France – A Weekend in Paris

We’d been in London for 18 months at this point, and I still hadn’t been to Paris. We’d often talked about going, but balked when we saw the prices of the Eurostar tickets – at least at the prices when the tickets are not on sale. Risa saw a deal, and booked a return trip for my Birthday weekend. As she booked it several weeks out, we got tickets for £29 each, each way (£120 total). It also helped that we were catching a late night train on a Thursday night, and returning on an early train on Sunday morning.

I have to say, travelling on Eurostar was a revelation. The station was only 10-minutes from my office, and we only had to be there 30-minutes before departure. We still had to clear immigration and security, however, it was nothing compared to the misery that drags on in the airport. There were no delays, no waiting for a departure slot to become available, no other nonsense – we left right on the displayed time. Then, at the Paris end, we found a hotel right by the Gare du Nord station, and were in our hotel room less than 10 minutes after arrival! If only all travel could be as smooth as this.

Day One

It was a bit of a disappointment to see that the weather forecast was accurate, and the strong fog/cloud did eventuate.

Our first day we went to join a walking tour, however, I took a wrong turn on the way from the hotel, and we were late. Instead, we just walked around some of the same sites that were included in the itinerary. It helped that Risa had been many times before, and generally knew her way around. We looked at going to the Opera House, as Risa said that the interior was amazing – however, it was undergoing some maintenance, and there was no lighting to be able to appreciate it, so we saved our money.

We did however go in to have a look at the fancy department store, Galeries Lafayette, that was right beside. It was much like Harrods in London, or GUM in Moscow – and I still don’t understand what kind of person shops here! However, there was no denying that it was a gorgeous building.

As we made our way towards the river Seine, we accidentally stumbled on the Louvre. If we’d had more than two days in Paris, I might have considered going, but art galleries aren’t generally that high on my agenda. It was a bit of a laugh seeing everyone lined up taking photos pretending to pick up the pyramid between their fingers.

It wasn’t the nicest weather, but it was still quite pretty to walk along the riverbank, admiring the beautiful apartments. Then again, I get the same feeling walking through the nicer areas in London – not our neighbourhood!

It was a short walk along the Seine to the imposing Notre-Dame. There was a short queue, which gave us some time to appreciate some of the finer details on the exterior of the building. The closer we got to the building, the more details we found.

Then we stepped inside and were awed by the scale, and the beauty of the stone interior, and stained glass windows. The scale is impossible to capture, but, like the exterior, the interior featured complex details adorning all available surfaces. I wish I had my big telephoto lens with me to capture it.

I wanted to walk back along the river to the Eiffel Tower, however, I also wanted to go up the tower before the sun set, and that wasn’t going to happen on foot – so we jumped on the Metro to save some time. We still had to walk a few blocks to get there, but finally peeking a glimpse of this iconic monument was unforgettable. I’ve seen it countless movies, and in even more photographs, but actually seeing it with our own eyes was completely different. I knew the stats, but I didn’t realise just how tall this tower was. I also didn’t realise just how intricate and involved the design was, with loads of superfluous details. It’s also incredible to think that this was designed using pen and paper, long before computers. It was fun seeing the other people craning their necks attempting to look up at the tower from below

I had tried to pre-purchase tickets, as I heard there can be quite a queue to ascend, however, there wasn’t more than about 10 people in the queue. Sadly, this was only the security checkpoint to enter the area beneath the Eiffel Tower, not to go up the tower. We had two options – queue for tickets for the elevator, or skip this, and walk up the stairs. Sadly, it was quite windy, and Risa didn’t wish to walk up the stairs. So, instead, we waited, and waited, and waited, slowly edging forwards to the ticket office. My hopes to see the views of the city in the daylight had faded quicker than the light. It took over an hour waiting in this cold winds to purchase our tickets, only to find out that our queuing wasn’t over yet – we still had to queue for access to the elevator. Rubbing salt into our cold and shivering wounds, those lucky to have pre-booked tickets skipped this queue, too.

The first elevator took us to Level 2, from where we were able to catch another to the top of the tower. Unsurprisingly, it was much colder at the top than it was at the bottom – and the wind was also stronger. It was surprisingly small at the top, too. The views were great, and I can only imagine dusk on a clear day up here, with the last of the day’s light combined with the city lights. I did my best to pick out the sights from up here, but other than Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees and a distant Notre-Dame, I was a bit lost. The cloud/fog stopped me being able to see Sacre Cour. Though we were able to see this from the ground, it was still impressive to see just how flat the town is, with rarely a building poking up above 5-stories tall – at least in the older areas of town.

I elected to walk back down from the second level, as there was a queue for the downward elevator – I needed something to warm my body up. The secondary benefit was a great internal view of the tower, further impressing me with the level of work/detail involved.

Amazingly, the queue to buy tickets was even bigger by the time we’d reached the bottom. I’d hate to imagine what it is like in summer time… We crossed back over the Seine, making our way through all the men selling souvenirs and selfie-sticks, and up to Trocadero, where there was an amazing view of the tower in its entirety.

