Paris is one of those places that I have often wanted to visit: it’s abundance of familiar landmarks, the treasures within its famous museums. Everybody is familiar with the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe. I have passed through the city many times before, on route to other destinations but last weekend was the first time that I actually stayed there, the occasion: my birthday weekend and as it fell on a Saturday this year, I took full advantage to do something special and booked tickets on the Eurostar for myself and non- flying partner Jan (the man).
On arrival at the Gare du Nord, we bought our 2 day city passes, put our cases in a locker and hot footed it to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. I’m not quite sure why I have been compelled to go there for this purpose but I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed and was impressed with all of the other famous works of art in there too. The place was vast and we only managed to visit a small proportion of it, otherwise we could have been in there all day!
I felt accomplished that I had seen the Mona Lisa, as if it were a rite of passage but the other works of art and sculptures were equally important. Apparently there are 35,000 pieces of art in the Louvre and it is the biggest museum in the world. Here are just three of them.
Next it was time for lunch, having only had a croissant, orange juice and coffee for breakfast after our extremely early rise (4.45 am), we were ravenous! We found a cosy little cafe and had omelette and frites, washed down with a glass of vin rouge (as it was my birthday!) By this time we thought we had better go back to the Gare du Nord for our luggage and make our way to the hotel. Jan the man thought it a good idea to take the bus this time as we had already used the Metro with some degree of success and he does like to try everything. He also likes to think he is an expert on navigation. So off we went in search of the correct bus stop. This entailed having to walk down a very long boulevard, crammed with shoppers, and it seemed, a popular place for the homeless; one of which had collapsed on the pavement and was being dealt with by the emergency services. I saw his eyes as he lay there, with an oxygen mask over the rest of his face and wondered what brings people to this point in their lives. It was something I didn’t want to witness; something I wasn’t expecting to see in this beautiful city of romance. But that is reality, I suppose. It seems that Paris is no different to London; the streets were certainly as dirty and vomit covered and that’s not to even mention the amount of dog poo that we encountered on our travels. It seems the French are not as educated in the ways of pooper scooping.
We finally arrived at our hotel, which was in the 18th arrondissement (district), or Montmartre as it is better known. I chose this area, even though it is the furthest from the centre, because I have seen some fabulous photos of it and thought we would be in the centre of the artists quarter. Wrong. We were on the outskirts! Never the less, it was a nice hotel and had been recently renovated, had comfy looking beds and the piece de resistance was that it had free wifi! This was important to me because, wherever I am in the world, I still like to be connected.
After winding down and settling in, it was time to think of where to spend my birthday evening. I had downloaded the Trip adviser app to my phone before we came away, thinking it a good idea and chose a French restaurant that was very close, going by the reviews. Bad idea!
It looked nice from the outside and was frequented by the locals, which I thought was a good sign. The menu was in French (OK, we were in France) but there were no English translations underneath. The waiter pretended to look for an English version, knowing full well that it didn’t exist, so we had to guess what to order. Now I can get by with the little bit of French I know, and I had a French/English dictionary with me, but not one of the dishes on the menu were in the dictionary. The only safe item to order was the wine, which was the best part of the meal! We both had a duck terrine starter, which was OK, then steak with butter and wine. Now I took this to be a sauce but when it arrived, it was a thick steak with a medallion of butter with dry wine in it which didn’t even melt! The steak was like old boots, I couldn’t even eat it. So, word of warning: don’t listen to Tripadviser!
The next day, was our only full day. We had to cram everything in because we had only visited one place yesterday with our two day pass and so we had to do the rest in one hit! We started in the old Montmartre (the real bit, in all the photos) and this entailed some hill climbing, as it is in the highest part of the city. But we were rewarded by the views, once we had climbed to the top of the Sacre Coeur (no mean feat, I can tell you!) here are some pictures that I took from the top. Finally we were in the artists quarter and what a lot of them there were, all eager to ply their trade by offering to sketch you there and then for a souvenir. We declined but I took a shot of a couple who did partake: Time was marching on at an alarming pace and I really didn’t want to miss the Musee D’Orsay to see some more masterpieces, so we took the Big Bus, after a long walk to find the bus stop, taking in the Moulin Rouge on the way and took advantage of our city pass to get to the museum. We didn’t realise that the first Sunday of each month is free to get into the museums, so there was quite a queue. The only saving Grace of having already paid in our pass was, we skipped the queues and went straight in. Once inside, I was eager to find the Van Gogh section of the museum. I have been a fan of his since I went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam several years ago. To say I was awe struck, would be an understatement! For inside, were many of his most famous masterpieces: two self portraits, Starry Night, Arlesienne, his famous room in Arles ( the one with the bed and the chair) and many, many more. I was in seventh heaven; mostly because I could see the actual brush strokes that the great painter had made himself – it was like being in the presence of a genius. I bought a print of the Siesta in the haystacks as a souvenir. After I had recovered from my reverie, I went to look at the work of some other famous painters of that era: Monet, Renoir, Manet, Lautrec and the like and thoroughly enjoyed their work too. Not sure if the other half shared my enthusiasm but he humoured me all the same! The museum itself, was an impressive building and housed an amazingly huge, gold guilted clock amongst other things. Time was of the essence, so we had to get on the Big Bus again to see the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, where we were to catch the Siene cruise, which was also in with the ticket. We went on the open top, which was a bit breezy being the 1st of March but it was the best way to take photographs. We went down the Champs Élysées, which was very long and packed with shoppers, towards the Arch, which we could see in the distance. We had the chance to stop there while the bus waited for more punters to join and while we did, we witnessed the kamikaze antics of the Parisienne drivers as they drove round the huge roundabout in a haphazard order – well, there didn’t seem to be any order in which to drive, it appeared to be a free for all, which kept us amused for a few minutes!
