I’m currently penning a series of posts on a recent week-long break in London and Paris with my wife; part of our belated 1st year anniversary present from us, to us. Subconsciously I opted to write and publish a post about our evening out at the Moulin Rouge first – this was effectively our last night in Paris before returning home to South Africa (think George Lucas’ Star Wars films if artistic licence is required).
This post is split into 3 parts and commences when the wheels of our small and half empty Fokker 50 turboprop, left the tarmac at London City Airport on a chilly English morning headed for Orly International, just south of Paris. Our pilots, quite possibly retired Air Force struggling to relive their youth, banked heavily during our steep climb-out through thick clouds and high crosswinds. This upped the severity of turbulence on board and introduced the unnerving sensation of side ‘slip’, whilst the negative G-force kneeling on my shoulders momentarily transformed me into a mini-me. On the plus side, their antics afforded me unobstructed views of London and Canary Wharf through my cabin window…which was pointed near-vertically downwards. A full-restraint harness definitely wouldn’t have gone amiss, in the event that our captain decided to throw in a barrel roll for good measure. This was to be an interesting hour and a half’s flight!
Our route arced around many of the large cloud formations as we continued to climb, with the aircraft finally stabilising at its cruise altitude. Crossing the Channel in relative calmness munching cold pain aux chocolat (zut alors!) and sipping on English breakfast tea, I casually watched (out of a now normalised window position) shipping vessels cutting through the expanse of glinting seawater on their route to somewhere.
A second round of clammy-palmed fun began whilst on approach into Orly. Stiff winds, coupled with Top Gun styled aircraft manoeuvres, buffeted our flying can on final approach. Despite my reservations and an expectation to hit the deck like a sack of Pomme de Terres, touchdown was textbook smooth.
Day 1 – Arrival @ Orly International
I’ve never previously flown into Orly Airport, however they could have quite easily been shooting the opening scene to 28 Days Later when we arrived. A few aircraft stood on the otherwise deserted aprons; the terminal building’s lights were on and automatic doors and escalators were working, but it seemed as though no one was home. Where were all the zombies hiding?! We followed the signs to immigration and found two officers sat behind their desks….fortunately there were not zombies. I’d like to think that they were glad to see passengers, but I had a sneaky feeling we’d just interrupted their colouring competition; up for grabs – the right to pretend you were Napoléon Bonaparte for the ENTIRE afternoon. Without too much fuss my wife’s South African passport was checked and stamped. We collected our bags after a short pit stop to mark territory on French soil and walked through the doors into arrivals, where we discovered that this was where party rockin’ had been hanging out…fortunately still no zombies.
Prior to leaving the airport to catch the RER train into central Paris, we purchased a carnet; a book of ten single-use metro tickets which can be used at any point to give your sightseeing legs a break. Other passes are available to circumnavigate Paris, e.g. the Visite Pass, allowing you unlimited travel on the city’s public transport system. If you intend to see and do a lot on foot (esp. if the weather is good), such passes might prove to be expensive for the limited mileage you’ll get from them.
Fast-forwarding an hour, we arrived at our gem of a hotel, Hotel Aiglon; a compact, 3-star hotel located in a quiet neighbourhood next to Raspail metro station. The front desk staff were incredibly friendly and helpful throughout our stay, whilst the hotel itself had recently been refurbished. Our room was brand new, spacious and modern (it even had air con) with a great view out onto the street from our first floor window. Free WiFi is available in the rooms; great for the wife who chooses to update her Facebook community with photos of all of our trips on a daily basis. The bathroom was stocked with an abundance of nice smelling toiletries, a huge bath/shower and most importantly, a heated towel rail positioned close enough to the toilet bowl to prevent initial ‘shock clenching’ from a cold toilet seat. Hotel Aiglon also had a cool library with sofas off the main foyer, packed full of interesting reads and travel guides (in case you forgot to purchase one).
Whilst our hotel offered an on-site breakfast, there is a glut of boulangeries and cafés in Paris to explore. I find it much more fun watching people who are people-watching, whilst sat out on the street overindulging on French bakery items. Raspail, our closest metro station, is served by line 6 (Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysée) and line 4 (Notre Dame and Gard du Nord areas), which puts a myriad of attractions and eateries within easy reach of the hotel.
After unpacking we headed off into the Montparnasse district of Paris, stopping at the Eglise du Dôme (the dome church) and Hôtel des Invalides for photos, before winding up in a nearby café for a late baguette-based lunch. A nice thing about central Paris is that you can choose to wander aimlessly (we didn’t have a specific plan for the afternoon), detouring to check out interesting buildings, shops and markets without getting overly lost or ending up in a ghetto. I bought myself a great little InsideOut guidebook (jeans back pocket size) with popout maps of Paris to help me out where necessary.
After lunch we headed towards the Eiffel Tower – you can see this from almost anywhere in central Paris, making it even more difficult to lose yourself; past the snaking queues and down onto the river walk next to the Seine to scope out potential river cruises for the evening. The prices and experiences of these vary enormously from the pack-‘em-in waterway cruisers, all the way up to the fine dining dinner cruises aboard some seriously swanky boats. We opted for a ‘Vedettes de Paris’ cruise, with a pre-cruise riverbank dinner included in our €30 p/p package.
With cruise booked, we hopped on the metro to Notre Dame and happened upon a Pain Fête (bread celebration) in the square in front of the cathedral. What a find!
Dinner was a choice of starter and main, or main and dessert + drinks and we arrived in ample time to avoid a ‘stuff-and-go’ exercise. The food was pretty good considering the steal of a price tag. Food connoisseurs may have a slightly differently opinion, however many of these have beamed down from other planets and their palettes differ considerably from those of the general terrestrial population.
The Vedettes’ boats are smaller and more 1920s commuter yacht-like than those of competitor companies, but all-in-all still very modern. Our cruise set off from the Eiffel tower and did an about-turn past the Notre Dame Cathedral, taking in all the usual sights including the Grand Palais, Place de la Concorde, the Orsay and Louvre museums, City Hall and all 17 bridges in between. Our cruise was perfectly timed so that we could see the river sights during the day and again at night on the same cruise – genius! Once the sun began to set it got noticeably cooler and we had to give up our Rose and Jack Titanicesque pose at the bow of the boat, retiring to a bench at the rear of the lower deck which was kept warm by the engine room heat vents. We arrived back at the Eiffel Tower in time to see the hourly illuminations before jumping on the metro and returning to our hotel.
[to be continued]