Friday, August 07, 2015

A week-end in Paris

Last time I did a travel-related post I based it on a day-trip we did to Paris in 2012. This time I thought I’d reminisce about our 2-night stay in Paris in 2011. To me, this was the perfect way to get a proper taste of Paris. Again, Paris has so much to offer that, really, a week-end is just going to scratch the surface. But why not? (If you’d like to read in more detail about our couple of nights in Paris you can pop over to my travel blog here.)

Day One:

Our visit to Paris began with a trip on the Eurostar. If travelling from London, I highly recommend doing so via the Eurostar. It’s fast, fun and comfortable and so much less hassle than dealing with the security and bother of air travel. Tickets can be bought online here, which is what I did.




Okay, I now have a small confession to make. I have a bit of a “thing” about transfers. You see, I like to have a “Man in Black” waiting for me at the airport or station when I am travelling with luggage. I think it stems from this incident. There is something incredibly comforting about arriving at the station/airport and seeing a Man in Black with your name on a board and having him relieve you of your luggage and lead you to his comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle and then transport you completely “fuss-free” to your hotel. I love it and will pay the big bucks for this service. If this sounds completely self-indulgent and ridiculous to you, well then we will agree to differ on this one :) No probs. We had a (very handsome!) transfer waiting for us at the Gare du Nord station in Paris. I booked this transfer here.

The hotel I booked for our 2-night stay in Paris was the Hotel des Grands Hommes, located in the Latin Quarter. I LOVE this hotel, it is quite possibly the loveliest hotel I have ever stayed in. It is a small boutique hotel, perfectly located, beautifully decorated in genuine French style and the service and attention to detail rate 10/10 in my book. “des Grands Hommes” translated into English means “of the Great Men” – a reference to the Pantheon which is literally on the doorstep of the hotel and which houses the remains of numerous distinguished Frenchmen.


View of the Pantheon from our balcony


The Pantheon
We began our explorations in Paris with a Classic Walk of the Latin Quarter. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk, led by an American living in Paris. We walked all over the Latin Quarter, learning all sorts of interesting things and seeing sights we might otherwise have completely overlooked. We visited the Pantheon, the Luxemborg Gardens, Notre Dame, Pointe Zero (the point from which all distances in France are measured) and Les Bouquinistes amongst many other beautiful and interesting sights. I highly recommend the Classic Walks as a fun, relaxed way to see things and learn more about the various areas of this gorgeous city.


Notre Dame




Luxemborg Gardens

For dinner we wandered down to Rue Moufftard.  We found a lovely restaurant where we sat outside and enjoyed an authentic French meal. Rue Moufftard is a wonderful street to stroll along, filled with bakeries, gelaterias, restaurants, food shops, wine shops and bars, this is where many locals come to eat and shop. There is also a street market, see the details here
.
Something very special happened on our first night in Paris, but it deserves a blog post all of its own, so watch this space!

Day Two:
After a delicious continental breakfast in the breakfast room (housed in an atmospheric cellar) of our hotel, we headed off to catch a train to Versailles. The trip took about 40 minutes. Once we arrived at the Rive Gauche station at Versailles we walked the short distance to the Palace.

The Palace of Versailles is an assault on the senses! Ornate, colourful and completely OTT, it is a sight to behold.







I far preferred the gardens to the overwhelming grandeur of the Palace itself.







We caught the little “train” that goes around the estate, visiting the Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon and Little Venice. Had the weather been kinder, we would definitely have spent longer enjoying the beautiful gardens, but unfortunately it was wet and soggy on the day we visited, so after hot chocolate at the Petit Trianon and some time visiting the swans at the Grand Canal we called it a day.

Next stop on our itinerary for the day was Montmartre. Montmartre is one of my favourite places in the world. I just love the bohemian feel to the place and all the quirky, interesting things to see. If you catch the metro to Blanche station you will emerge at the famous Moulin Rouge, complete with great photo op in front of the red windmill.



There is a little train that has a stop right outside the Moulin Rouge and we like to do a loop on that - touristy and cheesy it may be, but it’s great for getting an overview of what Montmartre has to offer. 

