Jack and I left Sarah at our housesit in Chatellerault and caught the train to Paris, with a two stopover in Tours. My mum is 65 and it was her first overseas trip, and this has been one of the surprisingly fantastic consequences of our nomadic journey. If we hadn’t embarked on this adventure, there’s no way she would have ever bought a ticket to Paris and experienced one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Unfortunately, once we got back to Chatellerault after our two days in Paris, we discovered it hasn’t stirred up any dormant travel bug inside her, but that’s a different story.
Picking mum up from the airport
We got to her arrivals gate at Charles De Gaulle Airport just as she made her way through, we couldn’t have timed it any better. We’ve been building Jack up for a few weeks about his nan’s arrival, so he was super excited by the time we got there. Despite only having met her a few times before we left Australia, he gave her a kiss and a big hug which was great to see.
She had stories to tell about her journey, like encounters with inconsiderate fellow passengers, late arrivals at Abu Dhabi airport causing panic about catching her connecting flight, and making her way through customs in Paris without having her bags checked. She was sure given the recent shootings at the Charlie Hebdo offices that security would be ultra tight. She flew Etihad Airways and said the food was outstanding, but despite having a selection of the latest movies to choose from, chose to bury her head in a book for the majority of her flight. Typical stories no matter whether you’re a seasoned travelling pro, or it’s your first time on an international flight later in life.
Mum’s first taste of Paris
We made our way to our hotel and given it was late and getting cold, we decided to go for a short walk before grabbing a bite to eat and having an early night so we were primed for a big day of exploring the next day. We set off and within two minutes the unmistakable shape of the Eiffel Tower came into view. I didn’t realise we would be so close when I booked our hotel, so we decided to head there for a look. The walk took us about 30 minutes, but given it was mum’s first time in Paris, it seemed only right that the first thing we did was make a beeline for the Eiffel Tower. To be honest my mum wasn’t that impressed which was a shock to me because I think it’s awesome. Her reasoning was on TV it seemed a lot bigger, and she was disappointed that it was shorter than she was expecting. For the record the Eiffel Tower is 301 metres high, over three times taller than London’s Big Ben, so it’s not exactly short. But like everyone, when you build something up in your mind it often doesn’t quite live up to expectations. It’s happened to me plenty of times, like our trip through Vietnam. I was expecting an incredible experience, but it didn’t live up to the hype for me. As such, while I enjoyed our trip, it didn’t blow my mind like I was expecting it to.
The next day we took off nice and early to catch the first L’Open Tour Bus of the day. Like most major European destinations, there are open top hop on hop off double decker bus companies that take tourists from attraction to attraction, where you can get off, see what you want to see, then get on the next bus that comes past. We chose the L’Open Bus Tour company over Big Bus Tours because they have four routes compared to one and cover much more of the city. Although our goal was to see Paris in 48 hours, we managed to do the full circuit on the four routes over the two days, but for those interested, I wouldn’t bother with the blue route if I were you. It’s a little more expensive than the Big Bus Company, but for the increased coverage it’s worth the couple of extra Euros.
Our day got off to a shocking start. For a start it was freezing, and we arrived at the bus stop 45 minutes before the first bus arrived. Bad planning on my part, so I’ll take responsibility for that one. However when the bus arrived, it turned out we were at the wrong bus stop. I knocked on the door, and despite the bus driver seeing that I had Jack in my arms and a pram and my mother by my side, said she couldn’t open the door and I had to catch the bus at the stop 100 metres down the road. It didn’t matter that she happened to be stopped at a bus stop for local buses, and the traffic light was red, she still wouldn’t open the door. Needless to say I was fuming, but she did pull up and wait for us which was something.
It was freezing cold, but for the best experience on these buses, you need to sit up the top. So we made our way up stairs and took our seats. Did I happen to mention it was freezing? I don’t know how we stayed up there, particularly Jack who was pretty well behaved all things considered, but we toughed it out until we got off at our first stop. On both days the mornings and afternoons were the same, absolutely freezing, but there was a window of about four hours between 11am and 3pm when the weather was bearable. Over the course of the two days, here were the highlights:
The first stop on our journey was Notre Dame, the magnificent Catholic Cathedral located on Île de la Cité, one of two islands in the middle of the Seine, the river flowing through Paris. ’Our Lady of Paris’, it’s English translation, is a brilliant example of beautiful French gothic architecture and on this occasion, mum was suitably impressed. We didn’t go in because, a) I’ve been inside before and to be honest I have no desire to step foot inside a church again, and b) mum simply didn’t want to. So after spending a little time wandering about the little island, we jumped on the next bus bound for our next stop.
We got off at Place de la Concorde at the bottom end of the Champs Élysée, and started the long 1.9km walk to the Arc de Triomphe. Famous for its theatres, cafes and luxury shops, it also runs through the Jardins des Champs-Élysée and past some great Parisian buildings such as the Grand Palais, Petit Palais and Théâtre Marigny. We stopped off at a sandwich shop for lunch and paid three times what we should have normally, but it was on the Champs Élysée and my mum will probably never be back again.
