Voila! I finally got to visit my ultimate European dream destination! PARIS BABY YEAH!!! Went there for a weekend with my friend Peter. The trip is pretty quick considering it’s on the very top of my to-visit list. But so what? I finally experienced Paris!
We were scheduled to leave Stuttgart at 12:54pm on Friday via the French bullet train TGV. I worked till past ten on Thursday night to compensate some hours and finish my deliverables for the next day. I still had one task left and I was still working on it until past noon on Friday and got frantically worried to miss the train. The train leaves on time and they don’t check if all passengers are aboard. If it’s time to leave, it will leave. Good thing I made it and was even able to take out some lunch from Burger King. If I have missed the very tram I took from the office to the central train station, I would definitely have missed the train to Paris and Peter could have killed me.
The trip took three and a half hours. Got the chance to doze off and recharge a little bit. The moment I heard the announcement that we finally arrived at the the Gare de l'Est station, I was like a kid so excited to get up and get out of the train. It was so surreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually, finally in Paris!
The very first purchase I made was, of course, a Paris map. This should come in handy cos you can’t really rely on asking people around for directions cos either they are also tourists like you or they are French who are unwilling to extend any help if you don’t speak their language (even if they can speak English). Some people say the infamous French rudeness is not true but we got the taste of it the minute we stepped out of the train station.
Not knowing whether to take the bus or the subway, we went back and forth the bus and the subway station several times to compare the routes till we finally decided to just take the subway so as not to get stuck in traffic. We still need to find a hotel to stay in so we need to hurry a bit. I didn’t wanna spend the night walking around Paris with a heavy bag. Hehe.
We attempted to buy tickets from the machine but couldn’t find the kind of ticket that we wanted. So we went to the ticket counter and asked the guy if he can speak English. You can already see the reluctance in his face when he replied ‘a little’. Peter asked if there are any weekend tickets or some sort of 3-day tourist tickets and the guy simply said no. He didn’t even suggest anything! Peter tried and tried to get something out of him but he would either respond in French or be non-responsive at all while sporting this irritable look on his face. Bummer.
So we went out on the street again and tried to spot some student-looking people. They are most likely English speakers and hopefully helpful enough. After a while, there were this seemingly goody-goody-looking brother and sister teenagers that walked past us but I was too shy to interrupt them. But they came back and this time Peter did the talking. Luckily they can speak English and they were more than willing to help. They even offered going to the ticket counter with us to help us buy the tickets. They talked to the shitty guy in the ticket counter and apparently Orange Carte is valid starting Monday to Sunday. Hmp. However, they have this Paris Visite thing that can be bought any day of the week that he didn’t even care to offer. Grrrrr! We ended up just buying 3 separate day tickets. I couldn’t believe it actually took as an hour trying to figure out how to get those damn tickets. Well, it wouldn’t be as frustrating as it was if only he wasn’t such a grimace.
Next task was to find a place to stay for the weekend. We headed to the Latin Quarter and went straight to my first choice. They didn’t have any rooms available for the whole weekend so off we went to find the second hotel in my list. Fortunately, this one had one twin room and one single room that has a sofa bed. The single room was cheaper but the difference from the twin room was only 20 euros so I decided to check them both. The twin room is located at the rear side of the hotel so it has no windows. It was spacious and has two separate beds but it was newly painted that time so it smelled like paint. Definitely a no for that. The single room, on the other hand, was facing the street and the noise from outside was bearable enough. The sofa that converts into a bed was actually wider and longer than expected. It’s cheaper and it’s adequate so we decided to take that room already.
With our shoulders finally weight-free, it’s about time to start exploring the city I’ve long desired to see. First stop was the Louvre Museum. Since it’s not a peak season and most people don’t know that the Louvre is open on Fridays till 10pm, the timing is just perfect. I expected that there won’t be any long lines to get in. True enough, there’s virtually no line at all! However, the fountains surrounding the pyramid are not running and the inverted pyramid is gone. I wonder why they removed it. Maybe because a lot of people bump their heads onto it. Hehe.
