I have accomplished Goal #4!! This was: Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. In 2006 I visited the Eiffel Tower with a friend. She was too terrified to climb to the top and ever since I have regretted only climbing to the second floor of what was once the tallest manmade structures in the world. Keeping in line with the attitude of this blog, I Lived It Out and got to the top, surpassing the second floor and enjoying the view!
In all honesty I was afraid of arriving in Paris. So many anxieties were circulating in my mind: would Paris be as wonderful as I remember? Would it be devastatingly expensive? Would Gavin have a meltdown at how expensive everything was and want to stay in our hotel room all day?
We took a regional train from Lyon to Paris which took 5 hours instead of the 2 via high speed train. We didn’t take the high speed train because there was only reservations in first class available and it would cost €110. When we arrived in Paris we took a look at the metro line and were immediately overwhelmed. There were so many stations we could not even begin to guess where our hostel was. We eventually found our destination and headed off to the Perfect Hostel…to our surprise we had a private room! Our room was simple, two beds and a sink. I kind of hated how we shared a single toilette with our entire floor, but there was no sweaty smelly guys so I gladly accepted the sacrifice. We fell asleep to an Italian couple fighting next door.
Gavin woke up at 7:30 for breakfast. Since I still had a cold I slept in a little until we left for the Eiffel Tower. We unfortunately were unable to to go the very top due to over crowding so we declined going up the tower for the day. We did a walking tour of downtown Paris which was pretty good. We saw Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre, Palais Royal and Musee d’Orsay. We even came across the lovers bridge where couples put a lock with their name on a bridge then throw away the key. As expected the tour guide was not as good as Ozzy ( our tour guide in Munich) but we enjoyed ourselves enough to sign up for the Montmartre tour later that day and the tour of the gardens of Versailles for the following day.
Following the tour, our tour guide invited us for some authentic French food, we thought he invited us to eat with him like Ozzy did. We were sadly mistaken, and paid a lot of money to eat alone. Despite this, Gavin and I enjoyed our authentic French cuisine. He ordered Escargots and I ate French Onion Soup. My French onion soup had a nice base and was so cheesy I choked on the cheese! Gavin’s Escargots were overpriced and required too much work to get at the tiny snail shells.
After our meal we went to Ladurée, the famous macaron patisserie in Paris. I waited in line and bought 16 flavourful macarons. Anyone who knows me knows I love the delicate French pastry and that it has been one of my goals to eat macarons from there!
Following our macaron date we ventured off to meet our tour guide for our Montmartre tour. The tour started in front of Moulin Rouge. Gavin and I had wanted to see Moulin Rouge but due to a strict dress code we were afraid to buy tickets online then get kicked out. The dress code called for no runners ( all Gavin had) and no jeans (all I had). Since we had some time before our tour we stopped by the reservation desk to ask about the dress code. We told them that since we are backpacking we didn’t have anything nice to wear but really wanted to see the show. The man at reception was so kind and told us that our “Jeans and runners would be fine at the late show, and that a lady looks marvellous no matter what she is wearing”. We promptly made a reservation for the 11:30pm show.
After booking our reservation ( which was awesome because if we got kicked out for not dressing well we didn’t have to pay anything) we ran across the street to meet our tour group. Our tour guide showed us where Amelie was filmed ( Cafe des 2 Moulins), Sacré Coeur basilica, the highest point in Paris, the last windmills in Paris, Van Gogh’s house, and Picasso’s studio. By the end of the tour, night had fallen and we made our way back o our hostel which to our surprise was a 15 minute walk from Moulin Rouge.
The next day I woke up feeling great, just in time for our Garden’s of Versailles tour. The tour was particularly pricy, €27 each plus €7 each for a musical fountain show which had every garden open. When we arrived at Versailles it started raining so we bought some cheap (by cheap I mean poor quality) umbrellas for €16.
