france, Travel

ah mais oui Paree…*insert own French accent

Why has it taken me so long to visit one of the closest country capitals of the world to London?  Who knows, not me.  Wherever you live in the UK, it is simple to travel to Paris whether the French like it or not.

You can opt for flying via many UK cities, a short average flight of 90 minutes and prices as low as £25. Skyscanner recommends booking approximately 17 weeks prior to your preferred dates for the best rates.  Thank you to Skyscanner; these are all the airlines offering direct flights from UK cities.

Alternatively, travel by car ferry which can be a reasonable price for larger groups especially if you have a camper van or caravan.  The Telegraph has a great article with recommendations for the cheapest ferry services and routes available [April 2017].   Car train is possible with the Euro Tunnel then drive to the city, though, I would not recommend driving into Paris personally.

My favoured, of course, is the Eurostar.  A high-speed railway service connecting London with Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Paris. All the trains traverse the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France.  Prices from £58.00 return, you can opt from 3 class of carriage and you arrive bang in the centre of the City of Lights.

IMG_20170621_163326178Obviously, I am already in France and so travelled via train from Tours; a relaxing journey watching the Loire Valley countryside however delayed by nearly 60 minutes, no idea why but more time to watch the fields of gold.

 

 

Thursday 22nd June 2017 – La Ville Lumière

I had a feeling that Paris may not be the city for me however there are parts of the city and architecture I loved. I’m not going to win Francophile of the year but I’m pleased to have finally visited.

Paris is said to be one of the world’s most romantic cities, I’m going solo and usually deliberately avoid places where I could be surrounded by PDA so here’s hoping there’s not too much of this ‘showing affection’ going on. As I’m writing this after departing, I can say I saw no men on bended knee with bouquet of flowers and ring in hand or is that too cliché?  No silhouette of couples embracing in the distant horizon (likely due to soaring temperatures; “no, darling, too sweaty!”).

IMG_20170622_152118781.jpgI have to say straight off, don’t believe the hyperbole, Tour Eiffel is not Paris’ raison d’etre.  It was a little anticlimactic, however saying this, I have to give it some dues.  It is such a significant symbol of France and Paris that you can’t help have a fleeting moment similar to seeing Big Ben or Statue of Liberty. Just those moments were not so fleeting.  These attractions are imprinted in our memories a long time before we even consider exploring their location.

Paris is a walking city, don’t be tempted by the Metro in the very centre of the city, even though I am a fan. Don’t purchase the 24-hour or 48-hour city passes unless you’re really going to take full advantage of the discounts, museums and art galleries. Instead, I recommend an amble, a saunter, down unknown avenues, look up at the buildings, people-watch locals and soak in zee atmosphere.

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Priorities – lunch! When in Paris…. Croque Madame, salad and french fries s’il vous plait [zee-vu-play].  Next stop – Tour Eiffel.  I was surprised by how many cordons there were. I had hoped to walk under it. I was happy to take sideways shade from the rays and then saw some people paddling in a pool nearby. It was as if my hot feet decided to hot-foot me there. I could sit on the side, feet in the cooling ‘milky?’ water (yes that is water under my feet) with a direct view of the tower and enjoyed watching people wearing my sunglasses!

This hilarious chap was extremely happy to be in the water with his t-shirt rolled up like a 1980s crop top over his beer gut and too tight banana hammock speedos – not exactly couture. Ever so often he’d walk further into the water, a camp splash with his hand and return back to lounging against the side.  Very funny.  But nope, couldn’t stay, I’m no voyeur.

IMG_20170622_152805318I know, I’ve just said don’t go on the Metro but it did keep me amused too. Not only am I a hoarder but I really do love train travel. It’s a bit unexpected because when I was a small child I’d cry that people would kiss and hug through the carriage window – I was sure the person on the platform would get sucked under the train. Over active imagination don’t ya think! These days there is less kissing through open train door windows and I am tear free. I bought a ‘carnet’ of tickets to get me from my Airbnb and back again each day, in between, I used my feet.

A great source of easy to read travel information is Wiki Travel’s Paris web page. Sometimes the internet is an overload of information but this is clear and simple for getting into and getting around Paris.  By the way, I have always loved the design of the Metro signage.

The reasons I opted for a ‘carnet’:

  • 10 reduced price single tickets.
  • The ticket is valid for unlimited metro, RER, bus or tram transfers within 2 hours for RER/Metro and 90 minutes for bus/tram. This would be all I need for the longer distances across the city.  However, a quick note, RER/Metro and Bus/Tram are 2 separate systems that use the same tickets so it does mean you have to use a new ticket you transfer from bus to metro or vice versa.
  • I still have tickets left and they don’t expire so I may consider popping back in on my way to the UK.

