Paris Baby!

Heading into Paris I was a little bit excited about having more time to do all the cool attractions that I’d heard about on my last Paris visit. My first visit had been just a very quick one day wonder as part of a Contiki tour which as anyone knows, is nowhere near enough time for such a big city filled with so much history.
I had originally planned to stay just two nights as I was hoping to be starting a work contract on the Monday. However as I still hadn’t had any word from the British Nursing Council about my final appointment needed to complete my registration, I decided to hell with it and extended my stay to six nights in total. I was glad I did by the end! Even after five whole days I had only scratched the surface of Paris.
I’ve decided to set up this post a little bit differently to my usual style of a day-by-day account. My time in Paris was filled with just too many big meaningful experiences which would make one massive monster of a post. Instead I will go through all the attractions in a bit of a list with of course too many photos mixed through (I had too many favourite shots this time). Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a monster of a post but it will be an organised monster. I have listed admission prices for most things. The prices I quote is the full adult price, but as I am a student and a youth (gotta love being young), sometimes I actually got in for half-price or even for free.
  • The good old free guided walking tour
My favourite way to start a city! In Paris there is actually the option of a couple of companies. This time instead of going with Sandmans (who in a few other cities have given me a consistently great time), I went with another company called Culturefish that actually have a better rating overall on Tripadvisor. This tour was really good and took me past the main Paris historical points like Notre Dame, Hotel De Ville, Lovelock Bridge with interesting and sometimes quite funny stories about each. The tour was free but based on a tip system. If you enjoy it, then give as much as you want or can afford to the guide at the end who actually isn’t paid to do these tours. Price: a tip.

A carving destroyed by water damage pointed out by the guide
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A cool statue at the finale of the walking tour
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  • Walking along Champ Ellesye
The most expensive street in Paris filled with all the best clothing stores and pricey restaurants. I tried some macaroons from a small bakery that proclaimed itself to be the best in France and found them much tastier than the one I tried last time with Shelley. Some pretty decent buskers hang out along here and are good entertainment to watch while eating lunch and macaroons. The Arc De Triumph is always worth a look with those crazy French drivers at the end of Champ Elssye. I forgot to go and look at the unknown soldier monument underneath however so I’ll have to do that on my next visit. Price: free. Or your firstborn child if you decide to buy something from the Loui Vuitton store..
  • Lovelock Bridge
I loved walking over this bridge and seeing the thousands of padlocks each signifying eternal love with the key thrown into the river. Apparently there is serious structural concerns about the bridge being able to safely hold the weight of all these locks. It was recently in the news. Every now and again a mesh panel is completely ‘cleaned’ of all the locks to relieve some of the weight. Lots of hawkers hang out on the bridge ready to sell you a lock. It didn’t seem to matter that I was alone, the hawkers felt I should still purchase a lock anyway! Price: free.

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  • Notre Dame
The outside is pretty amazing to look at. A lot of pickpockets hang around here so be sure to be careful of your belongings while gawping at the facade. I actually found the inside to be quite plain and similar to many other cathedrals. Apparently there really was a hunchback that used to look after the stonework cravings years ago just like in the Disney movie. Free admission.

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Another cool statue but next to Notre Dame this time. It has freaky eyes
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  • Saint Chapelle Church
This small church is located just one block away from Notre Dame and considered by many to be much more impressive than Notre Dame. I would have to agree. The stained glass windows are original and quite beautiful to look at. Admission €8.50

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  • Louvre
The most famous art museum in the world. The building is hugely massive and very beautiful to look at both outside and in with very detailed carved stonework. It used to be a palace originally which accounts for the size. I was most excited about seeing the iconic glass pyramids on the outside after reading about them in the Da Vinci Code book. Most people spend all day in this museum, but as it was free admission after 6pm on a Friday (for youths aged under 26 years), I figured I’d go in for free first and then decide if I wanted to return with a paid ticket. Possibly I am just one of a few, but the Louvre didn’t blow my mind. Seeing the Mona Lisa painting was the highlight, and then I walked around trying to see as much as I could before closing time at 9.30pm. The amount of artwork is insane. They say that if you spent just one minute exactly looking at each individual piece, it would take you a whole two years and two months to see everything in the museum. I had other hostel roommates who spent two whole days in the Louvre and that was the highlight of their trip, but it wasn’t for me personally. Price: €12