You could spend days wandering around Montmartre – perhaps spotting film locations from Amelie, which was set largely in Montmartre (If you haven’t seen Amelie, I suggest watching it before you go to Montmartre) or maybe having a look for the vineyard of Montmartre, or trying to find the two remaining windmills of Montmartre. Otherwise you could of course embrace your inner tourist and succumb to the charms of the Place du Tertre and get your portrait painted, or people watch to your heart's content while sitting in a café. Montmartre has it all! Personally, I would love to do this walking tour next time we are in Montmartre.




Sacre-coeur

After enjoying the charms of Montmartre (and some kick-ass moules mariniere), we returned to our hotel for a rest, before setting off on a private tour.

The tour we did was the same as this one. (I booked it through someone else, but can’t find that particular tour on the web anymore) We began with an hour-long cruise along the Seine - absolutely gorgeous at sunset! And then our friendly tour-guide took us on a tour of Paris by night, including a stop at Trocadero to see jaw-dropping views of the Eiffel tower. The Eiffel tower sparkles for 5 minutes on the hour every hour – something well worth seeing!









Day Three:
On our third and final day in Paris, we had a leisurely lie-in and breakfast, before catching the metro to the Louvre. (We didn’t go inside this time, as we had done that on our previous visit to Paris.) We took a lovely walk from the Louvre, through the beautiful Tuilleries gardens, up the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. No rushing, we strolled and enjoyed the sights and completely Parisian feel to the place, stopping for coffee along the way.







Most of the family climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.



Views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe:







Our final stop was the renowned department store Galleries La Fayette. Some members of our family like to shop!

Recommendations:
I strongly suggest buying Paris Visite cards if you are going to be using the metro. Also, it helps to print out a metro map and spend a little time familiarising yourself with it before setting off. You don't want to waste valuable time trying to figure it out when you are standing at the metro station!

I used Conciergerie.com to buy our Paris Visite cards, our rail tickets to and from Versailles, as well as our Paris Illuminations tour. I had these documents delivered to our hotel and they were waiting for us on arrival in Paris.  Easy-peasy.  

I like to plan our days in advance and work out our route - which metro stations to get on/off at, walking maps etc. I print this all out and carry it in a plastic sleeve – it makes our days flow so well, no frantic huddles searching for routes, no stress…  Having said that, there are some places where we just wander to our heart's content e.g. Montmartre.

Versailles:
· Getting there: Take the RER Line C, bound for Versailles Rive Gauche station. Come out of the station, cross the road and turn right, walk to the main road where you’ll clearly see the palace, on top of the hill to the left (alternatively follow the crowds!). It’s best to aim to leave Paris at about 08:00 as you want to get to Versailles before the tour buses arrive.

· It is a very good idea to pre-book your tickets to Versailles as the queues to buy tickets on arrival are very long. If you have purchased your ticket on the internet beforehand you can by-pass the long queue and enter through Entrance A (this was correct when we were there, might have changed since then) You still have to queue, but not for nearly as long! I got our tickets direct from the Palace of Versailles website

· I would strongly recommend catching the little train I mentioned, or hiring a golf cart, as the grounds are HUGE.  Details regarding the little train can be found here.

1 comment:

Mandy 'n' Justin said...

You did a lot during your time in Paris. I think perhaps more than I've done in my 3 trips there! Of course, I think we've been pretty leisurely in exploring. The first trip was the Louvre, climbing the Eiffel Tower, exploring the gardens of Versailles (not inside) and seeing sunset from Sacre Coeur; the second trip included a lot of shopping at the three main department stores, Moulin Rouge, and just seeing France during the Christmas season; and the third trip included our Seine River tour and exploration of the Palace portion of Versailles as well as the Petite and Grand Trianon. We STILL haven't been inside Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Pantheon, the Luxemborg Gardens, or Pointe Zero, climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe or even fully explored Versailles (we missed the queen's private estates while we were there). I guess it's just an excuse to go back, right? ;)

I am busy ruminating on an updated bucket list - it's a lot more difficult than one would think!  The last time I created a bucket...