Friday, 9 May 2014

Paris: Getting an Eiffel of the city || Travel diary

(Travel Day 5)
I absolutely loved Paris, but getting there was another story. I can't honestly say that our bus ride from London to Paris was a pleasant one. Yes, it was cheaper than the Eurostar but man were we under prepared. A casual 9 hour bus ride with NO stops. Yes, they had a toilet on board but we had expected at least one food and water break along the way. Nope! Not this time honey.

Still on the bus, patiently waiting to board the train to Paris.
By the time we had arrived in Paris at Gallieni Station we were famished, ravenous, starving whatever best describes the non-functioning state we had got ourselves in. Our first interaction with a Parisian was naturally to remedy this situation, the only thing left on offer was a salad. This was probably the most difficult language barrier we encountered throughout ALL our travels around Europe. As pointing at the salad and asking for it was not working. Until, a few minutes later "Oh salAArd, oui?" The message got through. Not the most filling meal but it sat quite nicely regardless in our empty bellies.
Feeling a little more accomplished we took to the next task of getting to our accommodation. As far as this day had been progressing, it wasn't a surprise that this wasn't an easy task. As we were yet to get an international simcard to allow us wifi access, we turned to asking locals, although friendly enough giving us completely different routes and directions wasn't advantageous. We then tried our luck with the local Metro, navigating with the basic skills we had acquired the day before in London. We made it, bags and all, unscathed to St. Christophers Hostel. Looking back, the previous 12 hours had been the hardest we encountered the entire time whilst travelling, again, setting the stress threshold high.

Later on, although well into the evening. After showers and being better fed we took a stroll along the canals right next to our hostel.

Gaining some understanding, as to why Paris is known as the "City of lights", and this was only the view a short walk from our door step.

 Before retreating home, ready for a big day tomorrow.
 As we woke up the next morning at a respectable time, thanks again body clock. We had a few hours to kill before our walking tour of Paris. So after enjoying our free breakfast of baguettes, ham and cheese we took an early morning walk around The Buttes-Chaumont Park.
Buttes-Chaumont Park Paris view trees scenery
Buttes-Chaumont Park Paris view trees scenery
  It was a beautiful place to take some time out from the big city (if needed) with lots of birds, old trees, water features and historic structures.

We then walked back to our hostel to meet up with our SANDEMANs free walking tour pick-up. The girl who met our group was lovely and super helpful; giving us lots of tips about getting around Paris and avoiding pickpockets all the while getting a bunch of novice tourists to the meetup point at St. Michels Square, without stress and on time. Nancy was our tour guide, she was really knowledgable, knew all the questions we were curious about and did it all with style and a great sense of humour.

Our tour takes us past many important monuments in the central Paris region Notre Dam was the first recognisable building to me. Admittingly, most of my previous knowledge about the catherdral was based around Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dam, so not all that accurate but still awesome to see in person, if only from a distance.
Soon our walking tour approached an inconspicuous corner near the Palais de Justice, to look up and see a ornate, guilded gold clock. It turns out to be the oldest public clock in Paris, dating back to 1535, and it still works! Imagining the implications this would have for 16th century Parisians is quite intriguing.