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Different kind of Louvre selfie
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Pre-Louvre excitement
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Me and Mona Lisa are like besties did ya know (Sorry Snazz and Rose, but she’s worth millions!)
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A big Egyptian block – my second fav artwork after Mona Lisa
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  • The Eiffel Tower aka the Iron Lady
Last time I had already been up the tower so didn’t feel that I needed to repeat the experience again. The tower generally has the largest psychosis-inducing queue lines out of all the Paris attractions. Instead I went to see the light show at night time. Every hour the whole tower sparkles for about five minutes. It is very pretty and quite moving to see as you suddenly realise you are really seriously in Paree!
Another day I had a picnic lunch next to the tower. This is a enjoyable cheap activity to do on a sunny day. Usually a great view. However heaps of gypsies, beggars, and pickpockets do hang around the tower so be careful of your things. I was asked by about five different gypsies to sign a petition during the half hour that I sat there. Be wary of these petitions as they are actually a scam. Often while you are distracted your bag is pick-pocketed, otherwise as soon as you sign, the gypsy demands immediate money payment as you have just agreed to sponsor the petition with your signature. It’s a really obvious scam once you are aware of it, but I can see how poor unsuspecting tourists do get caught out. Price: a picnic.

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  • Paris Sewer Museum aka Le Musée des Égouts
I’d heard this particular attraction was quite a good ‘different’ one to go see and it certainly was! The museum is based underground and has actual real sewers with real sewage running through it. Of course real sewage = real bad smell. Luckily my nurse nose has smelled much worse in the past. It is a really interesting museum and you get to learn how a sewage system actually works with big dredging machines and special uniform equipment for the men that bravely work down there. Just don’t look too closely into the waters flowing past in the big sewer pipes. I was pretty sure I saw a condom and plenty of mysterious brown lumps floating past ick. You quickly realise why the River Seine is unsafe to swim in. And don’t worry, I didn’t include any photos just in case it put you off your food. Price €8
  • Musee D’Orsay
Another art museum in Paris but oddly not as popular as the Louvre. I actually found this museum much better and a lot more interesting. I had a great time wandering for a few hours. I would actually consider this attraction a must-see while in Paris. It’s not as big as the Louvre so you actually have a chance of seeing all the artwork within a normal amount of time. It’s a really really nice building with a beautifully designed flowing layout that is pleasing to the eye, all the rooms are painted bold colours that really compliment the artwork, along with perfect lighting levels and temperature. It’s hard to describe but I’m sure anyone else who has been there will know what I mean. The artwork seemed to have been chosen with such care and really appealed to my taste. No photography allowed unfortunately. Admission €12
  • Catacombs
Underneath Paris is a twisty maze containing millions of drippy tunnels and dark passageways. Be aware that it is actually illegal to go into these tunnels except at the official catacomb attraction where the tunnels have been specially reinforced and made safe. Within the tunnels are the bones of about six million Parisians set out in a gruesome display. The catacombs is always very popular with the tourists so be prepared to queue. I waited for a good two hours before I got in. But it was totally worth it. Price €8

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Getting freaky with Mister Skull
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  • Pantheon
This is a massive church built for something. It is an impressive building but wasn’t that interesting to me. Maybe I’ve seen too many church’s and cathedrals lately but I think I’m definitely getting to the stage where I have church burn-out syndrome. Check it out if you’re in the area but otherwise don’t go out of your way. Price €7

Okay yes this isn’t the Pantheon but isn’t it pretty? I found it in a park near the Pantheon
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  •  Saint Sulplice
Despite my church burn-out syndrome I wanted to specially check out this church as it featured in the Da Vinci Code book (has anyone guessed that I might be a little bit of a fan??). It’s the church that has the rosé line and the albino dude looks for the hidden secret under a tile at the end of the line. Otherwise the church itself was unexciting. Free admission.

