Paris, Mon Amour!
The first time I ever visited Paris was last year as a gift from Scott, my Mum, Simon and my Aunty Mary for a special 30th birthday present.
I received the gift on my birthday in July in the form of a train ticket from Scott, followed by a hotel ticket from my Mum and Aunt, which was such a relief as I wasn't quite sure how we were going to afford it all! (I know, terrible to think that way, but unfortunately I am always worrying about time and money - even more so since we have been living out here and have no guaranteed income). It was a total surprise to me and I was instantly excited as I had always wanted to go, but was at the same time worried that it would fall into the holiday let season, being our busiest time and with us needing to be around for change overs and to be on call for the guests if they need anything.
Mum and Simon were kind enough to offer to do the change over for us, Scott had thought about this and planned the 4 days to fall from a Monday to Thursday, so no stress there. Excitement was well and truly back to set in and we were constantly talking about where we wanted to go, what we wanted to see and how we were going to plan it so we could make the best of the 4 days we had (not long, I can assure you - there is so much to see and do!).
Luckily, Mum and Simon had been the year before and so were able to give us hints, tips and recommendations. It is so helpful to have these little tip offs before you go as it can help to plan your visit and save you oodles of time while you are there so you can use your time as wisely as possible. Our French teacher, Sue (whom we also refer to as "The Oracle" as she knows anything about everything!), was also able to give lots of advise as she had spent a lot of time in Paris, which was great. All the information and advice we were given before hand helped no end with the planning and proved so valuable once we are there. First hand knowledge and experience is like gold dust!
We got the fast train (TGV) from Niort to Montparnasse, Paris and were amazed at the ease of the whole thing! Niort is a 40 min drive from us, so not too far, but we were lucky enough to stay at Mum and Simon's and grab a lift to the station at only 20 mins from where they are first thing in the morning. Summer was going to be staying with them while we were away, which she was really looking forward to, so it all worked out perfectly. First time we will have been away from Summer for a long time though, so will be hard, although we know she will be totally spoilt by Nana and Grampsie the whole time!
Paris would be about a 4.5 hour drive from us, with the cost of fuel, tolls and parking, so it worked out much better for us to jump on the train, which is much more straight forward, direct and less stressful. A very smooth, hassle free journey - would definitely recommend!
Top Tip: If planning to book a TGV, be careful as the price will go up each time you visit their site and search the dates you are looking for as they will instantly recognise your IP address. Very cheeky in deed! If your mind is made and you want to book the train - try and book it straight away rather than pondering and coming back again two or three times before committing (like me!) - they will sting you for it! OUCH!
Once we found our way through the main station to the Metro underground, we bought our booklet of 10 tickets, which had been recommended for us to do, as is more cost effective if you are going to be using the metro to get around, as we did every day. One ticket can be used to connect to different lines and get on different tubes and will not expire until you have come back above ground and gone through the automatic doors before exiting the station.
Throughout our stay, we found the Metro very easy to use and that it was very reliable. Being in a tourist area, our journeys were often made more interesting by some random person jumping on and performing some song or dance in order to make themselves some money. It is very difficult not to look and I have to admit, a lot of it was very entertaining! You do get used to it.
We stayed at the Kyriad Hotel in the 10th arrondissement (borough - all the boroughs in Paris are numbered and are the first thing to know when planning to visit a certain place or landmark), which was a short walk away from Place De La République, with it's beautiful lively square and monument - always with activities going on - singers, dancers, even an outdoor evening salsa dance class by the monument - so surreal, but just right for the type of atmosphere which was always felt there each time we walked through. Our nearest Metro was here too, so quick and easy access to the rest of Paris at only a short walk from where we were staying.
The hotel was great - just what we needed - clean, well looked after, friendly and helpful staff and great facilities. Our central ground floor room looked out onto the communal courtyard which was very pretty and felt like our very own terrace - very lucky!
We had arrived at lunch time - a great opportunity to take a walk to find our bearings and sample the local cuisine! :oP
Right on the corner of the next road from where our hotel was based was a lovely little restaurant, which I unfortunately cannot remember the name of, but here are some photos below which may help to identify. We ordered the onion soup and for mains I had the plat du jour - meatball pasta and Scott had le hamburger de la maison - all of it was out of this world délicieux!! Must admit, mine was better though!! And all at a very reasonable price!
One tip off we had to try and save money during our stay was to get breakfast from the local pâtisserie if possible (not at all a problem for us!!). Where we could, we would also grab a baguette for lunch and a few other provisions such as milk, butter and sandwich fillings from the supermarket - this saved us mega bucks!! But there was no way we were missing out on the French cuisine all the time, so we treated ourselves each evening to a meal out at a different restaurant.
