Paris Trip

Note: I had written this text soon after we came back from Paris trip in 2003 but it was in a document stacked away in some folder. Recently I found it and thought post it on the web.

We (I, Subbu, Thangamani and Wasiq) had been thinking of going for a trip since we came to UK. Although we had been to London couple of times, I didn’t feel we have seen enough of Europe. We planned to visit Paris. But Subbu had seen Paris so we thought to visit Italy (Rome, Vatican City, Florence, Pisa and if time permits Venice). Since Mar 1995, you need a new type of visa called Schengen Visa to visit many European Union countries viz., Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Depending on the first destination, you need to go to that particular country embassy to get the visa. As ours was Rome, we had to go to Italy embassy. After booking the tickets (in Going Places, a ticket agent in UxBridge), we found out that, appointments are not available for Italy embassy. You need to call-up an automated number to take an appointment. So what to do, we planned to visit Paris so that we can visit France embassy to take the Schengen visa.

We took an appointment on 8th Dec 2003 morning 8:30. Subbu and I went for interview for all four of us. We thought of going early there, so that we will be first to entertain in the embassy and we can be back to work soon. But in the freezing cold of London, we could manage to getup and leave home by 7:00. By the time we got to embassy (after asking many people how to get there J), it was well over 8:30. We could count around 25-35 different people standing in the queue. It was such a glacial London it was and was the coldest London I had ever witnessed. We stood in the queue (to be precise attached ourselves to be queue, as we were the last). As queue started to move slowly, we started conversation with one person named Mounir Kehal, who is Professor in University of Monaco in southern France. He was there to collect his work permit kind of visa for France. He said, it is very cold out there in Paris and the day he came it was under 0. This made us quiver for a min thinking of the cold out there and roaming in that cold. Finally after long time, around 12:30, we got the Schengen visa for six months with multiple entries. Multiple entries was very important as otherwise, we could not visit Italy. We were equipped well with Italy flight bookings and accommodation booking should we need to show them.

As with anybody (well, may be most) I don’t like change in the life but it is inevitable. Although you don’t want it, you need to prepare for it now or later. Sooner the better, as you will have enough time to plan. The moment I think of going for trip, cold, new place, what to eat, there should be chill in my spinal card. Nevertheless Eiffel Tower, all great places and palaces in Paris, used to override the former.

History of Paris goes as old as third century BC. The Parisii, a Celtic tribe, found the settlement of ‘Lucotesia’ on an island in the River Seine. 53 BC: The Romans conquer Gaul. The city receives its first name: ‘Lutetia Parisorum’, and becomes one of Caesar’s colonial towns. 508: The Franks end Roman domination. Paris becomes the capital of a Frankish state. Ninth Century AD: Paris develops into an important trade center. Navigation on the River Seine is a vital economic factor. Tenth Century AD: The last Carolingian king is Louis V. After his death Hugo Capet becomes the new ruler after a vicious power struggle. The Capetian dynasty rules France until the French Revolution of 1789. Twelfth/Thirteenth Century AD: Robert de Sorbon is the founder of a theology school in 1253. It will eventually develop into the famous Sorbonne University. Fourteenth Century: The city walls are extended. Erection of the Bastille. Fifteenth Century: Epidemics and social unrest ravage the city. In 1420, Paris falls to the English. Jeanne d’Arc tries to recapture the city, but the English siegeonly ends in 1436. Sixteenth Century: Conversion of the Louvre into a city residence. Fights break out between Catholics and Protestants. During the night of 23 August 1572 the so-called St.Bartholomew’s Eve Massacre instigated by Cathérine de Médici claims the lives of 3,000 Huguenots. Many more flee. The Edict of Nantes (1598) sees Henry IV guarantee the religious freedom of the Protestants. The King himself converts to catholicism for political reasons. 1682: Louis XIV moves the seat of government to Versailles. Absolutism triumphs. Magnificent palaces are built, gigantic debts are amassed. Paris numbers half a million citizens. 1789: The storming of the Bastille leads to the French Revolution. In 1792, Louis XVI is arrested and beheaded the year after. France is proclaimed a Republic. 1815: Louis XVIII ascends the throne after the fall of Napoleon. Once again a member of the House of Bourbon takes control of the state. 1851: The Second Empire begins with Napoleon III. Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann transforms the city: whole neighborhoods are demolished, grand squares and avenues are constructed. In 1859/60 a total of 11 villages, such as Montmartre, are annexed. Paris is a conurbation of 20 arrondissements (districts) with a total of 1.8 million inhabitants. Paris receives three World Fairs (1855, 1867, 1889). They symbolize the growing prosperity of the city. 1900: The Métro (Underground) is opened. 1940-44: Paris is occupied by German troops. General Dietrich von Choltitz disobeys Hitler and refuses to destroy the city. The Allied Forces and the French Resistance led by General de Gaulle liberate the city. 1958: Charles de Gaulle is elected President. In 1963, De Gaulle and the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer sign a Franco-German Friendship Treaty. 1968: Students and police fight running battles in the Quartier Latin. 1970s: The Old Market Halls are torn down. A ring-road is constructed and the Centre Pompidou is opened. 1989: In celebration of the Bicentenary of the French Revolution President François Mitterrand has the Opéra-Bastille built, as well as the Louvre pyramid and La Grande Arche (The Giant Arch). 1999: Official opening of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France François Mitterrand. This National Library on the eastern side of the city contains 12 million books. 2001: In order to repair the damage caused by the storm at the end of 1999, nine new parks and gardens have been laid out. The TGV connection Méditerranée Paris-Marseille is opened.

