Tuesday, December 6, 2011


One of the amazing things about living in London is that Paris is just a 2-hour train ride away.  It's closer than many parts of England.  Even if you add the time it takes to get from our house to St. Pancras station, check in, and board the train, we can be in Paris in less than 3 1/2 hours!  Some of my AWC friends have even taken day-trips to Paris.  Why bother with luggage and expensive hotels? 

So, when Josh had to take a last-minute trip to Paris to attend a conference, I was excited to be able to tag along.  Because it conflicted with a trip we had already planned to visit the Christmas markets in Brussels, his boss covered the cost of my train ticket, and even recommended a hotel.  So, Wednesday afternoon, Josh and I took the Tube to St Pancras station to catch the Eurostar to Paris.  Yay!!!
LEGO Christmas tree at St. Pancras station
We arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris and took the Metro to our hotel, where we dumped our bags in our room and headed right back out the door to the Eiffel Tower.  After walking for about 10 minutes, we turned a corner and were greeted with this view.  Wow!
An eyeful of the Eiffel Tower
In addition to being all lit up, the tower is covered with bright sparkly lights that go off every hour on the hour for about 10 minutes, and we had caught it just at the right moment.  We had booked tickets in advance to go all the way to the top of the tower, which required taking a 2-level funicular to the second level, and then a smaller elevator to the observation deck.  Even at night, the view is pretty spectacular.
View from the top
Blue lights and Ferris wheel are the Christmas market on the Champs-Elysees
Photo credit: random non-English-speaking tourist
Bird's-eye view of the football/soccer game
We're a long way from home!
Looking up from the 2nd level
Exhibit of tower-themed items

"Towering" high heels
Afterwards, we had a late dinner at a nearby cafe and walked back to our hotel.  The next morning, we had breakfast together in the hotel, and then Josh headed off to his conference.  I set out soon after on foot, with no particular goal in mind.
View from our room
The Baltimore Hotel

Art Nouveau Metro entrance
I walked up our street in the opposite direction from the Eiffel Tower, and ended up at the Arc de Triomphe.  I can see why Josh's boss likes this hotel!
Arc de Triomphe
I turned down the Champs-Elysees, one of the most famous streets in the world.  Like 5th Avenue in New York City, or Oxford Street in London, it is lined with shops -- many of the same ones you'd see in NYC or London, in fact.  I was a bit surprised to see a velvet rope and a long line outside this newly-opened Marks & Spencer.  First of all, I'm not one to wait in a line for the privilege of shopping in ANY store, but M&S is not exactly an exclusive, high-end store.  This is like seeing people line up to shop at a Target.
Really?  Marks & Spencer?
 Since Paris is even more expensive than London, I didn't even bother going in to many shops.  Instead, I appreciated them from the outside.  I love Art Nouveau architecture, and Paris has many lovely examples.

 I also got a kick out of the way some movie titles are translated into French, while others are completely different.  Is there really no word in French for "hangover"?
Breaking Dawn = revelation?
The Hangover = Very Bad Trip?
 Further down the Champs-Elysees, the shops were replaced with trees and holiday decorations.
Winter Wonderland?
 The Christmas market spanned both sides of the street for at least half a mile.  It was so big that they felt a map was needed.
Map of Christmas market
 Since it was a chilly, rainy weekday, it wasn't very crowded, so I was able to browse through some of the stalls.
Christmas market

Cheese and sausage

Colorful soap
I took a little detour to see the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, which were built for the 1900 World Fair, and are now museums. Both buildings are gorgeous!
Petit Palais
The two buildings face one another across Avenue Winston Churchill, so it wasn't a surprise to see him walking through the adjacent park.
Churchill strolls down his avenue
Grand Palais
At the end of the Champs-Elysees is the Place de la Concorde.  A 3,500-year-old Egyptian obelisk stands in the middle of the plaza, where a guillotine once stood.  The obelisk once marked the entrance to the Luxor temple, and is sometimes referred to as "Cleopatra's Needle," even though it has no connection to the well-known Egyptian ruler.
Cleopatra's Needle and Ferris wheel
Lamppost, with Eiffel Tower in the background
At this point, I was pretty hungry, so I headed north in search of a place to get some lunch, passing the massive La Madeleine church along the way.