Remember this was the best choice for me as a solo traveller. I’ve read that if you need children’s tickets then Mobilis, Navigo or Paris Visite passes can be a bargain.

Ultimately if you can navigate the London Tube, which is the oldest underground train network and I’m guessing probably the biggest network when looking at numbers of lines within a square acreage, then you can easily ride the Metro, the Subway, the U-bahn and the Skytrain. I was spoilt by the London Underground modernity and when I get on a more basic train like some in Berlin or Paris, I feel like I’ve gone back in time. A quick note that the Londoners and tourists do pay for that modernity, it is also one of the most expensive to use.

Specifically, on the Paris Metro, I am loving the way people open the door and step off a slow but still moving Metro carriage – oh so blase and cavalier! So French.  After enjoying this short entertaining journey to get to the city centre; I walked and walked and walked!

Champs Elysees trafficThe boulevards and avenues are long and wide. The traffic is intense. The smell of smoke is everywhere. I cannot believe I’m saying this, are you sitting down? I have become one of those hypocritical ex-smokers that can sniff the odour from a mile away and dislikes it!  At the Chateau, I had a few regular cigarettes due to the quaffing of red wine followed by next morning regret.  It does taste and smell disgusting. Only taken 20 years for me to reach this very opposite conclusion.

My lifestyle now may be the success to overcome the final hurdle. Besides my first 2 weeks, I’m not drinking much (ok, so my recent social media may look like this is a lie but it’s all in your definition of ‘much’) and smoking while drinking is my last dissociation to make. I love the social, the pub, glass in one and ciggie in the other. For years now though, I only partake in the menthol cigarette, these are already banned in Brazil and Germany, with the phasing out in other European countries between now and 2020, well then it’d be the black market for me if I carry on the habit. I really don’t miss it day-to-day and if I fall off the wagon once in a blue moon, I won’t be beating myself over it.

The faces I make when I first get a whiff of smoke, well that’s a funny unexpected picture! I don’t have any control over the scrunched up nose and scouring eyes for the source, who’d have thunk it, certainly not me. Seems I need to string pot pourri from my sunglasses and next time you see me, I could be drinking red wine and confidently sans cigarette. Ooooo, what a thought?  We’ll see.

Thursday was one hell of a full day, I walked from the Tower towards Hotel National Des Invalides and Musee de l’Armee, over my favourite Paris bridge Port Alexandre III, Grand Palais sitting opposite the Petit Palais (it is not small!) on to the Champs Elysees all the way to Arc de Triomphe. I saw an impromptu army band rendition of the French national anthem and a dramatic cloud/sun combination sky when seeing the Arc. The Arc is impressive, the sheer scale of the statues and the carving. An impressive monument to those who fought and died, for the French, in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Though I’m not entirely sure why so many of the men in the relief are depicted naked.

Paris fact-o-file from the non-Francophile – the city certainly has panache

  • The Paris region receives 30 million visitors annually, putting the region just ahead of London as the world’s top tourist destination, measured by hotel occupancy. The last 2 and half years have been uncertain times due to terror attacks in 2015, 2016 and 2017. However, the city has endured and overcome years of incidents and attacks previously. I have no doubt the city will continue to reign as world tourist city no 1!
  • Centre Georges Pompidou, commonly shortened to Centre Pompidou [photos on the right above], was designed by the architectural team of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, along with Gianfranco Franchini. Richard Rogers also designed the Lloyd’s building in London [left]. Similarities, don’t you think?
  • IMG_20170624_172824075Even though I am not a fan of heights nor stairs, if you wish to take the active route to the top of the Eiffel Tower then you can climb 1,655 steps alternatively walk up the hill to the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur then finish with only 270 steps for an equally dramatic view of the city… so I’ve been told.
  • The first public screening of a movie was by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere in December 1895. They used their invention ‘the cinematographe‘ to show 10 films of about 50 seconds each. There’s a link to the French origin of the English words cinema and Lumiere but apologies, I’m not completely au fait with this fact. *insert tongue in cheek
  • The Eiffel Tower was planned as a temporary installation only, intended to stand for 20 years after being built for the 1889 World Fair. I’m thinking it’s quite popular.
  • The tower is painted in three shades: lighter at the top, getting progressively darker towards the bottom to perfectly complement the Parisian sky. It was originally reddish-brown; this changed in 1968 to a bronze colour known as “Eiffel Tower Brown”. I’m not taken with any shade of brown – I recommend a bit more bling.
  • The music hall and cabaret are famous Paris institutions. The Moulin Rouge was opened in 1889. It was highly visible because of its large red imitation windmill on its roof and became the birthplace of the dance known as the French Cancan.
  • The painter Toulouse Lautrec became famous following his poster creations for The Moulin Rouge.
  • Only in France does the traffic have to give way to the right. This is a crazy rule but it is the only way the Arc du Triumph traffic keeps moving.
  • If Paris is awarded the games of the XXXIII Olympiad it will mark 100 years since the French capital last hosted.
  • A law to reduce the statutory working week in France from 39 hours to 35 hours was introduced in 2000. The country has one of the best work:life balance ethos in the world and the French sure know how to take a 2-hour lunch.

