Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Winter in Paris : Part One.

The French capital conjures up ideas of romance, exceptional fashion and impeccable food. Everyone has their ideas of what to expect from the so called 'City of Love', home of the love lock bridge and for a brief spell, Carrie Bradshaw. We all know this romanticised vision of Paris, but does it really stack up to expectations? I had this vision of Paris as being to young couples, what Benidorm is to a stag weekend. Probably not my kind of thing.

I read plenty of reviews and trip tips online and saw a lot of negativity. I saw a lot of 'no-one speaks English' and 'the French are rude.' But i've got to say, it wasn't so. In our experience, everyone in the main tourist areas that we tended to stick to, spoke English and everyone we interacted with, were really friendly. Paris was way more than I expected it to be, and there was plenty to keep our days full of wonder and wandering. Spoiler alert... Paris really is pretty enchanting.

The first thing we did after checking in at our hotel was hop on a train bound for the center of Paris. The metro system sometimes feels like a rabbit warren, but it's pretty easy to figure out and we were swiftly on a new train to the Eiffel Tower. It was a chilly evening, and there seemed to be only one elevator in operation (maybe two). I think we waited about 45 minutes to get to the elevators. Which was plenty of time for my buddy to chicken out of a trip to the tippy top of the tower. So we got tickets to the 1st floor, which is actually split across two levels. 

Each elevator is a double decker, so one pod drops off at the top half, and the other on the bottom. As we were on the top elevator we explored the top half which had little shops, a little cafe and outdoor space to enjoy the views. Seeing everything glittering below was a pretty good way to kick off the week! On the way up we saw an ICE RINK! Possibly the worlds most awesome place to skate, but we were planning on going skating later in the week so gave it a miss.

Out of the tips I found online for the Eiffel Tower, i'd definitely say staying on the metro until the Trocadéro stop is a good idea. It's much easier to find the tower, as once you get to street level it more or less looms right over you. There's a great place to stop and take photos, a sort of elevated platform before you head down some steps into really pretty garden area. Then it's just a short walk to the tower, and you get to pass this gorgeous carousel on the way. Another idea I picked up is to film the view from outside the elevator as you go up or down the tower. I was lucky enough to be first in so I got a great spot to do that from, and it makes for a great video to bring home.

The Parisian architecture is gorgeous, especially the beautiful gothic style churches and cathedrals.
The first we visited was the Basillica Sacré-Cœur and it set the bar pretty high. No photos are allowed inside and although we did see some people snapping a few photos, we decided not to chance a telling off and kept our cameras away. There was a really cute little shop inside and Claire picked up a gorgeous little crystal style ornament for her Grandma.

Although it's free to enter and look around, there is an extra charge to go in the dome, and the crypt. You can do both, or either on their own. We did both. Climbing up to the dome reveals amazing views over the rooftops of the Montmarte area, but a word of warning it's a very tight spiral staircase up, and in the winter the walls are very cold. So put your gloves on!

Just out of sight to the right... The Eiffel Tower.

The second most popular location we visited by far, was the Cathedral of Notre Dame. There were people, everywhere! Outside, inside, all the way up in the towers and i'd hazard a guess that the crypt would be full too. We didn't spend as much time here as we probably should for full effect, but by the time we had walked around it was starting to get dark and I realised i'd lost my 5 day train pass... Don't worry, I did find it again! But next time, I would definitely like to spend more time at this beautiful place.

I think everyone knows of the iconic Notre Dame, but lesser known and a stones throw away is the chapel of Sainte Chapelle. I stumbled upon photos online of this place and I knew straight away we had to go. They were restoring some of the windows when we visited, so there was scaffolding and covers over portions of the exterior, so I didn't snap any pictures of it. Although I noticed these adorable carvings on the wall near the entrance that I had to snap a picture of.

At first, we thought we'd gone to the wrong place or i'd gotten something a little mixed up, as we entered into a large room containing some exhibits showing information about the church and some stalls selling postcards, trinkets and souvenirs. Then we spotted a little spiral staircases tucked away in the corner, which led us exactly where we were hoping to go. Sainte Chapelle has absolutely phenomenal, gorgeous windows. We didn't get to see the rose window, as it was being renovated. I literally don't know what I can say about this place. I think the picture says it all for me.

We got to the Arc de Triomphe just in time to see the ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier. Unfortunately, we only saw it from across the street as we couldn't figure out where the underpass was and there was no chance of anybody getting across that road around it! If ever I get a chance to go back, I'm definitely going to spend a little longer looking for the underpass, as i'd have liked to have had the chance to get a closer look, and see what it was like inside. If you stay on the metro a little longer, you can pop your head out at La Defense and see the Grand Arch too. Which is awesome! I thought I snapped a photo, but I can't find it.

Lastly, the Catacombs. I don't really know what I can say about the Catacombs. It was a mix of things, some of which you might not expect. Theres a lot of interesting information about the formation of the tunnels and amazing little structures carved into the walls before you enter the main ossuary. I found it quite frustrating to see a lot of people posing for pictures in front of the bones with big grins on their faces. (Using the flash too! Despite signs saying not to.)

One of the best things about all of these places, they were either free to enter, or free/at a reduced price for those under 26 from the EU. So if you're under 26 don't forget to take some ID and you can save yourself quite a few Euros!

Stay tuned tomorrow for part two, including museums and food!

Catch up with me;

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