Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Around Paris in Three Days

The summer of 2013, we took a trip to Paris. This was our first trip.

We took the 7am Eurostar train from London St Pancras Int'l Station and arrived at Paris Gare Du Nord around 10:30am. It is highly advisable to book the train tickets well in advance as the cost goes up the closer you get to the travel date. The Eurostar trip between London to Paris takes approx. 2.5 hours each way. While the train that goes via the English Channel is probably not the cheapest way to travel, it certainly was fast and very convenient. The cost was approx. 95 GBP per person each way. We considered driving from London to Paris but the road trip supposedly takes 7-9 hours. From a cost point of view, it seemed you could end up spending as much if not more between renting a car, transporting the car through the channel by ferry and parking in Paris. In addition, because the British and the French drive on opposite sides of the road, the rental car from London may not necessarily be great in Paris. Driving might cost less if there are more people in the group as I believe the Ferry cost is per car and not per passenger or if you wanted to travel outside of Paris and would need a car anyway. Within Paris we only used the subway and the bus for sightseeing. We did not miss having a car at all.

Accommodations: We looked for a modest hotel in arrondissement 16 (same arrondissement as Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elyse's) and had heard that staying at an American chain was more comfortable than European hotels because of room size and amenities. As there were four of us, we decided to book our accommodation at Courtyard By Marriott Paris Boulogne which did not carry a haute price tag. When we got to Gare Du Nord and started looking into how to get to our hotel, we realized that the hotel was a bit farther away from the city center than we had expected. While our hotel was within zone 3 (inside Paris city lines), it was on the outskirts of arr. 16 approximately 3-4 mile SW of Eiffel tower.

We bought a three day subway pass (zone 1-3) for each of us right there at Gare Du Nord. From Gare Du Nord, we took the subway to our hotel. The closest subway stop, Boulogne Jean Jaurès, was a couple of blocks from the hotel. The way to the hotel from the subway was not intuitive nor very convenient especially if you are unfamiliar with that area or have a lot of luggage. The hotel itself was new with very comfortable beds, the rooms were fairly large and clean and the décor contemporary. The bathrooms had a shower and a tub. The staff spoke English, was friendly and responsive, the wifi slow. We did not purchase the hotel breakfast plan, but got fresh baked bread and croissants at a nearby boulangerie and ate at a nearby café with fresh coffee and hot chocolate. The best thing about the hotel is bus #72 that goes right to the center of the city from right across the hotel. This made the hotel location uber convenient. We never had to take a taxi the entire time we were in Paris.

[TIP 1: Depending on the type of pass, the metro pass provides unlimited access to metro and bus lines within the prescribed zones. The three day pass was convenient, and cheaper than buying a daily pass.].
[TIP 2: The best way to see the city is to take the bus line #72 which stopped directly across the hotel. The bus runs every 10 minutes, the entire route is above the ground and along the scenic river Seine. The route takes approx. 30 minutes from one end to the other. Since we were in Paris during the month of August, the rush hour traffic was not bad at all. Because of this bus service, our hotel probably became the most convenient place we could have stayed on such a short trip. The hotel location and the convenience of the bus service allowed us to come back to the hotel mid-afternoon for a bit of rest and head out to the city again in the evening.]
Eiffel Tower at Night. View from the bus
[Tip 3: Generally, a Seine river cruise is considered a must do. There are several vendors such as Bateaux Parisiens that pick up tourists from Eiffel Tower, sail to Notre Dame and back. The trip costs anywhere from 15 euro to a few hundred euro depending on what services are included. These cruises show the various sites from the river and the tour guides provides a historical background. Bus #72, basically goes through the same route, so you see all the same monuments, but you miss out on the tour guide narrative. While we had planned to take the boat trip, but when we saw the bus route, we skipped the boat cruise.]

Day 1 itinerary

-  Arrived at Gare du Nord via Eurostar around 10:30 am.
Picked up three day metro pass at Gare Du Nord
Took the subway from Gare du Nord to the hotel & checked in. Picked up the city maps from the hotel
After freshening up, around 12ish, we took bus #72 to Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville, the bus stop closest to Notre Dame
Before starting for Notre Dame, we grabbed lunch at Café Le Bistrot Marguerite, that is located right opposite the bus stop. This café is great for people watching, pretty large with access to bathroom.
After a quick tour of Notre dame, we walked to ille St Louis stopping for ice cream at Berthillon along the way
Around 3:30ish, walked back to Sainte Chapelle, which is located inside the palais du justice. The inside is gorgeous with beautiful stained glass windows
After St Chapelle, we took the metro to Montmartre. This trip needed a couple of metro changes but very easy. We walked up the busy touristy street to see the Basilica of Sacre Couer, and just strolled around that area. There are loads of cafes, street vendors, trinket shops. It was nice to just stroll and absorb the ambiance of the city.
6-6:30, took the metro to Arc de Triomphe and strolled along the Champs Elysees. We walked from Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde (a nice long walk) and then caught the bus back to the hotel.
We grabbed a late dinner at a local restaurant near our hotel (a sushi place around the block) and called it a night. A nice long day with a lot of walking. Make sure you carry really comfortable shoes