The day was fun-packed. The evening was not!

I lost all signal on my mobile phone. I do not react well when technology breaks down. I’m back at my Airbnb home by this point, I have wi-fi so I’m not completely without methods of communication to O2 support but it’s never easy is it. It all started because I couldn’t make any calls to the UK. The O2 support man recommended I come off the network and reconnect – in essence “have you tried to switch off and on again?”. I couldn’t get back on the network. I was furious. That was his contribution earlier in the day and he’d hung up very quickly. Over the course of the next 3 hours and on Friday morning for another 2 hours, I was repeating the same over and over again to O2 support.

  • “Yes, wi-fi is off.
  • Yes, data roaming is on.
  • Yes, I’ve 4 available networks.
  • Yes, I’ve tried to attach the phone to each in turn.
  • Yes, I can try again while we’re chatting.”

My fuse is extremely short when technology fails and when support staff don’t read the system notes they must have directly in front of them.  Though there’s no one to witness my strop but me.

I did NOT tell them I had dropped the bloody phone only just last week. The first time I’ve ever cracked a screen of a smart phone I’ve owned. It now has a sun burst of cracks from the bottom left-hand corner. I could have kicked myself at the time, trying to open a door with phone in hand. I now look at the bright side and hope that it looks too naff to steal. The phone had been working fine since its fate with the concrete floor so I was sure this wasn’t the issue. The EU roaming restrictions had not long been lifted and I bet this was connected.

Sob stories and nagging are tiring even if I’m doing it by messenger but I didn’t sleep well that evening, I really do rely on my mobile day-to-day.

Friday 23rd June 2017 – let’s stay a little longer

I was finally escalated to tier 2 O2 guru and I could have given her a virtual hug when she walked me through resetting my phone, I’d gone through the previous day, but she had the knowledge, I could tell. And I needed her on my side! There are switches and systems back in the UK that she can play with, I can’t believe that she didn’t have an override button. I really hope this is it. I played the ‘single female’ traveller needing constant contact with ‘people’ card. Plus I renewed with O2 because the wi-fi connectivity and availability in the EU was integral to my work. Both are true. I’m paying for 8MB of data so when I need the internet for work but cannot jump on a free public WLAN then I can use my mobile hotspot.

After 2 hours, the mobile is working. Drama over. What problem with my phone? All annoyances disappear with the flash of 3G or E symbol of my screen and now, I don’t even have to dial +44 to phone home. Not sure what my tier 2 guru did but I like her a lot.

I was supposed to be travelling today but I’ve extended my stay to depart on Monday. My #slowtravel can be much slower, no rush to my next destination and by the look of Zürich and Munich accommodation costs then those are the cities I’ll just stay a night or 2. I hadn’t even decided where I was going following Paris plus I’ve definitely not scratched the surface of the city sights and sounds.

I’d arrived in advance of a celebratory weekend, the city was hosting an Olympics 2024 two-day extravaganza to promote their host country bid and I believe to excite the locals too. I find the latter difficult, I’m stereotyping, but the French do not exude excitement. There was a great spirit amongst the children and teenagers I saw taking part in sports all over the city. It reminded me of my volunteering for London 2012. Being a Games Maker was truly an incredible honour and I was the one giving up a holiday in lieu of being a volunteer.

My additional 2 nights meant I could enjoy more wandering. I did get lost trying to find the Effiel Tower at night – how funny, I’ve already been there once, and the size of it and it is lit up. Very pretty at night, I can see the awe of it after the sun has gone down and the city’s nick name comes to life. I was impressed at how many people gather later in the evening, at any piece of public lawn or garden for conversation, drinks and picnic. Not straight after work as the Brits would do but after 9 pm. The longest day of the year was just 2 days previous, I had to wait quite late for the man to flick the light switch on.

