5 days in Paris (and beyond)

Note: This is a repost from my old blog.

As with most visitors to France’s capital – our Paris experience began at Charles De Gaulle International airport – after touching down on our Etihad A380 from Abu Dhabi, we proceeded through the busy terminal, purchased our metro/bus passes and boarded the train to Gare du Nord – now I don’t know if it was just our luck but unfortunately for us, our big American Tourister suitcases and the minuscule space above the seats meant we had to keep them on the floor and as the train filled up, a poor French couple ended up having to share a quad seat with us and our luggage.

Moulin Rouge

After a half an hour on the train we arrived at Gare du Nord and after navigating our way out of the station and onto the nearby metro line we arrived at Blanche station (right across the road from Moulin Rouge!), settling into the Starbucks across the round-about and digging into a croissant burger and hot chocolate as the Paris rain began to fall, we waited for our Airbnb check in time to arrive.

We stayed one block behind the Moulin Rouge just near Café des 2 Moulins (the café from the film Amelie) in a cute and cosy apartment with a kitchen.

Despite the sleepless 40-hour or so jaunt from Australia via Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi to Paris, we decided to make the best of the sunny weather and ventured out into the Montmartre neighbourhood of Paris.

After climbing to the top of the hill that makes up this particular neighbourhood of Paris, we headed into the Sacre Couer Basilica, an imposing and impressive Parisian landmark at the highest point in the city.

Sacre Couer

Climbing the 300 steps to the top of the Basilica was hard work (especially since the earlier rain had made the steps on the outside of the structure slippery) but the view at the very top was well worth the climb. Looking out over Paris from Sacre Couer not only rewards you with the intricate, organised streets and grandiose buildings but – as opposed to the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, a view of the famous iron structure itself! Definitely a Instagram worthy spot!

The view from the top of the Basilica

After leaving Sacre Couer and winding back down through Montmartre, we stopped for lunch at a baguette restaurant and after devouring our “authentic” sandwiches hopped onto a bus and gassed it for the Arc de Triomphe.

Unfortunately for Vanessa, she had put her metro/bus card next to her phone and it had been de-magnetised – although the bus driver didn’t seem to care in the slightest. After checking out and ultimately deciding the hour long line to climb the landmark was too much effort, we headed down the Champs Elysees.

Arc de Triomphe

Biting the bullet and forfeiting 8 euro for a Budweiser at a bar called Unisex along the Champs Elysees, we decided to head to the most famous of French landmarks – the Eiffel Tower.

Deciding that a visit to the top was better suited for another day, we walked around the base and after purchasing some overpriced and terrible-tasting gluhwein (mulled wine) we headed up to the Trocadero and took far too many selfies.

Eiffel Tower

Catching the bus back via the terrifying Arc de Triomphe roundabout, we headed for a French supermarket for vital supplies (including the all-important toilet paper) and ingredients for dinner, walked home and after devouring some home-made ravioli promptly fell into a deep coma like sleep.

Now, before you judge – this is what happened; Vanessa, my partner had visited Paris twice before, I on the other hand was a Paree virgin and so whilst at the airport purchasing our metro passes, the prospect of a easy to catch, informative bus tour of Paris sounded like a good idea. However upon traversing Paris’ expansive metro and bus network, we realised how easy it was to get around and the “Big Bus Tour” seemed like a poor investment.

After waking from our long, restful slumber and realising we had slept the morning away, we promptly got ready and decided what we would do for the day.

Accepting the tourists that we were, we caught the big, bright red double decker bus down to Notre Dame, as per the Arc de Triomphe the day before – the line was long and our patience was thin. So, after checking out the interior of the famed cathedral, we wandered through the adjacent Christmas market and once again attempted to find good gluhwein (to no avail).

Quasimodo where you at?

The stunning sunny skies of the day before had been replaced with low, grey clouds which dissuaded us from attempting Eiffel so a loop of Paris past sights such as the Louvre on the big red bus led us back home and with jet-lag once again kicking in, we crashed in preparation for the big day tomorrow.

Decidedly bad weather so not today

Now, I am a wine lover so no visit to France would have been complete without a visit to Champagne so after rushing through the streets of Paris to Gare d’est and leaping onto our train seconds before it pulled away from the station we were on our way to Reims for an appointment at Taittinger.

My happy place

Arriving in Reims, we caught the FREE city bus into town and wandered about the city, exploring the grand Reims Cathedral (where French kings were coronated) and finding ourselves in yet another Christmas market where crepes and hot chocolate were the order of business (the gluhwein was once again mediocre).

Crepes AND hot chocolate!

Returning to the city bus, we headed for Taittinger and after a brief introduction to the wine maker and its history we ventured down into the cavernous tunnels beneath Reims.

In the Taittinger tunnels

Originally a chalk mine dating back to the 4th century, the wine cellars of Taittinger lie 18 metres below ground and after a thorough exploration, we emerged to taste some of their fantastic wines! After polishing off a couple of glasses, we caught the bus back to the station and then a local train to the capital of the Champagne region – Epernay.

Champagne!

Arriving in Epernay, we made our way to the headquarters of Moet & Chandon and after feeling very A) underdressed and B) poor, our tour guide Andrea introduced herself to us. It turned out we were the only people on today’s English-speaking tour and with our defacto private tour of Moet & Chandon arranged, we headed down into the cellars.

