(or I crossed a road in Paris and didn’t die)
The original trip wasn’t going to include Paris, but Lil Sis saw a ‘Luxury Paris Day Tour’ in the material from the travel agent and suggested it. It sounded like a good idea, so we included it in our package.
We knew it would be a long day. We had to be at St Pancras station at 6am to meet our tour group, and the Eurostar service left just after 7am, arriving in Paris 2 hours 15 minutes later. Another time zone shift, but one we’d make up at the end of the day.
It’s a pretty cool service. In about the same time as it takes to get from Hobart to Launceston, you’ve covered the 500 or so km between London and Paris and are in another country. The train carriages are small compared to the one we travelled on in NSW recently, and we drew the short straw in the seating game and had to sit in one of the four sets of seats that faced each other. We were sitting opposite a couple who did nothing the whole trip, just sat there silently. Awkward.
But the service is quick, and it got us to Paris in time to be able to spend a whole day there.
First up was the bus tour. We didn’t get to see as much as I’d expected, but we saw enough to get a feel for the city and its history. The only other time I’d been to Paris was 25 years ago. I remember I loved the Montmartre area and Sacre Coeur, but unfortunately that wasn’t on the schedule today.
I loved driving down a road and looking down every side street to see the street lined with those gorgeous white buildings, snaking off into the distance and around corners. Everywhere we went I saw a shop I wanted to go into and explore. But we were on a tight schedule and, even if we hadn’t been, I doubt the rest of the group would have been happy stopping off to let me poke around in shops.
The tour took us through the area around Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, through the 9th arrondissement and down streets like the Boulevard Haussman, L’avenue d’Opera and la rue de la Paix, We drove down the first part of the Champs-Elysees and saw the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. Like yesterday, it was a fast paced (as fast as a bus can go in Paris traffic) snapshot tour of some amazingly old and significant buildings and monuments. In a way, the sheer number of things we saw made it difficult for me to appreciate just how spectacular everything is. I’m sorry to say that today, like yesterday, I have a lot of photos of things I’m not sure what they are.
I guess in this sense, a bus tour doesn’t really give you a feel for a place like exploring a small area on foot would – but then you get to see a lot in a short time to give you a snapshot of what the place looks like. And because we don’t have a lot of time, we have to decide whether we do the overview of a big area, or a detailed look at a small area. The traveller’s dilemma.
We were booked in to the 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant on the first level of the Tower. When the guide said that lunch on the Eiffel Tower was included I imagined the restaurant would be higher up and we’d have great views while we were having lunch. Unfortunately not.
The lunch was really nice, but by the time we’d eaten there was only 45 minutes before we had to meet our guide for the River Seine cruise. Not enough time to take the stairs up to Level 2, so we had to be satisfied with photos from Level 1 of what was a day of low visibility, and postcards.
The river cruise was on a large flat boat that took us under many of Paris’s 22 bridges, including Pont Neuf and Pont des Arts. We saw several of the buildings that we’d seen from the bus, this time from the water. There were even some wedding photography sessions in progress along the river bank, with one bride perched precariously on the edge of one of the bridges.
After the cruise, the bus took us to the Louvre, where we had a choice of taking a private highlights tour of the museum (Lil Sis), exploring the museum on our own, or free time to do whatever we could manage to do in an hour and a half (me).
I decided to take a walk around the area and go to the Île de la Cité, which is the part of the city its oldest inhabitants, the Parisi, lived in. I made careful notes of how I’d gotten out of the Louvre, because I had to be back at the meeting point at 5.30pm. Following a friend’s directions, I made my way across le Pont des Arts and back across Pont Neuf to the Île de la Cité. Here my impressive French language skills came to the fore and I was just capable of asking for some stamps for postcards to Australia. It’s to the Post Office lady’s great credit that she understood me. Three years of university education paid off.
I also managed to cross several roads by myself without being killed. This is a bigger achievement than you might think. Traffic in Paris is bedlam. Lil SIs and I were saying we’d never want to drive in London, well this goes double for Paris. Pedestrian crossings? Red lights? Correct lane? Don’t you worry about that. On a motor bike and can’t get through the traffic? That’s ok, there are footpaths.
Having made it back alive (tacky souvenir acquired on the way), the challenge was then to get back into the Louvre. The entrance I’d come out of was closed. Mild panic. I imagined getting all the way back and then getting left behind because I couldn’t find my way into the building.
In the end it wasn’t that difficult to find where I needed to be, and it was time to get back on the bus. All we had to do at the station was go through French border security, English border security and the obligatory bag check. Then it was back onto the Eurostar to try and catch up on some sleep. The train was running late, so we didn’t get back into London until 9pm.