The flight was much more pleasant on this leg of the trip. Might have had something to do with the fact that I managed to book us seats on the upper level of the double-decker plane. It was one of those new planes with sleeping suites for first class passengers. There were only 2 seats by the window instead of the usual 3. It felt like we had more room. We slept for most of the flight as well.
Arrived at Charles de Gaulle early in the morning. First impression of the airport was that it was very old and a little rundown. My first interaction in French was at the immigration counter, and it was more than a simple ‘Bonjour’. I actually had a short conversation in French with the officer. Very exciting!!!
After collecting our luggage, we changed into more decent clothes and freshened up. I was worried the hotel room would not be ready in time for us to freshen up as we had to be at Tour Eiffel by 3pm. Exiting the airport, there wasn’t a huge crowd of people waiting for taxis. We were approached by 2 taxi drivers asking us if we wanted a taxi. I got a bit apprehensive and asked our driver if he went by the meter, to which he replied ‘yes, of course.’ Poor guy probably wondered why I gave him the third degree. It was a wonderful ride into the city. Our driver spoke perfect English and he was very friendly and pointed out all the sights. He also explained to us how to distinguish between a busy and free cab. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying much attention and don’t remember what he said. It had something to do with how there were old and new taxis, and how some of them have 3 lights on the roof while the others only have 1, hence the difference . When we drove past L’Arc de Triomphe, I was very excited. The traffic however was crazy. There were no less than 10 lanes all going at once, with no line markings, and cars weaving in and out. Crazy!!! We also drove down Champs Elysées. Pretty soon we were at our hotel in Le Marais. The entire ride from the airport took about half an hour and it only cost us about 70 euro, including bags (you have to pay extra for luggage). In later days, I will come to realize how much more pleasant this was in comparison to my initial plan of braving the train and metro to get to our hotel.
We stayed at Hotel Caron on rue Caron in the 4th Arrondissement during our stay in Paris. Like most small hotels in Paris, the reception staff speak adequate English but I decided that I was going to speak as much French as possible throughout our trip. So on our arrival at the hotel, I was in French mode. All those lessons were starting to pay off. As I expected, our room was not ready. So we left our luggage at the reception and decided to explore our neighbourhood. As we left the hotel, Brandon told me how he was amazed and impressed with my French as the entire exchange I had with the guy at the reception was all done in French. As much as I liked the credit, I had to admit that it was a very basic conversation, but at least it was entirely in French.
The first thing we did after we left the hotel was to find a place to eat. I had read about a pâttiserie called Pain de Sucre and was keen to find it. We made our way to rue de Turenne only to find that the address I got off the internet was incorrect and there was no pattiserie in sight. My disappointment didn’t last too long b’coz I discovered a cute little shoe shop called Les Petites Parisienne. The sales assistant was really nice and helpful and before I knew it, I had made my first purchase in Paris – a pair of emerald coloured sandals. Tummies still rumbling, we decided we would stop by at the nearest cafe for breakfast. The next cafe we saw was Le Royal Turenne. As with all typical French eateries, there were tables and chairs outdoors, with views of the street. We decided to stop for a quick breakfast. The place was fairly busy, and there was one poor waiter running around serving everyone. I was quite surprised that he was very patient with my stodgy French. We had a baguette each, and some coffee. Not the most amazing meal, but it was pleasant, the coffee was good and the people-watching was superb. It was our first taste of ‘vivre comme un Parisien’ and we loved it. The French people love to sit down and have a coffee and watch the world and people go by. It was refreshing to see that in a city as busy as Paris, as opposed to the fast-paced hustle and bustle we are used to here in Melbourne. However, this meal was also an introduction to how the French are irresponsible dog owners who don’t pick up after their dogs. While we were having our meal, we saw 2 dogs do their thing in the middle of the sidewalk, and their owners did nothing to clean up after them.
After breakfast, we headed over to the Hôtel de Ville metro stop on rue de Rivoli. We needed to purchase our Navigo Découverte passes. There was a photo booth next to the ticket desk, so we both took the photos we needed for the pass. The ticket desk was quite busy as it was a Monday morning and there were lots of people buying or loading up their passes. Hence the lady at the ticket desk was not very friendly or patient with my French. She told me in English that she did not have a pair of scissors (to cut the photos) and that I would have to do it myself later. There was however a lady with a little information counter at the entrance of the metro, giving instructions to people on how to use their tickets, or how to get to where they wanted to go. She was friendly but she didn’t have scissors either.
So we headed back to our hotel. When we got back, we were told that our room was ready, so we took our bags up to the room and had a shower before heading out again. Our first stop for the day was Tour Eiffel. I had pre-purchased tickets for the both of us to get right to the top, which meant that we had to be at the foot of the tower at 3pm. We took Metro Line 1 to Franklin-Roosevelt, then changed to Metro Line 9 and stopped at Iéna. The metro was quite easy to take. The only thing we had to look out for was the direction in which the train was heading, and to take the correct exit. Also, the signage was all in French so again I was grateful for those French lessons.