We looked at the facade of the palace shamelessly decorated in gold leaf from the palace gates to the window sills, clocks, almost everything! We walked pass the palace to the gardens. Despite the tour lasting 5 hours it did not include the palace. The gardens were the size of 3 foot ball fields, With over 50 fountains, 200,000 trees and a grand canal all of which were in the French style. We took a few steps towards the first garden and suddenly the rain became unruly and unmanageable. Gavin and I tried to ignore the rain but decided to bail on the tour because the rain had turned into a storm. Within minutes Gavin and I were soaked to the bone. The second we left the tour the rain suddenly stopped and we felt sick. We decided to tour the palace and maybe see the gardens on our own. Since we had just seen the Madrid Palace Real, the inside of Versailles was as expected, another overly extravagant castle with paintings on the ceilings and one more extravagant room after the next. The palace featured a room called the hall of mirrors: the most expensive room in Europe. The most interesting thing about the palace was how after the French Revolution the belongings in the palace were auctioned off and striped away only to be restored a couple hundred years later. The tour was quick, we didn’t see the small chateaus next to the palace (this is where the king ran away to for privacy and Marie Antoinette’s private palace) but we had been exhausted enough already. To our relief (and disappointment) the rain continued, so we didn’t see the garden’s after all. As we left the palace we were thankful to not do the 5 hour tour in the pouring rain.
We took the train back to Paris and noticed that I was sniffling. Gavin wanted to go back to the hostel but I wanted to go shopping on the Champs-Élysées. Gavin relented and we went to Laduree again and got a giant vanilla macaron (which was amazing) and I went shopping for a dress to wear at the Moulin Rouge show. I found a purple dress that would pack well in my backpack and bought some accessories. Afterwards we hurried back to the hotel to nap before our late night show at the Moulin Rouge!
We saw the show Féerie at Moulin Rouge. We were a bit worried because everyone always complained about Moulin Rouge being a tourist trap (which it was) being overpriced (which it is) and the show not being that good anyways (which is a boldfaced lie because the show was fantastic).
Our ticket came with a full bottle of champagne to enjoy during the show, and our seats were very close to the stage. The inside of the venue was fantastically decorated, with the curtain made entirely of shining sequins that took on whatever colour of light shined upon it. Part of the ceiling was designed to look like the inside of a circus tent, with billowing stripped fabric supported by the columns rising up from the upper balcony. The show was incredible, with 60 dancing girls accompanied by half as many men and dozens of different elaborate costumes, all garnished with abundant feathers, boas and chains of beads. The stage changed as often as the costumes, with one part themed like a gleaming snake temple where one of the dancers was dressed as Medusa. A huge water tank raised up from the floor that she was cast into, containing no less than 6 full sized anacondas that she swam with. The time between costume and set changes was occupied by smaller acts, including a slapstick/tumbler trio, a comedian juggler, and a pair of balancing acrobats.
We really enjoyed the show. We had never seen anything more spectacular. When the show ended we discovered that the metro was closed. If we hadn’t been at the Moulin Rouge the day before we wouldn’t have known that our hostel was a short walking distance away, so we walked through the Paris Red Light District at 1:30 in the morning back to our hostel.
The next morning we had to check out of our hostel and check in to a new hostel across town. We wanted to stay in Paris one more night and our current hostel was all booked up. The new Hostel, Oops! Hostel had a lock out period from 11am to 4pm in which all of the staff, and patrons were kicked out of the hostel. This was kind of weird and extremely inconvenient because I had become really sick and our check out time was at 10am at our current hostel and we had to find something to keep us busy for six hours.
We decided to try and go to the top of the Eiffel Tower again and then go to the Louvre ( it was closed the previous day). We stored our belongings in our hostel then headed over to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was built when France held the world expo in the late 1800’s. For forty years the tower remained the tallest man made structure in the world. When I visited in 2006 I never went to the top because my friend was too afraid of heights. Since then I had been to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto and couldn’t live with myself for not going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
We arrived at the tower at 10am, 30 minutes later than we hoped. When we got through the line we were able to buy tickets for the top. We jumped into the lineup to the elevator then took the elevator to the second floor, walked a meter then took a second elevator to the top. The top was very small and full of people taking photos of the scenery around. We got a couple photos then saw a height comparison of the tower with other structures. After about twenty minutes at the top we took an elevator down to the second floor. The second floor had a gift shop and a restaurant. The first floor was even less interesting.
