A Travellerspoint blog

France

One famous little mill at the centre of everything (Paris)

Montmarte, Mussels and Moulin Rouge

sunny -24 °C
View Paris 2015 on david.byne's travel map.

Can you believe it’s only 30 minutes flying time and, for me, just 200 miles from home. Even Manchester is further!! Paris, the French capital and London’s nearest rival for best European city. But did you know that Paris is considerably smaller than London, and in fact you can fit Paris into the land area of London’s parks when they are added together. However, Paris still feels like a big city and certainly crams a lot in to its modest size.
We visited for five full days, taking an early Monday flight and returning home late on the Friday. The taxi took about 40 minutes from Charles de Gaulle airport to our hotel brilliantly located between Sacre Coeur and Place de Clichy. So, safely installed in our room before lunchtime we headed for the terrace bar at the hotel to decide what we would hit first. Taking the easy option we walked to Montmartre, through the main thoroughfare and onwards and upwards to Sacre Coeur.

The final bit, up to the church, was made easier by the convenient funicular that quickly transported us to the bottom of the steps that led to the main door. Inside, precisely what you would expect. Nice enough but for me not amazing in the way that St.Marks Basilica in Venice and Haghia Sophia in Istanbul are. Having said that it is still a ‘must see’.

Wandering back through Montmartre is a treat with the various Patisseries, Bars, Cafes and Restaurants just waiting to tempt you in. And to be honest our willpower to simply walk past was never going to be adequate. Macaroons, Coffee, Chocolate, Cakes, Biscuits, Beer, whatever ……. you know you want to! Later we wandered for our first view of Moulin Rouge which turned out to be less than five minutes walk from the hotel; ideal as we had tickets for Tuesday’s late show. We were back to Montmartre a few hours later for dinner when, at night, the area looks different again with all the bars, cafes and restaurants all lit up.

As in many other cities, Paris offers a ‘Big Bus’ to help get around the city and we bought a two day ticket so for the Tuesday and Wednesday we planned our days around the route that the bus would take us. But first we made our way to the area around the Assembly Building and Pont Alexandra III via the Metro, getting off at Invalides and walking through to the Eifel Tower which by now was easy to spot and follow.
Paris so far had appeared relatively quiet compared to what we were used to in the UK but, of course, we soon discovered that the majority of people had homed in on the tower, Notre Dame and the Palace of Versailles. This, combined with many Parisians taking their holidays away from the city in August meant that apart from the main attractions it was relatively easy going around the city.
Paris_Aug15-104

Paris_Aug15-104


Back on the Big Bus we decided to simply sit there and take in the full route for an hour and then make decisions on where to get off second time around. Notre Dame got the vote but rather than battle the lengthy queues to get in the church we walked over the bridge and along the river before heading to the Latin Quarter where we found a café to break the day.
Paris_Aug15-200

Paris_Aug15-200


A few of the bridges along the Seine have become targets for couples wanting to attach padlocks as a symbol of their relationship and this has applied sufficient stress to the bridges to require the padlocks to be moved off the Pont de l'Archevêché and relocated along the side of the bridge thus taking the weight away from the main span.
Paris_Aug15-201

Paris_Aug15-201


Back on the bus, our next stop was the Eifel Tower where we lingered a bit longer on this occasion, taking photos and walking among the hundreds of people that were visiting this iconic landmark. There’s plenty to see even if you are just passing rather than stopping, with numerous views of the River Seine, the bridges, the monuments and the buildings with their classic architecture and contrasting roof colours and styles. For example, the Obelisk in the Place de Concorde - surrounded by fountains, ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’ stands centrally at one of the highest points in the city having been donated to the French by Egypt many years ago.
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Paris_Aug15-315


