It’s taken a while to write this post, and there’s been a multitude of reasons. Life has been busy with a lot of things happening to stop me scribing in the evenings. Add to that a bout of whatever it is that has been going around and suddenly the weeks have rushed past and it’s been nearly a month. There is another reason that will become more obvious at the end of the second post, but I won’t say anything more now.
Recently I had to apply for a new passport, nothing serious or blog worthy in that respect, though I was very impressed with how quickly everything got sorted. (I clearly applied at the right time!) An I have to admit that I do like the design of the new passport with the images on the pages. Having got something new, I thought it would be a good idea to test it out. There was also an opportunity to take Eurostar up on their anniversary discount price of £59 return to Paris for a day trip and I have a good friend who has never been. Obviously in terms of order of importance these factors are reversed, and so a day trip to Paris in January was booked and planned.
I’ve been to Paris a number of times in a number of different guises. I’ve been there for day trips, part of a longer holiday elsewhere in France, even as a result of work. I like it because it’s a very different city to most. There is a certain vibe to it that I enjoy, even if my language skills really aren’t up to having a long conversation in French. It also meant that for my friend who had never been before, I was able to tell them a bit about the place and know what would be possible to achieve in the day that we had there.
Early in the morning we set off for Ebbsfleet (a cheaper and quicker option than London) to meet up with the train. The journey was uneventful and we had a good chat and some ‘travel breakfast’ enroute. Ebbsfleet as a terminal is convenient but it’s not the best place to have to wait. While there are facilities, they are minimal and I’ve known the place to be quite crowded. Fortunately as this was a week day and still early in the morning, the terminal was quite empty. The train itself was still busy, with the majority getting on at London, but the seats are very spacious and even in standard class it’s a comfortable couple of hours. For my friend it was also their first time on the Eurostar and they were equally impressed with the service. I always find it funny that you don’t really realise quite how fast you are travelling until you link up with the motorway in France where you see all the cars speeding off into the distance, behind you, despite the fact they are doing about 100kph. Modern technology enabled me to track how fast we went and we were close to 3 times that speed, so it was little wonder the cars vanished backwards.
We were wrapped up warm and it was just as well as it was an overcast, almost foggy Paris that greeted us. We could see it coming from a little way out but didn’t actually surface onto the Paris streets until we were more or less at our first stop, Notre Dame. There were still plenty of Christmas decorations up, so that helped keep a fun festive feel despite the weather, but we had some photos in front, including some of the ‘silly’ ones where you try to look as if you have your hand on the top of the tower before heading into the cathedral. It’s nice that this is something you can do for free and the architecture and stain glass windows are incredible.
A good reverent hush was present as we strolled around before heading onto something new for me on the trip. For a little extra you can queue up and go up the towers. It’s not much and I would have to say that it’s worth the price, especially as we didn’t have to queue too long.
On a clearer day it would be a great chance to get photos of the Paris landscape with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Today, sadly you couldn’t even see the tower.
Heading back down, it was already lunch time. Having ‘lost’ an hour in terms of time difference and had two hours on the train, it wasn’t too surprising and we took the chance to get in from the cold, warm up and have a light bite to eat. There are many places you can do this without relying on a ‘chain’ and again this is one of the nice things about Paris. Suitably filled, we headed out to stretch our legs along the bank of the river.
I’ve never been in the Lourve. As of writing, this is still the case. I’ve been told you can spend several days looking around it if you wanted to and that most people spend ages queuing up to see the Mona Lisa and get to see very little else. I’m sure a time will come when I do get to have a look around, but as the weather was dry and we were able to see the big ‘outdoor’ attractions, all we had lined up for the Lourve was to walk alongside it and grab some photos with the pyramid. It’s still a long walk to go from one end to the other, but it does reinforce the places size.
Carrying on from the Lourve through the gardens you can only but be impressed with how things must have been in the past, coming down the avenue on horse or in a carriage, through these long gardens to the palace that now is the Lourve.