Next stop, the Eiffel Tower, where we took photos, drank cocktails at the quay on the river while we waited for darkness to descend, in order to see the famous twinkling lights of the tower once an hour, on the hour. We boarded the Seine cruise at 7, which took an hour and was very relaxing but by this time, our thoughts were turning to dinner again. After the fiasco last night, the Mr had discovered there was a Hard Rock Cafe in the centre, so that was the plan of action. It may be unadventurous but at least we knew we would get a decent meal of familiar origins. It was raining by the time we disembarked, so we got a cab to the restaurant, after all, we hadn’t been in a cab up until now and hunger made us desperate! There was the obligatory wait when we got there of at least an hour but I saw it as an opportunity to have one of their delicious Margaritas (even if they were a bit pricey) I also popped into the merchandise area to add to my collection of Hard Rock teddy bears (I was very disappointed when I couldn’t get one in Cancun), so was extra pleased to add my new one to my collection (of 2, the other one from New York). After the long wait, we ordered another cocktail and beer from our extremely friendly waiter (I don’t think he was French) and ordered our guaranteed-to- be edible dinner. I had ribs because the smell of them was making my mouth water and they didn’t disappoint. It was such a relief to have a good, hearty meal and we deserved it after all of the sightseeing we had done that day. We had been out and about for 13 hours by the time we got back to the hotel and got a taxi there too because we couldn’t be bothered with working out the Metro route to the hotel! We slept well that night. (Surprise,surprise!)
Our last day loomed and there were a couple of places that we still hadn’t visited. We had seen Notre Dame from the bus but I really wanted to go inside. We had a quick look around the Latin quarter, which I liked and made a mental note to stay in this area if I ever returned for a weekend. We had a drink in a nice, typical bar/cafe and watched the world go by and made our way back to Notre Dame. Unfortunately, suitcases are not allowed inside so we had to go in one at a time. It was beautiful inside and I took many photos of the architecture and works of art, all the time being overwhelmed by my surroundings.
Outside, as in the other main attractions like the Eiffel Tower, there was a heavy presence of armed soldiers. About 6 in a group, holding automatic rifles, a sign of the times, no doubt since the murders at Charlie Hebdo. I thought it very sad but I suppose it is to make tourists feel safer. I must admit, the previous day when we were standing at the bus stop to take us to our hotel, there was a carrier bag that contained, what looked like an empty fruit juice container and I have to say, I did feel really nervous about it. Melodramatic maybe, but that innocent looking carrier bag could have held a bomb. I couldn’t wait to be out of there quick enough!
All good things have to come to an end and after being here for almost 3 days, the other half was getting the hang of the transport systems and worked out that we could get the RER to the Gare du Nord, and do you know what? It was the quickest journey we had made so far! Only 3 stops and we were there! All of the other journeys we had taken and seemed to take for ever.
As it turns out, even though we had arrived early, we would not have known that there was going to be a delay. We found a nice little corner with a seat in a cafe, ordered our food and last drink (of an alcoholic kind) with the last of our Euros and enjoyed our meal. Then over the tanoy came the first of many messages to inform us that there had been a fatality on the line on the English side and all trains were cancelled! Great, we thought, thinking we were stuck there. Apparently, there had been a suicide on the line and of course, police had to sort it out before they could open the line again. So we sat (and we were very lucky to have a seat at that stage, others were not so lucky) and we waited, found some more euros and had some more drinks. The atmosphere in the bar was quite jovial, under the circumstances (maybe people were a bit tipsy, I know I was!) and amazingly, after 3 hours or so, they said we could board our train. This was after offering passengers to get a refund or travel another time. We were the lucky ones because we were already captive when they announced the news; other passengers were left outside of the departure lounge, not allowed to enter. We made it home at 9pm, grateful to be back.