Our trip began late Saturday night. The first leg of the journey was the flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur. We flew Malaysian Airlines this time as it allowed us a free stopover in Kuala Lumpur. The plan was to meet mum and dad and take the same flight from Kuala Lumpur to Paris. From our trip last year, we found that breaking the 20 hour or so journey up with a full-day stopover really helped combat the jetlag so we decided to do this again this year. We arrived in KL at 6:40am Sunday morning.
We had about 3 hours to kill at KLIA before heading out to the city. There was really nothing much else to do apart from checking out the shops at the airport. To head out to the city, we took the KLIA Express. RM35 took us from the airport direct to KL Sentral. From KL Sentral, it was a short train ride to KLCC. I have to admit even though I spent half my life in Malaysia, I still don’t really know my way around KL, especially with public transport. But there were enough signs directing us and we found our way without much difficulty.
So what did we do for a whole day at KLCC? Shop… Till we dropped, literally. I think we must have checked out every single store. There was the obligatory stop at Häagen-Dazs (our fav. ice-cream) and the foodcourt (to load up on local cuisine).
We left the city for the airport late evening and met mum and dad at the check-in counter at the airport. I was a bit worried when I saw the size of their luggage. I had previously warned mum not to overpack (as she always inevitably does) as we would be doing a lot of travelling on our own.
The flight to Charles de Gaulle was rather uneventful. Service on the Malaysian Airlines flight was pleasant enough. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle at 6:40am. By the time we collected our luggage and changed out of our travel clothes, it was close to 8am. Our arrival terminal was Terminal 1, so we had to head to the lowest level to catch the CDGVAL. Getting off at Terminal 3, we headed towards the RER B station. There were lots of ticket vending machines but sadly none of them took notes, which meant queuing up at the ticket counter to purchase our RER tickets. Thankfully, the line moved very quickly.
We got on the RER B without much difficulty, but realized with each passing stop that we were right smack in the middle of peak hour traffic with everyone heading to work. Now the RER is by no means comfortable or fancy. It’s a means for getting from point A to B. Getting packed in like sardines is not really my idea to a great start for the morning. In hindsight, we may have been more comfortable if we took the Roissybus. The RER was not unpleasant although I had one grumpy French man complain about our bags being in the way, and telling me we should be putting them in the overhead compartments instead. I was in no mood to explain to him that the compartments were clearly too small to fit any of the bags so I just took a shortcut and said ‘Je ne comprends pas.’ to which he didn’t respond.
I read a post on Tripadvisor which suggested getting off at Gare du Nord where the platform change was only a few steps away to get on to RER D to Gare de Lyon, instead of a possibly nightmarish change at Châtelet Les Halles. The changeover at Gare du Nord was definitely easy, although once again, we were packed in like sardines. Thankfully, Gare de Lyon was only 2 stops away.
Arriving at Gare de Lyon, we found our way quite easily to the ‘Grandes Lignes’. Gare de Lyon is massive. I had downloaded a map of the station prior to our departure and was quite apprehensive about finding our way about. Turns out it was a lot easier than I expected. The main thing is to make sure you get there with ample time to get to your platform. We got to Gare de Lyon before 10am. So technically, we could have made an earlier TGV train to Cannes (which from memory was leaving at around 10:40am). We took a later train because I bought PREM fares and I didn’t want to get stuck in case we got caught up unexpectedly.
We decided to have brunch at L’Express Bleu, which is a little café beneath the famous Le Train Bleu. The food was not particularly outstanding and service was typically French, but we were glad to have a chance to sit down and relax for a bit.
After our brunch, we still had time to kill so we decided to head to the Tourist Information booth right next door to purchase our Museum Passes. The great thing about the Paris Museum Pass is it allows you to bypass most of the queues, which is a great time-saver, and you can buy it ahead of time as the countdown for the days on your pass only begins at the first attraction where you use your pass. We even had time to explore outside the station. We tried to buy a pre-paid data sim for our iPad at a nearby Orange store but was told it was not available at that store. Truth be told, I think the guy at the store just wanted to get us out of the store so he could have his cigarette break.
We found the platform for our train rather easily. The trick is to check the massive information boards constantly to see if your train is at the yellow or the blue platform. Even if you don’t know which ‘Voie’ your train will be, you can still make your way to the right part of the station. Our train was in the blue platform, which was right outside L’Express Bleu. We sat down in one of the many chairs to wait for our train. Hubby was snapping away with his camera when a kind Vietnamese man came up to him and started speaking to him in French. Poor hubby managed to explain he didn’t speak much French and the guy proceeded to warn him in Vietnamese to be careful with his camera. Apparently there were lots of snatch-thieves about the place. It was a sobering thought.
Our train arrived on time and we got on with our luggage quite easily. Again, a word of caution for travellers who like to overpack like my mum. The steps at the platform are not exactly user-friendly. In fact, hubby ended up helping a poor old lady with her luggage as it was way too heavy for her to move it into the train on her own. I had downloaded seating plans for our train from The Man in Seat 61 so we found our seats without any problems. In fact, the above mentioned website is my go-to resource for train travel in France. I had gotten us first class seats on the top deck of the TGV. This gave us a great view of the Mediterranean sea as we made our way through the coast.
We arrived in Cannes at 6pm. The taxi rank at the train station was an absolute nightmare. Thankfully, a French couple waiting in front of us decided to take matters into their own hands. The wife went out to the main street and flagged down some taxis. Well our taxi driver wasn’t too happy when he found out our destination was not too far away. Hubby needed to get to the Europcar rental office before 6:30pm to pick up our rental car. The taxi driver insisted on a flat fare of 15 euro, which was probably a rip-off but we were in no position to argue. Bundling hubby and mum into the taxi with all our luggage, dad and I began the trek to our apartment on Boulevard Carnot. My plan was to pick up my pre-paid data sim for my iPad on Boulevard Carnot, which incidentally had all three French phone carrier stores. I went to Bouygues first as internet research showed that they had the cheapest pre-paid plan. I was determined to conduct every interaction on this trip in French. I was doing rather well (I thought) with the salesman. He was explaining the package, the rates, and everything else and I understood him. So I told him I would take one of those, ‘merci’, and asked him if it was relatively easy to top-up my credit. Then it went downhill from there. He informed me that Bouygues did not sell credit vouchers at their stores. All credit top-ups for their prepaid package had to be done online, and required a French credit card for payment. Gee, just as well I asked.
Feeling deflated – that was a waste of 20 minutes of my time for nothing – I moved on to the SFR store. They were slightly more expensive and yes, their credit top-ups online only accepts French credit cards, but luckily for me, they do sell credit vouchers in store. Feeling the jetlag and fatigue from 48 hours of travelling, I decided not to bother checking out Orange, and went with SFR.
Dad and I walked the rest of the way to our apartment at Excelsuites Residence and checked in just before hubby and mum drove up in our rental car. Our homebase for the next 3 nights was a two-bedroom self-contained apartment, about a 10 minute walk from the beach. The apartment was quite pleasant and well-equipped and very reasonably priced at 458 euro in total, including carpark, especially considering the fact that our stay was during the Festival de Plaisance.
We all had a well-deserved warm shower and settled in. Dinner was takeaway from a little joint down the road, which made surprisingly good quiches and baguettes. Hubby knew my fondness for Orangina and bought me a couple of bottles from the local convenience store. Finally, we could relax and our holiday could begin.