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Gorgeous lion fountain with Saint Sulpice behind it
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The Culturefish company was especially neat in that as well as a free general walking tour every morning, they also had another free one every afternoon in the Montmartre district. This tour was AWESOME and the best part of my Paris trip. Definitely do it on your visit. The tour guide was one of the best guides I’ve ever had and really good-looking too ;) The walk starts at the Moulin Rouge cabaret and meanders up the hill going right through the artist district and past the basilica at the top. Along the way it is casually pointed out where Van Gogh and Picasso lived as well as many other famous French people. You learn about the French culture and French behaviour that really made a lot of sense as to why the French people can appear rude and pushy. It made me wish I had done this tour on my first day in Paris as I suddenly understood the French culture a lot more making me feel hugely more comfortable in a seemingly rude city. Lots of little street art pieces are pointed out along the way, famous restaurants, some french singing by the guide, and even an elderly french celebrity. I was really disappointed when the tour finished after three hours. Price : a tip.

View of Paris from the top of Montmartre along with some of the various street art
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The basilica at the top
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A statue of the famous Dalida. Giving her breasts a good rub is meant to bring fertility
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  • Hotel De Ville (aka The Town Hall)
The outside of this building is again very neat with intricate carved stonework detail. Do a walk-by just to admire it on your way to Centre Pompei. Sometimes there are free interesting exhibitions on inside but none during my stay. Price – free.

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  • Centre Pompidou
This is the famous modern art museum of Paris. After loving the one in Madrid I was really excited to see more rubbish and odd things turned into art. The outside building itself is quite exciting with the pipes and escalator being designed to be on the outside of the building rather than hidden away inside. It’s a very distinctive building even from a distance as the pipes are painted a variety of bright colours. Inside I found most of the art amazing and took loads of photos this time. There were some really odd things like a cutlery drawer divider as well as an ordinary coat rack displayed as ‘art’. Some of the paintings looked terrible to my eye I thought. Or perhaps too modern is the description I should use. But then there was some really neat stuff amongst the rubbish that had me fascinated. My favourite was a room with lamps set up to cast moving shadows from little turning turnstiles with random objects on them. See it in the photos below. There was an exhibition set up to showcase an 1960s artist called Roy Lichtenstein. Although I haven’t heard of him before, I have definitely seen his artwork around as I’m sure you will have. Admission: €13

A weird room filled with tin foil thingys
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An example of Roy Lichtenstein’s work
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Some street art right outside the gallery
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  • Memorial de la Shoah aka Holocaust memorial 
This was a holocaust memorial museum set up to honour the names and memory of Jews living in France deported to Nazi concentration camps. It is considered to be one of the best memorials in the whole world and is certainly very moving to see. I had a fun time walking like a grandma while I was there. Half of the exhibition is outside with a smooth tiled ground and it had just rained.  Unfortunately I was wearing my jandals which have no grip at all. The Aussie guy keeping me company that morning was very polite however and didn’t laugh too much at my nana-like steps trying not to slip over. Just the same as how I didn’t laugh too much at him when the rain started and he got absolutely drenched with having no raincoat. Tehe. Admission – free.