One of the 28kms of tunnels

There are 28kms of tunnels under Epernay and we barely scratched the surface – Andrea took us down tunnels previously visited by the likes of Napeleon and then to the tasting room where we tried the Imperial Reserve 2009 and the Rose Reserve 2009 which were absolutely delicious. Ending in the gift shop, we purchased a wine bottle topper (honestly the only thing we could afford) and then travelled back to the station and onto a train back to Reims.

Now, we purchased our tickets in Reims for this local train and after having a goofy, semi-English conversation with the train conductor, we had just hopped on-board and headed to Epernay. On the way back however, the conductor asked for our tickets and after handing them to him, he proceeded to yell at us in French. After a good 2-minute lecture in French, I cautiously offered him a “parlez-vous anglais?” and after realising the rant had been for nothing he gave us our tickets back and left. The passengers in front of us informed us that the tickets needed to be activated but there had been absolutely no notice of that so we just rode out the journey, switched in Reims and headed back to Paris and ultimately – bed.

Now you’d think that staying near the Moulin Rouge would have meant that we would attend the world-famous cabaret show – but unfortunately the high price tag meant that we would have to find our cabaret fix elsewhere. A friend of mine had visited Paris earlier in the year with his cabaret performing travel partner and recommended visiting the Crazy Horse – the cabaret that inspired Moulin Rouge so we hopped a bus and headed down to the Crazy Horse to see if there were any seats available for that night’s show.

As luck would see it, they not only had seats but also a student special – rather than the usual 100 euro per person, student tickets were only 50 euro each and included half a bottle of champagne per person so we booked tickets for the 8:15 show that night and headed off to explore more of the city.

Princess Diana memorial

After seeing the makeshift Princess Diana memorial above the tunnel where she was killed, we walked along the Seine and decided that today was the day to head up the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately for us, mother nature decided that a freak weather event needed to come to Paris and rain, fog and wind made our visit to the tower a bit unpleasant. However, that said, the tower completely surrounded by fog meant for a surreal and spooky experience.

Looking up the Eiffel Tower

After jumping up and down on the glass floors (yes I am 5 years old apparently). We went to Place de Concorde (sadly no supersonic planes there though) and walked through the park to the Louvre.

Admiring all of the sculptures and paintings we slowly made our way towards the Mona Lisa room where a crowd of honestly hundreds of tourists made taking a photo with the small painting a nightmare, I was happy to get out of there that’s for sure! After a quick visit to the Oceanic art section (which sadly didn’t have any Maori art) we got out of dodge and headed back into the city.

Overrated (and photo over hundreds of other people)

A quick visit to a cool arcade and a trip to the supermarket for dinner supplies and we were home to pretty ourselves up for our visit to the Crazy Horse!

Unfortunately, at the door, they could not find my reservation and all hope seemed lost until it was discovered that someone had written down my name as “JACQUELINE MUELLER” rather than Jeremy Miller… we took our seats which were absolutely fine to see the show and after swigging down some of the (especially after the day before) cheap champagne we sat back and enjoyed the show.

Crazy Horse, Paris France, Crazy!

Now, as of the time of writing this I have visited a grand total of 8 Disney theme parks with only Orlando remaining to visit, so it was only natural that during our visit to Paris that we had to visit the Paris Disneyland Resort.

Disneyland

After being harassed by a gypsy at the train station, we had our train tickets and off we went on our hour-long RER ride to the happiest place on earth – French edition.

The park was PACKED (a word here meaning completely full of people) and so, consulting the park’s app, we picked up a couple of fast passes for Space Mountain and then rode Pirates of the Caribbean, Phantom Manor (Bonjour Haunted Mansion) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. After attempting a ride in the single rider queue for Space Mountain and having the ride break down on us, we headed for Star Tours and then settled down for lunch in preparation for our fast pass allocated time for (the hopefully fixed) Space Mountain.

Luckily the ride was fixed, unluckily my fast pass had vanished but thankfully the ride attendant took pity on me and let us into the line anyway and boy oh boy did it not disappoint – Space Mountain is definitely the best ride at Paris Disneyland.

After finishing every major ride at Disneyland, we headed over to Walt Disney Studios – the other Disney Park.

Walt Disney Studios is perhaps the worst Disney park I’ve ever been to – it’s lazy and cheap and in desperate need of some TLC and unfortunately for us, Tower of Terror (one of my favourite rides at California Adventure (now the Guardians of the Galaxy ride) and Tokyo DisneySea was closed so we did Rock’N’Rollercoaster (WTF is Aerosmith doing in here) and the Ratatouille ride (actually really good, if only all of Walt Disney Studios was like that) and a final ride on Crush’s Coaster – a fun but short spinning roller coaster.

Heading back to the main park, we found a spot for dinner at the Hakuna Matata restaurant – it was very disappointing. We then watched the Disney Illuminations light show which was fantastic but where were the fireworks? After making our way through the gigantic crowd at the exit, we jumped back on a train and headed back to Paris.

Breakfast of champions

The next day we finished our leftover food and I had a sneaky Heineken for breakfast, we used our expired metro cards to get to Gare du Nord and we left Paris for northern France.

Our trip to the French capital was incredible, the city is often given a bad rap for being dirty and crime ridden but we never experienced any crime and the dirty look of the city added character to this huge metropolis.

I would highly recommend a trip to Paris and can’t wait to return one day!

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