Day 2
- 8:30ish took the bus to Place de la Concorde. We stopped at Orangerie to see Monet's enormous lilies. 
[TIP 4: If you plan to visit a lot of museums, this is a good place to pick up a multi-museum pass.  The lines are very short and move fast]. Since we planned to see only the Louvre after this, we decided to skip the museum pass. Orangerie does not sell a museum pass that includes Louvre ticket, but they do sell many passes that include tickets to several other museums.
- Walked from Orangerie through the Tuileries garden to the Louvre.  Found a really long line at Louvre. We debated cancelling the museum tour that day and to come back the following day even earlier. But it seemed that the lines were moving pretty fast and we decided to stick with the plan. It still took us approx. hour and a half to get to the museum to buy the tickets. 
[TIP 5: There are several booths that print tickets if you are willing to pay by credit card. These unmanned booths had shorter lines than ticket counters with agents]. But once we got the tickets, there were no lines anywhere. The Louvre is huge. It is impossible to enjoy the entire museum in one trip. 
The Louvre
[TIP 6: We had downloaded Rick Steve's Audio Europe App to our iPhone. This app includes several audio tours for Paris and one of them is for Louvre]. Once in Louvre, we used Rick Steve's guided tour to navigate around the museum. While the audio track is approximately an hour long, we spent about 3 hours or so in the museum, taking our time to visit the Mona Lisa and the various masterpieces. My favorite were the David and Goliath by Michelangelo, The Coronation of Emperor Napoleon and The Raft of the Medusa.
- 1pm grabbed a baguette lunch on the go. We took the bus #72 from right outside the museum for Eiffel Tower.
- 2 pm, We had bought our fast track tickets to Eiffel Tower online prior to our trip, so we did not wait in any lines. At our assigned time, we took the elevators all the way to the summit. There were lines to get to the summit and while the day was nice and sunny with clear skies, it gets pretty windy up there. It is good to travel with something warm. The view of the city was beautiful, a great photo opportunity on our first trip to Paris.
- Around 4-4:30 pm, we took the bus back to our hotel to rest for a bit. The hotel was only 10 min bus ride from Eiffel Tower. 
Arc de Triomphe at night
- Around 7pm, we took the bus back to the Arc de Triomphe. There was bit of a walk from the bus stop to the Arc de Triumph. The area was beautifully lit and crowded with tourists. We had crepes for dinner at an outdoor café right on Champs Elysees. Strolled around for a bit until it was time to call it a night.

Day 3  
Between first two days, we had visited all the major monuments of Paris (Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Montmartre, Louvre and few others). What we could not visit, we saw from the bus. On our third and last day, instead of visiting other museums, we decided to take a trip to Chateau de Versailles.
- Around 8:30 am, we checkout out of the hotel, left our bags at the front desk and caught the metro on way to Versailles. The trip required a switch from metro to a RER (regional) train. When we got to Chateau de Versailles, the ticket lines were huge with an approximate 3 hour wait time just to get to the ticket window. Since we were pressed for time, we decided to skip the palace tour and toured the gardens instead. We bought tickets to garden tour train (quite unnecessary), and after visiting all corners of the garden, we sat along the grand canal near the Fountain of Apollo and listened to Rick Steve's Versailles audio tour. His audio track was very vivid and wonderfully narrated stories about Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. While we did not get to see the interior of the palace, by listening to Steve's tour we could imagine what it was like inside the palace and the personalities that contributed to its magnificence.
Macaroons at Laduree
- By early afternoon, we finished the Versailles tour and picked our bags from the hotel. Since our train back to London was not until 8 pm that night, we took the bus to Champs Elysees and spent the remainder of our afternoon strolling along Champs Elysees.  

- We had lunch at a café, stopped at Laduree for some macaroons, and witnessed the long lines of teenagers waiting to get inside Abercombie and Fitch.
- Around 6pm, we took the metro from Arc the Triomphe to Gare du Nord in plenty of time to catch our Eurostar back to London.

Don’t miss these
Bertillon Ice Cream: in Notre Dame
Laduree Macaroons: in Champs-Elysees
Pain d'Epis: Bakery near Eiffel tower
Le Grener a Pain: Bakery in Montmartre 


4 comments:

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