No matter where we were or what we ordered, the food was always way above our expectations, cooked and presented to perfection, always amazing value for money and topped off with great, friendly service. There seems to be a stigma with the Parisians and their lack of manners/politeness, but we would both argue strongly that every single person we met on our visit was warm, friendly and helpful.
One evening after a natter, we even had a lock in at a bar with the owner, Hugo, who was also a musical composer and gave us the privilege of listening to some of hais compositions whilst pouring us free picons (picon bière - a tipple which was recommended to me by a friend and is now appreciated by my entire family. Not for everyone, but look it up and have a try - I would personally strongly recommend, although not for the faint hearted! ;o) ) They definitey know what they are doing with their food over here, but Paris to us is now the City of food heaven!! Seriously, I am drooling at the thought of it!
Once we had finished our first delicious meal, we took a walk around our local area. We were instantly falling in love with absolutely everything we saw! The rivers, the buildings, the quirky little bars, restaurants and retro shops, the art, even the graffiti, the individualism and variety of people (something we miss living in the French countryside and which I feel there is far more of in England), the retro French bikes and cars - it just all mixes together and makes this lovely authentic dreamy, somehow nostalgic beautifulness that Paris is. We are totally besotted.
We noticed there were public bicycle stations regularly where you can hire a bike to get around, which is a great idea, but something I decided I would not be trying on this occasion as although we had a lot to fit in, I wanted to take everything in at a slower pace and didn't fancy getting in the way of any hurrying Parisian drivers!! ;o) These are referred to as "Vélib". You can basically take a bike (they are all grey and very recognisable), go wherever you want in Paris and when you are finished, leave it at it's next destination. If you are clever, you can do it all for free too as the first half an hour is free, so if you can get to another bike rank and exchange for another bike to go on with, as long as you can keep the journey to less than 30 mins, it is all free! :o) If you would prefer to take it a bit easier, I have managed to fins the tariffs:
Time: 30 min 1h 1h30 2h 5h 10h 20h
Rate: free €1 €3 €7 €31 €70 €151
Obviously, some people have different ideas! These look to have been fished out of the river! What a shame!
I am terrible with maps, so Scott got the job of street map holder. He and the street map were very close buddies throughout the trip - definitely needed if you are not very well acquainted with Paris - or any city for that matter!
We were near to the River Seine and decided to take a walk down towards the Notre Dame, which was on our to do list. We passed through the streets with the many clothes shops (which I would not allow myself to look in - bad idea!) and art galleries and joining up with the river.
The river was beautiful, lined with all the amazing, majestic buildings and with boats sailing up and down as we walked. I just could not stop taking photos!
The area was becoming more buzzy, with street performers and tourists and suddenly the Notre Dame comes into view! (I have decided not to include any photos of the amazing and beautiful buildings I will be mentioning in this story as I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise for any of you planning to make a visit yourself!) It is jaw droppingly stunning! How anyone could even have the inspiration and dedication to design something so intricate the individual carvings which make up the exterior walls, let alone build it is beyond me!! Perfect in it's setting as it sits so proudly looking over the river. A short queue to get inside and although not a huge wait - it was definitely worth it! The inside is just as beautiful as the outside - cavernous with the huge vaulted ceiling and stunning detail and topped off with the gorgeous colourful stain glass windows.
Heading back towards the hotel afterwards, there is a random man playing the piano midway on the bridge. We stopped for a while to take it in - he was extremely talented and certainly knew how to tickle the old ivories! Really added to the atmosphere and made us realise just how long it had been since we had both actually stopped together and took a moment. It had been such a crazy fast paced rollercoaster ride with the move and the work to the gite and the barn, that we just never got the time. It was so nice to be able to spend some time together relaxing and enjoying a different experience. We really needed this.
We stopped to look in a few artist
galleries on the way back and were lucky enough to catch an artist producing an
ink painting right in front of us. We got chatting to him and it turned out he was actually American and was doing and expo in Paris for the month. His art was very different and interesting to watch. A nice experience.
After another delicious meal and a couple of drinks en route to the hotel followed by a good night's sleep, it was the Musée D'Orsay for us, another amazing building which had a Monet expo going on at the time - one of my favourite artists. Renoir and Van Gogh are also up there for me, so it was great that they were all there. The only one that was missing for me was Picasso, but my plan was to go to that museum too, so I was not disappointed (the disappointment would come later when eventually found the Picasso museum and it was shut down for refurbishment!) Although we tried to speed on through as much as we could, we still took hours!! It just went on and on - all of it so capturing and inspiring! We were hoping to get to the Eifel Tower that afternoon and were running out of time!
