Monday, April 28, 2014

Paris

The French, we have heard through ages, are very rude. That made us a bit apprehensive to travel to Paris but my research showed that if you just say hello and thank you at every given opportunity, you should be fine. And we were.

We arrived from Germany by train to Gare de l'Est and had to take the Metro to our hotel. The Metro connects from this terminus itself so you don't need to walk too far with your luggage. There were English speaking volunteers to help you negotiate your route with a helpful map of the city. The ticket vending machines seemed daunting at first, but were quite easy to use after your first try.

The trains were a little crowded so getting in and out with the luggage was problematic. Good we were travelling light(ish). Some stations do not have elevators or escalators so be prepared to carry your bags up and down some stairs.

We were staying at Le Relais Saint Charles which is literally just opposite the Dupliex Metro station which made life much simpler. The reception was manned at all hours with someone who spoke English, and since we were early, they kept our bags in storage and handed us a map to walk around till they got the room ready. We decided to have some lunch nearby in one of the many restaurants within walking distance.
The room was small (as you would expect in even more expensive places in the city) but very clean. To make most of the space, we emptied our bags in the closet and tucked away the suitcase so it didn't clutter. The room was clean and well maintained, but the view was of busy lanes and houses which was better than the opposite side where it would be noisy till late in the night with the pub crowd. We weren't planning to spend a lot of time inside so it suited us just fine.
The Eiffel Tower was just 15 to 20 minutes away on foot. That was our first stop. We could see the marvel in metal much before we reached the vicinity. The streets were relatively easy to navigate with our map. We hadn't booked the tickets to the tower beforehand because we weren't sure of the time we'd be there (the tickets are time-bound), so we had to get in line for over an hour. There are 4 ticket counters and one of them is only for people planning to walk up the stairs (DO NOT take that option no matter how fit you think you are - you will regret it). Even though it was late evening, the sun was scorching.
 We finally got in the elevator to take us to the 2nd level which offered marvellous views of the city. Take a walk about before heading on to the top. We came in at a good time - just around sunset. So we could see the city bathed in sunlight, then all lit up after sunset. The top of the tower was very crowded. Don't expect a romantic time here with all the shoving. We just took in the view and went down to the quieter 2nd level for a better experience.
 We decided to walk down from there and even that was exhausting. We saw people walking up and even the younger fit-looking ones were struggling to complete the trip. Once outside on the lawn, with the tower all lit up in golden light, we waited for the light show that happens every  hour after sunset - the tower sparkled like diamonds set in gold.
Throughout our stay here, we had a glimpse of the tower from different parts of the city. Although there is much to admire in Paris, the Eiffel Tower had a charm of its own, The garden around it plays host to many visitors and locals who come for a quick picnic. We tried, but were forced to retreat because of the heat.

We had dinner in one of the restaurants close to the tower - the advantage being that it was open till late (most places shut down by 9pm) and the menu is in English. Also, some of the Metro lines close by midnight - keep that in mind if you don't want to hail an expensive cab.

We took in the famous cabaret show at the Crazy Horse which was entertaining but exorbitant. We went in for the novelty but would not advise it as a must-visit. By the time the show finished, our line of the Metro had closed for the day. We were able to drag our selves on foot back to the hotel, and thanked our stars we hadn't gone to the Moulin Rouge which was much further away.

During the next 4 days were there, we seemed to just walk every waking moment. Walk to the sight, walk inside the sight, then walk to the next spot. There was so much history packed at every turn, so many places you felt you had to see, that we had to force ourselves to stick to the main spots this time, then return for the rest.
Rue Cler is a barely 100 metre stretch of a street filled with interesting shops. It is where many locals shop for their daily meals. Apart from groceries, cheese, and bread, the wine shop here has a good collection and the attendant will help you select the perfect bottle to take with you. Paris is a great city to picnic in, weather permitting. Take some sandwiches and a bottle of wine, and park yourself on a bench or park and enjoy the day.

The oldest clock in Paris was built in the year 1370! It is on the corner of the Palais de Justice building
 As for people, since we said Bonjour and Merci to everyone we spoke with, we didn't have any rude encounters. A passerby even stopped to help with the ticket machine.

Since we were constantly walking, or standing in queues, or jostling with the crowds, and tired, we didn't really get to experience the 'romance' of Paris. Maybe next time.

National Geographic POD