48 HOURS IN
Maz Marek Nusl
“Surprise, we’re going to Paris” I explained to my better half on her birthday. I’ve not actually planned the trip, only booked the Eurostar and a hotel, but the rest I’m sure we’ll work out en-route… We barely opened our guide book, and we still had a great time in one of Europe’s finest cities. Opting for the Eurostar rather than plane made our journey effortless, quick and above all, comfortable.
Duration: 2 days
Cost: Approx £300
When: All year round
Doinit Factor: It's Paris, you can't not visit Paris at least once in your life - you may as well go now.
The Notre Dame is well worth queuing for. (MN)
Boarding at London St Pancras, you really are in awe of the fantastic station. It’s a fitting start to our journey which will take us to one of the most architecturally significant centres in the world. Paris’s Gare du Nord station doesn’t quite stand up to the grandeur of St Pancras, but it doesn’t matter, it’s a working train station which we’ll be in and out of within three minutes en-route to our hotel. I’ve purposely opted for a hotel within ten minutes walking distance to the station rather than in the centre of town, as the metro provides an efficient way of visiting the different parts of the city during your stay. For short visits it’s best to buy a “carnet” of ten tickets, which saves you a few euros than if you bought them individually (for longer stays ask about a Navigo pass, which is similar an Oyster card). We’re now checked into our accommodation I’m busting to go out and experience Paris!
As with any city break, the first thing I like to do is wander. Making your way to the city centre on foot not only gives you a chance stretch your legs, but it’s a great way to get a feel for the place, as well as orientating yourselves in your new soundings. Paris is a wonderful place to explore on foot, albeit it can take a while as it’s not a small place…
We finally make our way across the Seine River to the “islands” - home to medieval Paris, with the centre of attention being the magnificent and renowned Notre Dame Cathedral, a fine example of 12th Century Gothic style. Don’t let the queues of people deter you from entering, as once you are in the queue it does move quite quickly. The interior of the cathedral is almost as impressive as the exterior.
From Notre Dame we take a fine walk along the bank of the Seine to the courtyard of the Louvre - a former fortress-turned palace and now the world’s largest Museum, housing some of the world’s most exquisite art collections. The Musée du Louvre is enormous, and it must take forever to go round and see all the exhibitions. We’ve less than 48hours in Paris now so it’s decided not to join the queue for tickets. But we certainly have time to admire the architecture, particularly the great glass pyramid positioned in the central courtyard. Built in 1989, the Louvre Pyramid was thrust further into the spotlight by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code. Below the surface of the courtyard is the shopping mall ‘Carousel du Louvre’, with its own McDonald’s within sight of the inverted pyramid. This being Paris means that there are plenty of other museums to explore which needn’t take you an entire weekend to get through. Just across the Seine, on the opposite bank, lies the ‘Musee D'orsay’. This magnificent building was formerly a train station, and is now home to many world famous paintings from Monet, Van Gogh, Whistler, and many more artists of which I’m unfamiliar with. It’s Friday evening and we’ve a reservation at the famous Moulin Rouge. Like most of Paris, a few stops on the Metro and we’re standing in front of the famous lit-up windmill above the theatre, in time for more queuing. After about forty minutes, we’re let in to the theatre for the show.
A standard ticket costs 105 Euro and includes half a bottle of champagne. We are then crammed onto our table with other visitors, and informed that no photography is permitted. The curtains open and the show begins. It’s certainly a good variety show, with scantily clad ladies dancing on stage. I must admit it’s not quite what I expected. I didn’t follow much of the storyline (if indeed there was one), but we did enjoy the show. If you’re a fan of the film, don’t go expecting any connection. All in all, it’s a fine conclusion to our first day in Paris. We’re suited and booted, sipping champagne, and taking in the famous can-can dance at the end of the show.
The infamous Moulin Rouge, but not much in common with the film. (MN)
Day 2 in Paris starts with a typical French breakfast consisting of a croissants, coffee and OJ. So, what shall we do? Well, of course there’s the most Parisian symbol of all, even debatably the most powerful symbol of any city, the Eiffel Tower. We’ve caught glimpses of the tower from other parts of the city, but now it’s time to get up close to the 324meter-high structure. Erected between 1887 -1889, each of the four legs is embedded in huge concrete pillars, whose foundations must truly be gigantic. Yet again, more queues and we’ve not used the online service to reserve a time slot (www.tour-eiffel.fr/), so we decide to bypass the opportunity to stand in line for what would be an hour, and decide instead to head to the Basilica Sacré-Cœur. This also provides us with a fantastic view of the city skyline with the addition of the Eiffel Tower piercing high above the surrounding buildings; after all, if you’re on the tower, you won’t see it!
The Basilca Sacre-Coeur. (MN)
The Basilica is a striking and marvellous building, and majestically placed on top a green hill. The blue sky provides a perfect backdrop for the three domed white Basilica. The grass hill it stands on is a hub of activity, people are sitting in the grounds rapping, selling souvenirs, having a chat, and even wondering around selling beer! If it were a bit warmer we would have gladly joined the crowds, but it’s the inside of the Basilica which draws my attention. It’s not as grand as the Notre Dame, but the queues are significantly smaller. We take a moment in the grounds to take in the views of Paris and her tower, before we embark on another café for a coffee.
Of course, between attractions, there’s always time to pop into a typical French café for a drink or a snack of Croque Madame (cheese toasties with an egg) before more meandering through the streets, popping into another café every so often. The evening is spent on a long walk from the ‘Arc de Triomphe’, watching the insanity of drivers battling for their right-of-way on this huge roundabout. Standing on the edge of the pavement, the amount of times I cringed as I thought a collision between two vehicles was imminent, was staggering. Fortunately, no accidents occur. It’s quite a long walk along the Champs Elysées towards the Louvre, the sun sets and as the Parisian façades become lit-up, and our stroll takes about an hour (and 3.5km). We arrive at the Pyramid of the Louvre just in time to gaze upon the courtyard as the pyramid fully lights-up. The rest of the evening is spent enjoying some French wine and beer, and listening to modern French jazz at a bar before we retire to our hotel.
The Lourvre looks spectacular at night. (MN)
Our final day in Paris gives us a chance to visit a traditional French food market in the Latin Quarter. It’s fully stocked with fruit, veg, plenty of cheese, fresh fish, as well as African curry dishes available for sale. It’s really nice to walk round the stalls and inhale the smells, which really build up an appetite. Fortunately there is a patisserie close-by, where we stop for fresh pastries and an espresso, before its time to make our way back to Gare du Nord. It’s been a great 48 hours, and I know we’ve barely scratched the surface of Paris, but for an unprepared trip I think I’ve done alright, and I’d love to visit again. I found Paris noticeably more, dare I say it, filthy then my hometown of London. The stench of urine was on many of its streets, but I think once you’ve got used to the smell of pee, it’s genuinely a very charming place. The architecture is truly outstanding, and at night Paris is incredibly beautiful, but there’s more to Paris than just lovely buildings. Something I feel that the Parisians have down to a T is their way of life, the café culture. It’s so relaxing and enjoyable to just wander into any café, there’s always one so close-by for a decent coffee or a fine glass of wine.