When we went to the ticket counter, we found out that young people can get in for free. That means anyone 25 and below. What the?! Who the hell set that age limit? So I‘m not young anymore? Damnit! I’m already 26! My age was slapped right into my face. I’m old! I’m old! Waaah!!! Peter got in for free. I hate it! I haaaate iiiiiiit!!! Anyway, after I recovered from that hard-hitting realization, we decided to get in to the section where Mona Lisa is displayed. I’m not exactly an art freak so Mona Liza was the only one I really cared to see. All the descriptions are in French anyway so it was kinda hard to appreciate most of the artefacts there especially the Egyptian stuffs.
The Mona Liza was on the topmost floor so we walked past galleries and galleries of sculptures and paintings. I particularly enjoyed the Italian paintings. Didn’t enjoy the sculptures that much except for one huge beheaded sculpture of a woman with wings. An angel perhaps? I liked it a lot because you can see how her thin silk dress flows on her body and touches her skin. I don’t know if that can be done easily by any sculptor but I just find it amazing. Most of the other sculptures are just naked. Hehe.
Then I finally saw the most famous and probably the most treasured painting of all. It was small and the perimeter fence was too wide I think the nearest you can get to it is 4 meters. Then it is behind a glass wall and there’s glare from the light and camera flashes. Therefore, it was quite difficult to fully appreciate the Mona Liza. You can barely even see that her left background is not aligned with her right background. But nevertheless, you can still see that she isn’t smiling.
It was almost 10pm and the museum was about to close so we headed out to finally have dinner. We walked from the Louvre to the Latin Quarter and walk past the well-lit Notre Dame cathedral. It is not as grand as I expected it to be. It is small and looks a little bit plain for a gothic church. It is not striking at all. I’d say I like the Notre Dame cathedral in Strasbourg a lot more.
There were many street performers in the Latin Quarter when we got there so the atmosphere was very lively. I decided to dine al fresco even if it’s a bit cold outside cos I wanted to hear their music and do people watching. Hehe. I know Peter hated me for this cos he wanted to eat inside.
After dinner, we walked around the area to find some bars to grab some beer but everyone seems to be holding a ladies’ night that night. Of course we can’t get in so we ended up going to this seemingly popular Saint Severin Cafe. We didn’t drink beer, though. We had wine cos we figured we are not in Germany anymore so we should be drinking wine. Beers there, by the way, are too expensive anyway. They’re almost the same price as wines so you’d rather be drinking wine. I had Chardonnay while Peter had Bordeaux. A modest 30cl was enough for the night since we need to be fit for the next day’s whole day walking affair.
Saturday morning we woke up a bit late. Got out of the hotel at half past ten already. First stop for the day was the Arc de Triomphe. We initially wanted to take the bus so we could see the city a bit more but since we were late, I asked Peter that we just take the subway. Peter, by the way, is soooo good with directions and map reading. He could easily determine which line to take, where to transfer, and which station to get off in an instant while everything just seems like a spider web to me. I don’t know how he does it. Or am I really just that stupid? If I’d be given the chance to join the Amazing Race, I’d definitely pick Peter as a partner. But I doubt he would agree. Hehe. The entire time I just say where we are supposed to go next then he figures out how to get there and then I just follow. Hehe.
When we reached the Arc and bought our tickets to climb the top, I had to pay again cos I’m 26 freaking years old. Peter got in again for free, or was it just discounted? Guess I’m too frustrated to remember. Hehe. The view from the top was really nice. It seemed like it is the center of Paris because of all the 12 main avenues branching from it. But it’s not. The Louvre, I think, is the center of Paris.
After our stint in the Arc, we walked down the famous Avenue de Champs Elysees. By the way, we were very lucky to have a terrific weather—ten degrees Celsius and clear sunny skies all over. What more can you ask for? I think it was just perfect. Walking around Paris under the beaming sun and slightly cold weather was a pure delight. Anyway, contrary to popular impression, purchasing something from Champs Elysees is still possible for measly individuals like us. Not all the stores there are high end signature labels. There’s Lacoste, Gap, and Adidas so you can surely still afford something. It was winter sale that time but too bad we didn’t really have the time to shop.
