A young, attractive woman approaches me and asks if I speak English. I say yes. Once she has me charmed she thrusts a pen in my hand and asks me to sign a “petition”. I try to read it but most of it is obscured by her right hand. She insists I should sign it as it is for a good cause (for blind people apparently). But just before I do so I catch a glimpse of what her hand was concealing – the part where you had to pay money! I immediately give back the pen and tell her no thanks. She’s angry but I make a stern exit…
It has just been a mere 10 minutes since I stepped off the Eurostar in Paris. A Gypsy has tried a scam on me! I have been warned about pick pockets but not about other unsavoury aspects of Paris!
I am still the train station and come across somewhere to put my backpack. Unfortunately, the bag lockers are operated by coins only. I look for a merchant to exchange my notes for coins, explaining the situation. No can do! Even after buying a token item they are unwilling to give me coins instead of notes!
Coinless and frustrated, I head back down to the baggage storage area. Once my luggage has passed through an airport-style security scanner I discover there is a self-service machine which converts notes to coins! My large backpack is now safely stored and at 11am on 23th July 2014 I’m ready to explore Paris!
I catch the Metro and get off at Chatelet. Half an hour later I am inside Musee D’Orsay! I spend three hours there. Although I am taken away by the paintings and sculptures (and even the museum’s building, a decommissioned train station!), I have been “museumed out”! It is tempting while on holiday in Paris to see all of the museums but there’s only so much one can digest.
From Musee D’Orsay I continue on a long walk to the Basilica Sacre Coeur (a.ka. “The church on the hill”)! By the time I reach the Sacre Coeur I have worked up quite a sweat. Fortunately, there’s a water fountain there with chilled water. The Sacre Coeur is impressive but I enjoy walking around Montmartre even more. The streets are narrow and are bulging with tourists… there’s even a petit “train” they can take if they’re feeling lazy!
It is now the evening. I head back towards my hostel: St Christopher’s Inns Canal! It is situated along Canal Saint-Martin which is a nice area. Although I have paid some 50% more for my stay in St Christopher’s, it is of a much higher quality than that of London’s RestUp. The beds are assigned come with individual privacy curtains. There is even free lockable storage!
It is still bright outside so I go for a run along the Canal. It is one of the most picturesque runs I have been on. Paris is a pretty city and it must cost a fortune to keep it that way.
I wake to my second day. I’ve hopped off the Metro closest to the Eiffel Tower. It is 9:45am and there are already lines Eiffel Tower. Fortunately, the “walking up line” is a lot shorter and within 15 minutes I begin the 647 steps up to the second level! The walk up is no problem and another 15 minutes later I’m at the second level and join the queue for the elevator to the top. This line is deceptively long and 45 minutes later I am at the top! It offers fantastic views of Paris.
I leave the Eiffel Tower and have lunch in the park that surrounds it. Again, I come across the “petition” Gypsies but know better than to engage. I also see the “ring scam” which involves a guy dropping a “gold” ring close to unsuspecting tourists and offers to sell it for price much more than it is worth. It is quite obvious from where I am sitting and people are not fooled. Next stop: the Palace of Versailles!
I arrive at 2pm at the Palace of Versailles. To my relief the lines are short but inside it is packed full of people. As I shuffle through the palace I hate to think how much it would have cost to build and cost to rebuild it. Every square metre of its 67,000m^2 floor is impeccable but to me it well beyond grandiose: why would someone ever need a place so big! The gardens are even bigger and after spending a couple of hours wandering about I am exhausted!
The next morning I arrive at the Catacombs de Paris. I join the line at 10:45am and it’s a couple of blocks long! For the next three and a half hours, the line slowly creeps forward and finally I am at the entrance! The adventure begins with a long spiral staircase that takes you 20m below ground. Down here it is a chilly 14C and after a lengthy walk through head-height tunnels I now stand before a stone portal. In English it reads: “Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death”! Beyond this are walls artistically stacked with bones and sculls. Apparently the catacombs hold the remains of about six million people! It was quite an experience but to reduce time wasted in the queue I suggest to arrive an hour before the gates open.
An hour later I arrive at Notre Dame through a very tall doorway under an impressive archway. I’m wowed by Notre Dame’s facade and also by the stained glass at Sainte Chapelle. Seeing the sunlight through the stained glass panels is something worth viewing!
I’ve managed to compress the schedule, giving me a free day in Paris. It has been a long time since I’ve last been to a theme park so I head to Disneyland Paris! I make my way around the theme park rides but unfortunately the adrenaline junkie in me in not satisfied!
It is my last day in Paris and I arrive at Musee des Arts et Metiers. I’ve also made a detour to arrive at the Arts et Metiers station and find it without a doubt the cleanest and most appealing of the Metro stations I’ve visited in Paris. Inside the museum I am enlightened by the scientific instruments and other important technological developments. It is a must for any keen scientist or engineer!
Finally I head towards Arc de Triomphe as my last activity in Paris. As I get closer there are more people and Champs-Elysees is closed off. Fortuitously, I have arrived an hour before the 2014 Tour de France finale! The streets are overflowing with spectators as well as some talented buskers, but all eyes turn to the streets once the peloton arrives. I know the cyclists go fast but it is still incredible being close as they blitz along Champs-Elysees several times!
As the day becomes to a close, I take time to reflect of my stay in Paris. Day one left a bad impression of unfriendly locals and irritating Gyspies. However, the attractions made up for this. I felt that five nights was adequate to see Paris provided one did not go to The Louvre. I’ll save this one for my next trip to Paris!