Sunday, 7 August 2016

European Adventuring - London to Paris

With all the turmoil we have been facing in the UK over the last few months, after the vote to leave the EU (I refuse to use that horrid abbreviation), I thought it might be a good time to give you all a little glimpse into the wonderful European adventure I took with my family last year, to show those in any doubt (surely there can't be many?), just how wonderful our neighbouring countries are and just how much I love being part of Europe.

Paris // Zurich // The Alps, Switzerland //Millan // Tiber river // The Colosseum

It really was the holiday of a lifetime. We spanned three European countries in our ten-day trip and saw some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Our journey was inspired by my dad and brothers mutual love of Michael Portillo's Railway Journeys, watching this show together is their bonding time, and so our route was planned to encompass as much as we could of their favourite sights from the show.

London - Saturday 23th May 2015
At all began on a rainy morning in the heart of London, outside King's Cross Station to be exact, where we met to embark upon our European rail adventure. As we passed through customs and boarded the Eurostar bound for Pairs on the 1.15 train, we were all feeling a little apprehensive; this was a family first, we had never been abroad together before and were a little unsure as to what to expect from the trip and each other. My brother James was the mastermind behind the organising and booking, as he is the most well travelled among us, so we were trusting him to look after us and have everything under control (spoiler alert He totally did!).

The journey was perfect, we arrived in Paris a mere two and a half hours later, after pleasantly watching the French countryside whiz by in the spring drizzle and occasional sunshine. On arriving at Garde du Nord, with watches (OK mobiles) set to European time, we went in search of the famous Metro and the ticket (billet) machines. This proved more complicated than we had anticipated; fresh off the train we were all a little nervous about asking for help, instead we muddled through and somehow managed to buy the single tickets we needed for the journey to our hotel. Tickets and suitcases in hand, we hopped on the Metro to Châteletwhere we changed for a connecting train to Port d'Italie.

You can download a PDF of the Paris Metro from Here

On leaving the station, we made our way to our hotel. No, let me start again, what we actually did was wander around and around a rather 'attractive' dual carriageway in ever decreasing circles for about an hour. We later learnt that we could have used a different exit at the station and made much lighter work of this endeavour; however, we did eventually hit upon the correct direction and made our way to the Ibis Paris Porte d'Italie. Once inside we discovered a lovely and spacious hotel (the reward for booking on the outskirts of Paris) which quickly banished any anxiety that we might spend the night sleeping under that dual carriageway! After a little siesta and a wash and brush up, we headed down to the hotel's restaurant where we had our first French meal of the trip, once we had figured out how to order!

Travel Tip: If staying at an Ibis Hotel in Europe, there is usually also a Budget Ibis close by; sometimes it's right next door and sometimes it's a mile in a different direction! Your GPS mapping thingy may be confused by this, as will some people you ask for directions, so do double check the address and which type of Ibis you have booked before setting off on a long, long walk in the wrong direction, with all your luggage like we did!

Paris - Sunday 24th May 2015
Parc Kellermann

After a good nights sleep we set off bright and early towards the Metro, which we now found could be reached from the bottom of the road after a pleasant stroll through the beautiful Parc Kellermann, a real tonic compared to the chaotic route the day before, and made us aware that the area we were staying in was actually quite nice, nowhere near as rough and ready as we had thought!

Eiffel Tour
After purchasing a one day Metro ticket (€7 each) from the ticket office (the machines seemed only to offer single trip tickets, so I mustered up the courage to try out my French, not that my family who I was quietly trying to impress were even paying attention, C'est la vie!), we made our way via Place d'Italie to Bir-Hakeim the best stop for the Eiffel Tower. We walked along the main road and encountered our first street traders of the holiday, selfie sticks and Eiffel Tower ornaments abound. After battling through them, being as polite as our well brought up English demeanour allowed, we made it to the tower which was carpeted by a sea of tourists. We grabbed some breakfast/lunch from a Kiosk and then made our way to a shady seat adjacent to the tower from which we could see the grand structure reaching into the sky between the trees, the weather was perfect and our fresh baguettes were delicious, so it was bliss!

Believe it or not, this is the best photo of us all! We took a few and not in one are we all looking happy, but this one makes me laugh so I am sharing it!
After lunch, my brother and dad went off to find the tour group with whom they'd booked tickets to scale the tower. Mum and I, not being fans of great heights, opted to sit and watch the world go by until they returned. When the wind picked up a little, we decide to go for a walk down to the main stretch in front of the tower, where the hoards of tourists were milling about. We sat for a  short while basking in the warm sunshine until we could take the pestering from the beggars and the selfie stick sellers no longer and returned to our seat in the shade. On the boy's return, they told us they had a great time and expressed their wonder at the beautiful views across Paris. Mum and I were quite content just to look at the pictures.