We dropped by at Starbucks to get some caffeine then continued walking all the way down to the Grand Palais and Petite Palais. From there we took the subway to Monmartre to see the Sacre Coeur. It is the church on the highest point in Paris. We had lunch in this interesting cafe where the walls and ceilings are covered with pictures and dedications of visitors. I also wanted to put my picture but I was too shy to ask for a stapler.
After that, we continued our hike to the church and walk past several artists on the streets. Some are making paintings, some are offering to sketch people’s faces. It didn’t take long till we saw the white exterior of the church glistening in the afternoon sun. We came from the back of the church and when we arrived at the front, a spectacular view of Paris was there to behold. The stairs were covered with people enjoying the view, the sun, and the acoustic music of some musicians performing for these crowds. I’d say it’s one of the best places to chill out and relax. I could spend the whole afternoon there lying on the grass and just be lazy under the sun. I’m sure the sunset there is also magnificent but we didn’t have the chance to see it for ourselves because we still need to go to the Eiffel Tower. After a solemn visit inside the church, we descended several stairs from Sacre Coeur to the nearest subway station.
Fortunately, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower before the sun was down. I wanted to see it both in daylight and at night and I wanted to see the horizon on top of the tower while the sun is setting. When I finally saw the Eiffel up close, I honestly thought it was ugly. It looked like huge scraps of metals were formed into a weird shape. Maybe it’s because of its brown rusty color. I don’t know. But at night it’s a totally different story. It looks absolutely gorgeous in the dark with all its drama lights. There are also blinking lights randomly spread all over the tower which they turn on at specific schedules. From afar, it looks like the tower is sparkling and is just really nice to look at.
So yeah, we got there around 5pm I think and there were long queues for those who wanna climb up the tower. But I guess they’re relatively short compared to the lines during peak seasons. It actually only took us around 30 minutes to get in. It was a real cardio exercise ascending those stairs. On the first level, there are bars and restaurants. We ate some snacks first before we continued climbing to the second level. When we reached the second level, the sun was almost about to set. There was a line again to get to the top level cos there are no more stairs. You have to take the elevator to get to the top.
While waiting in line, I overheard the two girls behind us talking to each other and figured they are Americans. So I started talking to Peter with my fake American accent with the intention of being overheard. Then alas, they noticed so we started getting friendly with each other. They truly are both Americans but London-based. Our chatting, however, was cut short when it was already our turn to take the elevator. We didn’t know that we have to buy another ticket. Of course they had to go ahead without us so we lost them. Good thing the lady doing the ticket inspection was so kind she told us to just go straight to her and not get in line anymore as soon as we have our tickets. So we bought our tickets in a nearby machine and cut through the line while people were staring at us with heightened eyebrows. Hehe.
The elevator ride was an exhilirating experience. It’s a little bit fast and the walls have top to bottom clear glass. It is quite scary looking outside and feels unsafe as you go higher and higher. It would be more interesting if the floor was made of clear glass too. Hehe. When we reached the topmost level, we saw the American girls again and were surprised how we made it there that quick. The sun hasn’t completely set so you can see orange in the horizon while the city was already glittering with lights. It was just an amazing scenery. Of course we wouldn’t miss taking each others’ pictures with that background. Haha.
It was past seven already when we climbed down the Eiffel. Noal and Julia had plans of going to the Le Suite club that night and I asked them if we could come along. Naturally, they said yes so I got Julia’s number so I can contact them soon as we hit the club. Then Peter and I rushed to find the place where my friend is having his concert. The show was supposed to start at 8pm so it was really impossible to make it on time. But my friend is a Filipino so it surely wouldn’t start on schedule. Hehe.