Our next stop was the Louvre. Gavin had never been and I recalled enjoying myself when I did. Since we had time to kill we walked from the Eiffel tower to the Louvre. During that walk we got hit up by a bunch of “petitioners”: people who pretend they need the signature of an English speaker for some cause, then rob you blind. We had heard of the ploy in Madrid so we were smart to their scheme. The next set of people we kept meeting would pick up gold rings we did not lose and ask if we had lost them….so they and a partner could rob us blind. We “lost” four gold rings on a single bridge.
We finally reached the Louvre and decided to use the tricks our tour guide taught us to avoid the line. The first was to use the side door, which was closed. The second was to enter through the carousel shopping centre under the Louvre. After walking through the very small but decently high end shopping centre we ended up at the line for the Louvre. We noticed that there wasn’t really a line but officials pushing people away. There was a hand written sign saying, ” The Louvre Museum is closed come back tomorrow.” Gavin and I were confused because the Louvre was closed yesterday and was supposed to be open today so why was it closed? We figured maybe there was an incident so we decided to shop around the mall and come back.
Gavin found his perfect Australian Outback hat, a Stetson, at an outdoor/ hippy store. Gavin also found a the best mineral store of his life and stocked up on samples for his mineral collection. We also found a lock for the lovers bridge. We went back to the Louvre and saw that the Museum was still closed. We decided to go to the Lovers Bridge and place our lock then head over to the Musée d’Orsay.
The bridge was filled with couples trying to cement their love; sales people selling locks to make a quick buck by selling locks to the couples and pick pockets. The myth was that if the couple wrote both of their names on the locks then locked the lock to the bridge and threw the key into the water that they would be together forever. We put our lock in a careful place and threw the key into the Seine river. Satisfied with our cliche act of love we went to the museum.
The Musée d’Orsay had a huge line ( probably because the Louvre was closed). While the Louvre housed artwork from the beginning of time to 1870’s the Musée d’Orsay was a more contemporary museum with work from 1840 to the present. We got to see an exhibit called: The Angel of the Odd. Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst. It was a lot of really neat gothic art ranging over a large time period, with paintings romanticizing demons, monsters, satan and witches. There were many paintings inspired by Paradise Lost, and others of the apocalypse. There were also short clips of horror films from early cinema, including Hitchcock.
After the museum we went back to the Perfect Hotel to collect our bags and head over to the Oops! Hostel. The Oops Hostel was very nice and modern but very out of the way. The only thing that rubbed us the wrong way was the mandatory lock out, which really didn’t apply to us because we had a train to catch the next morning before the lock out. While staying at the Hostel we shared a room with two British girls. Since Madrid We had very little social contact because for whatever reason the places we stayed people were not social. So when Jen and Emma were social, spunky and cheery we were thankful. They told us about how they visited the Paris Catacombs and we told them about the Louvre’s mysterious closure. Jen said she had read the british news earlier and that it mentioned the closure. Apparently the Louvre was closed due to the workers striking. The workers striked because of pickpocketing which had gotten so bad that the workers were fearing for the lives from aggressive pickpockets working in teams of up to 30 people. What was worse was that children who could get into the museum for free were pickpocketing from the staff and patrons. The new information made Gavin and I feel frustrated that the Louvre was closed on our last day in Paris but understanding of how the staff felt.
Paris was way better than I remembered. We were so afraid of everyone being rude to us but oddly everyone was really kind (except Japanese Tourists, they were really rude and pushy). We never ran out of things to keep us entertained and educated. It was expensive….but I can’t wait to visit again.
Gavin and I had never heard of Lyon before but decided to stop there so that we wouldn’t have to make the 12 hour trek from Barcelona to Paris in one day. We also stopped there so we could take a break from all of the constant traveling we were doing (it also didn’t hurt that it was cheaper than Paris) When we made our reservations in Barcelona we had a bit of a problem. We were able to get reservations from Barcelona to Avignon but from Avignon to Lyon we only had 40 minutes to make a reservation for the high speed train when we arrived in Avignon.
