David and Claire went to Paris for a week from the 12th to the 19th of August, 2000. With the help of Air Miles and a web search for a fairly cheap hotel, we managed to get a holiday in Paris without breaking the bank.
The verdict? Excellent! Paris is well worth taking at least a week to see. There's so much in the city to see, it's substantially warmer than Scotland, prices are very reasonable, transport is very good, food is excellent and the people are friendly, provided you're willing to give your French a go. I didn't do French beyond second year, but managed with what little I knew. Essential phrases are 'a book of tickets, please', 'two ice creams, please', 'I'm sorry, I have no idea what you're saying' and 'the bill, please'.
I'd found a hotel on the web, and booked it months in advance, so all we had to do was fly to Charles de Gaulle airport, get the bus into the city and find a taxi to take us to the hotel. We stayed in the Holiday Inn Express at Place d'Italie, which is in the south side of the city, very close to a Metro station and near lots of restaurants. The room we had was very modern and clean, quite small, but well equipped. It had shelves, but no cupboards or drawers, which seemed strange, but as we just used the hotel to sleep at night and get changed for dinner, that didn't matter too much. When we arrived at the hotel, we had just enough time to get a bite to eat before bedtime.
On our first morning, we decided to try out some of the major attractions. You can't go to Paris without visiting certain things, so we'd best get started on them. We thought about going to the Louvre, so took the Metro there and gaped at the length of the queue to get in. Perhaps not today. However, the courtyard of the Louvre, with its fountains and pools where you can sit and relax, and cool your feet, was one of our favourite places over the whole week. We took our time here before wandering out to the west towards the Place de la Concorde.
Crossing the Seine at the Place de la Concorde, I thought we could walk to the Eiffel Tower, rather than get the Metro. This turned out to be a longer walk than I'd anticipated, but we eventually made it to the tower, and found a nice shaded garden area to have a rest in before tackling it.
The queues at the tower were very long as well, but we noticed that the queue for the stairs was a lot shorter than the ones for the lifts. Since the stair entrance cost half as much as well, we decided to have a go. It was a long, long way up to the first level, and it seemed an even longer way up to the second level, but we did make it, and certainly enjoyed the cold drinks from the cafe when we got there.
We took our photos from the second level. If you want to go to the top you have to get a lift, and they were far too crowded, so we didn't bother. Where we were was plenty high enough anyway.
While we were recovering from our climb, we noticed a bit of commotion down on the ground. Several thousand rollerbladers were skating across the bridge, and heading on down the road. There's a sight you don't see every day!
Anyway, after heading back down, it was time to go back to the hotel, get changed for dinner, and go and find a nice Italian restaurant.
On Monday we got up early to try and get into the Louvre. The queue was big, even early on, but it moved fairly fast. The Louvre is a big place, surrounding a courtyard on three sides. There's a glass pyramid in the middle of the courtyard, which is the main entrance. You go into this, through a security check, and down an escalator to an underground area where you queue again for tickets. There are three tunnels, leading off to each of the three sides, which have different types of exhibits.
We wandered around some sections on painting, went to see the Mona Lisa (not that impressive, but you have to go and see it, don't you?), found an area with remains of the original building, and then headed for the Egyptian stuff. This was my favourite part, with plenty of mummy cases, sphinxes and so on. Claire was getting tired after a while of this, so we searched for the exit. About half an hour later we eventually found our way out.
There's a large park, in the north west of Paris, near the skyscrapers, known as the Bois du Boulogne. We visited this for a restful afternoon after trudging around the Louvre. The park is very large, and includes several sub-areas, one of which is the Jardin d'Acclimatation. It costs a small amount to get in here but it's worth it. There are many things for kids to do: play areas, boats, amusement rides, animals, etc. and the park is well kept and a joy to wander through. It was also free from the crowds of tourists you get in most of Paris, which was nice. We stayed for a while, enjoying a rest and a bite to eat.
