In between trips, I’ve decided to review and republish some of my longer blogs into shorter and more focused versions. So here is the first of 3 parts from our visit to France in 2012. Paris, the eternal city of love and romance. The city has certainly been hugely successful in marketing themselves as such and it is the most visited city in the world. I had visited Paris previously in 1996 but it certainly didn’t impress me back then. It was dirty and messy, the proverbial Parisian rudeness was prevalent and there was a strike going on during my visit. Perhaps, it would be different this time.

After our 4 day stop over in Dubai, we finally arrived in Paris in the morning with Emirates Airlines. Charles De Gaulle Airport had grown larger since my last visit, but it was still as messy. After a confusing search for the Air France shuttle bus, we finally boarded it for the 1 hour trip into Paris.  The Air France shuttle bus is another option if you don’t want to take the train. You’ll be guaranteed of a seat, but it only stops at designated areas. As such, it would be convenient if you can book a hotel near one of the stops. We booked a hotel near the Porte Maillot stop which is within walking distance to Arc de Triomphe. We paid €17/person for a one way ticket.

The Arc de Triomphe. It honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
The Arc de Triomphe. It honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
There was some sort of war veterans ceremony on the day of our visit.
There was some sort of war veterans ceremony on the day of our visit.
Close up of the sculptures on the sides. Why is there always one guy who isn't wearing pants?
Close up of the sculptures on the sides. Why is there always one guy who isn’t wearing pants?

From the Arc de Triomphe it is a short walk to Champs Elysees, probably the most famous street in the world. Here, we were surrounded by luxury brand shops, restaurants and cafes. Being the summer holidays, it was also especially crowded with tourists from all over Europe.

It may not look like much but the Champs Elysees is the world's most famous shopping street.
It may not look like much but the Champs Elysees is the world’s most famous shopping street.
There are many big brands with shops here including car brands. But don't expect to find your Toyota Altis here.
There are many big brands with shops here including car brands. But don’t expect to find your Toyota Altis here.
I can't believe that people actually queue to visit Abercrombie & Fitch, and they didn't even put out their topless hunks.
I can’t believe that people actually queue to visit Abercrombie & Fitch, and they didn’t even put out their topless hunks.
Tithing to the gods of fashion.
Tithing to the gods of fashion.
If thy tithe is pleasing to the gods, thou shalt be suitably rewarded.
If thy tithe is pleasing to the gods of fashion, thou shalt be suitably rewarded.

Another area for luxury brands is Place Vendome. Several luxury hotels are also located here.

The square of Place Vendome and the Vendome Column with a statue of Napoléon at its top.
The square of Place Vendome and the Vendome Column with a statue of Napoléon at its top.
The elusive Birkin Bag. The cost of one bag is more than enough to pay for this vacation.
The elusive Birkin Bag. The cost of one bag is more than enough to pay for this vacation.

From Place Vendome it is only a short walk to Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Gardens.

Place de la Concorde with an obelisk from Egypt.
Place de la Concorde with an obelisk from Egypt.
The Tuileries Gardens, with the Lourve Museum in the background.
The Tuileries Gardens, with the Lourve Museum in the background.
Look in the opposite direction and you will see the Obelisk of Place de la Concorde, and in the background, the Arc de Triomphe. Behind the Arc, you can catch a glimpse of La Défense
Look in the opposite direction and you will see the Obelisk of Place de la Concorde, and in the background, the Arc de Triomphe. Behind the Arc, you can catch a glimpse of La Défense.

And so we continued our walk to through the Tuileries Gardens towards the Lourve Museum. It was summer and the days were long. The sun took a long time to set, casting long shadows everywhere.

