We got up early yesterday morning to catch the Tube to Heathrow Terminal 4. We considered this our dry run for when we take the Tube to Heathrow for our flight out of London on Sunday. It wasn't a bad trip, only taking around 45 minutes. We packed very light since we were only staying one night in Paris. I had my backpack and Farrah had her handbag. Very light indeed.
We caught the British Airways flight with no problem. Booking online wasn't difficult. Thankfully the London flat has an Internet connection, which is one of the reasons why we chose it. This was my first time using British Airways . They have big comfortable leather seats and a friendly staff. The flight was quick with more time spent taken up by the taxi, takeoff, and landing. Once we landed at Charles de Gaulle International Airport the fun and confusion began.
From our Internet research, we knew we should use public transportation to move around the city, but there was still slight confusion. Public transportation is a combination of the Metro (subway), train (RER) and bus. Tickets can be used either specifically or for all, depending on what is purchased. Reading and understanding what to purchase wasn't clear in any language. Confusing?
We walked from the terminal after landing trying to find the RER station, which is where we needed to purchase tickets to lead us into Paris proper. It was a 10 minute walk to the ticket stations. Once there we were not sure which tickets to purchase. Luckily there was a representative who spoke English who helped us with the ticket machine, which for some reason wouldn't accept either of our credit cards. He suggested purchasing our tickets from the ticket booth, which required us to go in a large ticket line and purchase tickets from a seemingly unfriendly person.
We took the RER into Paris, then caught the Metro to Gare de l'Est where our hotel room was located very close by. The RER ride wasn't bad. We had entertainment on our ride into the city. A musician with an accordion hopped on board, spoke a few words in French, then played for the captive audience. He played well enough, and I gave a few Euros for his trouble. Little did I know we would be asked for money here and there on our trip in Paris.
Checking into the Hotel Francais (or is it the Francais Hotel?) was easy. The reception desk was kind enough to converse in English once they realized we couldn't carry a conversation in French. Getting up to our room on the third floor was interesting. We took a tiny elevator up, with Farrah and I barely fitting in there. It would be hard pressed for any normal size person to fit in the elevator, and with me and my Buddha belly it was a stretch. We probably could fit one more person on it. We didn't have much time to research the hotel, but it was one of the highest ranking, least expensive, and in an area we were considering, of the choices on TripAdvisor. The room itself was adequate. It had the necessities - a bed, a bath, and a shower. The room was on the slight side of safe and clean. We agreed we would be probably be sleeping in our clothes tonight.
We unloaded what we felt we didn't need to carry, broke out the map to game plan, then headed on out. Our first stop - Musèe du Louvre - aka The Louvre.
We bought Zone 1-3 passes for the Metro - from an unpleasant ticket booth person at the Gare de l'Est station - and hopped on the Metro 7 from Gare de l'Est to Palis Royal Musèe du Louvre. The Metro plunked us down just outside the Louvre. From our starting point all I could see was a massive building, not the expected famous Louvre Pyramid. We made our way through several courtyards then saw the pyramid. It was breathtaking to see the pyramid and all the people milling around in person. A slight drizzle started its descent and Farrah realized she left her brolly at the hotel, but this didn't matter. We were here! The Louvre!
We spent several minutes soaking in the feeling of being there. We took our time taking photos, walking around a bit, and then sitting there and soaking in the atmosphere as well as a few raindrops. We knew the line going in was going to be long no matter how long we waited. But we made our way toward the pyramid. Making our way toward the entrance we passed several very well armed military personnel. They brandished their automatic rifles as if to provide a visible deterrence to any trouble that may occur. Nice to see security was of the utmost importance here.
At the door our bags sent through the metal detector, then we headed down two sets of escalators to the main floor to purchase tickets. We started by standing in one of four manned ticket lines when I noticed a credit card only ticket machine. We quickly made our purchase through the machine. Next we obtained a museum map and planned what exhibits to see.