One of the most impressive, architecturally – both outside and inside, is Opera, the National Academy of Music which we decided to make a point of visiting before the end of our stay. Similarly, we decided that going up the Arc de Triomphe for views over the city would be preferable to the Eifel Tower as the queues for the Arc were significantly smaller and also it would be good to see the tower from that particular viewpoint.
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Paris_Aug15-250


It felt like whenever we walked for a while there would be either a café or restaurant luring us inside or to a table just outside. But why not?
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Paris_Aug15-274


Tuesday evening was set aside for finding another nice restaurant  before changing and walking to the Moulin Rouge for the late show at 11 pm. It’s really worth seeing. We were a group of four as we had a couple of friends with us on the trip. Three of us were really keen on the trip but the fourth would not have come had we not already bought the tickets before mentioning it too him. But, as it turned out, he announced at the end of the week that his number one highlight from Paris was the Ferie Show at Moulin Rouge. And it really was. Two bottles of champagne on the table was enough for an after-dinner show which lasted for about 85 minutes. A mixture of tradition plus one or two new international acts made for a fabulous spectacle and night out, worth every penny. Recommended.

The following day, our middle day of five, we still had our Big Bus ticket to get around with so it was back to Cite and Notre Dame for a proper visit. This obviously meant queuing but to be fair the lines of people were moving fairly quickly and within 45 minutes you can get in, around and out again to find a restaurant a few roads back for lunch.
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Paris_Aug15-290


With lunch out of the way we jumped back on the bus to the Arc de Triomphe to buy tickets and join the very short queue to get to the top. There are also things to see around the base of the Arc including the eternal flame but don’t dismiss the views from the top as these are fairly unique with the main Parisian avenues including the Champs Elysee all extending from the Arc de Triomphe like spokes on a wheel.
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Paris_Aug15-335


The drive down the Champs Elysee is predictable; lots of very nice shops, restaurants, cafes, apartments, Ferrari’s and the occasional Lamborghini. However, don’t be put off. We had lunch on the Champs Elysee close to the Arc and the price wasn’t any more than anywhere else that we had eaten in Paris.

Having now ticked off Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Eifel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe we now looked towards the Louvre as our next port of call. Obviously, you can venture inside (no queues) but we chose not to as we still had plenty we wanted to see and do before Friday evening. The Louvre is sat in an amazing space in the centre of Paris. The area is very photogenic and the walk through the gardens down towards Place de Concorde has a few surprises along the way.
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Paris_Aug15-380


It was getting towards dusk and after dinner we wanted to take a night-boat trip on the Seine from near to the Eifel Tower, giving us a great opportunity to see the tower lit up at the same time. So, we took a taxi from the Louvre to Invalides and then walked towards the Eifel Tower which, by the time we got close, was fully lit and, on the hour every hour, bursts into sparkling lights for a couple of minutes.
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Paris_Aug15-413


Some of the night-cruises finish at 9 or 9:30 but we fortunately, after letting time run away from us, managed to get to the dock next to the Eifel Tower to get the 10 o’clock cruise. Unsurprisingly, it was full and we weren’t in ideal seats but it was still a nice way to spend an hour at the end of a day.

By Day 4 we had properly worked out central Paris and realised that we could in fact walk down to Opera to have a look round the old theatre. It turned out to be a real highlight despite the change in the weather. The Opera House is a fantastic building both inside and out and should really be added to the ‘must see’ list.
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Paris_Aug15-471


Our intention after (another) lunch was to visit the Paris Catacombs to see the underground system that the Resistance developed and used during the war. Shouldn’t be a problem I thought. Get a taxi, buy a ticket from the office and walk around under ground for a while, seeing how it all worked. WRONG! There was a slow moving longish queue around the entire roundabout upon which the main office and entrance stands. Just outside the ticket office is a cross-section model of a part of the system and only then did I appreciate why there would be so much interest in visiting the Catacombs. It’s not just about a few tombs and a couple of thousand bones, it’s much more than that, including a railway system and two miles of tunnels. The time required to first queue and then enjoy this attraction proved too much for us in the end which was a real disappointment and I’m sure it would have been a highlight if we had been able to do it. Maybe another time.
Paris_Aug15-548

