Extra Long Weekend in Paris

Eiffel Tower

I’m not really a fan of Paris, it smells and is full of rude French people (I’m a French national, so can get away with saying that), so when Partho and Marilena were at my flat on New Year’s Eve and it was suggested that we go to Paris in 2013 I wasn’t that fussed. Jen was pretty keen to go and a matter of days later had found some cheap Eurostar tickets and we were booked to go to Paris for a long weekend! Then I accepted an offer on my flat and the 119 Project started to gain pace, so I was quite looking forward to a weekend away from DIY!

The trip started well, the train from Rugby to London was busy, but on time and we didn’t have to wait too long for Partho and Marilena at St Pancras. Before we knew it we were travelling at 170mph through the Kent countryside towards Paris.

On arrival we checked into our hotel (Ibis Eiffel Tower at Cambronne) then headed straight to the Arc de Triomphe, for some evening sightseeing. Following a suggestion from “Bulldong” on the Pistonheads forum, we headed towards our chosen restaurant for the evening – Le Relais de Venise. I’d heard of this restaurant before and had been meaning to check out the London one for a while, so wasn’t too surprised to see a queue. We joined the back and within 30 minutes we were at the front looking at the hand written menu showing the only option for main course, “Streak frites”! After a few more minutes we were ushered in, the restaurant was typically French with the maximum amount of tables crammed into the small room, the food was excellent and well worth the wait. After dinner, Partho and Marilena suggested that we went for a drink at the bar on the 34th floor of their hotel which was just around the corner, their hotel was a lot posher than ours, but I was still shocked to see the drinks prices – €17 for a beer and €27 for a cocktail – the bottle of wine we had with dinner was only €14! Drinking Laphroaig (even at €25) looking over Paris to the Eiffel Tower with its hourly light show was a perfect way to spend the evening!

The second day started in the best French style – with pastries from the boulangerie! We then went back to the Arc de Triomphe to start our day of sightseeing with a walk down the Champs Élysées, we had a look in a few clothes shops etc, but my favourite thing about shopping here are the car manufacturers shops/galleries. Peugeot wasn’t great, unless you are in the market for a pepper mill, which Peugeot are the Ferrari of. Mercedes was strange, the cars all had wraps, think gold G-Wagen, snakeskin SLS and velvet CLS! Renault seemed more about the cars than any of the others, with the new RenaultSport Clio and a Redbull F1 car being the highlights, also after sitting in a Twizy they seem to make more sense. At Citroen we skipped the road car section an went to the rally display in the basement, where for €2 you can go in the “4D rally simulator”, which was well worth it, especially as €2 doesn’t get you very much in Paris. After Citroen we stopped for a drink, which was a mistake, as right at the end of the shops Jen spotted the Fiat gallery, which had a Maserati exhibition and a cafe with a 30s Maserati Grand Prix car on the top floor which would have been the perfect place to stop for a drink, The gallery also had a Ghilbi, which is a car I’d not seen in the metal before, but was curious about after reading a restoration thread on Pistonheads, and the Maserati edition 500 Abarth.

We then continued our walk towards the Louvre, stopping for a ham and cheese crepe at Place de La Concorde, which we ate overlooking one of the ponds in Jardins de Thuiles. I imagine the gardens would be a great place to spend some time in the summer, but as the weather wasn’t great it was a brisk walk through the gardens to have a look at the pyramids at the Louvre, followed by a confusing 10 minutes looking for the Apple store (for warmth and free wifi), only to find that it was actually underground! Entering the Louvre, via one of the pyramids, was quite a spectacular expreience, the way that the architects combined the modern glass structures with the palace worked really well. Once we’d paid for our tickets (€11) we did what seemingly every other tourist does and headed straight for the Mona Lisa, although I’m still yet to understand why it is so much more important than any of the other paintings in the museum. We wandered around the museum for a few more hours, the Egyptian exhibition was good, especially the tombs and the mummy, but the sheer amount of exhibits was too much for us, personally I think they should have gone for quality over quantity!

After the Louvre the plan had been to go up the Eiffel Tower, but as there was so much to look at in the museum we were there for longer than we expected and actually quite tired, so headed back to the hotel for a rest, before meeting at the Buddha Bar restaurant which Marilena had booked for us. The food was good, Partho and Marilena went for a sushi platter, Jen and I had Thai style dishes, all under the eyes of a giant golden Buddha. Rather than taking the Metro all the way back to the hotel we decided to walk the first and last parts, crossing the Seine near Place de la Concorde I was able to take the photo of the Eiffel Tower at the top of this post. As we were out for dinner I had only taken my Canon S90 compact, but I’m still pleased with the picture and no doubt would have frozen to death if I had been making sure I got the perfect shot with my DSLR and tripod.

When we woke up on our third morning the top of the Eiffel Tower was in the clouds, not ideal considering our plan for the day was to go up it! Instead we took a walk along the Seine to Notre Dame, with a stop en route for breakfast in a typical cafe where we could watch the world go by and warm up a bit! After looking round Notre Dame we went to Les Marais via Centre Pompidu. The reason for going to Les Marais was another restaurant recommendation from Pistonheads, when we got to Rue des Rosiers we knew we’d found L’as du Fallafel as it was the only one of the falafel places on the road with a queue outside! When Partho and Marilena arrived we joined the queue and were told that we would have a 12 minute wait – very precise! It was worth the wait in the rain, our falafel pittas were some of the best street food we’ve eaten anywhere in the world!

