Monday, 25 January 2016

Three Days in Paris - Self-Guided Walking Tours

We visited Paris to celebrate our tenth anniversary in October. We were there about ten days before the attacks. I had this post ready to go the morning after I heard about them, but it didn't seem appropriate, so here's a delayed recap of the trip.

It was our first time, and we wanted to see as much of the city as we could in three days, so we spent two days on self-guided walking tours and the last in the Louvre Museum.

We took the Eurostar over from London after J was done with work on a Monday night, and arrived about 11pm. We spent the first night in the Libertel Hotel Gare du Nord Suede. It's small and unassuming with teeny tiny rooms, but it's also clean, comfy, cheap (about €50 a night) and about 250 meters from the Gare du Nord (train station), so it was perfect.

We ate brunch at the Cafe la Chaufferie, which is also very close to the Gare du Nord, and is the one and only restaurant I'll mention here, because all the others were kinda lame. Backstory: This was a last minute trip because we'd had to move house five days before, unexpectedly, and had originally been planning a week in Morocco. Suddenly we had a lot less money and time than we were banking on, but still wanted to celebrate our "big" anniversary, so Paris seemed a much better option. As a result, we booked last minute with no time to plan and used TripAdvisor reviews to find restaurants once we were there. It worked the first time, because that first breakfast was great, but the rest...not so much. Anyway, onward...

After brunch, we walked the 1.5 miles to our hotel, checking stuff out on the way. No pics of that part because I was hauling a suitcase, but it was an easy walk.

Day One // Walking Tour from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower // About 6 Miles

We stayed in a Deluxe room at the Hotel de Louvre. I think it's about €250 a night, but we paid with points (we have a Chase Sapphire credit card). It's a very grand hotel in a fantastic location in the 1st arrondissment. The bed was huge and comfy, and the view from our room was awesome:
From the hotel, we began our first walking tour. We grabbed a coffee and went to check out the grounds of the Palais Royal and the Buren Columns, which was just across the road.
From there, we headed West on Rue de Rivoli, and popped in to Angelina.
The macaroons looked amazing, but I opted for some fancy chesnut cream filled monstrosity, which sadly didn't taste as wonderful as it looked. We took our treats to go, and wandered across the road to eat them in the Jardin des Tuileries.
Cheesy selfie. We took about fifty, I'll spare you (most of) the rest!
The plan then was to check out the Musee del'Orangerie, which houses Monet's water lilies murals, among other things, but it was closed on Tuesdays. Apparently, a lot of museum-y stuff is closed on Tuesdays in Paris.
At the Western end of the gardens is the Grande Roue, which often houses temporary sculptural exhibits. I think the theme of the ones we saw was light. I only snapped one decent photo, but there were other sculptural buildings. You could buy a ticket and go in, but we were happy admiring them from outside.
Across the road is one of Paris' major public squares, the Place de la Concorde. It's where King Louie XVI was beheaded during the French Revolution and is home to the Obelisk of Luxor, gifted to France by the Egyptians in the 1800s.

From there, we wandered up the Champs-Elysees and I got thoroughly distracted by the shops. It's Paris' version of Oxford Street - super crowded and touristy, but much nicer than its London counterpart because the pavements are so much wider. We kept walking and saw the Arc de Triomphe from a distance, but didn't make it all the way, instead opting to veer South-West toward the Jardins du Trocadero and across the river to the Eiffel Tower.
We arrived just as the sun was going down. We didn't go up - the lines are long and we thought the view from the ground was probably more impressive at that time of day. We walked to the other end of the Champ de Mars, took some photos, then headed back under the tower, along the river a little, and hopped on the Metro at Pont de l'Alma.

We got off at Musée d'Orsay, and walked back through the Louvre's courtyard on the way back to the hotel.
Once there, we ordered room service (expensively delicious), went out once more for ice cream, then called it a night.

Day Two // Walking Tour via Notre Dame & the Latin Quarter // About 5 Miles

After breakfast at the hotel, we got an early start and walked along the river Seine to Notre-Dame Cathedral.
The queues can be super long, so we got there before it opened and waited maybe twenty minutes. By the time it opened, the queues were easily three times as long.
We climbed the towers and I took approximately five hundred photos. We both liked it, but having climbed St Paul's Cathedral in London (which is amazing), it was a bit of a let-down. It was queues for the entire time we were there, despite the timed entries restricting the crowds, and you don't get to see inside the building like you do at St Paul's. You also don't get to go to the very top. Still, the views were good and I still think it was worth going.
The photo below is looking south-East from the Cathedral, which is where we headed next.
We passed the Pont de l'Archevêché (Archbishop's Bridge), which is covered in 'love padlocks'...
...and into the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation (Memorial of the Deportation), a memorial for the 200,000 French people deported and exterminated in Nazi concentration camps during WWII. This was a highlight of the tour for me, if that's the right word.
You enter via one of two sets of humble concrete steps, to a stark, imposing concrete structure. Inside, 200,000 lights line the walls. A plaque reads, "They descended into the mouth of the earth and they did not return."
Looking back out, stone tiles point toward an iron sculpture, reminiscent of prison bars. It was unassumingly powerful.
From there, we grabbed a disappointing lunch at a nearby vegetarian cafe, then had a wander around the next island along, Ile Saint-Louis.
The island has some lovely little shops where I bought pressies for the kids and everyone looking after them while we were away. We had headed there specifically to pay a visit to what is supposed to be the "finest Parisian ice cream" at Berthillon, but it was closed. Wa-wah.

From there, we walked south-west to the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter, a mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens.
Next, we grabbed a coffee and walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was beautiful. You could rent little boats to sail on the lake, and it almost made us wish we'd brought the kids.
We headed back to the hotel along Rue Bonaparte after that, picking up some macaroons at Pierre Herme.
I did a little more shopping on the way, while J looked at his phone without complaining, which was uncharacteristic very nice of him!
Later on, we headed out for dinner (but again, it was disappointing - we'd have done better eating at the hotel).

Day 3 // Musee du Louvre

The queues for the Louvre Museum can be long, so rather than take the obvious entrance, we went through the underground Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall, which has a less busy entrance.
We bought the audio guide, and followed the "Masterpieces" tour, which takes you from the Venus de Milo to the Mona Lisa. It was a must - the museum is huge and would have been overwhelming otherwise.
{Statue d'Athena}
{Venus de Milo}
The crowds for the Mona Lisa were insane. J battled through for a closer look but this was as close as I got!
While the art was impressive, I was more fascinated with the building itself. The museum used to be a fortress, and the original castle walls are still visible in the basement.
{A replica of the original Louvre Palace}
It's been extended numerous times by numerous French Kings, and became a museum after the French Revolution. As a result, the different areas are vastly different in style.
After the Masterpieces audio tour, we headed out to the shopping mall food court for lunch (much quicker than eating in the museum - the cafe queues were up to an hour long). We had planned to just spend the morning at the Louvre, but decided to head back in and do the kids' audio tour of the Egyptian antiquities. It was definitely a kids' guide though - fun guessing games and things that our little ones would've enjoyed but, aside from a few interesting snippets, it was slow-moving and dull for us.
We were largely Louvre-d-out by that point, and the batteries on my audio guide had died, so we headed out.
We spent our remainder of our last afternoon chilling in the hotel (a definite rarity for us), before getting the Metro back to Gare du Nord and the Eurostar back to London.

Paris is awesome, literally - so beautifully grand - and, while we barely dented the surface, we did get a good look at a lot of the bigger sights and got a good feel for the city. I'd love to take the kids back and focus more on activities vs sight-seeing, but for our first trip, it was great.