Playing with our shadows.
Playing with our shadows.
At the edge of the Tuileries is a smaller arc, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
At the edge of the Tuileries is a smaller arc, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
The rays of the setting sun fell directly onto the main Pyramid setting it alight.
The rays of the setting sun fell directly onto the main Pyramid setting it alight.
The museum was closed by the time we arrived and we would be back another day.
The museum was closed by the time we arrived and we would be back another day.
And so we were back again to visit the Lourve. This is the inverted pyramid that lies under the main pyramid. The Holy Grail is buried here if you believe Dan Brown.
And so we were back again to visit the Lourve. This is the inverted pyramid that lies under the main pyramid. The Holy Grail is buried here if you believe Dan Brown.
Looking out of the glass pyramid.
Looking out of the glass pyramid.
There are several wings in the museum all displaying art from all over the world.
There are several wings in the museum all displaying art from all over the world.
The Lourve has the largest collection of Egyptian history outside of Egypt.
The Lourve has the largest collection of Egyptian history outside of Egypt.
But everyone comes mainly to see the most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. You have to fight through the crowd just to catch a glimpse of it, protected behind bullet proof glass.
But everyone comes mainly to see the most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. You have to fight through the crowd just to catch a glimpse of it, protected behind bullet proof glass.

Getting around Paris is easy and most people use the subway system which is referred to as the Metro. It’s the same as our MRT but unlike our MRT, you will sometimes get buskers and beggars coming up to you on the train to ask for money.

Just look for the Metro signs that indicate a subway station entrance.
Just look for the Metro signs that indicate a subway station entrance.

Another well known landmark in Paris is the Notre Dame cathedral. This was made famous in Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.  Getting there is easy by taking the Metro.

Crossing the River Seine to get to the Notre Dame cathedral. The cathedral is actually built on a small island in the river.
Crossing the River Seine to get to the Notre Dame cathedral. The cathedral is actually built on a small island in the river.
A side view of the cathedral. It's so crowded already.
A side view of the cathedral. It’s so crowded already.
The queue to enter the Notre Dame is already a long line outside.
The queue to enter the Notre Dame is already a long line outside.
The line moves quite fast and we were inside after around 15 minutes wait.
The line moves quite fast and we were inside after around 15 minutes wait.
There was a Mass being conducted while we were there.
There was a Mass being conducted while we were there.
Overheard at the main doorway to the cathedral "Don't lose your head, John"
Overheard at the main doorway to the cathedral “Don’t lose your head, John”

After this it was time to see the most famous landmark in Paris, the Eiffel Tower. If you think of Paris, you will only think of this structure, and it has come to define the city. There was a detour in the Metro line due to repair works on the tracks and we had to get off at Invalides and walk.

Crossing Pont Alexandre III to get to the Eiffel Tower.
Crossing Pont Alexandre III to get to the Eiffel Tower.
We didn't bother to go up the Eiffel Tower as the waiting time was 3 hrs.
We didn’t bother to go up the Eiffel Tower as the waiting time was 3 hrs.
We were contented to just admire the view. You get a better picture of the tower from the Trocadero.
We were contented to just admire the view. You get a better picture of the tower from the Trocadero.

Paris by Night

By night, Paris has a different look and this adds to the allure of the city. Familiar sights take on a different light literally.

For a good night view of Paris, you can go to the Arc de Triomphe in the evening before sunset. This is the spiral staircase that goes to the top of the monument.
For a good night view of Paris, you can go to the Arc de Triomphe in the evening before sunset. This is the spiral staircase that goes to the top of the monument.
You are not allowed to use your tripod on top of the Arc. This is the view of Champ Elysees (center) at dusk.
You are not allowed to use your tripod on top of the Arc. This is the view of Champ Elysees (center) at dusk.
Sunset with La Defense.
Sunset with La Defense.
The Eiffel Tower light show. The light beam is only for a few seconds.
The Eiffel Tower light show. The light beam is only for a few seconds.
Arc de Triomphe at dusk.
Arc de Triomphe at dusk.
Eiffel Tower before lights on.
Eiffel Tower before lights on.
Again, we didn't bother to go up as the waiting time is still a couple of hours.
Again, we didn’t bother to go up as the waiting time is still a couple of hours.
The Eiffel Tower lighted up.
The Eiffel Tower lighted up.
The main Pyramid at the Lourve Museum.
The main Pyramid at the Lourve Museum.
Reflection of the main Pyramid.
Reflection of the main Pyramid.
Notre Dame at night.
Notre Dame at night.
Back view of Notre Dame.
Back view of Notre Dame.
The Ponts des Arts where every tourist from all over the world declare their undying love for each other by putting a lock on the bridge and throwing the key into the river below. No, we didn't do that.
The Ponts des Arts where every tourist from all over the world declare their undying love for each other by putting a lock on the bridge and throwing the key into the river below. No, we didn’t do that.

