After the most amazing and fun day ever, up on a snowy mountain, I slept reasonably deeply that night. Waking up the next morning brought the sad realisation that we were about to drive to the final destination of the tour – Paris.
Ah the city of love and snails. A place I have dreamed of for many many years. I used to have little fantasies about when I left home, that I would go live in Paris and live a romantic lifestyle there with chic clothing, painting, and good-looking muscled French boyfriends with sexy accents. Fair enough to say that I was pretty excited about this part of the tour. Paris is the most visited city in the world. Every year about twenty-seven million tourists visit the City of Light which only has a population of about twelve million Parisians. Insane.
It was a long drive again from Switzerland into France. But we were all so excited about seeing the Eiffel Tower that it passed relatively fast. Except for the last part. Unfortunately we arrived during peak rush hour traffic.
It figures too that with that much population, that Parisians are nutty drivers too. For over an hour, the bus was stuck in gridlock traffic only two blocks away from the hotel. It was torture. I came to the realisation that anyone having a myocardial infarction within the city was probably dead as even the ambulances were struggling. Moving forward inch by inch. Forcing our way through hundreds of cars with only literally centimetres to spare. Our bus driver was named Sandro. He deserves a special mention as he is the BEST bus driver I have ever seen. He had the patience of an angel while ruthlessly forcing cars and taxis to let him squeeze the bus through tiny gaps that NO NORMAL BUS DRIVER COULD FIT THROUGH. I was so impressed by his consistent high-level of driving skills and powers throughout the trip that he ended up receiving a large tip from me at the end. Whoops not good for the budget again. But more on that later.
Eventually we made it to the hotel, Sandro did a crowd-pleasing parallel park with the bus, the rest of us had a fast dinner, and got on the bus again for a driving tour of the city. This time we flew through the streets now that rush hour traffic had dissipated.
And saw this:
I could have stared at it all night. The Eiffel Tower is stunningly gorgeous. From a distance it isn’t so impressive as the main thought in everyone’s mind is ‘Huh it’s kinda small and thin’. The closer you get, the more you realise how fabulously humongous it is. It even sparkles on the hour with a special light show.
That was probably the main highlight of the driving tour. Everything else just paled in comparison I thought personally.
Next morning we were set free in the city to do whatever we wanted. I started with the Eiffel Tower but in the daytime it just didn’t seem as special. It was grey, metallic and kinda ugly. I still went up the tower as the must-do paris-tourist-thing and to get some unbeatable views of the city.When you visit the tower, you have two options. You can choose to take an elevator up one of the legs and ascend in a nice non-stressful manner up each level. Or, if you’re a cheap-skate and like a challenge, you can pay for a significantly cheaper ticket and take the stairs up. The only thing is, the total number of steps is 710 which is equivalent to 59 flights of stairs. It is not for the faint-hearted. I intended to take the stairs with the thought of some exercise being good for the soul, and the cheapskate in me liked the idea too. Without realising it I joined an elevator-only queue for one of the tower legs. By the time I noticed, I was too far along the queue for it to be worth changing to a different leg. Darn alas. But at least I got to have functioning legs. A couple of others in the tour group did tackle the stairs, but found their legs were not working for the rest of the day.
Next up, a roundabout. Paris is home to Place Charles de Gaulle which is the largest roundabout in the world. It is made of twelve roads converging on one massive roundabout containing a giant famous monumental gate called Arc de Triomphe. This monument was erected to honour those who died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. The main road rules of the roundabout is that there are no rules except that traffic on the roundabout gives way to traffic coming onto the roundabout. Craazy.. There are no painted lanes either but road circling the roundabout is about 10 car lanes wide. It looks like a scary place to drive. Apparently insurance companies have nightmares about the large amount of claims made relating to Place Charles de Gaulle accidents.
Shelley and I also had the pleasure of tasting our first macaroons. These are a baked biscuit made of egg whites, sugar and almond flavouring. I found my macaroon a bit too sweet for my taste personally. But hey, it was cool eating a real French macaroon! Another French treat I found more to my liking was snails. Snails taste so good and are not gross at all to eat. The flavour mainly consists of butter and garlic which is all you can taste. Shelley wasn’t so keen on them so I got to eat hers too. I didn’t end up trying frog legs to my disappointment so I will have to track some down on my next visit.
