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Monday, 1 August 2011

Are we in Paris yet? Yes, there's a French flag!*

* EXACT words.

So, I'm back from Paris. It was amazing but that was a given. I wish that my life was sometimes filmed so that I could hold the memories of the landmarks we visited, the laughs we had and the quotes we came out with. But for now, I only have photos, which (some of which), I'll share with you today. 


Hotel balcony

Daily packed lunch

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Megan at The Eiffel Tower

Me at The Eiffel Tower (We really struggled getting a photo of me in front of the tower as having such long hair, any hint of wind ends up with me without a face, just hair which looked stupid so I had to resort to wearing my sunglasses on my head for pretty much the rest of the holiday)

Megan and I at The Eiffel Tower

Me (again) at The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Me and The Eiffel Tower

One of our many maps

The Louvre

The Louvre

The Louvre

The Louvre

The Louvre

The Louvre

The very famous, but very small Mona Lisa at The Louvre

The lock bridge (I really liked this bridge. I'd seen photos and read stories about this place before we went so definitely had to go. Basically it's where people, whether their in a relationship of just friends who lock a padlock onto the bridge and throw the key in the river to signify their love (if they were boyfriend/girlfriend) and even if they break up, the memories will last their forever. I'm sure you can find a much better, more heartfelt account, but that's the best I could do, sorry!

The lock bridge A couple who came and celebrated their anniversary on the bridge with a picnic and champagne. Was very sweet and romantic. 

Our 'surprise' meal We ordered what we thought was chicken burger as in a moment of madness, we translated that bread was 'brochette' in French, even though deep down I know that it's pain, having studied the language for 4 years. It actually meant kebab so we had something we didn't even want, but we definitely learnt from that experience haha!

Sacre Coeur

Me at Sacre Coeur

Megan and I at Sacre Coeur

Arc De Triomphe

Champs Elysees We couldn't NOT do a spot of shopping on the most famous avenue in Paris