Paris is also known as Fashion City and is also famous for beautiful women (whoever said that, they are not wrong). Wherever you see what a magnificent views of mighty monuments, which tells the story of bygone splendid era of Paris. Paris has got both modern things and amazing history. Important sight seeing places in Paris are,

  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Centre Georges Pompidou
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Invalidies
  • Louvre
  • Musée d’Orsay
  • Notre-Dame de Paris
  • Opéra-Garnier
  • Panthéon
  • Sacré-Coeur
  • Versailles

Try Google search for more info about each place.

We didn’t have any outstanding plan of which places to visit on which day however we did have a list of places not to miss in the visit. We planned to reach Paris by 19th Dec, depart back on 22nd night back to Uxbridge. We booked International Youth hostel to stay (as booking hotel would be too expensive that too in December month). Our British Airways flights was from London Gatwick, which is little bit far from greater London (we came to know on that day only) and no public buses serves to that airport.

There are three ways to get to Gatwick.

1. From UxBridge to Victoria (4£, 1 Hour) in tube and Victoria to Gatwick in Gatwick Express (11£, half hour) (train)

2. From UxBridge to Heathrow (1£ half hour) in tube/bus and Heathrow to Gatwick in Bus (17£ one hour)

3. From UxBridge take cab and reach Gatwick (50£ 1 hour)

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As we were four, I thought best is option 3, which is more comfortable and quick. I booked the cab to come home by 4:00, so that we will be there by 5:30 max and still left out by 1.5 hours for flight departure. One Pakistani cabwala came at 4:05 and we asked Moe to click a first trip snap. As it was dark, it didn’t come well though but here it is.

We put all stuff and picked us up. Subbu sat in front, I, Wasiq and Thangamani sat in the back. Cab driver was talking well and Subbu was upto him in the competition. He talked everything from his business to the world business. We reached bit late than scheduled timing at around 5:45. Checked in ourselves and it was bit fast as we didn’t have any checkin baggage. After that Subbu took his boarding pass and said, he would go for around in the Gatwick. Gatwick is really nice airport compared to Heathrow but all prefer Heather coz of its accessibility. Thangamani and Wasiq also went on to see around, I sat in a place and told them to come down to that point. After we got together (waited in security area for a while), and left London at scheduled departure time of 7:00 PM.

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Paris is around 220 air miles from London. So it is about 45 mins journey. Paris has got two airports. Charles de Gaulle (CDG) is in North of Paris and D’Orly in South of Paris. Our flight was to CDG.

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Paris public transport is very nice and their underground system is one of oldest in the world. Paris area is mainly divided into different zones. Zone 1 is core Paris and is served by both RER and Metro. Rest of zones is served by RER.

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After we got down in Paris, we had to take trains to get to hostel. Our hostel was nearby Metro station Hoche. We had to take RER C from CDG to Gare Du Nard and from there take Metro line 5 to Hoche station. While we were at making a plan about which train to catch and all, one fellow came and asked if we need a cab. He was trying put his lifelong learned maths at work to show us, taking cab is cheaper than taking train. As Subbu had visited Paris once, we thought will take a risk of enduring ourselves in the train. First of all it took a while to understand the different between RER and Metro lines. J We had to take a bus from CDG to CDG RER station. There in station we waited for a while for the train. Meanwhile Wasiq and Thangamani were at work of shooting pictures. We got into train and again started looking where to get down and which line of Metro to take. It was about 1.5 hours journey from airport to hostel. Although official language in France is French, many people do speak English but their preference is French. So you hardly see any signboards and ads bearing English. It was not so cold in Paris. We got to see a bit of Paris in night. Hostel is not so well maintained. We got two roomies (dormitories) with 5 people in each room. We took keys and went up. There were already two guys sleeping our room and I think there were two girls also in ladies room. Room was very small and didn’t have enough space to keep our stuff. As it is shared facilities area, we had to be very cautious about our belongings especially money and passport. We all didn’t like the place for some reason. Because of fatigue of journey we got very nice sleep.