It was my birthday, so to celebrate (other than coming to Paris), we’d booked in dinner at Etude. But first, we had an hour to kill, and went for a walk to see the Arc de Triomphe. Much like the Eiffel Tower, I was surprised how much larger it was up close. It must have been at least 50m tall! The traffic that weaved it’s way around the roundabout and it’s un-thinkable 12-exits was just as hectic as I imagined – though we didn’t witness any accidents in the short time that we were there. We used the underground passage to try and get closer to the monument, but found that they were charging an entrance fee. Thankfully we saw some locals walking up the exit ramp and followed closely behind. I understand the entrance fee to climb the archway, but not to stand near it… Much like the Eiffel Tower or Notre-Dame, there was no shortage of details.

As I mentioned, dinner was at Etude – a Michelin starred restaurant. Risa’s childhood neighbour worked in this restaurant, and is married to the head chef, which is how we were recommended to visit.

I have a rubbish palate (and sense of smell), so generally fine cuisine is wasted on me. That said, the 9-course degustation menu was incredibly well crafted. The pairing of ingredients that I would never have considered complimentary was amazing, as was the textures and attention to detail in the presentation of each and every dish. I tried my very hardest to taste the food in it’s fullest, rather than just eat it.

I don’t have much more to say other than it was without question the finest dining experience of my life – though, it did cost more than our three nights accommodation!

Following dinner we walked back to the Arc de Triomphe and made our way down Champs Elysees. At first it was just high retail, but it eventually turned into an enormous Christmas market. There was all sorts of amazing food for sale, but even though we could have squeezed more food in, we didn’t want to.

Day Two

Our second (and sadly final) day started with a gentle wander towards another recommendation, Rue des Martyrs, which is lined with countless cafes and bakeries. It was all a little overwhelming, and we totally purchased more than we needed.

We also walked along Boulevard de Clichy, with all the sex shops and strip/cabaret clubs, including the famous Moulin Rouge. It’d be fun to catch a show a Moulin Rouge, but damn it’s expensive! There is a large air vent across from the venue, and it was entertaining to watch the queue of people having their photo taken, standing over the vent, with scarves and dresses blowing in that wind.

Sacre Coeur was a short walk uphill from Moulin Rouge, and was our next destination. We’ve been impressed with all of the street art that we are seeing here in Paris, and it’s no surprise that many famous artists have come from this city. Sadly, there is almost as much unattractive graffiti.

The weather today was a little better than yesterday, however it was still a dull grey day, and visibility was very limited. We finally reached the top of the hill that Sacre Coeur is perched on, but from the famous viewpoint, we were able to see little. Still, it was a pleasant place to sit and consume all the goods we’d bought from the bakeries earlier.

Sacre Coeur was like Notre Dame, was free entry, and also allowed photography in certain places of the church, which always makes me happy. It wasn’t the largest, nor the most splendid church we’d visited, however, there was an undeniable grandiose feel to the interior. It felt a much more quiet and restrained place, which somehow felt more authentic. It also made the golden embellishments standout all the more. The artwork of the stained glass felt more modern than other churches we’d visited, too.

The rest of the afternoon involved more eating, this time with friends. For novelty sake, we ordered a plate of snails, which was exactly how I remember it last time – mostly tasting of garlic and butter, with a slight earthy undertone, and surprisingly chewy. The time evaporated, and before we knew it, it was getting dark.

We all boarded a train and made our way out to Canal Saint Martin, which seemed like a super trendy area, and there was loads more of the interesting street art that we’d been enjoying here.

Even though we’d done little other than eat today, we stopped again for more food, this time in the small bar, Chez Prune, that was selling fresh oysters from a stall out the front. I’m a bit ambivalent about seafood, but I have to admit, they were fresh tasting oysters!

Our Parisian friend knew about a fun bar called Le Comptoir General, which was just across the canal, and down a very dark alley. It was a strange location, what looked like an old warehouse, or something else industrial, but there was a combination of African decorations, as well as small retro lounge areas (that had to be pre-booked). One thing that was for sure, they sold great cocktails, and after a few rounds, we were all unexpectedly drunk!

We stayed a few hours, with Risa catching up with an old school friend from Japan. The place was filling up since we’d arrived, but when we finally left, it was incredible to see there was a queue for entry that stretched down the footpath outside! It looked to go all the way around the corner of the block! At least it wasn’t too cold tonight…

We decided to just walk back to our hotel, with a few stops at supermarkets to buy some French cheese, sausage and pate – as well as some ingredients for our breakfast.

Risa had to work on Sunday morning, so we caught an early morning Eurostar back to London. Again, as with the train that we caught to Paris, the whole process was exceptionally smooth. It was less than ten minutes from leaving our hotel, to sitting in our seats on the train!

It was unfortunate to have had such limited time here in Paris, but the two days that we had were fantastic. It’s such a lovely city, and it far exceeded my pessimistic expectations. Though, I hear it can be a rather different city in summertime.

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  1. Amazing photos as always Ross. The Notre Dam is on my list of top five most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

  2. p.s. I think you got gypped with that birthday “cake”!

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