Mum & the Tower // Me, James & Mini Stee // The View from the top

Our next plan was to catch the RER to St Michael Notre Dame. The platform at this station was very long and the train was built to match it. As we were waiting at the end of the platform, on a bend where the driver couldn't see the end of the train, and because it took so long for the passengers to depart, there was almost no time for boarding, which meant James and dad were the only ones to get on. I'd kind of got on, as I'd managed to get myself wedged in the closing doors (it wasn't just my top that had blue stripes on that evening I can tell you!) but somehow, thankfully, I'd managed to get back onto the platform with mum to wait for the next train. Deciding that the train to Notre Dame was going to be too long a wait, we chose to get on the very next train which was terminating a few stops earlier; reasoning that it would be the same platform and we could wait there just as well as here.

Notre Dame Cathedral

When we arrived we realised this was a massive mistake, the train we were on had pulled into a siding platform and there were no legible signs to suggest where to go - eek! Luckily we managed to find a Guard who was helping some other befuddled English tourists, and by listening intently we managed to decipher a platform. Eventually, quite shaken by our little detour, we managed to meet up again much to mum and my relief. The boys, however, were totally unconcerned about leaving us behind and had even bought themselves a bag of Haribo to eat while they waited for us to arrive! Once, thankfully, out of the station, we walked around the magnificent Notre Dame cathedral and after a few wrong turns, around the Île de la Cité, we found the entrance to our next destination- Sante-Chappelle.


From the street, you would have no idea what beauty lies hidden behind the more modern, but still super old, buildings. The only clue that there is something special awaiting you is the length of the queue, which stretches up the street. Once in the grounds, you get your first true glimpse of this Gothic, gargoylian masterpiece. Built around 1238 (taking only seven years to complete) it was commissioned by Louis IX of France to hold his sacred Christian relics, such as Christ's Crown of Thorns. Now I have to say, that the French really knew how to house a sacred relic in style, as once you step inside the true beauty of this building is revealed in all its breathtaking glory.

Sante-Chappelle Upper Chapel

After passing through the beautiful lower chapel and climbing the twisting spiral staircase up to the massive upper chapel, we were immediately awestruck by the overwhelming beauty before us! The upper chapel has 15 windows, each 15m high and all depicting scenes from the bible in the most beautiful and detailed stained glass I have ever seen. It's simply breathtaking, worth every Euro of the €8.50 ticket price and every minute of the hour-long queue. We were actually lucky to see it as it had been closed for months whilst undergoing restoration, and had literally just opened back up that week. If you're in Paris and you get the chance, religious or not, it's somewhere truly worth adding to your sightseeing list!

Sante-Chappelle upper & lower chapel

Once outside, in the slightly less colourful Parisian daylight, we headed across the road to the Brasserie Les Deux Palais, where we had a dinner of ham baguettes and coffee. It was then time for a leisurely rambling stroll around the streets and along the Seine. We walked across to the south side of the river passing rollerskating street performers and a musician playing a piano in the middle of the bridge, it was so wonderful and so French!

Batobus Hop on, Hop off River Boat Shuttle Service

We decided to make our way to the nearest river cruise company for a relaxing bob along the Seine and this is where we found Batobus Paris, located at the Hotel De Ville stop. The tickets were a little expensive at €16 each but they can be used all day for hopping on and off at different locations along the route, so if bought in the morning they would be better value!

Bobbing along the Sein
Our twilight river cruise was lovely. We were able to take in some of the best sights from a new angle. The only downside, was that at this time the cruises were no longer going along to the small-scale Statue of Liberty on the Île des Cygnes, so we missed the fab view of the statue with the Eiffel Tower in the background, something which had stuck in my mind from my very first trip to Paris many years ago. My family were none the wiser to what they had missed, so they were not disappointed.

The Louvre at Night
We decided to depart the boat at the Louvre so that we could see a little more of Paris before returning to our hotel. It looked so spectacular lit up and it was blissfully quiet with only a few tourists milling about. As soon as we returned to our hotel, we ordered some Earl Grey tea before bed, it had been a very long but fabulous day!

On the Metro
Travel Tip: If you are wearing a Breton stripe (surely it's 'de rigueur' that most women will get the urge to do so when travelling to Paris) be prepared to be asked directions or for the time (at least in hindsight I think that's what I was being asked) by many Parisians. I was mistaken for French more times than I can remember; which might have as much to do with the fact I was in France as anything, but I am sure the stripy top helped! Don't get me wrong I was really rather flattered, it's just I felt an utter fraud when I had to wheel out my go to "Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas français" (I am sorry, I don't speak French), it's certainly a line worth learning rather than blankly staring back at a poor confused Parisian.

The next day we left the hotel and made our way to Gare du Lyon, in preparation for catching our next train. Before boarding, we hastily grabbed some sandwiches from the stations Pret a Manger (which we discovered is a British company) and then had a quick coffee in the Costa (also a British company, so much for eating locally!). All that was left was to board the SNCF to Zurich, say 'Au Revoir' to Paris and watch as the grey cloud and lush green French countryside flew by our picture window. Switzerland, here we come!

Wendy x

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