3 pm. Very glad that the RER and metro lines worked on Christmas day, even if it was with restricted times. We headed from Dupleix to La Defense, the plan being to walk down to Arc de Triomphe, and then along Champs Elysses, as much as our legs would permit. We got out towards the shopping mall side of it, which was very empty and quiet with lights on. We came out on to Le Parvis, in front of the ' Big Thumb'. A little walk around the area, the Grand Arche..the tall buildings..the Christmas markets / fair that was setup there was closed on that day. I would imagine that otherwise the market would have been very lively, active and entertaining.

A thorough look at the map by the information centre proved that my plan was ill-thought. Turned back in to the metro and got out at the Arc. So here we found the tourists. Throngs. Any plans to go up the Arc was abandoned quickly. We crossed the road, which was an ordeal in itself if I exaggerate, but it is certainly entertaining. The street ( If I can call Champs Elysses that ) was wonderfully lit and busy with people, cars, open top buses, rickshaws and everything else there could be..there were supe rcars parked by the side roads which one could hire. A 20 minute Ferrari drive for 69 Euros...bargain !

Every cafe, every restaurant was full. Everyone seemed so happy, enjoying a grand time in one of the grandest streets on the world. That got us thirsty and peckish. After browsing the menus of a few places that we passed, we walked in to Chez Leon ( de Bruxelles ). Nothing more than the thought of a Belgian beer or two to lighten me up...we had to queue for a bit, around 10 minutes as the place was full. We were seated soon and were given menus in English. We ordered the child menu with fish fingers and chips, a drink and a dessert (for 10 euros) for our son. For us we ordered the sharing starter plate combo and we added some squids later. Food was fresh, hot and delicious. I had my first Grimbergen brune and Pelforth blonde. Service was quick, efficient and polite, despite the waiter being rushed off his feet with so many people. Well, at least to us. Our next table were chased away as I think they only wanted 'coffee'. They were replaced a young Hong Kong couple, whose order the waiter completely forgot to place, and handed his shift over at 6 to another. The new waiter had to apologize profusely and re-take the order all over again.

Well fed and watered, off we went on the street again, crossing it back and forth ( I wonder why !! ). It was getting dark and the lights were fantastic. We wandered in to the little shops, displays and other attractions. The ice rink was buzzing with skaters and loud music. Shops sell mulled wine, coffee, pancakes, ice creams and many other things. We eventually arrived at Place de la Concorde. We went up on the ferris wheel ( 10 euros per adult, 5 for the kid ) which was fantastic with an aerial view of the city and particularly the colours of Champs Elysses at night. By now it was raining very heavily so we took shelter under the canopy of a pancake stall. When it let up a little, we braved the weather and walked across Pont de la Concorde and turned in to Quai d'Orsay.

This is was a rather peaceful walk after the crowds of the touristy places...despite being wet and a little ragged by now, it was quite enjoyable. We turned in to Av. de la Bourdannais, and with a few pictures of the Eiffel snapped, it was time to head home for some dinner and wine. This was meant to be a peaceful Christmas day of not doing much, but we ended up doing many things, all thoroughly enjoyable.

26th of December..

Boxing day in the UK, open day in Paris. This was the day we had set aside for the Eiffel Tower. We had booked lunch at 58 Eiffel ( level 1 ) and then a later trip up to the summit. If you are planning to visit Paris, any time of the year, any time of the day, please book these things in advance if you intend to visit the tower and go up. The queues were thousands strong despite the chilly wind. I am not sure what the deal is with random women walking up to us asking if we spoke English, and asking to sign some form...we gave that a miss. Our lunch was booked for 1.30 PM, a set menu for 37.50 including 3 courses and a drink. We got our tickets by showing the voucher at a booth near the north tower ( well hidden ) and headed to the entrance reserved for people with pre-booked tickets. It had a small queue too and after passing the security check, a short wait for the lift and we were up.

We had to wait for a while for the table and were seated by 1.50. I was told not to eat at the Eiffel tower by at 2 different people ( both from Paris ), after I had booked the meal. I booked it purely for the experience and it would have been the price elsewhere anyway. For choice of drink we could have a glass of wine, beer or a soft drink or bottled water. What we had ordered was printed on a slip but the waiter offered other choices if had a change of mind. The child's meal was larger than ours ( just like Eurostar's )...Prawns, Spaghetti in tomato cheese sauce and an Eiffel tower shaped chocolate mousse, all with a fresh glass of raspberry juice. Very nice. For us we had a delicious lamb terrine, super soft fillet of beef and a pudding which I cant remember but all were tasty indeed. Coffee was included too...

An American couple next to us had booked the pricier menu ( 82 euros I think )..looked like they more or less had the same as we did but they had the option of ordering from a menu card, and glass of champagne each. Of which they left most out. Perhaps that's where people feel that they haven't received right value for their money. We also had a nice table with the view of the Trocadero and the river.

