I wrote most of this post on a train under the sea. How crazy is that?!
On Saturday we took some time off to go to Paris. It was our second trip to Paris, booked spontaneously due to a Eurostar flash sale, and it was surprisingly very different to the first time we visited.
The journey went very smoothly, and we had plenty of entertainment due to Joe insisting on bringing the Nintendo Switch We’re really lucky in that getting to Paris is easy: we get a tram to the train station, train to London, and then train to Paris. Once we’ve left our house, we can pretty much get straight to mainland Europe without really going outside.
We were even on one of the new Eurostar trains with onboard entertainment system (read: a handful of magazines, games and films that weren’t coded responsively which made them impossible to watch or play on my phone), plug sockets, much comfier seats, and some rather unreliable so-called wi-fi.
We got to the train station and breezed through easily – there’s only a security check at your departure station and even that is very relaxed – and walked down the street until we found our apartment.
Like last time, we booked a little studio apartment on Airbnb, and we weren’t disappointed. Apartments in the centre of Paris are notoriously small, even by typical European city standards (tip: always book one with a lift, they’re rarer than you’d expect), but it had everything we needed.
It was actually down the road from the last place we rented; we like staying near Gare du Nord train station as it’s much easier to arrive and leave.
In Paris we have a tradition of buying basics from the supermarket and then topping up with fresh bread and pastries from a local bakery supplemented with fresh fruit and veg from a local greengrocer’s. This time around our apartment had its own tiny balcony, so we were able to sit outside and enjoy breakfast.
Last time we were in Paris we went to Musee D’Orsay as I’d read on the internet that it was much better than the more famous Louvre. This time we went to the Louvre to see how it compared, and we weren’t massively impressed (tip: don’t eat there unless you want to spend your life savings). I’m a sickler for good organisation when it comes to things like this, and there was just an arrogance stemming from the knowledge that people will visit no matter how little effort they put in (see also Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, Illuminated).
But I got some good photos, and that’s what counts, right?!
I had to take a photo of this because I found it hilarious that people had left drinks next to a display card so it inadvertently looked like an exhibit! (It’s surpising that so many people had left rubbish around though – there were plenty of staff standing round who hadn’t bothered to clean it up).
I will never understand why people take photos, videos, and selfies with famous paintings. The crowd of people was three rows deep.
One of the best things about the museum was the Nintendo 3DS audio guide.
As we were leaving, we decided to take a shortcut across the main pyramid section outside. However, there were people with hazard tape closing off the area so we had to duck out of the complex and walk round. As we came around the other side, we heard a big explosion and a flock of birds were startled into the air.
It turned out that the bomb squad had arrived, cordoned off the area, and blown up a suspicious package. The French were super matter-of-fact about it; in fact, I struggled to find much information about it beyond a couple of tweets. It’s really depressing that this is just everyday life for people now.
After the drama of the Louvre, we headed over the river to find the Bridge of Locks, which is where couples go to attach padlocks as a declaration of love for each other.
Then we walked through the city to find the catacombs, which were something I’d wanted to see last time but had to skip due to time and them being in an awkward location not really near anything else of interest. We did initially try to get the Metro there, but when we went down to the station they were directing people elsewhere and were closing the station due to a suspicious package (whether the same or a different one, I have no idea), and we decided it was probably best to avoid the Metro till we knew what was going on.
When we finally got there we saw the queue and said “Oh my god”. I’d heard the queue was long but actually seeing it was something else! Apparently due to fire regulations they’re strict about how many people can be in the catacombs at any one time, which isn’t very many considering it’s around 2km long.
This turned out to be a huge advantage in practice, as although we were queuing for two hours, it was really easy to take photos without people getting in the way.
At the end of the catacombs you climb 82 steps to get out. It’s an extremely tight spiral staircase, and it made me really dizzy. In fact, the experience nearly made me have a panic attack, but thankfully we surfaced just in time.
The catacombs are probably my favourite Paris attraction to date, so they were well worth seeing and made up for the poor morning experience. By the time we’d wandered through and checked out the rather amusing gift shop, it was getting late so we headed back to Gare du Nord and ate at a little steak restaurant with great food and very friendly staff.
The next day we bought fresh bread and made lunch to take out with us. Our first stop was the ‘I love you wall’, a wall in a small park that says ‘I love you’ in lots of different languages.
Our second stop was the Invalides museum, a palace complex which consists of various army and historical exhibits, including a church with Napoleon’s tomb.
It was very well organised and atmospherically lit, and we found it really interesting. There was a wide range of exhibits on offer, from original paintings directly painted on to the walls, to a huge range of miniatures and miniature landscapes originally used by the army to plan their tactics centuries ago – kind of like huge 3D maps.
After browsing the buildings, we stopped to refuel in the cafe for an hour or so, and then headed off in the direction of the Eiffel Tower.
Last time I photographed it from the Arc de Triomphe, which is supposed to be the best view of it from height, but this time I wanted to photograph it reasonably close at night, especially since it’s supposed to be having a fence put up around it for security soon. Unfortunately there was already a lot of fencing near it already while work was going on on the garden area, so it took a while to find a good place to take photos from.
That was okay though, because we had an hour or so to wait before sunset.
It got pretty cold, and we “had” to buy crepes and play Splendor on my phone until the sun set, but it was totally worth it to get non-grey, non-cloud photos. The transition to night was beautiful.
With the suspicious packages, the increased prices (due to the low £), and the refugee families on the streets (including children and even a pet rabbit in one case), Paris seemed a lot bleaker than the last time we went. It’s inspired me to do more to help those people who have lost everything through no fault of their own, because it’s all too easy to pretend horrendous things aren’t happening.
On the flip side, it was enjoyable to see some of the great things Paris has to offer that we didn’t get a chance to see last time. I’m back home now with lots of inspiration and motivation, and that’s no bad thing.