Paris, City of Lights. Impossible to do in just one day. But if you insist…
Having grabbed a pastry and coffee from literally anywhere in the city, I suggest you head to the Louvre. There are a few options to skip the line: Prebook a ticket, have a Paris Museum Pass or, use the less-popular entrance in the Carousel du Louvre, near the Inverted Pyramid.
If you get in early, you might even be able to snap a picture of the Mona Lisa that doesn’t have sixty other cameras in it. Make sure you swing by the Venus de Milo too, before taking a little time to wander the halls.
Alternative: If you’re more into impressionist art, head over to Musee d’Orsay instead. Paris’ main three galleries (The Louvre, d’Orsay and Musee National d’Art Moderne) are split up across eras (pre-1848, 1848-1905 and post-1905, respectively). So instead of seeing Da Vinci and Michaelangelo, you can see Van Gogh and Rembrant. d’Orsay is much smaller than the Louvre, and can therefore be done at a slower pace. Afternoon:
Have lunch in the Latin Quarter, be sure to at least pass by Notre Dame, a few cafes do have fantastic views of the cathedral.
The beauty of Paris is how close together everything is, combined with the efficiency of their metro system. If you’re in a hurry, which you are if you’re seeing Paris in 24 hours, you can hit all the highlights, if you’re just looking to take a quick snap and move on.
But none of that whirlwind tour nonsense here. You want to spend some time enjoying the sights. I say go no further than Sacre Cœur. The white cathedral on Paris’ highest point is beautiful in its own right, but it’s the panoramic view from the dome that attracts people there. Just keep an eye out for scammers in the square in front. While you’re in the area, you can swing by the world famous Moulin Rouge. Tickets cost an arm and a leg, so this is one case where a quick snap is your best option.
Stop in for dinner at one of Montmartre’s many restaurants, since you’re in the area. Alternative: The Arc de Triomphe is another of Paris’ most famous sites, and if you’re willing to climb to the top, the view will reward you.
What would a trip to Paris be without the Eiffel Tower? Probably the most iconic building in the world, it is a must-see. And the best time to see it is at night. All lit up, with flashing lights every hour, it is truly a sight to behold. And the view from the top is breathtaking. Paris at night... Well, they don’t call it the City of Lights for nothing.
I have left longer between these entries than I had intended. However, the WiFi aboard the Eurostar leaves a little to be desired, and then I went ahead and made friends in Paris, so my downtime turned into drinking time. Anyway, here’s the last ten days.
Having a whole day left on my London Pass, I decided to make use of it. First stop was The Tower of London, which was originally built by William The Conquerer, and is therefore pretty much as old as England itself. Plus there are Roman ruins on the site, so it’s even older than that. A nice way to spend a morning, but there is a lot of walking up stairs, so it might not be for everyone. Disabled access wasn’t an issue back in 1078. Come here for the Crown Jewels (which are 100% worth seeing), and stay for the cool history and ancient castle. I didn’t take the tour, but I did jump on a tour right at the end, so I could see inside the church where they buried poor Queen Anne Boleyn.
The afternoon saw me just a little ways up the Thames, at Tower Bridge (you know, the one everyone thinks is London Bridge). I say ‘a little ways up’, and I mean on the flat plane. Vertically… That’s a whole other matter. It’s over two hundred steps up to the top of the towers. There is an elevator, but I got impatient, as I am prone to being. There are some great views from the stairwell though, as there are windows positioned regularly all the way up. Once at the top, you then walk across the upper walkways, which includes a glass floor, through which you can look down at the pedestrians and cars below. From there, it’s down to the engine room, where you can see the huge hydraulic pumps that are used to lift the bridge to allow ships to pass under.
In the evening, I once again found myself above the city, this time at ArcelorMittal Orbit, the bizarre-looking tower next to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I would have given it a miss, since they haven’t built the world’s biggest slide there yet (it’s on the way though), but they had a Lego Exhibition this weekend.
Day 4 was primarily a travel day. I travelled from St Pancras station in London to Paris Gare du Nord via the Eurostar, through the Channel Tunnel. Which was pretty cool. That’s a Modern Wonder I can cross off my Bucket List.
I found my hostel easily, in the 18th Arrondissement, Montmartre. It was a little place called Le Village Hostel, which is a very cool, nicely located place, for a good price. Five minutes from Sacre Couer, and two minutes from Anvers Metro station.