The main exhibits I wanted to see was the Mona Lisa and The Venus de Milo. If we saw other works it would be a bonus. We made our way to both crowded exhibits, seeing other works of art in between. We walked into the room that housed the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is small and behind glass-like protection as Farrah described to me before. But da Vinci's brilliance still shines through all of it. For some reason, particularly at this exhibit, the annoyance of people taking flash photos in a non-photo taking area really started to upset me. I find it hard to understand why people cannot just obey that simple rule. But still, they flash away. I am not sure what type of damage flash photography does with works of art such as this, but I'm sure it is detrimental.
We walked around more, then made our way to the Venus de Milo. We did take photos at the Venus de Milo didn't appear to have no photography designation. This is another impressive work of art. We were able to get up close and move around the Venus de Milo even though there was a large crowd.
The Louvre is crowded when it comes to the main exhibits. The rooms can get warm and it is unimaginable how hot it might get in the summer months. The less popular exhibits are not crowded at all, so if you go, you can take a break from the crowds by seeing other works of art in the museum, then head back into the fray.
After ninety or so minutes at the Louvre we started our walk to the Musèe d'Orsay.
We took a slow walk to the Musèe d'Orsay. We tried to find places to eat along the way, but couldn't decide on what to eat or where to go. We wanted to eat at the cafe in the Louvre, but it was closing. Hopefully the Musèe d'Orsay would have something to offer. We walked about 10-15 minutes to arrive at a crowded line for the Musèe d'Orsay. It took another ten mintes to get into the museum. Once in we headed up the stairs and some escalators directly to the Impressionists on the fifth floor.
The d'Orsay is much smaller but as impressive at the Louvre. Paintings by Van Gough, Monet, Renoir, and so many others fill the museum. We soaked in as much as we could before hunger played with our patience and stamina. We tried to eat at the small cafe in the museum. We actually sat down and read the menu which Farrah tried to translate for me. We sat for about five minutes patiently waiting for someone to help us. Unable to fully translate the menu and not feeling comfortable with what we knew, plus our ever increasing hunger, we decided to skip out of the cafe and hit the streets for food.
Luckily outside of the d'Orsay was a little cafe with a window for takeaway orders. Farrah order a ham and cheese and I had a hot dog. We got our food and sat on the steps of the d'Orsay. Yummy.
We sat, ate and caught our breath for a while. We've been on the move since we landed in Paris and other than stopping at the hotel room for a bit we haven't stopped moving. We both agreed it was a blessing in disguise that I couldn't get on the Eurostar the day before. The pace we would on to see all of Paris in a day would have been difficult with the pressure of getting back to the Eurostar on time to head back to London. Though we were basically seeing Paris in a day during this trip, the idea that we had a hotel room to stay at overnight made us more relaxed when walking about and seeing the sights.
We finished our food and broke out the Metro map. We realized that Metro 6 was just in front of the d'Orsay. We hopped on the Metro and headed Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel - the Metro stop for The Eiffel Tower.
We had seen glimpses of the Eiffel Tower on the horizon from the RER in and, I think, from the Louvre. But seeing it up close is something different. The Metro walk to the Eiffel Tower was shorter than five minutes. When you come up on the Eiffel Tower from the side we did, you can start seeing it through the trees then it makes itself known. It is as impressive as Big Big Ben, but it becomes even more indescribable once you walk under the tower.
The crowds were big under the tower and the lines to go up were long but fair. I had no desire to go up the tower as it appeared you needed to walk down in order to get back on the ground - unless those walking down were impatient and decided to make the descent on their own. We stared at the tower and the surrounding for a good half hour, letting our meal settle even more. If it was a clear sunny non-windy day I might have gone up. But today was a day to soak in the atmosphere.
It was at the Eiffel Tower where we were accosted more for money from gypsy type people. It was a little of an annoyance, and we would run into in our next couple of stops. But I guess it's like any other big city (though I only recall one time being asked for money in London).
Next, we walked several blocks to catch Metro 6 to Charles de Gaulle Ètoile and the Arc de Triomphe.
Arc de Triomphe
I recall seeing the Arch de Triomphe in a history book when I was a kid. For some reason the image of the Arc still sticks in my memory as something I wanted to see. I think the simple shape and the name really made an impression on me. Now I can say I have seen the Arch, I have been under the Arc, and it is gorgeous.