I’m sure I’ve said before, I prefer to be out in the afternoon and evening, I was a little miffed with the museums closing at 6 pm. That was a shame. I am very used to London’s free museums so I found it hard to reason an entry fee when the sun was shining. Which museum would be worth it? I know how quickly I can squirrel around an exhibition, looking for what I like best and where the least tourists are. This approach doesn’t matter when it’s free.

When I reached the Louvre, it was just too nice a day to go indoors. The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world. It is reported to take days to truly appreciate all the exhibitions. If you do a whistle-stop tour, the BIG 3 – like the safari BIG 5 – are:

  • Mona Lisa, despite the crowds and the poor presentation. To see the Mona Lisa, head straight for the 13th-15th-century Italian paintings section (1st floor). Look for the crowd of people elbowing their way close to the painting. Good luck getting a picture without someone’s head in it.
  • Venus de Milo is a statue of a big armless woman not wearing a top and teasing some with a little bottom cleavage.  I shouldn’t mock, how it has survived since 130BC is a miracle.
  • Michelangelo’s Dying Slave statue is writhing, twisting Slave is clearly in agony, standing in ‘Contrapposto’ classic visual art pose…so I read.  Imagine drama queen reaction to stubbing a toe or standing on a pin.

If you like art and it’s a cooler or wet day then I’d recommend.  The museum is closed Tuesdays, open till 9:45 pm Wednesday & Friday, all other days 9-6 pm; adult admission 12€.

 

I would have liked to have seen The Thinker at Musee Rodin (do my ‘almost’ best thinking on the loo, this looks familiar).  Sadly, that’s how I found out what time most museums close, denied entry at 5.20pm. This was the difficulty with starting the touristing at lunch time.

I pottered around the Olympics 2024 activities, I’d missed the new, supposedly shockingly young, French President Emmanuel Macron joining in the activities.

These photos are borrowed from Google images, thank you!  I had seen so many armed police and army the day before, I guessed he was coming.  Plus, it is the Olympics!  Of course, the President needs to support this bid.

Instead, I took a River Seine cruise, had the back of the boat all to myself. Drank my beer and ate my very expensive M&Ms whilst absorbing snippets of Parisian life and history I didn’t know.  Oh, and past this running track on the river… completely normal, no?

paris-track-seine

Did you know?

  • “Axe Historique”, “Voie Triomphale” or “Voie Royale” is orientated at a 26° angle, following the course of the sun from east to west. A series of monuments placed along the axis.Paris Axe Historique
  • Paris was encircled by a new wall between 1784 and 1791.  The wall was highly unpopular, and, along with shortages of bread, fuelled gParis Eiffel Tower and Statue of Libertyrowing discontent which eventually exploded into the French Revolution.  Take note, Donald Trump!
  • Paris has 4 replicas of the Statue of Liberty.  I travelled past the one at Île aux Cygnes on my boat trip. She is said to look towards her sister statue in New York.
  • The French army was the first to use camouflage, which comes from the French verb ‘to make up for the stage’, and began to wear camouflage in 1915 during WWI.
  • In the 16th century, Paris became the book-publishing capital of Europe, and a long time later in the 18th century, it was the centre of the intellectual ferment known as the Enlightenment. It is said the book publishing was the huge draw to many writers and philosophers wanting to share their thoughts and ideas.

Rowan at Lovers Lock bridgeMy boat trip ended near the Lovers Lock Bridge – I gave it that moniker and there are no longer locks on it. I believe that the weight of the locks was damaging the bridge and soon, with all the extra weight, the bridge would be in the Seine. If you had the desire, you can still leave your lock ‘next to’ the bridge. It’s officially called The Pont des Arts or Passerelle des Arts. Recently replaced with glass panels, it’s almost impossible to leave a lock and, city officials said lovers can “celebrate their union with a selfie rather than by attaching locks”. City officials are serious and not romantic.

Solo traveller or couples, you’re better off heading to Luxembourg Gardens to watch the sun slowly setting. Many green chairs available for the public to sit by the pond or in the shade. I could have been somewhere tropical.

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Saturday 24th June 2017 – Montmartre is the Paris I have in my mind

My favourite part of Paris, Montmartre lived up to my imagined Paris. The winding narrower streets and cul de sacs, hustle and bustle of locals and tourists, entrepreneurial market sellers and souvenir shops plus restaurants of every genre. Passing a traditional windmill was a real treat; to imagine the original city landscape.  I was delighted that I’d walked to the top of the hill without knowing it.  Stunning to reach Sacre Coeur at the top of the hill, how do they keep it so clean?  The view over the city is pretty stunning too!