La Madeleine
I'm ashamed to admit I ended up having a burger and fries at an American-style place called Bugsy's.  This is what living in London has done to me.  I crave a decent cheeseburger and real French fries (not chips!) so badly that I will pass up eating French food in Paris just to have them.  Sigh...

I ended up in another shopping area -- where the big department stores are.  I had heard that the Printemps building was quite lovely, so I was disappointed to see it covered in scaffolding.
That is, until I saw how HUGE the store was.  It occupied at least two buildings and covered an entire city block.
Nearby was the opera house -- the Palais Garnier -- another beautiful building.
Opera House
And an even BIGGER department store: Galeries Lafayette.  The women's, men's, and home stores were each in their own building.  The original building, which included cosmetics, a food hall, and women's clothing, had an AMAZING atrium in the middle.  I actually wished the giant neon-covered Christmas tree hadn't been there so I could have a better view of the interior of the building.
Central atrium of Galeries Lafayette
Since I couldn't afford to buy anything in either store, I admired the holiday window displays instead.  Coincidentally(?), both stores used marionettes.  I guess puppetry is big in Paris this year.  The Printemps windows were sponsored by Chanel, and represented different cities around the world. 
Los Angeles
The windows at Galeries Lafayette had a rock & roll theme...
Galeries Lafayette

By then, Josh was done with his conference for the day, which happened to be a couple blocks away.  We had learned from the hotel concierge that the Musee d'Orsay was open late that night, so we made our way there.  At this point, I wished I hadn't spent the entire day walking, because I was already dead tired, but the museum was well worth the extra wear and tear on my aching feet.  Sadly, they didn't allow photos inside, but you can take a peek at the museum's web site.  They have an impressive collection of impressionist paintings, art nouveau furniture, and sculpture.  Whistler's Mother lives there, along with Van Gogh's self-portrait, and many other paintings you'll recognize from your art history books.  Oh, and the building itself is a former train station, which is in and of itself a work of art.

As we were walking back to our hotel, we came across this replica of the torch from the Statue of Liberty, which was a gift to the United States from France.  We wondered why the base of a sculpture representing the friendship between the US and France was covered with old flowers and photos of Princess Diana until Josh figured it out:  We were standing directly above the tunnel where she died.
Like a candle in the wind...
Friday morning Josh headed off to day two of his conference, while I packed up our things, checked out of our room, and left our luggage with the front desk.  I had read about another Parisian department store, Samaritaine, that had a lovely building, fantastic view, and bargain prices, so I thought I'd check it out.  Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation -- and had been since 2005!  This is what happens when you borrow a 12-year-old guidebook from your neighbor instead of springing for a new one.
Samaritaine building
Oh well, at least the rain had stopped and the sun was out, making for a lovely day.
Josh left his conference when they broke for lunch, and we arranged to meet at the Place de la Concorde.  I walked through the Jardin des Tuileries, which was bustling on this sunny day.

I met Josh by the Ferris wheel, and we had lunch at one of the cafes in the garden.
View from our cafe
And then walked back towards the Christmas market...

For some crepes!  Mmmm, crepes!
Yes, those are 10-pound jars of Nutella!
Full of crepes
We took the Metro back to the hotel to collect our luggage. Buskers are fairly common on the Tube in London, but in Paris, they actually perform on the trains, not in the stations. Over the course of 2 days, we were entertained by an accordionist, a trumpeter, and a puppet show.
Puppet show on the Metro
We picked up our bags at the hotel and took the Metro to the Gare du Nord to catch the Thalys train to Brussels.
Our train at the Gare du Nord
The train journey from Paris to Brussels takes only an hour and 15 minutes.  We passed the airport on the way.  "Plane wankers!" (Sorry, this is only funny to fans of The Inbetweeners)
CDG Airport
We had a great time in Paris, but our visit was much too short, especially for Josh, since he was at a conference for most of it.  We'll definitely have to go back for a long weekend when we have a chance.

1 comment:

  1. LOVE your Paris pics! Takes us back. The pics of the Christmas market are funny -- looks _exactly_ like it did for us, right down to the weather. Ann and I both LOL'd at the Inbetweeners reference. At least your train didn't suddenly stop at the next crossing so the plane wankers could come kick your asses, though... :P


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