We snapped several photos across the street from the Arc, being accosted every once in while by someone asking for money. We then realized we could take a tunnel and be right under the Arc. It wasn't too crowded under the Arc. We took our time soaking it in, looking down the Champs Elysèes, and taking photo after photo. We sat down and gave our tired feet a rest.
There was one more place I wanted to see, Notre Dame, but it was closing soon and we would not get there in time. It was ok with me. Being able to see the Arc like this, looking out in the the city traffic, and being with Farrah made me really appreciate the opportunity to see all of this - to see Paris as we had this day. If we weren't able to make it inside Notre Dame it was fine. The day could have ended here.
We took the RER A to Les Halles then the Metro 4 to St-Michel to see Notre Dame. Once we got out of the rail station it took a while to get our bearings. We were in front of Sainte-Chapelle trying to find out where to walk towards. We walked along the River Seine and found Notre Dame.
Norte Dame de Paris
More jaw dropping awe engulfed my mind as we walked up toward Notre Dame. There was still a good crowd in front of Notre Dame though it was late afternoon-early evening. We took several photos in front - even having some girls jumping into a photo Farrah was taking of me. The details on the outside of Notre Dame jump out at you and the history just pours out through the cathedral. As I was snapping away taking photos I noticed people were still going into the cathedral. It looks as if we were in luck and the cathedral was still open.
We made our way into the dark cathedral. Inside is as impressive as Westminster Abbey, even seemingly bigger than it. There was a mass that just ended so people were still milling about. I asked Farrah if we could light a candle. For some reason I was thinking of my father and felt like light one. I almost did at Westminster Abbey, but for some reason this opportunity seemed more appropriate in doing this for him. We lingered about longer taking in the shear size and history of it all, then headed out.
We walked down one of the side streets off of Notre Dame, going in and out of souvenir shops. We found a nice restaurant to eat outside. Farrah had a quiche and I a bacon cheeseburger. It was a bit $$ but it was a good cap to the end of the day. It was a bit after 9:00 pm and we needed to head back to the hotel room. We paid the bill, unsure if a tip was necessary. All we read about tips were about England, where tipping is dependent on several factors. In the end we didn't leave one and felt bad for not doing so - but we were already a couple of blocks away when this feeling of bad etiquette. Our waiter was extremely nice, probably the nicest French person we met all trip, and we basically screwed him over. I feel bad as I'm writing this now :( Major faux pas!
We heading back to the hotel for some sleep in our clothes. It got cold through the night and the heater didn't work. We used our jackets for warmth - or at least partial warmth. We woke up early to head to the airport. The RER ride to the airport was simple enough. The difficult part was figuring out what terminal we needed to take off from.
Back to London
The RER dropped us off at Terminal 3. We took the free rail to Terminal 1. After getting off and looking at the departure board we realized we needed to be in Terminal 2. We hopped back on the rail and headed to Terminal 2. Once in Terminal 2 we took the very long walk to our gate which was at the end of the terminal. Luckily we had enough time for the walk and wait. We had a few extra Euros to spend so we had breakfast at the terminal.
We checked in to board the plane. After a quick search of our bags, we handed our boarding pass to the agent then walked the narrow hall to our plane. Funny thing was at the end of the hall, we headed down a set of stairs(?) which lead to outside to a bus! Farrah then asked the agent at the end of the stairs, "Is this British Airways?". Yes, she replied. We boarded the bus and waited with about 40 other people. Once everyone was on board we drove off onto the flight line. We stopped at a plane and disembarked at the front of the bus. Some commented, "How do we know if this is the right plane?"
"If we land in London, then it's the right plane", I replied. I received a brief chuckle from my response.
We boarded walking to the back of the plane and our seats. My Dramamine kicked in and I fell asleep as the plane took off.
Impressions of Paris
Paris is a beautiful city, dirty in parts. It's more dirty than I thought a city of this caliber would be. In Paris there were more people asking for money then I had experienced in a while. I enjoyed all the sights we saw, and the transportation system became more understandable as we used it. But it is not as organized as the London Underground.
Would I go back to Paris? Yes, but I would like to see somewhere else in France before heading back.