Paris, Eiffel Tower, book Eurostar to London, purchase Sim Card, checkout car rental at Gare Mont Parnasse, Louvre visit, evening meal, Back to Michelene’s.
Chatter – he says
We knew that if we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower before the crowds, we needed to get there early. After an 8am breakfast of home made croissants and coffee, we headed to the Metro, used one of the 5 surplus ticket we had mistakenly purchased the day before and were metroed across Paris to the Tower. There were no queues at the self climb ticket office, so after negotiating the security where we had a long conversation with the guard on the prowess of Johah Lomu vs Cheval, we climbed the first 2 stories, then took the lift to the top. Brilliant views, even though a little cloud hanging around. Used the GPS to confirm we were actually on the Tower, and were not let down regarding its accuracy.
After negotiating the Nigerian hawkers at the exit of the tower trying to sell us everything from mini Eiffel towers to wind-up flappy wing doves that do fly (for a short time), we headed for the main railway station Gard du Nord to purchase Eurostar tickets to London in a month’s time, and check out where we will eventually drop off the rental car. Gard du Nord is a huge station with interconnecting metro, provincial and surburban lines. Signage was good and those we talked to were helpful with directions. Some French was very beneficial. Outside the station we spotted a “lebara” agent and went in to purchase a Sim Card for the phone. The guy was helpful, sold us a card, installed it for us, then I asked if I could ring his cellphone to check it worked – which it did. When I went to pay him, my money and credit card fell out on to the ground. The guy took pity on us thinking we were pathetic tourists who don’t deserve to be done over by pick pockets. He came around the counter gave us a good lecture on security and suggested we get out of Gard du Nord as quickly as possible because it is not a safe place for idiots like us. He forgot to tell us how to top up the sim card, and that we needed to register it on the internet - in France - with lebara so that we could top it up on line in any country. As it was a French sim card, all the menus on the phone became French so we needed to work our way through these with our limited French to change the language to English. It is not a phone I am very familiar with so it took some time but we did accomplish it. We received a number of SMS from lebara, - in French - which I did not take seriously enough, but their significance became important once we left France.
By the time we had sorted these things out fed ourselves etc and gone back to our accommodation, we had only about an hour’s rest, before heading back into Paris for our evening’s guided tour of the Louvre.
This trip was amazing. We arrived at 6:15 at the Louvre tour start point. We were given head phone receivers for our tour, the guide talked us through the use of these, asked everyone if their headphones were working, kicked out those who had joined the wrong tour, and off we headed to the Louvre, as a bunch. All the way the guide talked to us. Before entering the Louvre, 4 of the group (Americans) complained they could not hear the guide at all. It turned out they had not listened to anything they had been told. The guide was very patient, phoned the guide of the group they should have been with, left a message on her phone, and waited for a response. While she was talking on the phone, one of the Americans was clowning around talking into his receiver unit saying “can you hear me now?” and other such nonsense. At this point I thought that the American border control had it all wrong. The world would be a better place if they spent time preventing such Americans from leaving, rather than preventing foreigners from entering. After standing around for an hour, we finally got into the Louvre. The guide had unlimited, unparralled, knowledge of the place and its contents. It was fascinating listening to her on the storyline behind various paintings, and observing how she handled complex historical questions, and the like. She had 4 main items to show us – Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the winged victory, and the David portrait of Napolean’s coronation. She whisked us around in the allotted 2hrs, and fitted in whatever else she could. The Louvre is a place that deserves much more time than 2hrs, but that is about as much as can be absorbed in one session.
After the Louvre, which took its toll on us physically, (3hrs or more on our feet at the end of a busy day), we found a restaurant that had reasonably priced mains. I ordered a steak at my peril. On my previous trip to Paris about 30yrs ago, I recall that the French had developed the fine art of ruining a perfectly good steak. After digging into my steak for the first time, I concluded the French in the intervening years had perfected that art. A word of advice. If offered a steak knife by the waiter, ask for a drop saw. After cutting the meat with the drop saw, the blade will most likely be blunt. If still hungry, don’t eat the meat, eat the blade as it will be more tender than the meat it cut. (Did the French invent the original blade steak?).
We had one more surprise at this restaurant. Two coffees cost us the equivalent of NZ$30, one beer NZ$15, and one gin and tonic NZ$30. Many lessons learnt here. I better stop there because at some point I have to go back through France, and I don’t wish to be lynched – at least not by them.
Thank goodness for the Metro – it’s a pleasure to experience, trains every 2 minutes even at 11pm, and it took us home without issues.
Chatter – she says
As we only had one day in Paris I had researched it heavily and was determined to get to the Eiffel Tower the moment it was open so to avoid the queues. Michelene, who ran our B&B, didn’t seem to to pick up on our tourist urgency, and kept us talking til 9am, with each sentence ending with “ but I must get on, I ‘av so much to do , it eez all so much ‘ard work. I am up cooking the coissants from 5 in ze morning every day !” At which we’d inch towards the door with a “well we won’t keep you then” but we had to listen to how hard she worked for another 15mins before we escaped out the door and hot footed it for the metro.
Eiffel Tower was fantastic and as I had not had the money to go up it when I was last in Paris 30 yrs before ( having felt it was more urgent then to spend my money on a lovely pair of Italian boots), I was determined this time to get up “the giant asparagus” ( as the French knew it when it was first built). There was no queue at that hour and to burn off all Michelene’s coissants and pain au chocolate we walked up to the second level. From here you could really appreciate the beauty of Paris laid out below all around you . I pointed out to Kevin that the tree lined avenue of the Trocadero gardens running to wards the magnificent façade of the Palais de Chaillot, was just the look I was trying to achieve in my garden with the recently laid path to the gate into the pigs paddock. He pointed out that Fraser’s house glimpsed through the hedge at the end of said path hardly equated with the Palais de Chaillot.
We took the lift to the top of the tower from the second level and you have to really wonder at the engineering feat that is the Eiffel tower considering that it was constructed in the 1800s. After this we descended to first floor where we had a coffee (tasted like Nescafe) in the café by a window with one of the most famous views in the world and wrote a couple of post cards.
Travelled then to Gare de Nord station to buy our Eurostar tickets to London for when we returned to Paris at end of Oct. This was followed by some sorting out of the cell phone which Kevin has gone into in “He says”. Kevin is in charge of the back pack which carries our electrical necessities of life- The cell phone, the lap top, the camera, the GPS (Paul) and all the various individual charger units and electrical adapter plugs for 3 continents. At present our most treasured possessions are our passports and our European adaptor plug. All the electrical equipment queues to be charged by this one adapter ( along with of course, my hair dryer and heated curlers) If I had to give a tip for future travellers it would be to take at least two of these plugs or even a small multi-board with you.
We returned then to our B&B at about 3pm. We would have loved a cup of tea but no jug in our room . (This we found was usual for Europe and we only came across a kettle in our room, twice in any where we stayed) So we lay on our beds for a couple of hours letting our jet lag just wash over us and Kevin began to harbour the suspicon that his Jet lag was actually a cold developing. Then we were up and off again to the metro to head into town for our evening tour of the Louvre ( my plan to see it at night and thus avoid the crowds again).