A photographer comes round asking to take pictures and one can also say no. Even if he or she takes pictures, you don't' have to buy one. We did buy a couple (10 euros each ! ).

We took the lift down as we had more than an hour to spend. Walked down to the river and bought tickets for boat cruise down the Seine with Bateaux Parisiens, which is valid for a month from the date of purchase. Dodged through the many, many souvenir sellers and walked along the gardens on the other side of the tower. We went back to the quick-entry queue at about 16.50 for our lift to the summit. Pre-booking this via the Eiffel tower website was an odd experience. Slots were available or unavailable at random times as if they release only a certain time and date everyday. The 26th of December, this slot wasn't available to book at an earlier day ( say the 15th of November) but the 30th of December was available ( on the 15th of November ). I looked again on the 20th of November, and this slot on the 26th had opened up. Quite bizarre, considering I had looked a few times on the Eiffel website all through November and 26th of December ( the date we visited eventually ) came up as sold out. I know cancellations can happen, but this is weird. You'll see if you tried to book it.

So up we went again, changed lifts at level 2. The best places for photographs would be from level 1 and 2. The summit views are breathtaking but unless you have a super camera, it remains a feast for your senses then and there. Lifts can be a bit crowded when coming back down but everyone seems to be in jolly spirits. We were lucky to have had a day with clear skies and no rain. We were back down before 7 pm. After a small round of voting we decided we had enough left in us to take the boat tour, so rushed off to take the 7 pm tour. The the Batueax Parisiens boats leave from the Eiffel side of the river and perhaps are a smaller outfit than the other Batueax Mouches. Nevertheless it was a night to remember as Paris at night always is. We had a guise who spoke to people in 5 languages and also the audio commentary. I sat outside of the boat on the right hand side...which turned out to be a mistake as I missed the night view of the Notre Dame cathedral as it appears on the left hand side as the boat travels up and and back down the river. Sit on the left as you start the cruise and you will get the view of both sides and the Notre Dame.

We were back at 8, and asking anything more of my family would have resulted me taking a dip in the cold waters of the Seine, so back under the Eiffel, which looks magnificent at night, especially with the added Christmas glitter.

We prepared some meals at home again, choosing comfort over style, needing to put our feet up..

That was part 2...more to follow.

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5. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

This is a great post on travelling with a small child. Sound like he has the makings of a great traveller!

Oxford, United...
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6. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

The last part of this slow and dragging post...

The 2 days that followed, we had set aside for Museums and old Paris. On the 27th of December, we left for the Musee d'Orsay. Very long queues by 10 am, we went to a little shop by the steps to buy our Museum pass. We bought 2 X 2-day passes ( most Museums are free tochildren, check the websites ). The shopkeeper only takes cash, so have enough for this. There was a short queue for the fast track entry, as there seemed to be several kinds of fast tracks ( couch tours prebooked, Museum passes and few others ). There is a security check, so be prepared to open bags etc. Musee d'Orsay does not allow back packs and a few other baggage, so you will need to leave them at the counter. Another queue.

By chance we wandered in to the special exhibit...'Masculin'. I had not researched the museums exhibits, wanting to leave some experiences to surprise and imagination, but what a surprise this was. Sculptures, photos, paintings, films, posters..all depicting the male nudity in classical and contemporary forms. Lots of pointing, giggles, smirks, raised eyebrows and what not..everyone had bemused expressions on their faces. I think this is still on, and there is a short film representing this exhibit on the museum's website. This museum also does not allow photos, which is quite nice in many ways.

I had a wander through several floors, through the popular ( van Gogh.)..and well known pieces to other spectacular pieces. I suppose, to go through in a leisurely manner, you will need at least a day. We headed out after 3 hours, as we had a cruise booked with Canauxrama. We needed to get to Arsenal Maria ( Bastille metro ). We werent sure if we had reached the right place but for a small, closed Canauxrama kiosk. but we spotted a cruise boat with the signs so we waited for our 2.45 departure. The 'dock' looks quire run down with no shops or stalls near by. There is a restaurant in place, though. I assume it would be busy in the summer. Eventually the boat was full, nearly 70 people. The boar cruises along the canal St. Martin, under the city of Paris. It is a slow cruise, taking in sights of old Paris, the many locks, heading north. This was not a dinner or a lunch cruise..just sight seeing. One could buy from a small selection of drinks on board. There is a live guide who explains in French and English. The cruise ends at Bassin de la Villette ( Metro Jaures ). It was enjoyable, perhaps a little tedious as we are now new to the concept of 'locks'..but good value for money, a little off the beaten track.

Headed back again down to Central Paris, thought we'll explore Bercy a little. So walked along Quai de la Rappee - didnt find the area very exciting. Legs were tired again so, took the Metro back in to the 15th. There was a little Chinese food takeaway selling dishes by their weight near the LMP Grenelle station...dinner done.