Versailles

Besides Paris, the other most visited place is the Versailles palace located outside Paris. We took the RER train and got off at Versailles Rive Gauche station. We bought the tickets to the Versailles the day before at one of the train stations and the attendant had given us the more expensive tickets with guided tour of the museum. But this was a blessing as since with the guided tour, we didn’t have to wait in line up for 2-3 hours to get in with the rest of the tourists.

The main entrance to the Versailles.
The main entrance to the Versailles.
Our guide leading the group and telling stories on the sometimes decadent lives of the French aristocracy.
Our guide leading the group and telling stories on the sometimes decadent lives of the French aristocracy.
The famous Hall of Mirrors. It's so crowded that it should be called Hall of People instead.
The famous Hall of Mirrors. It’s so crowded that it should be called the Hall of People instead.
There was a modern art exhibition at the same time.
There was a modern art exhibition at the same time.
More modern art. This time a helicopter trying to look like a flying eye.
More modern art. This time a helicopter trying to look like a flying eye.
We ended the guided tour and were free to explore the rest of the palace outside.
We ended the guided tour and were free to explore the rest of the palace outside.
The gardens are quite huge and beautiful.
The gardens are quite huge and beautiful.
A lot of broad avenues.
A lot of broad avenues.
And a lot of fountains and small lakes.
And a lot of fountains and small lakes.
Watching the Neptune Fountain show. Supposedly, there are no pumps used to generate the fountain. It's all by gravity.
Watching the Neptune Fountain show. Supposedly, there are no pumps used to generate the fountain. It’s all by gravity.

This second visit to Paris was definitely better than my first. The city is now extremely tourist friendly. We had student volunteers in the Metro stations to help explain to tourists what type of tickets to buy based on their travel needs in both Spanish and English. The city was also much cleaner and the Parisian rudeness wasn’t felt at all.

But France is not just about Paris, so tune in for a couple of other places you can visit which are just less than 3 hours by TGV train from Paris.

Travel Tips for Paris

The internet has a ton of information regarding Paris so I won’t repeat them. Here are some tips that I know based on my own experience.

Getting around: The Metro and RER trains are the most convenient way of travelling in Paris. There are many types of Metro passes which cater to your traveling preference. I found that traveling by taxi can be an option for short distances and if you are in a group of 4 persons. The fare is typically around €10+ for a less than 5km trip with no traffic jams.

Safety: Although generally safe, petty crime like pickpocketing and snatch theft is still prevalent. We were warned by the shop keepers that very often this occurs on crowded Metro trains and stations, and the perpetrators are usually children. We let our guard down because we don’t think of kids as criminals. Some of the shops actually offered to use unmarked bags for my wife’s purchases instead of their branded shopping bags. For smaller purchases they advised us to pack it in our haversacks. For myself, I only brought 2 credit cards to limit my liability in case of theft. These and cash were kept in a neck wallet under my shirt. My leather wallet only had €10-15 and it was an old wallet that I wouldn’t mind to lose. We kept our mobile phones and wallets in our front pants pockets, and haversacks slung in front. Anyway, we didn’t get robbed or pickpocketed during our entire stay. Just stay alert and be street smart.

Language barrier: I didn’t face the proverbial Parisian rudeness during this trip. Most of the service staff in shops and restaurants are able to speak English, and the luxury boutiques will have 1 or 2 Chinese speaking staff to cater to the Chinese tourists. Unfortunately, almost all of the public signs and notices in museums and attractions still do not have English versions, and unless you can read French, you could still get confused. Even then, it’s good to know some French greeting words to break the ice when you need to talk to someone.

 

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