We've been to Paris before: once for a day trip and in 2000 for a week's holiday. We really liked the city, and didn't see all we wanted that time, so we decided this year to visit again. For a bit of variety, though, we booked a hotel in Normandy as well, giving us five days in Paris and three at the seaside in Normandy.
Advice for people travelling to Paris:
We flew over from Glasgow with British Airways, using the last of my BA Miles. They've been handy over the years! From Charles de Gaul airport terminal 1, we got a bus to terminal 3, then the RER train to the Gare du Nord. The hotel was fairly close to the station, but the extreme heat and the weight of our cases dictated the use of a taxi.
Our hotel was the Palmon Opera, in the 9th arrondisement of Paris. The room was small, but very nice and modern, and the staff were friendly and helpful. It's on a reasonably quiet road, about 5 minutes walk from the Cadet Metro station. There was plenty of choice for restaurants nearby, and I'd recommend Xavier's on the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette for its excellent food and cheap menu. The Indian place on the Rue Lamartine was very nice as well. Quite a few of the restaurants and other shops were shut while we were there, as August is the month most of the Parisians take time off for their holidays.
As well as see some of the sights we missed last time, there were two things we definitely wanted to repeat: a visit to Versailles and cooling our feet in the fountains at the Louvre. So on our first full day, Thursday, we got the train out of the city to Versailles Rive Gauche and visited the chateau. It was too hot to go inside, but the gardens are fantastic, and extensive. We rested for a while by the boating lake, under the shade, and explored a little of the grounds, though I'm sure there's an awful lot we still haven't seen. We did wander into the Petit Trianon, but were quickly spotted and ejected as we'd gone in the out door, and should have paid at the entrance.
If you visit Paris and haven't been before, you must visit Versailles. And give yourself the whole day there. There's a lot to see.
The last time we came we saw the outside of Notre Dame cathedral, but not the inside, because some big event was on. We visited again, and took a wander inside it. It's a very impressive building, with a huge amount of stained glass and endless carvings. What amazed me was that many the carvings are of actual people, and tell you something about them. Some have pets with them, some go barefoot, some must have been beheaded and hold their head in their arms.
The island which holds Notre Dame, Ile de la Cite, is the dead centre of Paris. It contains another cathedral, which you'd never find without being told where it was. Sainte Chapelle is much smaller than Notre Dame, but still very decorative, and hidden in a courtyard in the middle of the Palais de Justice building. Only the top of the spire is visible from the streets. There's a price to get inside, but it's very decorative, with two levels: one for the servants and the upper level for the important folks. The walls and ceilings are richly coloured and decorated, and the stained glass quite impressive. Every so often a recorded voice tells the noisy tourists to show a bit of respect and please be quiet. Claire sat down and had a nice sleep in the upper level.
It was too hot to do much walking about, so we looked for a park to go for a rest. We found the Parc de Monceau, a lovely little park, not far from the Arc de Triomphe. It's small but has plenty of grass to sit on, shaded by the trees, and seemed to mostly contain locals taking the afternoon off. It has a nicely maintained toilet at the entrance, which is always important as well.
One of the main attractions we didn't see last time was the Sacre Coeur. On Saturday morning we set off to have a look. It's a beautiful, white, domed church set on top of the hill which is the highest ground in Paris. We entered the park at the bottom of the hill which has paths leading up to the church. However, having toiled all the way to the top in the blistering heat, the gate at the top was shut. In fact all the gates were shut. We had to go all the way back down, out of the park and climb the stairs beside it to get to the Sacre Coeur. There is a carriage system, the funicular, which takes you up the hill, and I did offer to pay for that, but Claire wasn't having it. Oh well, good exercise for the calves.
There's a good view over Paris from the top of the hill, though it was a bit hazy when we were there. We went into the church and had a look around. Quietly, as there was a service on at the time. It must be difficult running a church service when there are tourists constantly wandering in and out.
After getting a nice crepe with Nutella from a stall outside, it was back down the stairs again.
We took the Metro to Les Halles, a multi-level shopping centre, mostly underground. There's a nice area on top with some gardens to wander in, and a big head in front of the church nearby! We walked from here to the Pompidou Centre. This is a modern art gallery, a big building with the pipes, tubes and escalators all on the outside. There's a good view from the top.
The modern art varied from the interesting to the plain silly. There were a few sculptures made mostly from ladders, a painting of a stream with a shower head attached, a tiled room with a baby's play centre in it. All sorts of nonsense. Anyway, we wandered around for quite a while, then had a glass of juice in the cafe. Claire had another sleep.
After we left the Pompidou Centre, it was only a shortish walk to the Louvre, so we headed that way, and dipped our feet in the fountains for a while. That's us done the two things we wanted to do again.
We still hadn't bought any trinkets to take home as presents yet, so we started Sunday with a trip to the Arc de Triomphe to find a souvenir shop. Then we had a walk down the Champs Elysees, and stopped for an ice cream lunch at the Haagen-Dazs shop.
After lunch we looked for another park. We found one on the east side of the city called Buttes Chaumont. It was larger than Monceau, but not as nice, and the toilets were out of order, but it did for a rest.
Monday was travel day. We checked out of the Palmon, got a taxi to St Lazare station, and the train to Caen. I'd booked a hire car for the three days in Normandy, and the hire car place was at the station. This was my first experience of driving outside the UK, and it took a bit of getting used to. We had no idea how to get out of the town either, so ended up heading the wrong direction down a motorway. But we eventually found our way to St Aubin sur Mer, and our hotel there, Le Clos Normand. The hotel is a two star, but very nice. The room was a little bigger than in the Palmon, there was no air conditioning, but it was a bit cooler anyway. We had a balcony, and a sea view, and the half board menu was excellent: the duck just fell off the bone when you touched it with your fork. We had dinner on the terrace, an open area built on the other side of the promenade, on the beach, and watched the sun go down as we ate.
On the Tuesday we spent pretty much all day on the beach, eating just a little for lunch and saving ourselves for the big dinner. We walked along the prom after dinner and watched the evening darken.
On Wednesday I'd plucked up the courage to try the car again. First of all we drove along the sea side to a town called Arromanche le Bain. This whole area is where the D-Day landings took place, and Arromanche had a museum about the campaign, and there were second world war guns and tanks dotted about.
After Arromanche, we made our way inland to Bayeaux. The town still has some very old houses, and narrow streets. The cathedral there was very nice, with a similar Gothic look to Notre Dame. Behind the cathedral there is a tree, a huge thing which was planted in 1797.
After the cathedral we found the building holding the Bayeaux Tapestry. I was quite impressed with the setup for this. We ignored all the explanatory displays and went straight for the tapestry itself. It's in a big room, all 70 metres of it, and you're given a listening device as you enter the room. It gives a running commentary on the tapestry and the battle of Hastings, and because everyone is listening to their commentaries, you all move around the room quite smoothly. This was probably the only place this week we paid to get into and thought was definitely worth the admission. Oh, except for Versailles.
Our last day was all travel. Hire car back to Caen, train to Paris St Lazare, taxi to Gare du Nord (make sure you go to the RER ticket booth in Gare du Nord and not the international ones), train to the airport, plane to Glasgow via Brimingham, then a taxi home.
Overall, we enjoyed the holiday. It was too hot in Paris to do too much, but Normandy was lovely, and a good change after Paris. Learning experience: get some of those suitcases with the long handles.
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