The plan for the afternoon was that Jen and I would go to Sacre Couer, then meet Partho and Marilena under the Eiffel Tower. The walk from the Metro to Sacre Couer reminded me of the walk to Park Guell in Barcelona, lots of tourist tat, but we still managed to find a nice chocolate shop and stopped at another cafe for a crepe to warm us up, did I mention it was absolutely freezing? Not fancying the walk up the hill, we took the funicular up to the basilica, which I actually thought was more impressive than Notre Dame, however, the real reason for going to Sacre Couer was the view, which I’m sure would have been better without the fog. The fact it’s where C’etait un rendezvous ended had nothing to do with going there – honest! After a few quick pictures we walked back down the hill and got the Metro to Torcadero – for more views of the Eiffel Tower, but as the weather was still pretty rubbish they weren’t great. So we crossed the river to meet Partho and Marilena under the Eiffel Tower, which seemed to be the coldest place in Paris! Due to the weather we decided we would only go up to the second level, but as I had a bottle of wine in my rucksack (bought as a gift, not for consumption up to tower) I wasn’t allowed past the airport style security, so we went back to the hotel to warm up.

For dinner, Jen & I followed yet another tip from Pistonheads and went to Chez Gladines, a Basque restaurant, we both love the Basque Country, especially the food and it was where we went on our first holiday together. We found ourselves in another typically French restaurant, with everybody packed in, sharing tables etc, as the evening went on more and more people kept arriving and crowding round the bar, making use of every possible space to wait for a table! I chose Basque chicken from the menu and Jen went for steak, both came with loads of fried sliced potatoes (think a cross between chips and crisps) and veg, on realising we were from the UK, the waiter asked if we were from near Leicester, which he described as “a bit shit”, you can’t say fairer than that!

On Tuesday morning we woke to snow, a quick check of the Eurostar website said trains were running, so we decided to go straight to Gare de Nord to ensure we made our train. When we got there it was chaos – all Eurostar trains had been cancelled due to snow in northern France! When we eventually got to speak to someone we were told to come back the next day and try our luck. We were able to get booked into a hotel at Gare de Nord, even better, we were able to check into our room straight away to regroup, speaking to our travel insurance company and eventually Eurostar to get rebooked onto the first train the next morning.

With our travel home sorted, it was time to enjoy our extra day in Paris! As it was still snowing, we wanted to stay indoors, so got the Metro to Galeries La Fayette, the French equivalent of Harrods in London, Partho and I went watch (window) shopping, whilst Jen and Marilena looked at shoes/handbags/jewellery etc, luckily we all managed to resist purchasing anything and retired to the Angelina tearoom for afternoon tea and cake, I went for their speciality hot chocolate and an amazing chestnut teacake, which also happened to be their speciality cake. Unsurprisingly, with it being the poshest shop in Paris, the tea and cake were seriously expensive, but well worth it! After refuelling, we had more energy for shopping and went to check out the food court, I love French food and wished I could have taken loads home, but wasn’t convinced I’d get the 5Kg tub of Nutella in any of our kitchen cupboards.

When we got back from Galeries La Fayette I checked with Eurostar again, their website said our rebooked train in the morning would also be cancelled and not to go to Gare de Nord! I decided to bite the bullet and book flights back to Birmingham, as my travel insurance did say they would cover this, Partho and Marilena decided they would get up at 5:00 and try their luck with Eurostar.

After a distinctly average meal over the road from our hotel we went to bed, glad that we wouldn’t be getting up early to wait around in a freezing station, just in case we could get on our train. However, in the morning we found out that Partho and Marilena did manage to get onto a train, but despite the early start they were still nowhere near the tunnel. We had a traditional French cafe breakfast, in what actually turned out to be a Belgian cafe, then battled across Paris on a busy RER to Charles de Gaulle airport. We were able to get a Croque Madame for lunch, Jen was yet to experience this French delicacy, luckily it lived up to the praise I’d given it. Looking at the big screens it seemed our plane would be on time, which was a relief given that some of the other Birmingham flights had been cancelled – consolidated with our flight it turned out. In the end we were about an hour late taking off but we made it back home safely, although our luggage did get to enjoy an extra 4 days in Paris.

I should add that we were eventually able to get refunds from Rail Europe and Eurostar, despite them being unhelpful while we were actually stuck and Natwest Advantange Gold Travel Insurance eventually paid out the rest of the extra costs, so we weren’t out of pocket for too long. The International Traveller Service I have on my phone through O2 was really useful, as despite spending a lot of time on the phone sorting out our travel back to the UK/dealing with the insurance company my phone bill wasn’t too bad at all.

Despite the travel chaos and the bad weather we all had a good time in Paris, I’m sure we will end up going back, but next time we will definitely leave it for late spring/early summer!

The 119 Project

It has been a while since my last blog post, mainly because I haven’t been doing much photography, my weekends have been taken up with renovating Jen’s granddad’s house, which we are hoping to move into by Easter!

Hopefully normal service will resume soon (we have some good road trips in the planning stages), but in the meantime I’m uploading photos of our progress to a 119 Project set on Flickr.