My Paris travel 5, in no particular order

  • Montmartre and Sacre Coeur
  • dine on steak, fries and a glass of red wine – goes without saying 
  • River Seine Cruise
  • Tour Effiel at night
  • Pont Alexandre III

Sunday 25th June 2017 – old friend, good times

It was absolutely fabulous to catch with a dear drinking buddy of old. Oh, the wonders of Facebook. I’ve not seen the lovely Sabine for nearly 10 years and it’s as easy as ever to chat. We arranged a brunch tête-à-tête. Sabine travels A LOT for work, much more salubrious and luxurious trips than mine. Such luck that she was in Paris at the same time as me!

We’d met at a bi-annual soiree through friends of friends, many years ago; an institution, of surfing (for some), hot chocolates at the beach, drinking, pool, singing, fancy dress, walks to Rock and Rick Steins’s Padstow. A long weekend at the Oyster Catcher pub ‘with flats’ in a gorgeous cove along the north Cornish coast called Polzeath. Y’know where the British Princes used to frequent, never seen ’em though! I love that Sabine has recommended we rendezvous at a cafe called Paris London. Purely coincidental!

Of course, she says hello to all that know her, we caught up on where everyone is and how they’re doing. To be honest, this was more like a Facebook test. It was great to hear of another newbie 40-year-old thinking of an exciting life style change.  I’m not one needing reassurances and affirmation to do things but it is nice to hear someone say “you’re so lucky, the adventure sounds amazing”.

The brunch was fantastic. It could be considered pricey however that’s mostly due to the location and you get a lot for your Euro. The croissant yum! The french toast was delicious… as it should be with that name. I have to stop ordering cappuccino as they’re tiny. Not the same as a UK large cup of strong coffee with a frothy top. This is a smaller cup, half froth and the rest vaguely tastes of coffee.

After 4 hours of brunch and catching up, I headed off to purchase my ticket to my next stop.  I have decided against following my shared ‘Rowan’s rough route‘ already.  I found Luxembourg City accommodation was a little over budget, I cannot waiver on planned daily costs so soon into my travels or I’ll be home sooner than expected.  Plus I’d been told the countryside is lovely but there really isn’t much to do Luxembourg City.  I will go and could be proved different but for now, much amusement at my route sabotage already, I could have put a bet on!

Monday 26th June 2017 – next!

I have deja vu!  The bag is too big, the sun is shining, hot, hot, hot and I am heading to a train station and another location. I’m LOVING it.

Overwhelmed with so much choice and fellow traveller opinion I have had a change of heart from Luxembourg City. The route also influenced by my global Interrailing ticket.  I finally settled on travelling 7 days within one month. I was so sure I’d read that 5 days in one month was available but I was wrong. If you see it on any other websites – ignore – it is 5 independent travel in only 15 days. That’s pushing it and sounds exhausting!

The benefits of a global Interrail ticket are many: carte blanche, the freedom to book seat reservations right up to the day of travel, the multiple routes throughout Europe, variety of fast trains or regional trains, bus and boat. The ‘out of the box’ thinking was how can I really maximise my money spent and take some reasonably long, more costly, dramatic routes through Switzerland and Austria to soak up the scenery.

The aim is to reach Warsaw, Poland by 13th July. Without doubt the cost of an Interrailing pass has increased over the last 2 decades due to the popularity of backpacking and the overall cost to provide public transport is higher but the seat reservation fees are low and the available route map is big.

Some distances are way too long for a solo driver, to be honest even for 2 or 3 sharing a vehicle. I think people forget quite how small the UK is and what the Brits are used to driving. Take the comfortable window seat, a picnic lunch and watch the world go by. Alternative activities available – read a book, watch a movie, write a blog, catch up on sleep. Can’t do these if you’re driving and for long distance, a bus invariably means hours of grey tarmac. I’m not naive to try to dissuade you from Flixbus and Busabout as you can make up your own mind. Friends have used Busabout and loved their tour.

As you’d expect First Class gives you more space and bigger seats. The cost of the Interrailing pass is higher but the seat reservation costs, that vary route to route, can be the same as a 2nd class. When I’ve finished the pass I’ll tally up the costs and compare against the relevant fare if I’d booked last-minute single tickets along my route. See what savings I made by using an Interrail pass…. hopefully!

So? Are you thinking, where the hell is she? Probably not. My very initial thought when I started looking back in London was a location name that has intrigued me for years, way before the issuing of my first route plan.

Where am I heading? Bon Voyage to me. I’m en route to Lyon!

p.s. what was the connection with words in italics again?

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