Paris_Aug15-548


Our alternative destination became the Pompidou Centre which was a short ride on the Metro from the Catacombs. The area around the Pompidou Centre, like the centre itself, is very ‘arty’. I was more interested in the outside of the centre than venturing inside for an hour and that was in no small part due to the surrounding exhibits and square and, of course, one of the bars that eventually proved too welcoming to walk past without stopping. It was all very ‘laid back’ which, in the middle of a busy city, is good to find every now and then. The church that sits along one side of the square is a very imposing building and draws you inside the open door, if only for a couple of minutes. It’s large, for the area, and would have been quite impressive in its heyday but right now it’s looking tired and in need of some TLC. Onward.

With one day remaining of our Paris adventure we had the pre-booked visit to the Palace of Versailles to look forward to on our last morning plus a ‘pencilled-in’ look around the Basilica St. Denis in the afternoon; said to be the first ever church (although in all honesty I think there are a few claiming that honour around the world). But, before all of that, we had dinner in Montmartre to take care of.
Paris_Aug15-607

Paris_Aug15-607


It was an enforced early start for the journey to Versailles which would get us there before opening time. Not much more than a half hour bus ride through Paris took us to the gates of the Palace but not before hundreds of others who were already in line to get in. And therein lies the problem with the Palace of Versailles. It is a fact that it is immense both in structure and the grounds it resides in but there are no controls on the numbers of people allowed to visit. So, there were three main things that made this part of our trip to Paris a real low point of the trip. The sheer numbers (and rudeness) of the people in and around the Palace; the total cost of the visit, and the fact that none of the numerous and impressive fountains were functioning. In hindsight, we wouldn’t have bothered. The gardens would have been ok although without the fountains quite ordinary really but the fact that it was a further seven and a half Euros to get around the huge area took the experience well below the average. The Palace itself was simply disorganised chaos with ‘selfie sticks’ proving to be the weapon of choice for many.
Paris_Aug15-637

Paris_Aug15-637


[Selfie Sticks have now become a pet hate since our Parisian city break and I fully endorse the banning of them in certain popular attractions/places].
Back to the hotel to check out and find lunch nearby. The Basilica of St. Denis would be our final destination before travelling to the airport for our very short flight home, or at least that’s what we thought. The Basilica, claimed by some to be the first ever church, is at the end of the line on the Metro but the station information explained that the station was unavailable today. Typical. Oh well, jump in a taxi instead. Seconds after pulling away the taxi driver informs us that the church will not be open as it is market day and did we still want to go. Well, quite frankly, we didn’t, but what’s the alternative? Trying to make a quick decision as the taxi fare racked up we decided on going back to Notre Dame and seeing the other end of the isle of Cite upon which the Gothic cathedral sits.
Paris_Aug15-670

Paris_Aug15-670


This took us to the Palace of Justice and the Conciergerie. In particular, the Conciergerie proved to be an interesting find as it is the old royal prison where Marie Antoinette was held so the afternoon, along the River Seine for the last time, proved to be well spent with lunch taken just outside the Palace of Justice in a really nice ‘art deco’ café/restaurant called Les Deux Palais.
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Paris_Aug15-700


Then, it was back to Place de Clichy in time for the taxi to the airport. Paris had been great. If you ever go there, don’t miss Moulin Rouge or Opera but don’t stress too much if you don’t see the Palace of Versailles, seriously.

Posted by david.byne 13:56 Archived in France Tagged bridges churches buildings trees night architecture rivers city Comments (0)

Kiss & Fly - The Cote D'Azur

Nice and Monaco

sunny -22 °C
View Nice & Monte Carlo 2011 on david.byne's travel map.