I decided to take advantage of the proximity to Sacre Coeur and visit a little earlier than I had intended, again walking up hundreds of stairs, but this time to take in what I would have to say was the greatest view of Paris I saw, the entire time I was there.
I picked up my Paris Museum Pass (Not the Paris Pass), and immediately made a beeline for the Musee d’Orsay. I spent the entire morning, and a good chunk of the afternoon there, admiring the works of Monet, Renoir, Manet and my personal favourite, Van Gogh. I also have to admit to having taken at least a dozen, but probably two dozen, photos of the huge clock that dominates one end of this former train station.
To end the day, I decided to cross off another Bucket List item, and climbed the Arc de Triomphe, for yet another amazing view of Paris.
This was the biggest day for me. Two of my absolute must-do items. The Louvre to start. I got in early, to avoid crowds around the Mona Lisa, and enjoyed a fairly unhindered walk around the gallery. It goes without saying that I was also excited to see Venus de Milo, and the painting of that guy from that one internet meme.
I rounded out the day with Notre-Dame de Paris. One of the most famous, and beautiful, cathedrals in the world. And the setting of one of my favourite Disney movies, but that’s beside the point. Which also meant that I got to finish my day with yet another amazing view of Paris.
This was another travel day for me, unfortunately. Due to a mistake with the dates on my UK Residency Permit, I couldn’t pick it up while I was in London, so instead I had to travel back for an afternoon just to pick it up. On the bright side, I read two books on my Kindle on the train.
I should also mention at this stage that staying in a hostel is a great experience. You meet the best people in hostels. You also meet the worst. Which is why, today, I changed rooms at my hostel. I’m not going to go into detail, but suffice to say, I was not looking forward to spending the rest of the week with the roommates I had. I’m glad I changed, because I got to meet some great people in my new room, and we had a great time in the bars of Montmartre.
Which, of course, led to a late start the next day. We did manage to drag our butts out of bed to go see Napoleon’s Tomb, and part of the military museum at Les Invalides that afternoon.
Of course, the absolute highlight was that night, when we finally went to the Eiffel Tower. I’m glad I saved it for night time, because it was simply magical. Every hour, blinking lights bounce around the outside, and we stayed to see it twice. Once from inside the tower, and once from the ground.
The Palace of Versailles was the last thing on my list for Paris, at least this time around. I’ve spent the last week becoming increasingly aware of just how much I want to see.
I thought the Palace was very nice, even if the areas open to the public were quite few, and the Gardens were beautiful, even if everything was trimmed back. I’d love to come back at the height of summer.
Another travel day, this time taking a bus from Paris to Brussels. I found my way to the place I was staying, this time an Airbnb, and spent the rest of the day there, talking to my host. His apartment was sparsely furnished, and I didn’t have any room to blog, or else you’d have this two days earlier.
I got to explore Brussels, which I think is a very underrated city for tourists. It just doesn’t rank among the Parises and the Romes. But it is a very pleasant place, even in these troubled times. You can still sense the scars of the people, it’s a very quiet place, and everyone seems to be in a hurry to get everywhere, and no-one makes eye contact with anyone.
I couldn’t help but go to the famous Mannekin Pis, and his lesser-known sister, Jeanneke Pis, but I was primarily in Brussels for one man: Tintin.
Who would have thought, someone who wants to be a travel blogger grew up reading Tintin comics, and watching the cartoon series. Well, Brussels is his home, and they are proud of him. Art adorns a number of walls, including within one of their main train stations. A large section of the amazing Comic Strip Museum is dedicated to Herge (and the number of comic book stores for a city that size was astounding). The official Tintin Shop is just off the famous Grand-Place, and there is a museum dedicated to Herge (which was unfortunately closed today).
I finished the day by meeting up with one of the guys I met in Paris, and we had drinks at Delirium Cafe, followed by a cheap, but good-quality dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Which brings us to today. I’m blogging to you live from Amsterdam, at my hostel, waiting for check-in. And, quite frankly, it’s probably the coolest-looking hostel I’ve ever been to. And conveniently located, just a short (free) ferry-ride from Amsterdam Central Station. It’s called ClinkNOORD, and you should stay here if you’re ever in town. I won’t post until after I check-in, since all the cords I need to download photos from my camera are in my bag, which is in their luggage storage.
Note: Actually posting the day after, but I’ll leave today’s activities for the next one.