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  • L’Hôtel national des Invalides
Originally I had thought that this was some kind of flash hotel for disabled people. How wrong I was. Hôtel des Invalides is actually a really massive army museum that contains the tomb of Napoleon. Not that I am usually much of an army or weapons kind of person but this museum was actually really good and worth visiting if you have time. First off Napoleon’s tomb has to be the most impressive tomb and casket I have ever seen. The photos below really don’t do it justice. Even if you just go to see the tomb, you won’t be disappointed. Then there is an armoury section that contains a ridiculous amount of armour, guns, swords and crossbows. Every piece is intricately craved and decorated. Even though the armoury would appeal more to guys, females will still be morbidly fascinated by how beautifully stylised each unique weapon is. Another part of the museum is dedicated to Charles De Gaulle, another to France’s role in the world wars, with another part showing huge miniature models of various France cities and towns. Like this post and the Louvre, Hôtel des Invalides is just monstrously huge and interesting making it easy to spend most of a day there. Some parts of the museum are really good with both French and English translations while other parts had hardly any English but you still manage okay. Admission: €9.50

View from the front
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Napoleon’s tomb
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A cool canon. I loved both the plain and the vintage filter photos so decided to share both with you :D
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  • Hostels
I actually stayed in two different hostels during this stay. With extending my trip beyond the original two nights, my first hostel had no space for me on the third night. The first one was called Arty Paris. I really liked it as its one of those places that is decorated in a really funky cozy manner. My dorm room even had x2 ensuite toilets to my surprise. Quite a treat. The second hostel was St Christopher’s Inn which is part of a chain. And it is actually a really good hostel. Especially if you like to party as the bar on the bottom floor is manned by crazy Aussie staff who are great at getting everyone in a party mood and playing beer pong. I also had really great roommates who made my stay pretty memorable. There was the three party animal Aussie guys who got us all having a great time until 4am on my first night. A few Americans, one of who was particularly talented on a guitar. One of the coolest Chinese chicks I have ever met. I’m sure her parents would be shocked if they found out what she really gets up to on holiday. And my bunk mate was an Irish guy who is just one of those awesome types of people that makes your life richer for knowing them. The hostel of course had some negatives like terrible wifi and lack of a kitchen. Breakfast was only served until 9.30am so no sleep-ins allowed. But the friendly warm atmosphere was exactly what I like best in a hostel.
Overall I had a fab time in Paris and certainly made some great memories that I won’t forget! There were some things that I didn’t get to do like Disneyland and seeing Versailles Palace. But there is always next time. And particularly Disneyland I am thinking would be awesome to go to with Snazzy when she comes to visit me next year. Initially pre-Montmartre walking tour, I had felt a little out of sorts within the city as Parisian culture and personal space is hugely different to my cultural norms. By the end of the six nights I was sad to leave. But also a little happy as I was pretty exhausted from the party-atmosphere of St Christopher’s hostel.
Next stop – London.

 

Couldn’t resist one last photo! This is the Parisian bridge where Princess Diana died. The golden flame statue you can see in the photo is a memorial to her
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Only Lyon

You may or may not have heard of Lyon before. I hadn’t until about a good month ago when my French roommates in Glasgow highly recommended it to me. They may have been a little biased as Lyon was their home. But after arriving in Lyon I was inclined to agree.

Lyon is a large city in the middle of France. No beaches or the warm temperatures of the South but it is a really lovely place. I would consider even living there if I wanted to live in France. The city is clean with an excellent public transport system. The people are friendly and the food amazing. It is set on hilly ground which made for an amazing view from my hostel looking out over the city.

Image curtesy of umpa.engs-lyon.fr as I accidentally deleted my own photo of the view from my hostel window
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Even the homeless beggars looked happier as there were far less of them and generally more buskers instead. Walking to my hostel to check in at dusk, I felt safe and welcome.

After an amazingly cozy sleep, I began my day with heading up the hill to do some laundry at a laundromat. Such a mundane thing to do but laundry day is always my favourite day of the week. Usually with such a limited selection of clothes, I have to wear every item a few times until I enevertibly spill food on it. Apart from underwear of course. That’s just ick. My micro-fibre travel towel (supposedly fast-drying but not really) gets pretty gross and is often packed into my backpack still damp when it’s time to travel onwards. After laundry day I finally have the huge range of my clean clothes to choose from. And even better – clean underwear! There is always the washing clothing in the hostel sink option which I haven’t needed to do yet, as usually most hostels have washing machines or there is a cheap laundromat nearby.