The rest of the afternoon we spent wandering around just looking at stuff and not going inside. Being summertime, it was peak tourist season so the queue lines were insane. A lot of the attractions including Notre Dame, Louvre museum (The glass triangle one from the Da Vinci Code movie. It has the Mona Lisa painting), and the catacombs that I would loved to have seen, all had queue lines with one hour plus waiting times. Shelley waited for three-and-half hours for the Eiffel Tower on her last Paris visit. I was lucky with only having a thirty minute wait that morning. The queue lines were a little bit of a buzz-kill. Next time I return to Paris, and indeed anyone planning a visit, unless you have oodles of time to spare for waiting in long queues and love that feeling of shuffling forward inch-by-inch in stifling heat, visiting in the less-busy (and more tolerable temperatures) shoulder seasons is recommended. And indeed this applies to the rest of Europe too. And just to sweeten the deal, accommodation tends to be cheaper in off-peak seasons as another big perk.
For the final night of the tour, we had some special Contiki activities lined up to make everyone finish up with a bang. First off a fabulous French dinner with far too many bottles of wine, followed by the Moulin Rouge. Well, except it wasn’t a real Moulin Rouge carbaret performance that we went to. The real Moulin Rouge is rather expensive at about 180 euro. The knock-off one we attended was pretty much the same at a much cheaper price of 120 euro per person. Contiki’s way of helping travellers to save money but still have a great time.
The dinner was a blur of wine, more delicious snails and good food with good friends. Lots of photo taking like this one for example:
The cabaret show was a very French experience that I would recommend everyone to go see. However on the downside it came with complimentary champagne. Enough for a whole bottle each which possibly wasn’t a good thing by this stage with all the complimentary wine at dinnertime. The show was very fun and involved lots of dancing and colourful skirts. And boobies. But looking at the history of cabaret shows, originally it was developed as a seductive dance by courtesans but became a world-famous can-can dancing show. It was done in a tasteful way but I noticed that the guys in the tour group certainly weren’t complaining.
Afterwards we all went out as a group to celebrate our last night together. I went back to the hotel relatively early compared to a lot of the group and had four hours sleep. A lot of the group had only one hour sleep before it was time to get up for the last day and final tearful hugs and goodbyes. About half of the group stayed in Paris to continue their holiday while the rest of us had a final bus ride back to London.
I will miss my group. One guy called Brad actually chased the bus down the street waving the whole time. I hope he wasn’t trying to flag the bus down so he could get on actually. But it was very sweet of him and one of my favourite memories of the entire trip.
A long bus ride and ferry trip later, some big heart-felt money tipping for the Tour manager Bec and driver Sandro, and Shelley and I were back in London ready to rock and roll! Well actually I think we were a bit ‘rock-and-rolled’ out by that stage and sleep/recovering was the main thing on our minds.
Final words on Paris. It is an awesome city and definitely the most visited city for a reason. However crazy amounts of tourists did subtract from the experience. I found the French people to also not be the friendliest. In fact some were rather arrogant/rude and gave me a strong sensation of not liking me purely because I had limited French-speaking skills. I have been told since that this is quite common in Paris, and that the locals are much friendlier outside the city and throughout the country. I guess it is hard having twenty-seven non-French-speaking tourists descend on the city every year wanting to spend lots of money on stuff. Hm.
There are also heaps of scams and illegal street vendors about. A common scam is that a gypsy-looking person will come up to you asking you to sign a petition and then demand immediate donation money off you. It is a fake petition and set up to distract you so pickpockets can work their magic. Another scam I heard of was that old ladies drop their ring in front of you. You pick it up and the old lady insists that you buy her valuable family-antique ring for a ‘bargain’ price. The ring is fake.. I was really nervous of pickpockets the whole time and had my backpack locked with a padlock to stop any sneaky hands. The street vendors are everywhere particularly around the Eiffel tower. Black guys illegally selling trinkets and souvenirs. It is quite amusing how fast they run when a police officer walks by. Speaking of which, the French police ride bicycles! It makes sense with the large amount of steps in the city, limited parking and insane traffic, but it’s harder to respect am officer on a bike. A pedalling officer just isn’t fear-inducing. Although I’m sure the entire force is very healthy and fast as a result. Another thing to watch out for, is that some of the local men can be a little suspicious with approaching lone females and asking if they want to head off to the bushes etc! Same as being anywhere else, being careful with not going out at night alone, and being sensible about which areas of town you go to is certainly wise advice purely for safety reasons.
I had minimal spending in this city which was great for my budget. This was related to the fact that the only attraction I actually went into and brought an entry ticket for was the Eiffel Tower as the queue lines turned me off from the rest. But then the money I saved went into tips for Bec and Sandro. Tipping is optional but it is a big part of a culture in Europe. Bec and Sandro are on peanuts for their wages, they also only work during high tourist seasons as the numbers of Contiki tours in winter drop to minimal. They rely on tips to live off during those non-working months. I felt the tips were well deserved in my opinion anyway.
Final Paris verdict – Pretty awesome!