Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day Three: London & Traveling to Paris

We began the day in London by sleeping in a bit. After checking out and leaving our bags at the hotel, we moved on to breakfast at Pret-A-Manger....again. They really need to get these in the States. We then walked down to the British Museum

Look! My camera has a fish-eye setting!

What an amazing place! It wasn't on our original itinerary but when I found out it opened early on Sundays (9:00 AM) and we had a slot to fill, we added it in. The proximity to our hotel was nice too.

Rosetta Stone

Highlights include seeing the Rosetta Stone, several pieces of antiquity from Greece, Rome, Eqypt, etc.  I know I really undersold this museum by summing it up in half a sentence but there was just so much to see it's difficult to list everything. Admission was free! Although there was an exhibit on Pompeii that a fee was charged for. We didn't bother with that because we didn't have time.

Easter Island statue

We left the museum for one last pub meal nearby. Fish and chips, cask ales and cider of course. Then we grabbed our bags and set off for St. Pancras. We walked to the station from our hotel which wasn't bad at all. I don't think I mentioned the weather yet. In London, we had temperatures in the upper 50's to low 60's. No real sun to speak of but we weren't expecting any either. We wore jackets the whole time but were not uncomfortable, temperature-wise. I was glad for my scarves though.

St. Pancras International is where you board the Eurostar to continue your adventure to Paris. We booked the seats well in advance. I believe the itineraries open 120 days ahead and they do sell out. Also, the closer to the departure date, the more expensive the tickets are. Our seats were $65 USD each one way. So, very reasonable. Be careful when selecting your seat on the train as some are next to windows and some are not. The Eurostar has a dining and bar car and a tourist desk of sorts where you can buy Museum Passes for Paris and more. We had some pounds leftover while awaiting our departure so we used those to buy one of our museum passes. More on the museum pass later but, if you have cash left before leaving the UK, this is a great way to spend it. You can also buy train tickets to be used in Paris for the Metro.

You do have to pass through Immigration prior to boarding the train since you'll arrive in a different country. You are also responsible for loading your own luggage onto racks at the end of your train car. Each car has its own bathroom as well. The seats were roomy and there were racks above them for smaller luggage too.

The journey takes just over 2 hours and passing under the English Channel only takes about 20-30 minutes. The rest of the time you are traveling at very high speeds through countryside, some more idyllic than others.

French countryside

On the train....looking a bit tired.

I considered having us take the Metro to our hotel but decided against it when I realized we'd be dealing with large suitcases. Instead, we took a cab from Gare du Nord to our hotel Le Grand Hotel de Normandie which is in the 9th arrondissement. The ride cost about 10 euros. I booked our room on  for its decent reviews on location and its rate. We paid about $200 USD/night. Yes, the room is tiny. And the bed was EXTRA firm. Luckily, we were so tired at the end of each day, we had no trouble sleeping. The walls, however, are thin. I'm glad I brought earplugs to drown out our neighbors' conversations. I will never travel without earplugs again. They have changed my life!

Too tall for this bed

This is the view out of our window. Oh yes, we arrived to the rain that I had prayed so hard would not show up. 

My prayers were not answered. If you are willing to use the Metro, you will save your feet, time and money in getting around Paris. Do not be afraid of navigating. Just make sure your train is going in the right direction and you'll be fine. As it happens, Gare Saint-Lazare is also an SNCF station which came in handy on our Versailles day. Inside there were a few fast food places and some shops as well.

A little rain wasn't going to stop us. We are in PARIS! Let's go explore.

It was about 5:30pm on a Sunday at this point so we just started walking and knew that eventually, we'd find dinner. We headed down toward the Seine to see what we could and catch our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

La Madeleine

Place de la Concorde -- get used to that umbrella

There she is!

This is a bridge with Love Locks. You write your names on it and maybe a date, lock it on the bridge and throw the key in the river as a symbol of your undying love for one another. We didn't do this but, here they are. Actually, many Parisians hate them because they ruin the bridges. Periodically, les gendarmes come through with bolt cutters and remove them. So much for undying love!

We also walked by l'Opera Garnier, the department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, and in and around various streets and neighborhoods.

After walking around for a few hours, we decided to head back up to the 9th to find dinner. We did so at Cafe Madeleine near rue Tronchet. This was my first experience ordering in French and I think I did a great job! At least, John was impressed and the food we wanted came to our table. We had hamburgers and wine. Classy!

We had a drink at a bar/restaurant next to our hotel but decided to call it a night when the waiter didn't really seem interested in us after the first round. No matter, night one in Paris, a success!

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