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17 April 2012

Paris Notes

We were in Paris for a few days last week with our 9-year old grandson; (York to London, then Eurostar from St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord.)

I'd like to thank the weather forecasters for getting their forecast spectacularly wrong. Instead of the promised wind, rain, and thunderstorms, we enjoyed mainly calm and dry days with sunny periods.

The first evening was a bit wet and windy, which accounts for the doubtful quality of this photograph. I should call it "From one tower to another" as I took the picture from the observation deck of the Montparnasse Tower which is a modern skyscraper building set above a shopping mall off the Boulevard Montparnasse (6th Arrondissement). It has 56 floors, allegedly the fastest elevator in Europe, with a restaurant and observation deck at the top.

Two views of Montparnasse Tower
Two Views of Montparnasse Tower

We couldn't get up the Eiffel Tower because three out of the four lifts were closed for maintenance, causing queues of two hours or more. The Montparnasse Tower made a pretty spectacular substitution!

We only had a couple of full days, so not a lot of time to see much, but we had bought Paris Visite passes which included "beat-the-queues" entry to Le Louvre and a couple of other museums, and also tickets for the Metro system. The Metro tickets proved to be invaluable, for I consider this system to be the only way to get around Paris. If you use buses you are in traffic jams; if you use taxis you are in traffic jams. Of course, thousands of other people know this also, so the Metro trains - it has to be said - are very crowded. But on the other hand, they are frequent and fast, so you don't have to suffer for too long. Line 1 is worth trying just for the experience of riding on very new and classy driver-less trains! The connecting corridors between coaches are open so you can walk through the entire train, and at each end you have a clear view of where you are going (or where you have been). The system is easy to use: just ascertain from the Metro Map where you want to go, note both the Line Number and the name of the terminus at each end of the line (so you catch the train going in the right direction!) There are automatic ticket barriers, and once you are through these you are free to walk the relevant passageways to whichever line you want, and to switch from one line to another at interconnecting stations.

Our hotel was "Le Littre" in Rue Littre just off Rue de Rennes just north of the junction with Boulevard du Montparnasse.
This is a well-appointed hotel, with comfortable rooms and helpful and friendly staff. The English are lazy linguists so another reason I would recommend it is the fact that the staff are multi-lingual.

Typically for French hotels, provision of meals is limited to breakfast, but this is taken in a large and bright dining room, with a good selection of fresh fruit, fruit juices, cereals, cheese, cold meats, and hot food consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages. For other meals of the day there are more cafes, brasseries, restaurants, bistros, etc. in Paris than you can shake a stick at.

If you have young children who want to look at toys, then go to the Passage des Princes just off Boulevard Italien (nearest Metro Richelieu Druot Lines 8 and 9). This is a small shopping arcade given over entirely to toy-shops. Alternatively go to the Galleries Lafayette department store on Boulevard Haussmann (a short walk from the junction of Boulevard Italien and Boulevard Haussmann). Go the 5th floor of this extraordinary building for toys.

Of course, everyone goes to the Musee du Louvre and you could spend an entire week in there, but like many people we only had a few hours to spare, so joined the inevitable crowd heading to Salle No.6 to view the Mona Lisa. Well, you have to do it, don't you? But then there's all that other stuff to look at as well. We managed to have a walk around the Roman, Greek and Egyptian antiquities before having lunch in a nearby cafe and on to the next destination.

Eiffel Tower viewed from the river Seine
Eiffel Tower viewed from a river Seine cruise boat
Although we couldn't get up the Eiffel Tower it was worthwhile just visiting it at night to see it lit up in all its glory (use Metro Line 6, Bir-Hakeim station). On every hour it becomes festooned with flashing white lights from top to bottom. This is a truly amazing structure (the biggest Meccano set I've ever seen!) and it's re-painted every 7 years by 25 painters climbing all over the structure using about 60 tons of brown paint (applied by brush, would you believe?!) over a period of 18 months.

No trip to Paris would be complete without a cruise on the river Seine. If you are sloshing about in lots of money then you can get an evening dinner cruise, but otherwise there are frequent hour-long cruises (with multi-lingual commentaries) run by a number of operators.

We had pre-purchased tickets on-line with Bateaux-Mouches. These boats operate from a jetty just upstream of Pont de l'Alma. (Metro Alma Marceau Line 9). Our on-line purchase actually just produced an email with an invoice number on it. On arrival at the Bateaux-Mouches ticket office you just go to a machine, punch in the number and out come your tickets.
Bateaux-Mouches Departures

On board

Approaching Ile de Cite
Our grandson enjoyed his first trip to France and he was sorry to be leaving Paris. We returned to London with good memories.

A quick note about the Parisiens:
They are popularly believed to be rude and arrogant. We did not experience this. All the people we dealt with were polite, helpful, and in many cases happy to have a go at speaking English if we couldn't make ourselves understood in French. I believe that if you treat people with politeness and respect, then that is what you get back - where ever you happen to be. My theory, for it's worth, is that if you go somewhere expecting hostility then you tend to transmit that expectation and engender a reciprocal response.

Here's another thing .. for the most part, both women and men were smartly dressed (even casually) and evidence of obesity was conspicuous by its absence (in spite of all those wonderful patisseries, boulangeries, cafes and restaurants .. and McDonalds!) It was - in short - a "Slob-free Zone".