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.
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.
Another area for luxury brands is Place Vendome. Several luxury hotels are also located here.
From Place Vendome it is only a short walk to Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Gardens.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.