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We left home by 8:00 AM, took M5 and got down at Gare Du Nord. From there we walked asking lots of people about how to get to Sacré-Coeur. Sacré-Coeur (House of God) was erected as a kind of symbol of reconciliation after the defeat against the Prussians in 1871. It is very nice place on top of the hill. We walked up the stirs, went inside and watched the dome. It is really magnificent in side. Huge centre done and lots of styled mirrors and all. From there you can view the complete Paris in the morning mist.

We came down, all were feeling very hungry, and thought will have breakfast. We looked around but didn’t find good hotels to have some food so had some criosons and had coffee. From there we thought we will visit Invalidis. This is the place where they kept Napoleon tomb. To get to this place we got down at metro station Concord, this is the place where French revolution started. From this place, through the garden we walked to the Invalidis. Entry fee to visit the tomb was 7€. It is pretty costly but nevertheless we are visiting only once, so we didn’t really care for the money. It is there inside big palace and in front of Christ. It is really nice. His tomb is kept underground, with lots of different paintings and sculptures.

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We came out from the tomb and there is a museum in the same building where there is tomb. It is really nice museum but the problem being we will not be able to see it properly. So we kind of skimmed thru each floor and completed it. While coming from the Invalidis, took another picture in side the square shaped building.

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From Invalidis we left to Arc de Triomphe. The Arc de Triomphe was erected as a symbol of Napoleon I’s famous military triumphs. The construction started in 1806, but it took another 30 years before the arch was finished. The emperor had long since gone, of course. The square of which this gigantic monument is the center used to be called originally ‘Place de l’Etoile’, because of the twelve elegant boulevards that form a star at their point of joining the square. August 1944 saw the citizens of Paris stream into this area to celebrate with General De Gaulle and the Allied Forces that liberated the city the end of the German occupation. Inside the arch an exhibition tells of the history of the building. Unfortunately when we went, the tower was closed for renovation. However the glorious view of the arch is breath taking. From the Arch we walked in the long stretch road of Shen 0’Lese. It is like very big road from Arch to Concorde ground. We had burger in the Macdee on the way (but just fries, as they didn’t have veg item) and walked coolly. From there we went to see Eiffel Tower. The thing is it looks very nice in the night than in the daytime. Built according to a design by Gustave Eiffel for the World Fair of 1889. A masterpiece of iron architecture, it contains more than 12,000 parts. The symbol par excellence of the French capital. Subdivided into different floor levels, the first floor is at a height of 57 metres. The highest platform of this ‘Iron Lady’ is 300 meters above the ground. A clear sky guarantees a panorama across 100 kilometers of Île de France. In the night it is lit completely by sodium vapour lights and it looks really nice. It is almost impossible to capture the view your eyes can capture by the lens. However I have tried to click couple of photos. Once in hour, they put sparking lights all along the tower. It looks as if the tower has been electrocuted. It is really nice.

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You can go till third level of the tower, but as Wasiq didn’t have batter time left in her video camera, we decided to come tomorrow again. But this tower alone is worth the visit to Paris. From there, we thought we will visit Opera house. It is near by Opera metro station. We walked to Tracedero station and from there we took metro to Opera house. This ‘old’ opera house, inaugurated in 1875, is considered to be the most beautiful construction of the Second Empire, even if today, due to the Bastille-Opéra, its new competitor, it has been reduced to showing performances of ballet only. The modern painted ceilings of Marc Chagall, which form a sharp contrast to the extravagant flamboyance of the 19th century, gave rise to numerous discussions. We heard that we need to have formal dress to see the play and even the ticket is very costly around 95€. We didn’t think it is worth the visit so we just went out, saw the building and came. On the way back home, we went to Pizza hut, had very nice Veg Pizza (very happy to know that they carry one vegetarian item). From Opera station went to Hoche station and got back to hostel. I think it was around clip_image02912:00+ when we got to hostel, so we could clip_image031not wait to lay down ourselves. Btw, these are the French words for English words.

