On the 23rd of January, Rob and I took the Chunnel (train via an underwater tunnel) from London to Paris. He had never been on a long-distance train before; another awesome first-experience to witness.
The “tunnel” part of the ride went by so fast! We noticed a serious change in pressure on the train (ears popping) – I guess trains aren’t secured as well as planes – but it certainly didn’t feel as if we were underground (and water) as deeply as we were. The 25 minutes of the sub-marine train ride flew by, and next thing we knew, we were in Gare du Nord, the northern intercity train station in Paris.
With so many references to Paris and France in popular media (film, art, TV, music, etc.) I had no idea what to expect but the random interweaving of the fantastically romantic aspects of Parisian fame. The Gare du Nord station itself was beautiful. Just like the St. Pancras International station we had left, it was modern yet ornate, with huge arching ceilings and the dull roar of travelers and locals coming and going.
Walking out of the station, we quickly grew tired of carrying all our belongings on our backs (yay, backpacking). We started wandering down the street, looking for a reasonably priced place to stay. Something we noticed – and LOVED – about french accomodation is that prices are always posted outside of the residence! No awkward waiting in line or talking to the concierge as you try to find the cheapest place in the area.
We quickly found a place for 60E (30E each) for a double room at the Saint Quentin Hotel – only one block away from Gare du Nord. We didn’t look super far into the outskirts of the area, but our choice of location couldn’t have been more perfect. We were one block away from trains and the Metro, and only about two blocks away from a pickup for the Hop-On-Hop-Off Open Bus Tour, which we took advantage of on our second day. These types of tours are a great way to experience the many attractions of a city with only a short period of time.
Although I don’t know a ton of French, the little I did know coupled with my Spanish (the similarities are very helpful when it comes to reading) got us around just fine. The only infamous “French sass” we got was from a woman working at the train station on our way out. To be fair, she probably deals with all kinds of lost fools on a daily basis. Her patience must run out at some point I suppose – you can only hear “Gare (should be pronounced “Garrrr”) so many times before you start to lose it .
Via the Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour, we saw the Gare du l’Est, The Arc du Triumph, The Louvre, The Musee d’Orsay, The Trocadero, and of course, the Eiffel Tower. Under the advice of my parents, we made the Eiffel Tower our last stop, and hung out until after dark. We watched the beautiful sunset, then stared in awe as the tower came to life with white sparkling lights.
Watching past film footage of the tower, I had always assumed that those were camera flashes from tourists on the tower. In reality, there are thousands of lights covering the entire structure that illuminate and flash on cue. They were sparkling for about 15 minutes or so – I assume they’re on a timed system? Regardless, the view was entrancing.
We finished off the night with some fresh nutella crepes (best I’ve ever had), and a quick metro ride back to our hotel. Although some years ago the metro closed quite early, luckily the French have now adapted and keep the gates open later. There are still many honest, paying citizens on the late metro, but it’s not uncommon to see hoodlums literally jumping over the ticket-scanning stations to get to/from the trains! I found this suprising, coming from areas where people generally follow the rules, asking few questions.
Despite the hoodlums and cold temperatures of Paris at this time of year, we had an amazing evening. It was a tricky – but successful – feat to fit in all that we wanted to accomplish, and I’m so glad we did. Au revoir, Paris.