Below: Looking out of the clock face window at the view.
We were totally exhausted after the museum, but although Scott kept checking and was obviously slightly worried I might get into tired moody mode, I was insistent that we must stick with the original plan and go to the Eifel Tower! We hopped on the tube and had a break and a bottle of water on a bench near the Eifel Tower whilst fighting sleep for a few minutes. Then, out of nowhere, we managed to muster up the energy and were off! What's more - no way were we taking the lift - it was stairs all the way!
We took the stairs as far as they would go and then took the lift to the very top. The view really is breath taking and well worth it. It really is a panoramic view of Paris and you can pin point all the different landmarks and buildings. I must have 50 pictures from each view point on each level! An amazing experience.
After a rather tiring day, we headed back to Place De La République and had yet another delicious meal!
The next day was our last day. We had heard a lot about Montmartre and how beautiful it is, so we decided that would be our destination. Our first stop was the "Wall of I Love You's" or, "Mur Des Je T'aimes", which we unfortunately had no idea at the time of what it was as although trying to work out what it all said, neither of us found the words "I love you", or "Je t'aime"! It wasn't until after we arrived back home that we saw something on the TV and realised what it was all about! True "us" style!! Well, at least we have photos of other people declaring their love for eachother in front of the famous wall! :o)
Montmartre fast became the favourite spot for both of us in Paris. There are a lot of steps to climb to get to it - but it is well worth it and there are cable cars available if needed! With it's cobbled winding streets, amazing views and the main square where lots of artists are hard at work although seemingly effortlessly painting to add to their beautiful masterpieces already displayed on each stall, the life and buzzines of all the people and all the little quirky shops and cafés reminiscent of the Brighton lanes (another favourite of mine!), the atmosphere is alive and vibrant.
As we came out of the square and turned the corner, we could hear the sound of live acapella singing to one of our favourite French songs at the time, "Toi Et Moi" by Guilllaume Grand, which is a love song very close to our hearts and was very fitting for that moment as the stunning dome shaped turrets of the Sacre Coeur came into view. It was three men singing under one of the huge arched doorways of the building. We stopped for a while to listen and take it all in. It really was a special moment.
Knowing this was our last day and having more plans for the afternoon before catching the evening train back, we could not spend long listening to the music and continued on around the side of the building to the front, where the landscape totally opens up to reveal the large magnificent view of Paris which the truly majestic Sacre Coeur looks over. This is probably my favourite building of them all - reminding me of a huge Indian palace with it's intricate design and all the curves, arches and domes. I myself cannot say I am religious, but I do have a huge interest and appreciation for building design and am totally in awe of how somebody can dream up such a design and to imagine the workmanship that must have gone into these buildings all those hundreds of years ago. How they managed it back then makes the mind boggle.
The inside of the building did not disappoint and is just as stunning with beautiful coloured mosaics, statues and carvings everywhere you look. We were once again reminded of the amazing view as we walked back out under the huge arched doorway to the steps which lead to the building, where we sat and had our lunch - sandwiches which we had prepared that morning.
The plan was to finish off with the Picasso museum, which took us a lot of finding and was unfortunately closed. Nothing a bit of ice cream and people watching outside a nice café wouldn't help! ;o) There would hopefully be other opportunities! Montmartre is also the home of the Moulin Rouge, which we would both love to go to, but very expensive, so not in our price range right now!
4 days was enough for us to be away from Summer, although we knew she was probably having the time of her life being spoilt by Nana and Grampsie, who were looking after her while we were away. It is not enough time to see everything, but the right amount of time to have a break away, let your hair down, get a change of scenery, leave you with a big smile on your face, lots of photos and memories to savour and a strong desire and excitement for going back again one day!
An amazing and very special birthday present - thank you Scott, Mum, Simon & AM - am will be forever grateful!!!
P.S - the reason I have suddenly chosen to write about Paris is because I have just arrived back from my second visit, which was just a one-nighter this time to see a concert. It brought back all these amazing memories and once again I am buzzing from my visit, even though a very short one! I wanted to share my first big Paris experience with you for starters to explain why I love it so much and build a picture for you. I hope to some it may even come in useful if you are looking to plan a trip yourselves (do it! You won't regret it!) and I will fill you in more on my more recent visit in my next update - watch this space!