  • Thank you => Merci
  • Sorry => Désolé
  • Excuse Me => Excusez-moi
  • Good Morning => Bonjour
  • Good Night => Bonne nuit

If you want learn more French words, go to http://translate.google.com/translate_t. So I’m feeling sleepy, Bonne nuit to you.

clip_image033clip_image035clip_image037Second day we decided to leave hostel by again 8:00 AM. But everybody were late and so we left hostel by 9:00+ AM. We three were carrying digi cameras and video camera. They all got to be charged. We had given all these three to warden out there to charge with one adapter. So we took them and started out. Today we planned to visit Versailles. This tree-lined romantic square is one of the oldest and most handsome in Paris. Surrounded by the arcades of splendid palaces, it was a meeting place in the 17th century of its elegant and wealthy population. Originally called ‘La Place Royale’ in 1612, it received its present name after the Revolution. On show are the royal apartments, the Hall of Mirrors, the chapel, the royal opera and the museum of French history. Worth exploring too is the vast park with its statues, fountains and garden palaces. We took RER B train as it is in outside Zone 1. It is around 20 minutes journey from downtown to Versailles. We got down there, and took another bus to palace place. The place is really huge. We had to take tickets to visit the Kings palace and Queens palace. Ticket price was 11.50€. They had given the audio guide as well for king’s palace. It is really splendid. We walked thru the different rooms of king like meeting room, bed room etc., It took around 1 hour to go thru each room listening to the guidance. After that with the same ticket, we visited Queen’s palace. It was almost like king’s palace. From there we went to see the garden. This palace has got really huge garden spanning thousands of acres. We could not see everything as it was very very cold outside. We could not even take photos properly as all our hands were shivering. Although we just went down to see the garden and rushed back. There are couple of palaces in side the garden as well, but we didn’t have enthusiasm or time to see all that. So we decided to return back to Paris. Although this palace has got significant place in the history, I didn’t think it is as beautiful or splendid as our Mysore palace. It was already 2:00+ when we left Versailles.

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Today we still had to visit Eiffel Tower to go to top floor. Before that we thought will visit Notre-Dame de Paris. In its time, this gigantic structure was the largest cathedral in the world. It clearly represents the might and wealth of the city and its clergy. Bishop Maurice de Sully gave the building order for this gothic masterpiece in 1163. The construction would continue until the 14th century. Apart from the magnificent side walls of the northern and southern transept, there is also the three-part façade of the gothic church to admire: three beautiful portals, a king’s gallery, a wonderful rose window, and finally two church towers, which offer a great panorama across the sea of houses, provided of course that you managed to bring the strenuous climb to a successful end.

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clip_image043While going to visit Notre-Dame de Paris, there were so many people feeding sparrows and pigeons.

We took little bit of feed from others and fed them. It was really nice when birds perch on your hand. It tickles as they try to perch and peck in your hand to eat the grains. I could persuade for a pigeon but could not attract the sparrows. We went inside cathedral. Prayer was going on and so had to be very silent. It is as usual any other cathedral but was really big. It is possible to go to top of the cathedral but it is open till 4:30. By the time we came out, it was closed. So we felt bad to miss it. But we could take some pictures inside the cathedral (usually it’s not allowed in other chapels). However it was pretty dark, so just tried to capture but in vain.

clip_image045clip_image047From there we walked to visit Eiffel Tower (in French it is called Tour Eiffel pronounced as toor aaffil). There is different price to visit each floor. First floor is around 3.5€, second floor is around 8€ and third floor is around 10.50€. We wanted to capture from top of the tower and experience the cold as well. So took third floor ticket. It was really crowded. I stood in the queue to take ticket for all. After 15 mins of queue, I got to know that, that is the same queue for elevator as well. So I called all and started queuing again. It took 20 mins of wait to get the ticket and anther 45 mins of wait in different queues to get to top floor. Let me tell you, it was really really cold on top of the floor. We could hardly face ourselves to that cold breeze. I enjoyed the view of the Paris from top tower. It is tallest peak in the Paris. We took couple of photos and came down to glassed room (There are two sections. One fenced, open air. Another glassed one to enjoy the view). Out there they have displayed all countries flags and main cities in their direction and mentioned the distance. India was around 6000 Kms from Eiffel Tower.