This is another one of the sites you have to visit if you go to Paris. It's in the middle of a very large roundabout, and access is gained through tunnels under the road. Don't try to cross the road to get there. We watched some people do this and it wasn't very pleasant.
After paying in to the Arch, there is a spiral staircase to climb up. It's higher than you think, but after the Eiffel Tower the day before we reckoned we were up to it. The stairs emerge into an inside area quite far up, with pictures of the Arch over the years, then there is another staircase to the top. The view is good, with 12 streets heading out from the roundabout, including the Champs Elysee, and you need to enjoy the view for a while to let your legs recover.
After descending the stairs, we wandered down the Champs Elysee for a bit before finding a Metro to get us back to base. Tonight we found a Chinese to eat in.
We had decided to go to Notre Dame this morning, so we headed over. When we got there the place was absolutely packed, and we decided not to go in. Apparently, the 15th of August is some religious holiday, so that may have been something to do with the size of the crowds. Still, we sat outside for a while and enjoyed the atmosphere, watching the people passing by. Claire was very tired, so we went back to the hotel for a while before our afternoon jaunt.
After a rest we went back out to our favourite place, the fountains at the Louvre. We walked along to the Place de la Concorde again and then wandered along the Champs Elysee, taking a stop for a crepe with chocolate and bananas (mmmm!). After that it was back to the hotel, to get ready for a nice meal at an Indian place.
To go to Versaille we reckoned would be a whole day trip, and it turned out it could have taken several days to really explore. Versaille is outside Paris, to the south, and getting there is about an hour's journey by Metro and train. Amazingly, the return trip only cost us about 1.50 each. We got to Versaille, walked down the road to the palace, and gaped at the size of it all. The palace building is huge and it's a fair walk just to get to it. We went through to the back and were met by the following sight. How about this for a back garden:
Most of our day at Versaille was spent lazing about by the lake. We did manage to get out on a rowing boat, then walked to the Petit Trianon, a sort of summer house, out in the gardens. We spent the whole day here, but didn't get to see half of the gardens, and didn't go inside any of the buildings. This is a place I'd recommend, not least because it didn't cost us a penny, except for the rowing boat and the toilet.
At the end of the day we got back into Paris and found a Thai restaurant to relax and enjoy our meal before bedtime.
Thursday was another all day affair. We had read about the science museum on the north side of Paris, and decided to go and see it. The museum itself is a big glass and steel structure, but on one side is the Geode, a big shiny ball with a cinema inside. We waited until this opened, then went to experience the wonders of IMAX, in 3D no less. If you haven't heard of IMAX, it's a special, large film format. The cinema we were in had reclining chairs, and once you leaned back the screen filled your whole field of view. Add the 3D effects (we had the old red and blue glasses on) and it really felt like we were in the film. Some of the scenes made us a bit queasy, with the camera movement, but it was all very impressive.
After the film we went into the museum proper. It has different areas for different disciplines, for instance there was a light zone and a learning zone. There were lots of things to touch and try out as well. They even had a Mirage fighter in the transport zone. We queued for the planetarium, which proved to be worthwhile. I enjoyed the show, which used their star generator as well as video images and film clips; and Claire enjoyed a good sleep.
We came outside after this and wandered round the grounds for a while before our by now customary trip back to the hotel and search for another restaurant. We went Chinese again tonight.
I'm not sure about the spelling here, but we took a boat ride down the Seine on Friday. Again, this was mostly a thing you must do if you visit Paris type of event. The tour was OK, but Claire used it as another chance for 45 minutes sleep.
Afterwards, we took another trip down the Champs Elysee, this time with money in hand. The only shop that interested us, though, was the Paris Saint Germain shop where we got some football kit.
We decided to finish off our week's exploration in our favourite place, outside the Louvre, and it was while sitting here, enjoying the sunshine and watching the queues that we met David Ventrello and his family, over for the weekend. I don't know, you can't go anywhere to get away from these Renfrew punters! Anyway, we finished the day off back at the Italian restaurant we had been to on Sunday.
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