Upon arriving at the foot of Tour Eiffel, I was horrified to see the longest queue I have ever seen in my entire life. It snaked right around the four pillars of the tower. Thanks to our pre-bought tickets, we headed straight to the gate. We were there early, so we were told to come back at the designated time. Hubby was feeling a little peckish so he decided to join the queue to purchase some food. 15 minutes later, and he came back with a drink and a bag of chips. It was time to get to the gate so we shoved the food down as quickly as we could. Once we were through the gate, there was a short queue to get into the lift that would take us up to the first level. It took us about 10 minutes. Arriving at the first level, we walked round the platform admiring the view and taking photos. And then the nightmare began. There was another queue to get on the lift that would take us all the way to the top. So we joined the queue. And from then on, it was sheer hell. It was back to back queuing to get on to the lift, to get to the top of the tower, to walk round the platform, to get back to the lift to get down to the first level, and to get back to the lift to get down to the bottom. Imagine a hot and sunny day, with people in front and behind you, all squished together and shoved into a tiny space. It was almost two hours of that non-stop. When we got right to the top, the view wasn’t that much better than the one from the first level.
B’coz Tour Eiffel took over an hour more than I had planned, we decided to forgo our plan of walking down ave Montaigne and rue du Fauborg St. Honoré. We headed straight for avenue des Champs Elysées. Heading out of the metro station, we decided to stop at a baguette place to grab a bite. We were both starving by then. It was like the French equivalent of Subway. The girl who served us at the counter spoke perfect English and told us to be careful with our money, while indicating to a group of dark-skinned youths lounging around the entrance to the shop. Immediately, I was on full alert. My French tutor had told me to be careful in the metro and on Champs Elysées. Our next stop was FNAC where I had to pick up our tickets for a concert at Saint Chapelle that we were going to the following day. I had pre-purchased those tickets on the FNAC website. Trying to get my bearings, I pulled out my Paris Mapguide to see if we were heading in the right direction. As soon as I did that, a gypsy beggar girl walked up to hubby and started asking him for money. I gave her a stern ‘Non’ thinking she would leave us alone. Hubby was still a bit stunned. But she wouldn’t leave and kept harassing us for money. I dragged hubby’s hand and started walking away quickly. Instead of leaving us alone, she started chasing us. Eventually we lost her in the crowds of people. Thankfully, we found FNAC without any further incident. I picked up our tickets from the desk without any complications, but when I tried to purchase the Paris Museum Pass, I was told that they only had the 6-day passes.
Undeterred, we made our way to L’arc de Triomphe. I knew I would be able to purchase our Museum Pass there. The Arc was beautiful even from the ground level. I made my way to the ticket desk where I was told that the Museum Pass that I wanted to purchase was sold out for the day. So we headed back down avenue des Champs Elysées. I decided to try our luck at Louis Vuitton’s flagship store. I wanted to check out the exhibit (of course, I wouldn’t have said no to a few purchases either) but it was not to be. There was a queue of Asian tourists waiting to get into the store. We weren’t prepared to queue again after our experience with Tour Eiffel.
Champs Elysées was not going the way I envisioned it to be. We decided to stop by at a nearby restaurant for dinner. Being the Champs Elysées, the food was mediocre and over-priced as expected but I did get my first taste of L’Orangina. Sitting there, having my dinner, I was amazed at the endless number of cars driving around the Arc at Place Charles de Gaulle. There are no line markings and over 6 lanes of cars all driving at the same time in one roundabout.
After dinner, we decided it was close enough to sunset and headed back to L’Arc de Triomphe. Climbing the steps to the top of the Arc was so worth it. The view was beautiful. Looking down at all the roads and buildings, you have to admire Baron Haussmann’s planning and vision. In my opinion, the view from the top of the Arc was much better than the view from the top of Tour Eiffel.
Feeling a little tired, we decided to head back to the hotel. In retrospect, I should have taken the advice of my tutor (who studied and lived in Paris for a few years). After reading through our itinerary, she advised me not to expect too much from my first day. My idea of ‘I’m in Paris’ moments did not turn out to be what I thought they would be. I thought that being at the top of Tour Eiffel and walking down Champs Elysées would be my ‘I’m in Paris’ moments but it turned out that our breakfast at the cafe in the morning felt so much more Parisian than these tourist traps.
Our room at Hotel Caron was very comfortable and modern. The bathroom was tiny (as was expected) but the bed was firm, and the pillows very comfortable. More than we expected for a 3-star hotel. There was also free Wi-Fi and a TV which could be used as a computer for internet access. Brandon was happy and we had a good night’s sleep.