True enough, the show hasn’t started when we got there and the guests were still drinking and mingling with each other. The venue was at the basement of an art gallery. It has thick stone walls and the acoustics is very ideal for any singing engagement. It was very intimate and can only accommodate a small crowd. No wonder he had to a series of shows.
I got to do a quick hi-hello with him before he went to the stage. The title of his show is Ma P’tite Histoire so he sang songs that would best tell the story of his life. He sang English, French, and Filipino songs (both English and Tagalog). It was nice to see the audience reacted positively when he sang APO Hiking’s Du-bi-du. Unfortunately, Peter and I had to leave halfway through the show cos we’re incredibly starving already. And by the time the show finishes, the restos might already be closed so we decided to go.
We went to a nearby Italian place which surprisingly serves really good food. The ambience isn’t that great but the pizza and pasta are tremendously sumptuous. It’s probably the best pizza I’ve eaten in my life. Just thinking about it makes me crave and salivate. No food was left and we finished the whole thing. Haha.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped by at this huge ice skating rink in front of Hôtel de Ville—Paris’ city hall and one of the loveliest buildings in town. It was very inviting and I could probably have jumped in if only my legs were not sore from walking and stair climbing. Since we’re too exhausted, we made up our mind that we’re not gonna go clubbing anymore so I texted Julia to have fun without me. Haha!
Sunday morning was another lovely sunny day. Woke up at half past nine so we ate breakfast first before taking a shower cos the hotel serves breakfast only until 10:30. Checked out at 11am and finally gave a shot at using their coffin-like elevator. It is seriously small I was thinking it’s mainly intended for transporting luggages. Put your bags inside, press the desired floor, then use the stairs and pick your luggage upstairs or downstairs. Hehe. Peter and I managed to fit our selves inside which is a good thing cos that means we’re not yet fat. Or at least I wasn’t. Hehe. =P
The hotel staff was so kind to offer to keep our bags. Before I was even able to ask the receptionist to leave our bags in the hotel, one of the hotel employees came to me to get my stuff. I guess they have already expected guests to be doing this especially because it’s a Sunday. So we had the rest of the day to stroll around Paris without extra weight on our shoulders.
We went straight to the miniature Statue of Liberty. It’s the closest thing I could get to New York at the moment so that will do for the meantime. At the opposite end of this long island is another statue and there is a really nice view of the Eiffel tower from there. I wanted to have a nice picture of myself there but I am already shy to ask Peter to take pictures of me. He is not as cam whore as I am. In fact, he doesn’t even like having his picture taken so I stood there trying take a picture of myself with the Eiffel. While I was in my third attempt, a couple of tourists passed by and offered to take my picture. Haha! They must have felt very sorry for me and thought I was travelling alone in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Then off we went to Place de la Concorde where the Egyptian Obelisque de Luxor (one of the three Cleopatra’s Needles) can be found. Then we walked down the Jardin des Tuileries which is right next to it. It is a nice garden to spend a lazy afternoon sitting on the comfortable iron chairs while watching people (most likely coming from or going to the Louvre) pass by. This is another thing that I love about Paris. There are so many good places where you can spend your laziness. I can very well see myself happily living in this city. Hahaha.
We continued walking till we reached the Louvre. Then walked all the way down to Centre Pompidou to find a good place to eat. Peter has been wanting to enter the Centre Pompidou because of its intriguingly contemporary architectural design. Since there is a restaurant on its topmost floor, we decided to have lunch there. There was a long line to get inside but we still gave it a shot. Inside the building, we were surprised to see that there were longer lines for the ticket sales. Since we’re going straight to the restaurant we thought maybe we don’t need to buy tickets anymore. But no. The guy from the information center told us that we have to have tickets unless we have a reservation with the restaurant. Since it’s almost 3pm already and our train leaves Paris at 5:20, we had to find another place to eat.
