Friday, March 16, 2012

Paris, France


The express 2 day tour of Paris begins!

We arrived in Paris after a long journey on the TGV from Munich. The TGV is a bit overrated. The seats are not as comfortable as other trains we’ve taken, mainly the German and Scandinavian trains we preferred.

For our accommodation in Paris we booked an AirBnB place rather than a hostel as it was the cheaper option… but not always the best! Normally the host has photos of the apartment/house, the room you’ll be staying in, kitchen, bathroom, etc, but this host didn’t at the time. I picked it because they had good reviews of other properties that they let out, but none for this particular one. I booked it, hoping for the best…

We had found our own directions to this couple’s apartment and took the metro to the closest station (Chateau Rouge) in the Montrematre area, which is notorious for bohemian artist types. When we got out of the station, it was the Sunday markets and very busy with locals and quite dirty on first appearances. When we got to the apartment block we didn’t have the code to get in, so we had to call her to get the code. First mistake – not to confirm directions prior to arriving! That was just the start of our issues with this accommodation, but anyway that’s another story for another day, and after a beer or two! Advice for next time: book an accommodation that has good reviews for that particular place and also some decent photos of the place, so you know what you are expecting!

Back to the sightseeing in Paris… We only had 2 days and had decided to rise to the challenge of the mammoth task of seeing the major sights as written in the Lonely Planet Discover Paris guide book (thanks Queen Sophie!). The only thing being that we were attempting a 7 day sightseeing adventure in 48 hours and the clock was ticking!

Eiffel Tower by day
First stop was the Eiffel Tower – the main icon for Paris. We decided to buy day passes for the metro to use our time more efficiently. Little did we know that the lines for the Eiffel Tower were VERY long! The top section of the tower was also closed due to renovations, so we could only climb the stairs to the second level. We finally reached the top, about 2 hours after buying our tickets and standing in the queues for security, etc. The view was nice but the grey clouds and the late afternoon sun didn’t do it justice. Still, a must do for any visit to Paris.


Next we headed to the park in front of it to take photos of the tower and find something to eat. As most people will know, anything in the vicinity or with a slight view of the tower, or just Paris in general – is expensive! So our options were limited! We found a small food stand and paid 4 euros each for a small dish of chips and a sausage (which Gaffa naively thought translated as sauce!). So it was a shock when we received the sausage on top – we thought the guy was just being nice, but he wasn’t!

Sleeping on the Tower
4 euros worth of chips!
We then headed to Pont Neuf , which crosses the Seine, where you can see a full view of Notre Dame, the buildings surrounding the Louvre and all of the other main bridges that cross the river.

We walked from Pont Neuf to the Louvre to see the famous pyramid, or collection of pyramids, as we found out. Seeing the main pyramid for the first time, all lit up at night was surreal. As the only other time I’d seen it was either in photos or in the movie, Da Vinci Code. It was nice to see the modern pyramid set against the backdrop of the classical Louvre buildings. For me, I was more excited by the Louvre pyramid at night than the Eiffel Tower during the day.

Did you know there is another Arc de Triomphe right near to the Louvre, but it is smaller?

We took a short metro ride to the heart of the Champs Elysses and walked towards the real Arc de Triomphe to take photos at night. We stopped along the way for a ‘Quick’ burger. Gaffa had a Dark Force Star Wars burger which was very peppery.

We then took the metro again to see the Moulin Rouge, and the real bohemian artsy side to Paris. We took the usual photos in front of the Moulin Rouge and on the large extraction fan out front. Gaffa wanted to go see a show, but we realised how expensive it was, and our budget didn’t allow us to see numerous naked ladies dancing the can-can! Gaffa was really upset by this….

Check out the Moulin Rouge
Back to our accommodation we headed. The Lonely Planet guide advises travellers to avoid Chateau Rouge metro station at night, so we were a little worried about safety, but thankfully nothing happened and we got back safe and sound to enjoy a good nights rest after a long day of sightseeing and waiting in queues!

We rose very early the next day to take advantage of our last full day in Paris. First we walked to the Basilique de Sacre Couer and climbed all the stairs to the front of the building, to get a view over the city.

Afterwards, we rode the funicular town to the street level and heading for the Louvre. Lines were average and we got our hands on a map to plan our route around the museum. It is faster and easier to enter the Louvre through the underground entrance adjacent to the metro stop, than it is to cue in the extremely slow line to enter through the main pyramid at street level.  