Oh look, another guy on a horse, but he was so much more than that. Here is Henry, or as I guide likes to call her "boyfriend". Henrici Magni or King Henry IV, no not the British one, remember we are in France. This was "Good King Henry" considered one of Frances most loved Kings. He who was born into Protestantism but converted to Catholicism to keep the peace, resolved conflicts without war, was a lover of women (with 56 mistresses) and made sure every home had chicken on their table every Sunday. However, with over twenty assassination attempts on his life, it was going to happen eventually, his reign sadly ended with being stabbed not once, but twice in his carriage. What a guy, and what a way to go.
Next came a view of the Pont au Change Bridge over the Seine. This is the bridge in Les Miserables where Police Inspector Javert throws himself into the Seine river.
The lock bridges of Paris are truly a sight to see, the weight of thousands upon thousands of metal locks all glistening in the sunlight, all different shapes and sizes, bending and buckling the fence mesh. Some the size of a fist, others the size of a thumb nail. All symbolising the love people have for one another. Perfect.
We noticed these love lock bridges popping up all over Paris and the rest of Europe. Most of which will probably out-lock the overloaded bridges which have become a hazard and tourist attraction. We were told that most sections of mesh are replaced every six months to prevent the railing getting too heavy and breaking. Also, part of the love lock ritual is too toss away your key into the Seine river, this means that the river needs to be dredged regularly to remove all the metal keys sitting at the bottom. Sad but true. An interesting thought, raised by our tour guide is combination locks. What does that represent? Ecologically responsible love locking or a lack of commitment to the relationship? Who knows, but the lovers themselves.
Our next port of call, if I remember correctly was the Louvre. An iconic palace turned museum, that I have seen in just about all travel diaries regarding Paris. Although we didn't have time to enter the museum this time, we did learn a lot about its origins, owners and valuable contents it holds. No matter how underwelmingly small a certain famous painting is.
And yes, I was one of those people posing with the pyramids. Laugh if you want, I can take it.

A shining beacon in gilded bronze is Saint Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) riding into battle, flag held high. It pleases me to see a prominent statue of a woman, of whom is valued for her bravery and intelligence. Who is not depicted in a state of undress or with a child in her arms. Not only this, but shown mounted on a horse comes with a sense great honour and respect. I can't say I saw too many other statues of women around Europe with these values. Well done, Paris. Girl power, even if it comes from pretending to be a dude.
Our tour ended at Place de la Concorde, were we had a view of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel tower. A place of public entertainment and execution; often one and the same, Hollywood movie scenes, a.k.a The Devil wears Prada (where she gets out of her car, and throws her phone into the fountain) and Egyptians, always Egyptians.

The quality of a guided tour is the experience you have and the memories you retain. I feel a gained so much knowledge and laughed so many times on this tour that I would comfortably recommend it. We only had a short time in Paris as we were planning to revisit at the end of our Busabout trip. This was a great introduction to the sights and history of this amazing city. I can't wait to return.

Later that evening we hired bikes from outside our hostel. Chris predicted our ride to the Eiffel tower would take about 45mins, which turned out to be a vast under estimate. Even so, it was still a great experience.
Biking along the streets of Paris, front basket being well utilised. So after getting lost, navigating around seemingly chaotic Parisian roundabouts and finding numerous bike paths to enjoy the sights. We arrived just after dark to see the tower itself, lit up and enormous.
Eiffel tower light night glow Paris

We took a seat right under her skirt and took some time to enjoy the sights, people watch and occasionally be harassed by "rose or wine guys" who are lurking around every corner. One of whom had good intentions but startled me half to death approaching us from behind. I was a bit highly strung about pick pockets, so when I let out a high pitch squeak, he backed right away.

For five minutes on the hour the lights of the Eiffel tower twinkle and it makes for an exciting and memorable experience, well worth waiting around for if you arrive during the hour.
Eiffel tower paris sparkle night lights
When in Paris, sometimes you need to steal a moment to take a kissing selfie.
 It was a great way to end our night in Paris. We parked the bikes up at a nearby checkpoint and took the Metro home. Quickly repacking for our Busabout ride to Bruges the next day.

Quick Summary (TL;DR)

Duration of stay: 1 full day
Was it enough time?: No, it was not to see all that Paris has to offer. However, we will be revisiting at the end of our Busabout tour to experience more.
Where we stayed: St. Christopher Canal Inn Hostel.
Time of Year: May
Best memories: SANDEMAN's walking tour and seeing the Eiffel tower sparkling. 
Worst memories: Constantly being paranoid about thieves, getting sunburnt, and the bus trip there.
Top tip: Savour the moment; Paris is a big, busy city with lots to see and do. Take a few minutes just to soak it all in.
Next time: We will see Sacre coeur, Notre Dame, and Arc de Triomphe up close.
Paris in a word: Romantic
Recommended?: Definitely, there is no place like Paris.
Overall experience: 8/10, it would be higher if we had more time and there were less thieves.
Next destination: Bruges

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