From there we walked towards the direction of the Latin Quarter. There is a Greek restaurant there that Peter wanted to check out but hunger got the best of us so we settled in a traditional French restaurant that we passed by. Then we bought some souvenirs in a shop almost next to it. When we were about to go back to the hotel to get our bags, I thought we still have ample time left to check out the Pantheon which is not that far from our hotel. I was able to convince Peter that we can make it to the train station on time even if drop by Pantheon. We even get to drop by the church adjacent to it. Peter got so worried we’d miss the train but so was I. Haha.
So we took our bags from the hotel then went to Starbucks to buy our city mugs. When we reached the subway station, the train that we’re supposed to take to get to the central train station has already arrived. So we rushed our way downstairs and it was so kind of the driver to wait for us to get in. That definitely saved us a lot of minutes cos we didn’t have to wait for the next train anymore. We arrived at the Gare de l'Est station with 20 minutes more before our train’s departure so I still had time to take out food from McDonald’s. One of my to-do things in Paris is to eat at McDonald’s because the French McDonald’s is really good! I especially like the Royal Cheese I had when I was in Strasbourg so I ordered that burger again plus the huge KitKat McFlurry. Hehe.
With everything set, it was time to board. The train was so long we had to walk past 16 freaking train cars to get to our seats. As Peter said it, there should be a transpo to go to your transpo. Hehe. It wasn’t really pleasant carrying a heavy bag. Just shortly after we settled in, the train started moving. It was time to say goodbye to Paris.
The trip, though short, was a very rewarding one. Even though it was very tiring and we were rushing most of the time, I’d pretty much say I enjoyed Paris. Thanks to Peter for being such a good companion. But I know he hated me for a lot of things I did during this trip. He just wouldn’t tell. Haha.
Since I’ve already seen many of the tourist spots, the next time around I’ll just enjoy Paris as it is. No more rushing, just lazy day chill. Hehe. So yes, I plan to be back. Definitely will be back. :-)
08-Feb-2008 to 10-Feb-2008
Aboard the French bullet train TGV--the fastest train in the world. So excited!
After three and a half hours of super smooth and at times ear-popping ride, we finally reached Gare de l'Est station. I was giddy beyond words when I heard the announcement that we have already arrived. It was so surreal, I couldn't believe I was actually, finally in Paris!
Emerging from the subway station at Saint-Michel Avenue. It's this time when I told myself there's no taking this back. We really are here!
Hotel hunting at the Latin Quarter. The sights and sounds were so overwhelming you just wanna sit somehwere and savour the atmosphere. But we had to snap out of our trance and search for our refuge for the weekend.
We ended up in Hotel de Suez at the heart of the vibrant Latin Quarter. Built in 1896, this hotel is strategically located close to Saint-Germain des Près, Notre Dame Cathedral and the quaysides of the river Seine, with plenty of restuarants and bistros around. Also, it's just a stone's throw away from the mertro, bus, and train stations. We were very well positioned.
With our bags finally off our shoulders, we headed straight to the Louvre. Lucky for us, the museum was open till 10pm that night. And lucky for Peter, young people get to go in for free. That means 25 years old and below and I'm already twenty freaking six! I'm officially old. Ugh.
I'm not exactly well-versed in art so I couldn't really appreciate the thousands of paintings, sculptures, and relics in a way that they deserve. I was rather imagining the scenes from the Da Vinci Code. Haha. After walking through numerous impressive galleries, at the topmost floor lies the most famous painting of all--the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. I didn't realize it was THAT small. With a wide perimeter fence around it, you would need binoculars to get a closer look.
Walked past the Notre Dame Cathedral and the river Seine on our way back to the hotel.
Had dinner somewhere in the Latin Quarter and decided to stop by Café Saint Severin for some drinks before calling it a night.
We're no longer in Germany so we had to set drinking beer aside. Bordeaux and Chardonnay it is!
The following day was absolutely lovely. With the sun shining bright on a cloudless sky, the weather was just perfect for a stroll. We first headed to Arc de Triomphe which is at the western end of Champs-Élysées. You can climb to the top of this massive monument for a panaromic view of Paris. Guess what? Peter got in for free and I had to pay again. Grrrr.
