24 January 2014

Spur of the moment day trip

*click on images to enlarge

One of the best things (that I haven't taken much advantage of yet) about living in England is the proximity to mainland Europe and cheap airline or train tickets. A recent Eurostar sale had fares down into budget range for a last minute foray to Paris so it would have been crazy to not go there on a day trip. Yes, a day trip to Paris, France as a very early birthday present......I'm still in a bit of awe that we could do that.  However since we live a little north of London it required a 3:30 am alarm and a drive down to a train station a bit further south than the one we usually use because it didn't have any scheduled for as early as we needed.  It also meant I got to experience the morning "rush hour" commuter crush on Wednesday morning--can they make those seats any narrower???

We made it to London St Pancras in time to enjoy a much needed caffeine break via Costa before joining the queue for security.  Even the trains have airline style security now, all except for having to take your shoes off, something I wasn't expecting and I'd worn a belt and several pieces of jewelry--let the disrobing begin! My partner asked why and when they'd started doing the extra security and it earned him a complimentary baggage search so I wouldn't recommend doing that ;-)

The trip to Paris wasn't that crowded so we were able to sprawl out in the 2+2 seats. I felt sorry for a girl sitting across the aisle from us, she had to share seats with two people traveling for work one of whom was an Australian girl that seemed to be hell bent on talking as loudly as possible on subjects chosen for the shock value.  Fun stuff, eh.  There was also a signal disruption once we entered France which caused our train to be delayed, fortunately the chunnel crossing was uneventful and very fast (I'm a wee bit claustrophobic).

View and reflection from the train window

Our Paris plan was not much of a plan, there were a handful of places that I wanted to see but mostly we just wanted to wander around and "see" whatever crossed our path. Not sure that makes sense but neither of us wanted to be shackled to a must do xyz mindset.  Speaking of seeing, Gare du Nord aesthetically is very underwhelming and the signage could significantly be improved. It doesn't seem to be a very good welcome to Paris in my opinion, very dark and industrial, concrete everywhere. We didn't have any trouble with thieves/pickpockets/panhandlers but we didn't make ourselves out to be easy marks either.  

First things first though, the stop we needed right away was for more coffee (and a loo that wasn't moving!) so off to find a cafe but we ended up at the most American of places. Yep, you got it--Starbucks! Lol, how typical is that? Well it would be except that my partner is thoroughly British :-), it had to be done though if only for the humour value.  Yes, there was also a McDonald's right next to it.

U.S. in Paree

Love the street sweeper against the backdrop of the Academie Nationale De Musique

Being a typical tourist at the Tuileries Garden

very busy pic but so much to look at

Artist sketching The Thinker at Musee-Rodin

The Musee Rodin was the only museum that we opted to go into on this trip and that was because you could opt to only pay for the gardens which is a bargain at 1 Euro. We also decided to stop for coffee and a snack at the cafe on the premises which was not so much a bargain but it was nice to kick back and relax for a few minutes off our feet.  I loved seeing the girl dressed so brightly and furiously sketching out The Thinker. It was after this we decided to start using the Metro instead of walking because we were going to run out of time.  I was thoroughly impressed with the double decker trains and some of the stations--especially the submarine themed one, it would be cool just to plan a trip to see all the stations.

Gazing up

Next to see was the Eiffel Tower as up close and personal as you could get without going up it (budget day trip). While we were standing under it and gazing upwards at all the iconic iron glory that is the symbol of Paris to the rest of the world I had a very "girl" moment and burst into tears. Not a slight eye water but a full on gush of waterworks, it was so embarrassing and funny and apparently endearing........I never believed I would actually be standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower at some point in my life.  After my tears we just stood around watching everyone else and noticed a couple locked in an embrace. Very romantic, eh. Except it kept going and going and going to the point it went from awwwwwww to being pretty sure they were just doing it for the attention.  Or perhaps I'm just a pessimist, lol.  

Mopping up the tears

The final stop (since we were running out time) was Notre Dame. This ended up being my only disappointment of the day, not because of the Church itself but because we didn't get a chance to walk up the tower steps so I could see the gargoyles up close and personal.........yep, my reason for wanting to see Notre Dame was not because of the novel or movie or my beliefs but it was for the ugly-beautiful gargoyles. I am so fascinated by them and would love to have one or two of the grotesques on my own house.  

approaching Notre Dame

Statue of Charlemagne with a modern addition

Notre Dame Cathedral 

While impressive (understatement) I think I am slightly jaded after seeing so many gorgeous cathedrals in England and Scotland so I wasn't that interested in the interior of Notre Dame.  Sorry France, but I think my adopted country does fancy churches better but I didn't cry when I saw Big Ben so you win in the emotional response department :-)

At this point we were ready for a meal before making the trek back to Gare du Nord so we decided on a cozy looking cafe amongst the tourist crap shops on Rue Arcole called Le Parvis.  It was a bit pricey but that was to be expected and the waiter was very friendly and informative--much nicer than the guy at the Musee Rodin cafe (however his attitude was much better when I brought the tray back up to the counter rather than leaving it for him to collect after we had eaten).  We both opted for a burger and frites figuring it would be quicker than most everything else and what we were served was amazing, even better than the picture on their website, even the salad was much larger and more varied than shown.  

Hotel de Ville ice rink

On the way to find the nearest Metro station after eating we stumbled upon the Hotel de Ville and had to stop for a few moments to admire it and the ice rink.  This was the best photo of the lot which is terrible--I need to get better about changing the settings--but I wanted to post this anyway because of the Union Jack umbrella :-). The history of the place is quite bloody though, kind of disconcerting reading that the guillotine used to be in the area where the rink is not to mention all the other sorts of public execution.  

Overall this was a wonderful trip, we messed up on our routing a little and missed the Arc de Triomphe and the smaller Statue of Liberty.  No museum trips were planned other than the Rodin garden and I want to tour the Catacombs on the next visit as well as climbing those tower steps at Notre Dame.  Any suggestions as to what is a must see would be appreciated. 

Culture differences

What surprised me about Paris? I experienced very little of the rudeness that you hear about but again we weren't here for very long--most people we dealt with were far more polite than those in similar situations in London actually.  The noise (sirens and horns), atrocious parking, and amount of motorbikes everywhere is just like what you see in the movies.  The only petrol station we saw consisted of 2 pumps (gas and diesel) on a sidewalk next to the road--you simply stopped in the road or drove onto the very wide pavement to fuel up.  There wasn't as much dog poop as I expected, lol.  The men and women do dress more chic than in most other cities I've been to but black is still the color of choice in the winter.  The most surprising thing of all though were the number of armed soldiers on the streets but it shouldn't have been considering what's recently kicked off in Mali.  

New passport stamps

Paris souvenir

1 comment:

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