My outfit on laundry day is usually pretty hilarious too with wearing the last combo of my cleanest clothes in my backpack. I may have had to even go commando once as laundry day was just one day too late for my underwear supply. Or I could be just just making that up ;)

After such a thrilling morning, I walked further up the hill to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. I had always originally thought that Notre Dame was a building just in Paris but it turns out they’re all over the place. Notre Dame translates to our lady essentially meaning that it is a cathedral church dedicated to Mary. The Lyon one was very pretty and nice on the inside. It made looking at the Saint Jean cathedral at the bottom of the hill afterwards look very plain and boring.

Notre Dame Basilica
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St Jean Cathedral. The inside was too boring to photograph. Left photo is from Wikipedia
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For the afternoon I caught a bus out to Parc Tete D’or. This park was actually really cool and I could totally see why it was number one on tripadvisor. First off, it’s a beautiful park. Filled with luscious trees, gardens, pofty green grass, and lovely lake water with geese and swans. What’s not to like? Then there is a botanical garden, hothouses and a rose garden. Oh and a zoo with free admission. Bonus! Although zoos are same most places, the siren-call of free admission lured me in and I was captivated by tigers and monkeys within minutes.

Various photos taken while walking through the park and around the lake
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From top left: a red panda peeks through the tree leaves, a tiger says talk to the hand lady, and moi sitting in the botanical gardens.
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Then I found another park gem in the form of a greenhouse cathedral. It was the coolest greenhouse ever. It was a massive beautifully designed glass building shaped like a cathedral, filled with carefully cared for plants with artwork strewn throughout.

The artwork made what would have been a nice greenhouse into something amazing. Each piece of art was artfully placed in a complimentary natural manner. I have never seen anything like it before, and spent a good hour walking around inside snapping photos.

From left: Tree moss umbrellas, the outside, and some robots stand guard at the window.
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I was tired after that and headed back to my hostel to curl up with a good book. I was reading Belle by Lesley Pearse. Highly recommend it if you like gripping Jodi Picoult-type stories.

I brought a treat for myself in the form of a special Lyon praline tart dessert to go with my dinner. It was an amazing tart and super French. You should try a slice on your visit if you want to taste heaven. Later I ended up playing monopoly (the card version) with some new Egyptian friends and a neat french chick which made for a great evening.

Not the best photo as I was too excited about eating it
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I stayed up too late trapped in the grips of my book and found it hard to get moving the next morning. I just wanted to keep reading :3 eventually I did shift my A into G and meandered out to île Barbe. It was just a small island in the middle of a river but pretty and picturesque to look at. After that I meandered through the city just looking at the shops and the people. I had a yum sugar and lemon crepe from a street peddler, and French herbal tea at Starbucks. I found a museum with miniature cinema sets and a cool horse fountain.

Image from Wikipedia as I seem to have deleted my own photo accidentally again.
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The cool foundation
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Feeling very satisfied with my Lyon visit I gave in to the call of my book and curled up again at the hostel for my last Lyon evening.

The hostel was my favourite French one so far. It is part of a chain called Hostelling International [HI] which I think has a Christian background like the YMCA as unmarried males and females weren’t allowed to share a room. You do have to have a membership to stay there. But as Lyon was similar to Montpellier and Marseille in that a HI hostel was actually the only hostel in town anyway, I was happy to join. The Lyon hostel had that cheerful friendly atmosphere that I like and the rooms were really cozy. The view was the best hostel view ever with looking out over the city. Another thing I have found is that all the hostel reception staff (not so much the cleaners) have been bilingual in both French and English. Makes it so much easier as I like to be able to ask advice on where to go and how to get places.

I stayed up too late reading again. And then discovered my German roommate liked to talk loudly in her sleep and bang around in her bed above me. Thank gawd for earplugs. The morning arrived too soon and it was time to head to the bus station.

Next stop – Paris.