Family holiday’s are both a Holiday & a Project. When you have kids, 6 + pieces of luggage , you shortlist restaurants based on the cleanliness of their restrooms, are constantly worried that everything goes as per plan – you come back after many a holiday happy , relieved & TIRED.
While I am on business travel almost every week – I was yet to take a holiday all by myself. So when the next business review at London came on a Mon I planned a weekend at Paris – all alone. The Schengen Visa was already there and Christophe my good friend was all to keen to host me and show me around.
Jet has a convenient flight from Mumbai that lands at Heathrow at 630 AM – you can clear immigration in less than 30 min (if you have a fast-track card) – and reach the rail station St Pancreas by a cab in another 45 Min (The Heathrow express is cheaper but it’s a hassle to change to a cab at Paddington – especially if you have luggage). The check in & Passport control is simple and you can complete all formalities in less than 30 min and enter the Eurostar. I had booked 3 months in advance so my rate was 60 GBP (One way). Its efficient – a high end Shatabdi which covers the London to Paris distance in 2 Hrs. 15 Min (Peak speed is 350 Km / Hr, Rajdhani Peak speed is 125 Km / Hr). Point to note each adult is entitled to 2 large bags – no weight limit.
Christophe met me at the Paris Nord station at 2.45 PM on Fri and stayed with me all through till I took the Eurostar back to London on Sun at 7 PM.
Day 1 Fri from 3.30 PM Onwards : Walk , Walk & Walk – smell the city , feel the pulse, enjoy the environment
We walked past the Pompidou Center down to Seine river then to the Prefecture de Paris building facing the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral.
Then across to the Concièrgerie (a palace where Marie-Antoinette was held captive before her fatal execution during the first French revolution in the late 18th century).
France has over 9000 varieties of Cheese
We then wandered across the Seine (saw a bridge full of locks – a symbol of lovers locking their love for eternity) had a quick wine and cheese stop-over in L’Écluse and entered the Latin Quarter (south bank of the river)
A lovely wine bar
Day 2 – Palace of Versailles, Eiffel Tower , War Museum
We started day 2 (Sat) by visiting the Grand Palace of Versailles. It’s supposedly the second most visited tourist spot in the world after the Vatican. The palace is located about 30 Km from Paris – and was built when the King wanted to leave the madness of the Paris. Palace opens at 9 AM. We spent 90 min here.
On the way back we stopped by the town of Versailles and then headed back to Paris for a ride up the Eiffel tower to get a great view of the city. (An even greater view is to se the Eiffel tower sparkle with lights for 10 min at every hour in the evening) – The Q for the lift can be long – Minimum 1 hr. There are 3 levels to which the lift goes and at the peak it’s impressive.
After lunch we visited the memorial of Napoleon (A Hospital that has been converted to a war museum) and spent some time at the war museum that has exhibits spanning the Napoleon Era, WW 1 & WW 2.
After so much of walking we managed to stop by for a quick foot massage and dinner then headed to the Notre Dame for an evening service. And finally ended the day with a drive past the Moulin Rouge all the way to Sacré Cœur in Montmartre. This is a beautiful Church located on top of a hill with a lovely view of the City.
Day – 3 , Sun – Louvre
We started Day 3 (Sun) with a visit to a Open Air Market in the outskirts of Paris – fresh vegetable, fruits , meat and a stew that looked like Alu Dam.
We finally visited the most spectacular piece of Paris The Louvre. A palace converted to a museum by spending over 10 B Euros (A grand Vision of Francois Mitterrand). The Louvre is grand, breathtaking , immaculate, perfection – I could go on and on. Its so large that a student of art may spend weeks, and even a tourist will need at least 1 full day to do justice to the grand display of paintings and artifact’s. The entry fee is 11 Euros – but on a Sunday the entry was free.
Yes it houses the most famous painting of the world “ Mona Lisa” (La Jaconda) and there are signs that direct you towards it (and most tourists do make a rush to get there first) but I personally felt that here were many more painting that outshine the Mona Lisa. The lady in Red also painted by Leonardo Da Vinci is equally impressive but sadly unknown.
There is also an interesting statue in the Egyptian section that resembles a Indian Priest. the statue is over 4000 years old.
Post lunch we walked down the Avenue des Champs Élysées leading to the Arc de Triomphe and then trudged our way back thru the Avenue de l’Opera crossing the magnificent opera House, the statue of Joan of Arc and the CAX.
Back at Paris Nord by 6 PM for the 7.13 PM Train to London.
What else could one have done – well there are many more museums to visit and the famous Moulin Rouge Cabaret. You can attend a show at the Opera House or watch a play. The cultural life is very busy & of course visit the Disneyland.
I stayed at a nice bed & breakfast on the outskirts of Paris facing a serene lake located very close to Versailles.
Few Quick points for Travellers from India
- Unlike London you will need to hunt for an Indian restaurant (Yes they exist but in specific localities dominated by SE Asians)
- Most restaurants are local mom & pop stores – even the Pizza Huts and McDonalds are rare to find (I saw 1 Pizza Hut & 2 McDonalds in the 2 days I was there). In most restaurants Veg food options are very limited.
- French specialty can sound scary to vegetarians – I was shocked to see my friend relish Steak Tartare (Raw minced beef meat with a mustard dressing) and at the table next to us our neighbor was enjoying Andouillette – a very parisian delicacy. (Sausage composed with a selection of Pig entrails. It is does smell a bit).
- Malls & Large Chains – Tesco, Carrefour, Metro exist but are difficult to find in the city. They are located in the suburbs.
- In Paris people understand English – but without a local like Christophe it would have been very difficult. In the suburbs it becomes even more difficult to communicate in English.
- Cabs are difficult to find. Did not see too many buses. But yes the city has a Metr0.
- Most cars are small (mainly French Brands – Renault, Citroen) and parking space is a hassle.
- Entry rates to most attractions vary from 5 – 10 Euro’s. The car parking is more expensive. Meal for two in a decent place with a few glasses of wine can be Euro 50.
- Paris is expensive – This short break ( 2 Night , 3 Day) can cost you ~ 35 K INR Ex London (This includes the cost of Eurostar tickets ) – I was lucky that my friend was taking me around all these places in his car – if I had to use a Taxi maybe I would have spent an additional $ 500.
In conclusion a wonderful 2-day break – and this would not have been possible without Christophe. It takes a lot to spend your entire weekend and be such a gracious host. Not just by accompanying you – but also in providing a wonderful commentary on all the interesting insights, helping me understand the culture & history of the place. Most importantly this was my first holiday in many years ( probably since I was a kid) when there was no responsibility and somebody was taking all the decisions. Sometimes it feels so good to sit back and relax.
We have started planning our next trip – both of us are WW 2 buffs and maybe the next trip will be to Warsaw to see how the Nazi’s operated their concentration camps at Auschwitz. Here is hoping that the next QBR is also on a Mon !
And finally a parting word to all men – women have Wanderlust, its time you did something for yourself and planned a few days once in a while all by yourself. Get some free space – you owe it to yourself.