The view of the grand Champs-Élysées from the top of Arc de Triomphe.
The iconic Eiffel Tower from afar.
From Arc de Triomphe, we walked down the famous Champs-Élysées and stopped by for coffee somewhere. It's so touristy, all the cafes and bistros were packed.
The Louis Vuitton mother ship store on Champs-Élysées
After walking quite a distance, we decided to take the Metro to Montmartre to see the Sacre Coeur. We climbed up the hill from the other side and walk past a nice residential area. Had a typical French crepe somewhere around the artists area and arrived at the church from behind. What awaited us in front was a gleaming white church and a spectacular view of the whole city.
Sacre Coeur. This wedding cake white church is perched on top of the highest point in Paris. It's a favorite spot to laze around, sunbathe, and watch the sunset. I can totally see why.
Spectacular views of the whole city with the added entertainment of street performers
Would have been nice to watch the sunset here but we thought we'd better catch it on Eiffel Tower instead. Took again the Metro which by the way, I thought, is the ugliest subway in Europe. Though at least the beauty was very well compensated above ground.
Oh hello. There you are. :-)
Eiffel Tower within reach. I have long been dreaming of seeing Paris myself one day and now this dream has finally been reached. I'm lucky and I'm very grateful. And yes, this pic is meant to be symbolic. ;-)
Here's how Eiffel looks like while waiting in line to get to the top. Eiffel's bottom, it is.
The long queue down below. Imagine how long this will be during summer. It wasn't that bad this time around. We only waited 30 minutes to get in.
First level. The ascending the stairs to this level is quite a work out. There are bars and restaurants here where you can replenish all the lost energy from waiting in line and climbing the stairs.
Second level. You can see La Defense from afar. From here you have to queue again for the elevator to the top of the tower, which is quite long and slow since there are only two elevators. The ride to the top was quite petrifying for me because I have a fear of heights and the walls and floor of the elevators are made of clear glass! My knees were definitely shaking. I can still feel the chill in my bones just thinking about it.
I'm on top of the world!
Paris at night.
We like it!
Glistening Eiffel Tower.
Passed by Notre Dame again. It's not as grand as I thought it would be and it feels a tad plain for a Gothic church. Perhaps because it's white? It definitely pales in comparison to the one in Strasbourg.
The beautiful Hotel de Ville now used as Paris' city hall. There was an ice skating rink in front which I was so tempted to try but my tired feet adamantly refused.
Dennis, a Filipino friend of mine, was having an intimate concert that time so I thought of dropping by. Pity we couldn't finish the whole show cos we were STARVING! I don't know if I was just hungry, but the pizza that we had afterwards was the best pizza I have ever had in my life. No kidding.
Was too tired to go clubbing that night so I texted the American girls we met at the Eiffel Tower that we couldn't meet them anymore. So I snored the night away to recharge for the next day. This is a typical elevator in Paris. No, it's not an upright coffin.
Good morning Liberty. It's the smaller version of the one in New York. Americans living in Paris put up this replica in appreciation for the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor given by the French government.
Place de la Concorde with the Obelisk of Luxor. That 3,300 year-old obelisk, otherwise known as Cleopatra's needle, once marked the entrance of the Luxor Temple in Egypt.
Jardin de Tuileries. A public garden between Place de la Concorde and the Louvre. It's one of those nice places to sunbathe, people-watch, chill out and relax. Man, those iron chairs are surprisingly comfy! It's
Arc du Carrousel. Somehow reminds me of the Brandenburg gate in Berlin.
And we're back in the Louvre. Good to see it during the day as well.
Went to Centre Pompidou in hopes to have lunch in this revolutionary cultural center but the queue was too long and we have a train to catch back to Germany. So we decided to just look out for an interesting restaurant on our way back to the hotel. With a little more time remaining, I forced Peter to check out the Pantheon which is just nearby.
So that concluded our weekend trip. It was short and somehow rushed, but definitely worth it.
Hope to back again someday.