The Cote d’Azur occupies the northern Mediterranean coast with famous locations such as St.Tropez and Cannes being favoured by tourists and sunseekers. For our trip in October 2011 we based ourselves in Nice, with the intention of visiting both Monaco and the hilltop mediaeval village of Eze.

Advance weather information told us that the Tuesday (after arriving on the Monday) would be wet with heavy rain being 90% guaranteed. The rest of our time in the south of France should be fine. We landed in Nice amidst average temperatures but at least it was dry. Quickly through Passport Control and the luggage was soon collected and we found our way to the public bus which would take us to the Promenade du Anglais and finding our hotel from there should be easy. And it was.

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (2)

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (2)

The Hotel du Suede was just one road back from the Promenade and located centrally as far as access to restaurants, shops and public transport were concerned. And by mid afternoon we were exploring the local part of the city and getting our bearings. The weather on our first afternoon (Monday) was being kinder to us than the forecast had predicted so we wandered around the city and in a circle, sussing out the buses, trams and trains for the next few days and taking in the occasional cafe stop. Eventually, we found the old quarter, at the other side of Place Massena and made a mental note to return later in the week to spend longer, Heading back towards the sea we stumbled upon Cours Saleya. Today there was a flea market but as we discovered later in the week, Cours Saleya appears to hold a different market, flowers, fruit and vegetables, meat etc; almost every day of the week.

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (23)

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (23)

Promenade du Anglais covers a huge stretch of coastline and we made our way back along the prom towards the hotel. Finding somewhere to eat wasn’t much of a challenge as there were restaurants and bars everywhere. The prices? Well, not as bad as I thought they would be – maybe Switzerland in August had helped make the Cote D’Azur feel comparably cheap (?). All in all, it was an encouraging first few hours in the South of France but in one way at least we knew it was the calm before the storm; literally!

And Tuesday morning it hit!! The forecasters got it right. Heavy rain and strongish winds all day. And when this type of thing happens, you have a choice although in reality there is only one thing to do : carry on regardless. We had a list of things to do and see so we changed the plans a little to try and do the indoor stuff while the heavens opened. Decent plan you may think but we discovered that most of the public places to visit are closed one day each week .................... on a Tuesday!!!!! Exceptions to this were the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Modern Arts Museum, both were on our “to see” list. However, the French authorities weren’t to be beaten. We headed off to the Cathedral only to be greeted by a notice that, due to an administrative dispute between the Russian and French administrations in Nice the Cathedral had had to be closed until further notice’. It’s supposed to be spectacular inside; I can only confirm that it’s a lovely building from the outside!
Stiff upper lip and onward!! We briefly took refuge in the Office de Tourisme near the railway station and dried off a bit before catching a tram to the Modern Arts Museum. And it was open!!!! I’m not massively into museums but for anyone that is there are museums dedicated to Chagalle and Matisse. I don’t mind a bit of modern art and the museum in Nice was good with lots of different themes. Apart from that, it helped us dry off more before we faced the elements again an hour or so later.

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (34)

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (34)

Day two had been a test of endurance but we came through with the added assistance of a couple of cafe stops. The hotel was a welcome sight when we eventually got back. At last we could dry out properly before finding a very (very) local restaurant to eat in that evening. And after eating, because the rain had ceased, we walked the promenade again and watched the sea crashing up the beach.
Wednesday was earmarked as the day we would visit Monaco. The skies had cleared with the heavy thick clouds of Tuesday having been blown away by the strong Mediterranean winds. The receptionist at the hotel had convinced us against taking the cheaper bus option (1 Euro) to Monaco in favour of the train (3 ½ Euros). The buses are small and always full and can take over an hour to get there whereas the train, although slightly further away from the hotel, would be the more comfortable option – so that’s what we did. We walked to Place Massena and, caught a tram to the station and waited for the next train (they run every half an hour).