The inverted pyramid inside the Louvre
They say it’s best to plan where you want to go, so 1. you don’t get lost, and 2. you maximise your time and don’t waste any time trying to find your way around. There are so many paintings and sculptures in the Louvre that seeing every single one would take more than the 1 day that the ticket allows you - or so the guide book says. So we just headed to the main paintings and sculptures that they highlight on the map.

Gaffa's favourite - the nipple tweak!
First stop was obviously the Mona Lisa. It was still early so we thought we’d head there first and avoid the large crowds that were already heading in the same direction. Thankfully there wasn’t many people there, and we managed to get a good view of Ms. Lisa. It was a bit of an anticlimax seeing the Mona Lisa. I expected it to be a larger painting… And it’s probably not the real one anyway… Or is it? Anyway, 2 hours later we had navigated our way through the various wings and numerous levels of the Louvre, and finished our tour – showing that planning first, does save time and allows you to see what you want in the most efficient way!


We headed to the Musée d’Orangerie to check out Claude Monet’s Water Lilies paintings. This was the main attraction for us to go to this museum. We had purchased a 2 day Paris Museum pass for 39 euros, so we could save a bit of money on the sights we wanted to see. It included everything we went into except for the Eiffel Tower. They also do 4 and 6 day museum passes. It was pretty cool sitting in the 2 rooms, admiring the water lily paintings on the walls. Up close they look like patches of paint splatters, but from afar they are beautiful flowers sitting on water.

After a quick free toilet break before leaving the museum, (as toilets in Paris are far and wide and usually paid for) we headed to the Notre Dame Cathedral. We had a look around inside, and then lined up to head up to the tower for another view over Paris city. Another long line… and after a hot wine from across the street we finally got in and climbed to the top. The 400 or so steps was well worth it – the exercise for my body and the view to capture some nice photos.


We did some quick souvenir shopping and then headed to yet another queue to get into the Sainte Chapelle. We were nearing closing time, but the guard said we were allowed to wait since we had the Museum Pass. About 30 minutes later, we finally got through security and into the chapel. This housed the most elaborate stained glass windows that I have ever seen – well worth the wait in the line. Each panel of stained glass window tells a story. You are meant to read them starting from the bottom left, and snaking your way to the top. It's like the earliest form of comic books!

The Pantheon & it’s crypt were next on the list. This visit was mainly just because it was free to go in with the Museum Pass. The crypts were of numerous famous people, a few that we recognised were Marie Curie, Victor Hugo and Louis Braille. 

We then headed back to the Arc de Triomphe, but this time to do the climb to the top for another view of Paris. After almost 300 steps, we got to the top of the Arc, to marvel at the amazing views of Paris by night. I must admit, some things are best seen at ngiht, and a view of Paris is one of them. The cars, taxis, buses buzzing around on the roads, along with the bright lights from all the shops down the Champs Elysses and the street lights, gives an amazing view. Well worth it!

The Eiffel Tower deserved another look, and we headed there after dark to get some photos of the tower by night, all lit up. I have to say, looks amazing at night. And if you do not get a beautiful sunny day viewing of the Tower, it’s best to come back at night to see it – WOW!

The Eiffel Tower by night
After all our happy snaps, we had dinner at Café Kleber. It was quite expensive, and we already knew this before sitting down – as it was close to the Eiffel Tower and had a decent view. We decided to celebrate our engagement and spurge a little bit. The food was nice, but not really worth the price. You could get a better deal outside of Paris for a fraction of what we paid. But I guess that’s what it cost for a view of the most iconic symbol of Paris.

The only thing we didn’t see in Paris is probably a visit to the Musee d’Orsay. We wanted to do this, but there was just no time. We had scheduled it into the first day after the Eiffel Tower climb, but we weren’t aware of the long lines at all the local attractions.

Overall, I think Paris is a must do for all. But once you’ve seen all the sights once, it would not be one of my top cities to revisit (unless it was to climb all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower). Maybe it was the gloomy weather, the masses of tourist even in winter season, the l0000ng queues or our dodgy accommodation; but Paris felt overcrowded, overrated, overpriced and way too busy for us, compared to some of the other major cities that we'd visited in the past month. A longer stay would’ve been better to spread out the sightseeing abit more and avoid the extra costs of the metro and walk everywhere instead.

Pulling back the pace and coming back down a notch, next we head to Dijon for some gastronomical delights! 

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