I’ve been to Paris twice, the first time in 1999 and then again towards the end of 2001. (Hopefully I’ll be able to go again before long.) Both times I went with a mate (different ones), and the two trips could hardly have been more different. But one thing came through from both trips – Paris is my one of my favourite cities in the world.
My First Experience of Paris
I went with a friend who, like me, knew basically nothing of Paris, and spoke about as much French as me – virtually none! (Hey I’m not your average Englishman who thinks that everyone can understand me if I raise my voice and speak s l o w l y – I speak reasonable Spanish, and know a little Czech and German [resists urge to mention little Czech called Jan and little German called Hanz] – but I just don’t do French!) This meant a few communication difficulties occasionally, but of course most people there could speak perfectly good English too. Since we didn’t know the layout of Paris we spent a lot of time wandering around wondering where we were, and also made the mistake of getting the 175F (£17.50) travel card – it’s generally much cheaper to buy a pack of ten general purpose tickets instead. We flew in from Heathrow to Orly (not too far from the city centre) on a British Midland flight (breakfast included – an edible breakfast! I was seriously impressed…) for £80 from Lastminute.com – pretty good. We got a hotel in St Paul’s for about £60 per night B&B – though finding a hotel with reasonable prices took a while.
The first thing we went to see was the Eiffel Tower, which impressed me immensely (and continues to do so!). We met up with a friend who lives in Paris and went for a meal (she suggested going to McDonalds – tsk… no class, these continentals…) and we found a nice little place just outside the main centre of Paris. That evening however (how my friend must have rued it being his turn to pay) we looked for somewhere to eat on the Champs Elysees itself – BIG MISTAKE!! The meal we had wasn’t all that special and cost nearly £50 each!! Partly due to this I found myself very disappointed with French food from this visit – however this was to be remedied on my next visit…
A combination of not knowing the city or the language combined to make this trip feel far shorter than it was, although a weekend really isn’t enough to see this beautiful city anyway. However I had already fallen in love with Paris, and desperately wanted to visit it again. It was nearly a year and a half before I did…
Me Second Experience of Paris
It was October 2001 (I think – not very good with dates…) when I managed to go to Paris again. But this time I was far mor prepared – not simply because I’d already been and had done a little research, but because I was going with a different friend – one who not only spoke fluent French but had also lived in Paris for a year, and knew it inside out. This meant that when we wanted to go somewhere, we went straight there instead of taking unintentional (but interesting) two-hour detours.
We also had a few friends to visit between us, and one of these showed us where the some of the best restaurants are – mainly on the little side-streets coming off the end of the Champs Elysees, at the Arch de Truimphe end. (My impression of French cuisine rocketed up after that…)The absolute best place in Paris to go for dining out though has to be St Michel – some great Latino places, along with pretty much every other type of cuisine you can think off. I had to go to the Eiffel Tower again, and again at night, along with another ride on the ferris wheel at the end of the Champs Elysees – you get a fantastic view of the street at night. (It was loaned to Birmingham at the end of 2003 / start of 2004 , and apparently was a great success – but somehow I can’t get excited about looking at Stechley and surrounding areas in the same way…)
Doing the river trip down the Seine was great, apart from forgetting my camera that day. The Sacre Coeur isn’t particularly impressive but getting up to it by foot i an achievement. The area around Moulin Rouge looks even seedier than I’d imagined. The Hagen Das café on the Champs Elysees is pure decadence and thus is of course an essential part of your Paris experience. Just walking along the riverside is a pleasant experience. The Trochadero gardens are beautiful, although are even more impressive when viewed from the second stage of the Eiffel Tower.
Now that I knew where I was going (or at least, with someone who did), I found the Metro to be a cheap and reliable way to get around. Though I know we can all be prone to seeing everything through rose-coloured glasses while on holiday, I genuinely think the stations were a lot cleaner than their London counterparts. Incidentally, we went to Paris by Eurostar this time, which was quick, clean, and comfortable – can’t recommend the food much though! (If you’re worried about going through le tunnel then I’ll describe the experience for you – you hear an announcement that you’re going to enter the channel tunnel… you can’t see anything outside for about twenty minutes… then you come out and you’re in France… and that’s it! I get a little claustrophobic – especially in lifts (elevators) – but felt nothing at all in the tunnel.)
On our last day we visited the Louvre – free entry on Sundays! HUGE queues though – you’re looking at at least an our to get in. I wish I’d been there long enough to give it a proper review now – but I think you’d need at least a couple of days just to get through it. Apart from one of the best collections of art anywhere in the world (albeit the Mona Lisa did absolutely nothing for me), with their pre-renaissance paintings particularly impressive, the Louvre also houses several exhibits of archaeological findings. (I was pleased to find that they had a reasonably large collection of important English painters represented too – for some reason Gainsborough seemed to be featured more heavily than any of the others, but that may be because I didn’t get around all of the galleries. My favourtie French artist – Jean-Claude Carot – was of course featured quite extensively too.) Some items only had commentary in French, but as I had a personal translator with me that didn’t matter!
Now that I’ve convinced some of the more gullible of you that I’m cultured (the charade won’t last long though…), I think I’ll wrap up. There’s a lot more to Paris, and a lot that I don’t remember very well. Guess I’ll just have to go there again then! ;-D
Suggested Trips around Paris
Not too far away by train (about an hour) is the little village of Chantille. I can’t say there’s an amazing amount there to do and see, but it’s like stepping into another world – one that has changed very little in the past couple of centuries. Everything there seemed so calm and relaxed.
One place I’ve always wanted to go (ok I admit it, I haven’t been yet – but I still think it’d be a great trip – that’s why I’ve always wanted to go…) is the Monet Gardens in Giverney.
I hope this has given you a rough idea of what Paris is like. Thanks for reading it (and enduring to the end)!