Our target in terms of the walk was the Arc de Triomphe. We didn’t take the direct route as we stopped off at the Place de Concorde and walked between Le Petit Palais and the Grand Palais. Again these are places I have yet to go in, but on a longer visit or damper weather they are on my list. Just walking past them though is impressive. The Champs Elyssees for me, while being famous and something someone should walk up once at least for the history of it, is now too commercial. There is very little atmosphere there now where you would want to sit and have a coffee. Smaller cafés in backstreets now hold that honour. However as it was an easy way to get to the Arc de Triomphe and see it grow in stature as you walk towards, we walked past the mass of commerciality that the road has become.
We didn’t stay long at the Arc. It was quite busy and neither of us felt the need to get up close to it on this occasion. Instead we caught the metro to the next attraction. For those who have never used the French Metro, it is a fine example of an integrated network and they have had a far better understanding of how to arrange tickets for people for a lot longer than we have had in the UK. Over 20 years on, things haven’t changed, but they haven’t needed to as it’s a good system.
Our final attraction of the day was, of course, the Eiffel Tower. Due to its size, unless you head there first, it’s rare that people get the best first sighting of the tower, in my opinion. The foggy weather had helped in achieving this a little as we’d only really caught glimpses of this. For me, the best view is coming down from the Trocadero. I know some people prefer the view from the gardens at the other end, but with all the fences now in place, I feel the Torcadero frames the tower better.
We had taken advice and booked our lifts well in advance and having left plenty of time, has some time to stroll around at the bottom, taking photos etc. It also brought us into close contact with a more shady side of tourism in Paris. I had been warned about this in advance as well, so we were able to divert from what was ahead. I’ve not seen this in other places, but in Paris there is an issue with people attaching string to your finger and insisting that you then pay for it. Apparently they can be quite forceful in how this is done, grabbing your hand and working in a group to provide intimidation. Thankfully I spotted them from a distance and we took a slightly different route to a photo opportunity location. I did keep an eye of the groups and to be honest they did seem to be leaving people alone if they weren’t interested, but at the same time, I didn’t want to take the chance.
Our pre-booked tickets to go up the tower were a blessing. Our queue time was virtually nothing, while those who hadn’t, from the looks of the queues, would be waiting for at least another 2 hours.
I had planned our visit to the tower to be for sunset. Today, while that wasn’t an error, there wasn’t going to be a sunset and the views weren’t the best as there was only so far you could see.
The foggy weather wasn’t all bad though, as it did mean that there was the opportunity to get photos of the tower (which I cannot post because they are of the tower lit up and the lighting artwork is classed as copywrite) that gave a whole new feeling. I can only assure you that the lights of the tower disappearing into the fog, with the searchlights then peering through the fog do make for a good photo.
By this point we were both pretty tired and needed a rest. The best place to do this was on the river boats. One thing to note was that so far, our timing for the day had been excellent. We hardly had to wait at traffic lights and the metro trains had turned up within a couple of minutes of arriving at the station. Again, we were fortunate here as well. We got to a boat that was due to leave in 5 minutes, so again no waiting around. Our intention was to sit outside and enjoy the sights lit up in at night time. In reality it was too cold and after a while we moved back inside. It was probably a sign of our tiredness that we probably didn’t take in a lot of what was being said, however it was a nice way to be ending the sightseeing whirlwind that was a day in Paris.
We were back at the train station in plenty of time to check the train was running to time and then step outside for a quick bite to eat. There are lots of restaurants by the station and I suspect the know the train times very well. We were served with our drinks very quickly and our meal orders arrived equally quickly. While it had been a concern walking into the restaurant, by the time we were eating I was not worried about finishing up in time to make it back to the station.
The train journey home was largely uneventful. One slight delay for the people who came sprinting down the gangway with their food in hand. Whether it was meant to be a take-away or not I don’t know, but it certainly was on the train!
We both dozed on the way home, but that was fine, there was nothing to see. It was dark outside, we’d been on the go for about 16 hours and there was little else to do. We both woke just before going through the tunnel. Back in the UK, the phones were put back to allow for mobile data and I wanted to look into the text I’d been sent about taking care as there had been a trouble in Paris. I had no idea how bad the trouble had been. Every time I’ve been to Paris there is the sound of police sirens in the streets, today there had been that, but no more than in the past so I hadn’t taken much notice of it.
Checking the new on the phone, I realised how bad things actually had been and though it hadn’t affected the day at all it did put a different feel to the day. It was Wednesday 7th January.