Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Paris - a long weekend

7 - 10 June 2013

Nearly 10 years ago I spent a day in Paris with my little sister.  It was a good trip and I always said I would come back. Now with my degree finished and 'im outdoors 30th birthday to celebrate we decided to have a long weekend there.

We had an early start and arrived in Paris just after lunch on Friday afternoon.  The trip had been smooth and uneventful but we were amazed at how hot it was as we stepped off the train.  We had left a cool cloudy England to arrive in a  a sunny 26c France.  
As with any new city it took us a while to work out the metro system but we soon worked out how to get to our hotel which was in the 17e.  We decided to buy a set of 10 metro tickets which saved us having to buy a new ticket for every journey and even saved us a little money. In the end we used two sets of these. 
We were staying in the Hotel des Batignolles which was small but nice.  The staff all spoke perfect English and  although our room was small and on the 4th floor (no lift) it was clean and tidy and offered views across the roof tops. Perfect for our needs. 
Playing Boules
Having dropped off our bags, we made our way out into the city.  
With the perfect weather and the possibility of rain later in the weekend we decided to start with the Eiffel Tower.  It was very hot which we were not really prepared for and so we sat in the gardens that surround the tower for a bit first people watching.  There was a great mix of visitors and locals, our favourites being a group of old men playing Boules.  We must have spent an hour watching them as they threw their metal balls aiming to get as close to the wooden maker as possible. All this on the rough sandy path. 
Finally when it had cooled a little we went to find the tower itself.  The queue must have taken another hour, but once again it was worth the wait for the view from the very top. On the way down we actually used the stairs from the 2nd floor which I really enjoyed. When we finally got to the bottom it was starting to get a little late.  We walked through the gardens and then into the surrounding streets to find something to eat.  We finally stopped at La Tour Maubourg where the food was very good.
It was getting dark when we had finished and things got a bit weird.  As we sat in the restaurant we had seen a guy dresses as the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.  Fair enough.  We then went to try and find the metro to get home.  Waiting to cross a road a group of maybe 10 went past on segways - all wearing cycle helmets (By the end of the weekend I think we wished we had a Segway each too).  Then a party on a bus went past.  That looked fun. Finally we crossed the road and stopped to check our map again. I am glad we did otherwise we would never have seen the Paris Roller go past.  This consisted of maybe 500 people on roller blades all on the road.  The police were there, the traffic was stopped and everyone looked in high spirits.  At the traffic lights they all waited for everyone to catch up then went off together, quite a sight to see in the dusk.
When we finally found the metro we also found the white rabbit again, only now he had lots of friends also in various fancy dress.  Were they going to a party or was it a party on the metro?  We will never know.

Back at the hotel it was hot and with the window open full of city sounds and I realised I had forgotten my ear plugs. Doh.

We did not sleep very well and were up by 08:30 on Saturday morning. We found a bakery across the street from the hotel and bought ourselves a light breakfast of pain aux raisin, and some mini quiche lorraine's for lunch, much cheaper than having breakfast at the hotel and meant we could get moving while it was still cool.  It would be another really hot day.
The Arc de Triomphe
Before we had even left the 17e we were distracted by a small food market and had a lovely wander round looking at all the bundles of herbs, roast chickens and chunks of cheese.  If we had been staying self catering I would have stocked up.
We then got the metro to a station half way up the Champs-Élysées. We walked up the hill towards the Arc de Triomphe with regular stops to people watch.  We were in no rush and just wanted to enjoy the sights and sounds of Paris. Once at the Arc de Triomphe we walked right round it and admired its size.  It really is huge.  We also paid our respects to the unknown solider from WWI before walking back down the Champs-Élysées; I wished I had my sunglasses. We found a park at the bottom of the hill and stopped here to eat our lunch. 
A bit more walking took us to the Place de la Concorde which seemed full of people and traffic.  I was glad to get across it and get to the safety of the pavement next to the river. We walked along the river in the dappled shade of many trees until we got to the Ile de la Cite. Here we crossed a bridge covered in padlocks, a strange type of graffiti which makes the bridge look like it has scales, and found a cool garden to sit in. Once we had cooled down we made our way to Notre-Dame, coming across a beautiful flower market on the way.  We had also run out of water at this point and while looking for somewhere to buy some realised that there were little green water fountains which we could fill our bottle up from. You can find these across the city and if they work are a great way to top up your water.
Notre-Dame from the back
Once at the cathedral we found another huge queue.  Although we did want to see inside, the queue in direct sunshine put us off and in the end we just walked round it and sat in the garden behind and listened to a French singer perform. 
It was starting to cloud over as we crossed the bridge over to the Quartier Latin.  Here we bought bread for tomorrow's lunch, French shops are closed on Sunday, and earplugs for me, and another park to sit and people watch in.  Once we got hungry we stopped at the Pizza Roma where I had really lovely cheesy pasta.
On the way back we stopped at a small supermarket and bought cheese and sweet biscuits for tomorrow's lunch.  We got back to the hotel just in time as the heavens opened and a thunder storm cleared some of the heat. 

The ear plugs worked a treat and I slept much better. We woke on Sunday morning to heavy rain, but by the time we had finished breakfast, this time in the hotel, the rain had stopped, for now. We got the metro to the Louvre and although there was a queue it was not as bad as it would be later.  We spent the day wandering round the museum and saw quite a lot of old Egyptian artefacts and old European painting.  We were not that bothered about seeing the Mona Lisa, but with 10 minutes to go until it closed we went and found her.   I am not sure she is worth the trip on her own, but it was still nice to see her.  If you do visit the Louvre make sure you know what you want to see.  It is massive and there is no way you could see it all in a day.  Also if you only want to see more modern French art do not bother with the Louvre, there are other gallery's in the city which cover this time scale.
For lunch we had taken a picnic and ate it in the courtyard, our tickets letting us by pass the queue to get back in.
Once the museum closed we walked in the park until the rain got too heavy then we went to find a cafe for some tea. I think this was the only disappointing food that we had. We were not too late back and enjoyed a ’early’ night.

Our last morning before returning to England.  We nipped across the road to the bakery and got some more pain aux raisins for breakfast and a strange sweet bread for lunch.  A final tidy of our room and we checked out.  As we only had small bags we decided to take everything with us rather than have to come back for them.  We took the metro back to the Tuileries Gardens next to the Place de la Concorde, and found The Orangerie which holds a private art collection of modern art.  My favourite being 8 of Monets massive water lily paintings, so big they would have been too long for any of the walls in out flat.  I could have sat and gazed at them for hours.  There was also a temporary collection of Italian paintings which were stunning. 
We had lunch in the park and a last little people watching before catching our train back home. 
We saw lots, but there is still much more to see so no doubt we will be back again at some point. 

NB: If you go to Paris as an unmarried couple, be ready for everyone to assume you got engaged on your return.