Me at the hotel

View from the Eiffel Tower

View from the Eiffel Tower

View from the Eiffel Tower

Megan and I at the top of the Eiffel Tower

Me at the top of the Eiffel Tower

Palais Garnier Beautiful place where the Phantom of the Opera was filmed

Me at Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

My Top 10 Tips for Paris
  1. Know the basics - While most French will speak some English, it is true that they find it pretty ignorant if you don't at least try, after all, if you want to really immerse yourself in the culture, it's not much point speaking English all the time. Phrases like Bonjour (Hello), Au Revoir (Goodbye), Merci (Thank-you), Sil Vous Plait (Please), Je Voudrais (I would like), Je Ne Parlez Francais (I don't speak French), Je suis Anglais(e) (I'm English), Je Suis desole (I'm sorry) will give you a good head start. If you're not confident with your French, definitely buy a phrase book - they're not expensive and could help you out of a sticky situation, like ordering the wrong meal...not naming any names haha!
  2. Book excursions in advance - If we could go back in time, we'd probably have booked a lot of our excursions before hand. Why? Well, for one, you have a guaranteed ticket, two, the queue for pre-booked tickets is a HELL of a lot smaller than non-booked and three, sometimes booking online can save you money. BUT and this is a big but, when I say book in advance, I mean ADVANCED. We tried to book tickets for the Eiffel Tower a week before we went and it was completely sold out, so I advise booking probably a month before hand to guarantee the time/day you want most to avoid disappointment. Also, if you're planning on travelling around the city via the underground (which most likely you are), you can purchase passes at ST. Pancras INTL station before heading off on the Eurostar. The staff speak English, are very helpful and the queues for it are non-existent which is much better than getting stressed about it once you get over there as Gare Du Nord is a very rushed and busy station. We paid around £30 for a 5-day pass which I think is GREAT value for money for the amount of times we used the system.
  3. Make the most of the benefits you're entitled to - Whether there's a special senior rate or group bookings, if you're applicable - use it - it's there for a reason. In our case, as students (or under 25 as the French also group it as), there are A LOT of great entitlements we made the most of. Free entry is available to the Louvre and discounted rates can be brought at the Eiffel Tower, Tour Montparnasse (One of Paris' hidden gems - a 52 floor open top observatory of the city), Palais Garnier and more. Presentation of your passport and/or student card is required to receive these benefits. 
  4. Arrive at popular attractions early - Tourists are pretty much everywhere in Paris so it's no wonder that the most popular landmarks become crowded quickly, so if you haven't pre-booked - get there early and be prepared to queue, for a long time. I'm referring to the Eiffel Tower in this instance (and the Louvre). You can only purchase tickets for the Eiffel Tower for immediate access so queueing is inevitable. We worked out in total it took over 4 hours from the start of queueing to getting back down to the bottom of the tower. Was it worth it? Definitely. I've been to Paris and the Eiffel Tower before but only got to go to the 2nd floor as the summit was closed. This happened again. But thankfully, it was only closed for congestion as there were too many people on the top, so we had to queue, buy tickets to the 2nd floor, go up to the 2nd floor and queue and pay again to go the summit. It does work out more expensive to buy two separate tickets, but Megan and I were that desperate to finally go to the top that we weren't going to complain. Luckily we had okay weather both times we queued for attractions, but it isn't always guaranteed so make sure you pack a brolly so you're not in a foul mood by the time you reach your chosen attraction! 
  5. Be careful of abroad phone charges - Having only been on contract for the past three years, I'm still getting used to roaming charges abroad. While things in the EU have vastly improved, it's still quite costly to use. My friend recently returned from abroad with internet charges totalling £170 and her boyfriend's reaching excess off £300. To avoid this, Megan and I switched off data and data roaming so that no charges could be applied *hopefully* (I'll soon find out when my bill comes through!). Aside from the odd text, we rarely used our phones as we didn't need to. I was tempted to pop into an internet cafe to check on my emails but as I was on holiday, I avoided the internet for the entire trip and it was surprisingly relaxing. 
  6. Maps, maps, maps and more maps - While the 21st Century has brought us great technology with the introduction of sat nav, nothing beats a good old traditional map. It's lightweight, easy to read and most importantly, won't run out of battery. With your map, it's a good idea to mark on the location of your hotel (we did this in red and everything else in black to differentiate) and all the attractions you want to visit. That way, you can easily see which districts of Paris you will need to visit the most. This will make it easier to make the most of your days as you could, say for instance, visit everything you want to see in the West of Paris on your first day and the South the next etc. A particularly good map is available at ST. Pancras ITL station as it has both an extensive colour map of the city, backed with an underground map which is VERY useful to have. By the way, I realise that some of this information won't apply to everyone as not all of you will use the Eurostar, go anywhere near London or perhaps use the Paris underground so sorry!
  7. Don't be conned - Like any city, there are those out there who want to con you out of your time and money. I don't want to generalize and say all of the sellers/beggers are bad people but the best thing to do is to not highlight being British and just politely either avoid them or firmly say 'No'. The two most common groups were young women who walk around with a clipboard who kiss at you to sign whatever it is on their piece of paper - simply don't. I've no idea what is their selling or trying to get tourists in to, but it really isn't worth finding out. I did see an English man 'fall for it' and did sign it and once you do that, they then get more persistent with you. Put it this way, you wouldn't sign something from a stranger back at home, so why do it in a foreign country? The second most common are men going around selling souvenirs. These range from Eiffel Towers, flying birds, postcards and bracelets. If they know you're English, they will flock around you like a moth to a flame. You can usually hear them coming a mile off thanks to their jingling so that's an indication to walk away. These men tend to be more persistent to sell you something compared to the women but again kindly say no. They can be quite intimidating, especially at Sacre Coeur where they literally block your path and sometimes physically grab you but the army sometimes are floating around and they will literally flee if they do arrive. You're also warned of the risks of pick pocketing in Pairs wherever you go, but it's the same in any city - Paris is no different (although I never noticed half as many sellers in either London or New York). Don't carry around too much money, keep expensive items hidden and sealed and always carry a secure bag which you can keep an eye on. 
  8. Remember the exchange rate - Although the difference between the £ and the € is pretty much non existent at the moment, it's still worthwhile to keep an eye on the exchange rate. Most smartphones nowadays come with currency converters so it's worth having one downloaded if you want to find out how much you're paying for an item to see if you're paying a reasonable price. Obviously this won't be necessary on everything you buy like your daily croissant or in my case, my bargain €3 trousers from H&M, but it's handy having. 
  9. Do your research - As my piano teacher used to drum in to me: "Fail to prepare and prepare to fail". Research is key to spending your time wisely if you're only going for a short city break. Things to research: What time the underground starts/finishes and What days are attractions opened/closed (a lot of shops are closed on a Monday and will shut, like in  England, early on a Sunday. Whereas museums like the Louvre are open on a Sunday and the first Sunday of the month are free to everyone (bear in mind it will most likely be packed on this day))
  10. But most importantly enjoy yourself! - Paris is an amazing city so make the most of it. Take a stroll down the seine, buy a croissant, visit the Mona Lisa, see the city by night...I could go on. Take loads of photos, afterall, they're the memories you can physically keep! 

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