There are two lifts. One from ground to second floor and another from second to third floor. Thangamani said, we walk down the stirs from second floor. So we started walking down. In the stirs, they put a history of the tower and its significance in the history. So we leisurely walking and reading the stuff. We took almost 30 mins to walk down. In ground floor we bought some souvenirs like small tower and all. Everybody bought. After that, we walked down to metro station. Thought of gong to Mexican restaurant for dinner. We had seen one Mexican restaurant in Opera house. So instead of looking for it in new place we thought we will go there, have dinner and return home (anyway metro was free (not actually but 5 days pass)). We got down at Opera, and went to restaurant. When we went there, we came to know they don’t have non-smoking area. Wasiq and Subbu didn’t want to have in smoking area. So we went looking for another restaurant in the same street (I was more interested in Pizza Hut J). We found another French restaurant for pizza like pizzalemo and some other. We could not decide where to go. We tossed and went to pizzalemo. It was looking little posh too. We ordered some pizza, garlic bread and drink. Garlic bread was horrible and so was pizza. However it was, we had enough as we were hungry but could not help to leave out little bit at the end. From there we took the Metro and reached hostel. As with previous nights, we gave that fellow all digi and video cameras and requested him to charge them. Then went and slept. Today one new fellow had come to our room and he was just snoring all the while. I thought we will not be sleeping today J but because of the tiredness of walking and roaming around, we fell asleep and didn’t know what time. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Got up early, as today we still had couple of places to visit. We had French bread stick and orange juice in the hostel it self except Wasiq. She didn’t like the bread for some reason. She had just juice. Today’s plan was to visit Eiffel tower in daylight, some shopping and Louvre museum.

clip_image049When we got down at Tour Eiffel metro station it was almost 9:30. We decided not waste lot of time there, as museum would need more time than we had. I wanted to see the Eiffel tower in daylight. We roamed around, took some pictures there and did some keepsakes of Paris visit. After that we took the metro again, got down at Louvre station.

This former medieval fortress today houses one of the largest museums in the world. It contains extensive collections of Oriental, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities, such as paintings, furniture and sculptures. Philip II August built the Louvre as a defense complex on the bank of the River Seine around 1200. As the strategic location grew less and less significant, Charles V turned the fortress into his private residence in the 14th century. Many more kings and queens added their own alterations and embellishments so that an intricate complex of renaissance façades, labyrinthine courtyards, pavilions, passages, portals and showrooms came into existence.

In 1661, Louis XIV decided to move his court to Versailles. Although the Louvre had now lost its importance as a seat of government, academies and galleries took over the buildings. Shortly after the Revolution the Louvre opened its doors as an art museum. Napoleon extended the collection, and today the Louvre is one of the world’s greatest museums. The spectacular extension that President Mitterrand had in mind when he decided to build a pyramid, gave rise to much controversy. Today the pyramid, for which 90 tons of glass was needed, is the main entrance to the museum. This is where famous Mona Lisa painting is kept. Now you know why this museum is world famous J.

clip_image051clip_image053clip_image055clip_image057Entrance fee was around 7€ each. There are totally four floors to cover. Each floor is so huge that, it needs around 3-4 hours to just skim thru. But we totally had 5 hours to cover the whole museum. We started with painting section where they kept the Mona Lisa. We had to walk so long before we get to her. When we got there it was pretty crowded and had to do a tug of war to get place to pose in front of her. In this floor there are some very bug and nice paintings. There are so many that, we really got bored of seeing paintings after a while. Finally long awaited moment of seeing her had come. Although I could not make out the difference between her and other paintings, it was the feeling that seeing the most famous painting in the world with my own eyes. Painting was covered with glass container; guess would have been coated with something to bear with all flashes. We saw for a while, girls were seeing for long time. I and Subbu waited for them. Later on, Subbu wanted to see the Egyptian sculptures. We were looking for it for long time, but after so long time of browsing thru lots of other section, we found. We did take couple of photos in front of mummies and others. Then went to see Roman sculptures.

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These were really nice. I really enjoyed seeing all those beautifully carved statues in the marble and bronze. We also saw the stone where Code of clip_image061Hammurabi is carved. This is the oldest script known to mankind. From there we went thru different sections and took couple of photos. Honestly nobody was interested on that day to see the museum. Everybody were sitting wherever they find some calm place. So somehow we covered a bit of it and at 4:00 PM we were out of museum. Took the metro, went to hostel, picked the luggage and came to station. It was pretty late to catch our flight. We also got confused about our flight terminal. We thought it Terminal 1 but it was in Terminal 2. So even there we had to run fast. Somehow we got into the flight, and fell asleep. Had the sandwich they served in the flight, and got home by 9:00 PM. So tired that just had dinner and slept.

This is the whole story about our Paris trip. It was pretty good and liked the city more than I expected. We spent around 350£ each for the trip. But trip was worth the each penny we spent.