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (45)

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (45)

Monaco, and Monte Carlo in particular, is very cool. Amazingly, the land area of Monaco is just two square kilometres. And they have crammed am awful lot of classy (and very expensive) stuff into such a small area. Even the railway station feels a bit special as you get off of the train somewhere inside the mountain upon which Monaco has been developed. Escalators take you in one of two directions, depending on where you want to begin your visit. We had decided to buy the Daily Bus Ticket which would allow us to hop on and hop off at one of the regular stops around the principality; in this way we were able to get around to everything we wanted to see easily and without wasting time. The Royal Palace, The Oceanographic Museum, The Casino, Cafe du Paris, Hotel du Paris, Port Hercule etc, were all soon ticked off, and during the various bus trips around Monaco you also get to experience the Formula 1 Race Track, albeit travelling in the opposite direction. I really enjoyed the place and yes it could be expensive but we managed to eat and drink for the day without spending an unreasonable amount of cash. And if I had been the possessor of unlimited cash then perhaps I could have been tempted with one of the fantastic boats that were in Port Hercule or even one of the new quayside apartments that had starting prices of 5 Million Euros!!!

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (49)

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (49)

We travelled back on the train to Nice in the early evening and made our way back from the station to Place Massena where we hunted down somewhere different to eat. In stark contrast to the previous day when we got saturated, our day in Monaco had been glorious despite the threatening black cloud that hung over the mountain all day but thankfully without obscuring the Cote D’Azur sunshine.

Between Nice and Monaco, resting on a mountain top, is the mediaeval village of Eze. We headed there on the bus on the Thursday and once again the weather was being kind. Eze, along with Paris and Grasse, was the home of Fragonard, a premier perfume factory. We took the free tour which took no more than 20 minutes and had as much time as we wanted wandering around the mazy lanes of the village, stopping at one of the few cafes before heading back to the bus stop for the next bus back to Nice.

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (192)

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (192)

We got off of the bus near to the old quarter which was a decent walk from the hotel but, after a snack and a drink, decided to walk up to the ruin of the Colline du Chateau which overlooked Nice marina on one side and the main bay of Nice on the other. The walk back to the hotel was conveniently interrupted by rest stops along the Promenade du Anglais to watch the fishermen being attacked by the sea crashing against the rocks that they were fishing from, and the crazy swimmers who I guess still found the sea temperature tolerable at the end of October.

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (249)

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (249)

On our last evening we ate at VIP’s restaurant, just around the corner from the hotel. Slightly more expensive than what we had had previously but worth it, especially on the final night in Nice.

One day left and we still wanted to see some of the north part of the city and so on Friday, after enjoying the final breakfast at the small cafe/restaurant that was literally a few steps across the road from our hotel (and where we had taken breakfast every morning for half the price of that being asked at the hotel), we headed off for the bus stop to catch the bus that would take us to the Monastery and also the Matisse Museum (if we had time). It was good to see another part of the city but after seeing the Monastery we chose to get back to the Promenade at Nice and enjoy as much of that as we could prior to leaving for the airport in the afternoon.

Part of Nice’s appeal turned out to be the ease and relatively small cost of the public transport. Getting to and from the airport cost 4 Euros each on the public bus which was conveniently just two minutes walk from the hotel. And getting around the various parts of the city and also outside of the city to Monaco and Eze (and others that we didn’t have time to visit) was equally as simple.

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (366)

Nice_Monaco_Oct11 (366)

The Cote D’Azur left a favourable impression. It’s a lovely part of the Mediterranean with lots to see and it’s also close to the Italian border which potentially adds another dimension. It would be nice to think that we may return one day.

Footnote : Kiss and Fly – Nice Airport, like most if not all airports, has its short stay and long stay car parks, its departures and arrivals areas and, a quick dropping-off area. At Nice they call it “Kiss and Fly”, and this is precisely how it is written on the signposts around the airport.

Posted by david.byne 11:42 Archived in France Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains beaches churches art buildings skylines trees sky boats trains Comments (0)

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