Upon our arrival we raced to the ticket counter only to be told that only first class seats were available and that we would have to pay for the reservation as well as the difference between our 2nd class rail pass and the 1st class train ticket: €100. Or we could take a regional train that was three hours longer for free. We took the regional train.
When we boarded the regional train we were greeted with world famous French manners. Every single seat was taken. By taken I mean that one person would sit down then place their luggage on the seat next to them; even though there was plenty of space on the luggage rack above for their belongings.
Gavin and I travelled three train cars trying to find a seat until we gave up. We settled on sitting in two isle seats, one next to a woman who was occupying the seat next to her with her purse and one next to a man who was occupying the seat next to him with a small pack of cigarettes. We sat on the train for three uneventful hours.
When we arrived in Lyon we were bombarded by the busiest train station I had ever seen in my life. There was no place to even stop and think it was all so overwhelming. We needed to figure out where our hotel was but we were too overwhelmed to think. We finally found a place to sit and we used google maps to get instructions on how to get to our hotel. Unfortunately google didn’t have a proper map of the area (that’s something the city must submit apparently) and we knew how to get 90% of the way and we hoped we could figure out where the hotel was upon arrival. We took the local tram to Perrache and got off under a giant overpass that reeked of urine. We didn’t feel particularly safe under the underpass so we quickly ran out and into the sunlight. We walked two streets then looked up and saw our hotel. We didn’t like that it was by the underpass but it was close to transit so we weren’t going to complain.
After we checked into our hotel we were told the strangest thing: whenever we leave the building we have to surrender our key. A hotel has never asked us to surrender a key before it was definitely unusual. We walked into the elevator and we were shocked to see that it was so tiny there was barely enough room for us and our bags! We suffocated our way to the top floor and ran out of the elevator and into our room. The room was the tiniest hotel room I had ever been in. There was space for the bed and that was it. The bathroom was one meter by one meter and was so cramped that when you used the toilette your feet were in the shower. Despite its shortcomings we were happy to have our own space at least.
We travelled to the old town from our hotel (which was very close but forced us to go through that horrid underpass). We ventured for a short time because we we were starving and ended up at a British fish and chips restaurant. We chatted with the owner who knew english very well from living in South Africa. We watched him dip the cod in batter and fry our fish and fries with tears of joy. This was the first time in weeks that food was being made for us from scratch and not cooked from frozen. We grabbed the fish and chips (and a delicious chocolate brownie) and ran to our hotel. After eating we decided to catch up on sleep.
The next day I woke up with a sore throat. Thinking nothing of it Gavin and I wandered off to find breakfast. Our hotel was offering a continental breakfast for €7 a person. We politely declined. Gavin bought an apple pastry and I had a giant raspberry macaron (which are apparently the regular size, the small ones are mini macarons, who knew!). We wandered further and found a cafe that gave us a sandwich, drink, desert and tea for €9. I got Quiche Lorraine instead of a sandwich, Orangina, lemon meringue pie and mint tea. Gavin got a sandwich, Orangina, a strawberry tart and French coffee. All of the food was made in house and we enjoyed every bite of it.
Afterwards we went to the train station and booked our reservation to Paris. Once again we found the high speed reservations a bit expensive so instead of two hours on a high speed train we booked the regional train that took 5 hours and left at 3pm.
By the time it was dinner time I had started to get very sick. I couldn’t breathe in smoke or perfume and I could barely speak. We wandered the old town and found a restaurant. Unfortunately in France the restaurants open at 7pm, not earlier so we had to wait 20 minutes before we could sit down and eat. I ordered tagliatelle in cream sauce with roasted tomatoes and bacon and Gavin had a large goat cheese salad.
After eating, my cold had gotten increasingly worse, so we asked the hotel if we could check out later. They extended our check out until 12pm. The next day after we checked out we had to kill 3 hours in Lyon, and I was still very sick. After getting some snacks for our train ride we went to McDonald’s and bought the McBaguette. I was tempted to buy macarons (because you know in European McDonald’s sells macarons). After two hours in McDonald’s we went to the train station and caught our train to Paris!