Le Louvre was on the agenda, so a very early start indeed to beat the queues, as we realised even the fast track entry points had a significant number of people, mostly due to coach tours. Luckily we were one of the early birds, so straight in with the Museum pass. This is a bit more relaxed than the d'Orsay. back packs OK, photos OK., which also has its flip side. Hordes lingering in front of the popular ones, people more intent on photos, than the real piece. We wanted to get the big ones out of the way..so Mona Lisa and other da Vincis were dealt with first. I could have spent a whole day looking at the Italian section, amazing works of art. Always remember to take a map of the section and for that, the Louvre is well designed. Lot of places to eat, small and fancy..and little coffee shops on the aisles by the entrances to the different sections. We visited the ancient Egypt section, French classical arts, Napoleon's private chambers, dining room.. Half a day doesnt do justice to this wonderful place. We needed a bit of lunch...but the crowded food court/village type this was too industrious for us, after the museum. So we headed out, ro Rue d'echelle. We found a gem caled Zen, a very busy Japanese restaurant, with amazing freshly cooked food with one of the best staff we found in Paris. Ate more than we intended to, so walked back along Rue de Rivoli, turned right towards the Seine, and crossed the bridge to head towards Notre dame cathedral. The queue was several streets long, and the museum pass doesnt fast track you here. The quese would have been too tiring to handle for my wife pregnant wife, so we walked around the cathedral. Interesting to see some one has inserted a long-handled broom in to Charlemagne's armoury.

Walked slowly back to the other side of the river, to the Pompidou. We sat outside the centre for some ice cream, cheese and beer and just relaxing. We just wanted a quick tour of the centre, but it is big ! The Museum pass does get you in here, but you have to leave your bags downstairs at the cloak. We saw many works of contemporary art...many things here that children would find interesting. the shop downstairs has some quirky pieces, unique pieces of everyday household stuff made by designers, rather pricey. That was the Saturday done, a thoroughly enjoyable day.

My wife and son stayed home on the Sunday morning. I woke up early to head to the Pere Lechaise cemetery. As pointed out by many online, I got off the train at Gambetta, from where it is downhill to the cemetery gates. Literally. I had also downloaded a map of the cemetery which also marks the graves of some famous people. Even with a map, this place is quite a maze and amazingly different. Great monuments to martyrs of wars and victims of gas chambers at Auschwitz. I went early, so at times there was no one but me and the dead all around under a gloomy sky, a few ravens croaking around. Walked down the way to pay my respects to Edith Piaf, and down to Fredric Chopin. 90% of tourists who come here are here to see Jim Morrison's grave and it is quite a job to get there, if coming from Gambetta end. I was one of the first, and found that this was the only grave with a guard and a cordon around the grave. Apparently his revelers used to soil the graves nearby, so those families had asked the for JM's body to be exhumed and moved back to the US. Then I went to a central area, where i just sat, and pointed about 40 people towards JM. If you intend to visit this place, do not underestimate the size. Please take a map with you. I handed mine to a large family of 4 on my way out.

Headed back to the apartment and we ventured out to explore Paris on a bus. The all the way to Republique, had lunch at Leon de Buxelles, and back on a bus towards Opera. It is a very different experience, travelling on a bus in Paris. If you have the time, please do so...

Back to the apartment, cleaned up , packed. Train back in to London the next day...so, au revior it was.

Paris, France
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7. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed report.

I think the information about backpacks, etc is very valuable - especially for those who might feel uncomfortable leaving them in storage.

Good tips, too, about timing and crowds.

Sounds like you enjoyed yourself, but were glad to get back home - playing tourist is hard work!

Oxford, United...
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8. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

We loved every minute of it. In fact when we were on the train, back in London, I was smiling in general at fellow commuters ( you know..the awkward eye contact moments ). then realised, oops ! no longer in Paris. You dont do that in London !

If my wife didnt have a medical appointment on the 2nd of Jan, we would have spend the NYE & D there too.

I am not wild about carrying back packs and things, but with a kid, cameras and such..it is inevitable. We hope to do Paris again, preferably when in UK schools are closed but open in Paris..

Paris, France
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9. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

I would like to point out that even when the queue to get into Notre Dame looks absolutely huge, it never takes more than about 15 minutes -- there is no security or anything and the only reason that a queue builds up is because the door to go in is narrow.

Queuing up to climb the towers is another matter...

Victoria, Canada
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10. Re: Christmas in Paris, 2013 - Part 1.

Glad Kerouac pointed that out.. as it was my thought to do so too.. the line for the Cathederal is just a bottle neck at the entrance.. no matter how long it looks it does move steadily.. last time we were there in summer and the line went all the way back to end of square,, then zig zagged traversing it several more times.. it still only took maybe 25 minutes.. Also the church is free to everyone.

And yes. the Towers are another matter entirely!!! Long slow lines that make getting there before it opens rather important unless you want to stand in line for hours.

I really enjoyed all the details in your trip report.. sounds like you really thought out everything quite well and I imagine there will be other visits in the future to look forward to( you are so lucky only a few hours away!) .

Good on you for dodging the private taxi driver who tried to rip you off!