In retrospect, I have no idea why Chelsea and I thought that trying to see all of Paris in one day (with a return from London to Oxford) would be a good idea. It all ended up being worth it, but there definitely were some less savory moments during our adventure.
Travel to the continent is extremely easy from London. Because Chelsea and I had spent the previous afternoon and early evening in Windsor, we decided to travel on to London and stay overnight. What ended up happening is that by the time we got to London, we only had about 2 hours to sleep before we had to wake up, check out of the hotel, and walk (yes, walk, the tube was not up and running this early) to St. Pancras. We were able to sleep on the Eurostar on our way into Paris and were somewhat comfortable when we arrived, but then we had the challenge of trying to negotiate the metro. The metro itself isn’t difficult, but the signage pales in comparison to London’s. Thank goodness for the information booth which sent us in the right direction!
We attempted to explore the Catacombs, but because we were delayed at Gare du Nord (we had to find and then operate a locker for our overnight bag) we did not arrive early enough. The sun was particularly strong, so we decided the wait wasn’t worth it and simply walked to Luxembourg Palace and Gardens. It was a good 30-minute walk in mostly full sun, but the great part is that we got to see lots and lots of Parisian streets. The convoluted intersections made for some beautiful photos and I’d say give Paris a lot of her character.
One of my favorite things about the Luxembourg Palace was watching the children sail wooden boats in the fountain. I wish American children could be as easily amused as these kids were! I have to read about this particular game because I could not figure out how the boats sailed; I’m assuming that there are man-made currents.
We also found an interesting (and free!) art exhibit along the side of the Palace. It looked like three or four artists were displaying their work. Everything was incredibly colorful and modern. I particularly liked the floral paintings.
From the Palace we walked all the way to Notre Dame. The line here moved incredibly quickly, so we were able to get into the cool cathedral and explore every nook and cranny. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the bells chime while we were there. This was probably the first time (seeing Notre Dame) that I felt like I was actually in Paris. Finishing our sight-seeing, it was time for lunch so we went to a nearby cafe where Chelsea used her amazing French-speaking abilities to order for us. I had what’s called a croque-mademoiselle, which is basically a grilled ham & cheese with a fried egg on top. It came with a salad as well. The entire meal was very rich and filling, even the bread used in the sandwich!
By this point, we were both totally exhausted. We had easily walked over five miles, the sun was getting stronger as it started to set, and we had about five hours to kill before needing to get back to Gare du Nord. So, seeing several hop-on hop-off bus tours stop near the cafe, we bought tickets and took advantage of the four routes that interconnect throughout Paris. This enabled us to see everything we could ever want, and we did get off the bus at the Eiffel Tower to explore. Again, our intent was to pay admission and climb, but the wait was too long so we just walked around and beneath it.
While I’m not usually interested in bus tours, we did make the right call given how tired we were and how hot the day was. One of the stops was Gare du Nord, so we had an easy time getting back to the station, which we did two hours early. This gave us time to eat dinner, clear customs, and do some reading before getting back on Eurostar and heading home to London/Oxford.
- Bring small change to use for pay toilets.
- Don’t diss the bus tour; sometimes they’re a lifesaver.
- Bring headphones; they are necessary when you have a late-night train and other riders are obnoxiously loud/distracting.
- Double-check that you packed everything you need; I brought the wrong power cables.
- Go with the flow; so many of our ideas did not pan out, and it was important to be flexible given the circumstances.
- Always take advantage of public amenities, like lockers at train stations!