Arc de Triomphe
After lunch we made our way to the Arc de Triomphe, the impressive monument that honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. After asking a lovely Chilean tourist to take a photo of my mum and I outside, we made our way in so we could climb the stairs for awesome views over the city. By this time Jack had fallen asleep in his pram, which is nothing new for him. He’s managed to sleep his way through many of the world’s great tourist attractions, including the Taj Mahal and the Temples of Angkor. We paid the €9.50 each entrance fee and took the elevator most of the way, before I carried Jack and the pram up the narrow staircase the remaining 46 steps to the top. The view is excellent from here and you can see for kilometres in all directions. I’ve also done this before, but I was happy to pay again because it’s a fantastic experience.
We grabbed the next bus down to the Eiffel Tower where we got off at the Trocadero, just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. It’s a great place to get a photo with the Eiffel Tower in the background and there’s a carousel at the bottom of the stairs for Jack to enjoy a ride. There was some sort of protest going on at the Trocadero, but it was pretty small with only about 20 people in attendance. But that didn’t stop the riot police coming out in full force. Dressed from head to toe in protective battle gear, there would have been at least one riot squad police officer for every peaceful protestor. Talk about overkill, but who can blame them given recent events in Paris? Or perhaps it was just to stay warm in the freezing conditions, who knows! It must have been quite the site for the bride and groom trying to have their wedding photos taken.
After Jack had a spin on the carousel we made our way across the road to the Eiffel Tower. We lined up to catch one of the elevators to the second level, but as we were waiting I asked mum if she had any desire to head up. She wasn’t particularly interested and was only doing it because she thought I wanted to. I was only going up because i thought she might like to, but given a) I’ve done it before, and b) I’ll do it again in a couple of months when I come back with Sarah, I didn’t bother on this occasion. So we turned around and made our way to the bus stop for our next destination.
Musée du Louvre
I knew mum wouldn’t be interested in going inside, and to be honest I don’t blame her. I’m not exactly the museum/art gallery type either, and I’ve been inside before. The Mona Lisa is arguably the most overrated tourist attraction on Earth, and besides, I know that when I come back in a couple of months with Sarah she’ll be very keen to take a look around. So I was happy to give it a miss this time. However, the building itself is incredibly impressive, the largest museum in the world in terms of surface area at 210,000m², and the controversial glass pyramid entrance is a striking clash against the massive 12th century building. So we took a stroll around the grounds and courtyard and took our typical tourist photos (although we did refrain from the ridiculous illusionary pose of pretending to be touching the point of pyramid)!
Basilique du Sacré-Cœur
From memories of my last visit in 2003, I remember the view being awesome but the area around Montmartre being quite run down. Well things have changed because this time I was less than impressed with the view, but incredibly impressed with the area around Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. The cobblestone streets and restored old buildings are beautiful, and the many artists in the region had set up in Place du Tertre to sell their paintings and draw portraits of tourists. It reiterates my point earlier that because I hadn’t expected it to be so nice, my experience was enhanced. It’s the ‘New Year’s Eve’ effect – we always think New Year’s Eve is going to be awesome, but always turns out to be the most disappointing night of the year! While we were here we strolled past Moulin Rouge, and my opinion of this hadn’t changed. It’s still pretty ugly from the outside but I’d love to take in a show some time!
The offices of Charlie Hebdo
As we walked from Place de la Republique to Place de la Bastille, we took a slight detour to visit the offices of Charlie Hebdo. To be honest I’d never heard of the publication before, but after the shootings by Islamic fundamentalists who killed 12 people and injured five others, the whole world knows about it now. What was a publication with a production run of 60,000 for each edition, the latest edition is expected to reach 5 million. I’m not sure what the goal of the murderers was, but I don’t think it was increasing the readership by 83 times! You couldn’t quite get to the offices given the heavy police presence, but there were plenty of people around and the street was covered in flowers and memorials to the victims. It was obviously a sombre experience, but I’m glad I went and I’ll be trying to get my hands on a copy of the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo.
There are literally hundreds of other tourist attractions to see dotted around Paris. It’s truly a remarkable city you could spend weeks and months soaking in the atmosphere while visiting monuments, palaces, museums, galleries and taking in shows, performances and the many world class theatre productions. But if you need to see Paris in 48 hours, and you’ve got your parents and a two year old in tow, I suggest you utilise the hop on hop off bus services to get around the city. Despite the weather mum had a great time and I’m glad she bit the bullet and made the trip to see us. I’m sure she’ll go home with lifelong memories of her time in ‘The City of Light’.
Next time, I’ve decided we’re going to stay for 4-5 days and hire pushbikes to get around. Sarah and I love riding and it’s got to be a fantastic way of discovering little streets and shops you may have otherwise missed by taking the tourist bus. So keep a look out for our next Paris blog post in a couple of months from now, when Sarah will play the role of official photographer and provide much better snaps than I can!