So I went to Paris yesterday (Eurostar had had a ticket sale just after Christmas)! It was just a day trip (this was a very budget outing) but one of the advantages of being a Londoner (and you’ve got to grab the advantages of being a Londoner, considering it’s so expensive to live here) is that when you want to go to Paris for the day, you can. I can imagine for a large chunk of the UK, if you wanted to go to Paris for the day (by Eurostar anyway, I guess if you lived near a regional airport you could fly), you’d have to stay overnight in London before and after, as to make the most of your day you need to get an extremely early train and catch the last train back, so you get back into London quite late. Although I guess if you’re forking out for a hotel in London you might as well stay longer in Paris and fork out for a hotel there, so you can stay longer, probably (I’m guessing) cheaper to. Anyway, I’m a Londoner, so I did the day thing.
The trip didn’t go smoothly though, now I was travelling on my own (as £59 for 1 return isn’t too bad, £59 x 4 is unfortunately unaffordable, but as Mr. Lacer has already had a weekend away this year for a friend’s birthday and both kids have school residential trips booked, I was the only one not getting a ‘holiday’ this year), so I had planned to do very specifically ‘me things’ whilst I was there, i.e. find the best patisseries and the best haberdasheries and just drool for far longer than Mr. Lacer and the kids, if they’d been there, would have put up with. The thought of going off the beaten track a bit felt ok as I knew that I’d have my phone with me and that as being an O2 account holder, I could use all the data I wanted for £1.99 for the whole day. I would have used the Paris version of the Citymapper app (the London version is fantastic), so that I could just plug in an address and it would have told me how to get there and more importantly how long it would take, as I was very conscious of 1) getting lost and 2) getting so lost I missed my train home. So even though I’ve travelled to many European cities (mainly in my younger years) without the benefits of a smart phone with data or even a phone for that matter sometimes and been fine, I guess I’m smart phone / data hungry spoiled and I was in my defence, like I say planning on going off the beaten track, something I’ve never really done that much of before when travelling and certainly not on my own (I realised towards the end of the day yesterday, that at the grand old age of 40, this was actually my first ever trip abroad where I wasn’t travelling with anyone else). So when I got out of the Chunnel and into France yesterday morning and discovered that I didn’t actually have any data on my phone (despite the automatic text message I got from O2 saying I did), it was quite gutting to say the least, particularly (as well as not getting lost), I’d planned to involve the kids and Mr. Lacer in my trip by sending them regular iMessages with pictures of what I was doing, so that in a way, they’d still feel there with me. Anyway with no data I couldn’t obviously Google a way to try and fix it, so I texted Mr. Lacer for help, he had a Google (he uses a different phone provider than I do, one, after my dealings with O2 that day, I am now very tempted to switch to) and he texted back some suggestions and they still didn’t work, so I got him to find the number to call O2 and I called them to find out what was going on and they were about as useful as a chocolate teapot (and not as nice, you could at least eat a chocolate teapot). Now I had been prepared, I had double checked the previous day that I had O2 travel on my account and I was told that yes I did, so when I rang up from France, first of all when they ran me through my security questions, the same questions they’d asked me the day before in fact when I had spoken to them then and then they had the cheek to say I got one of my security questions wrong, when I had given them the same blinking answer the day before and I’m not going to say what the security question was but put it this way, I know the answer as well as I know the names of my own kids! So first I had to insist that the security question answer was indeed correct, they then had to go through more security questions because I’d got the first question wrong (????) and then when they were happy I was in fact me and I told them what the problem was, all they could suggest was to try reinstating O2 travel, which is pretty useless as it takes 24 hours to be put on, great for someone already there on a DAY TRIP. But from what Mr. Lacer worked out when I got home, what had been the real problem was my settings, I had switched on EUInternet*, thinking that’s what you need for your internet to work in the EU and actually, if you want your own providers data to work, you switch it off. If the chocolate tea pot lady at the end of O2’s (un)help(ful)line had actually bothered to ask me what my settings were, it would have been sorted out before I even left Gare du Nord. But as it was my plans for my trip had to be drastically changed, as I wandered out of the station with no clue where I was really going and peed off that I could no longer iMessage the kids photos (neither kid had been to Paris before, so it’d have been a new experience for them and they’d been looking forward to the photos).
Luckily I had been sort of prepared and had downloaded a no data Paris map on my phone the day before, it would tell you where you were on the map but it was using GPS which eats the battery on your phone like a very hungry phone sucking vampire, so I knew I couldn’t use it too often. So between that and maps on the sides of public toilets and my memory of where I wanted to go to first. I headed (or tried to head but took quite a few wrong turns into what was really not a touristy part of Paris – that’s me being nice) for Bastille. I managed to work out from the toilet maps that I needed to find La Republique first, which (when I finally got there), I recognised instantly from seeing the Je Suis Charlie demonstrations on the news. The central monument was quite something to look at, it had had some additions added to it in memorial to the people lost. I liked how the figures on the reliefs are holding pencils or bunches of flowers and, not that you can see it well in the top right photo, the large statue is holding aloft a sleeve that says Je Suis Charlie to. I paid my respects and left a pencil to join the others, no matter what you think of Charlie Hebdo politics, no one should ever ever be murdered for drawing a picture.
So after La Republique and more wrong turns, I eventually found myself in Bastille and it was a very long walk and I was already getting knackered and a bit more peed off, my off the beaten track plan was going rapidly out of the window and although I had planned to find the garden walkway, which I remembered reading about starting at Bastille and that I had really wanted to see (I’ve always wanted to see the New York version but that’s even more out of my price league) but by the time I got to Bastille and I couldn’t see any obvious sign of the walkway, I was getting to the point where I didn’t really care. Even though by now it was in the early afternoon, Paris was pretty quiet and there were no other people who looked obviously like tourists about and although I wouldn’t say I felt vulnerable, I wasn’t completely comfortable. All I suddenly wanted was to go somewhere were there were lots of tourists and where it might be a bit easier to navigate around. So thanks to my toilet map reading (I had by this point bought an A to Z to try and make my way round a bit easier but call me dense the index was unreadable, I’d find the street name ok and what I thought were the grid coordinates but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me, which actual page), anyway thanks to my toilet map reading I realised that Bastille was next to l’Arsenal, which on the toilet maps at least looked like some sort of green park with a rectangular lake in it, which joined onto the Seine and boy did I want to get to the Seine as I equated that with tourists. So I found l’Arsenal, which turned out to be a not particularly attractive marina and followed it to the river, to find that I had ended up on a not particularly nice stretch and I know you shouldn’t judge people by their appearance but there were groups of men hanging around which didn’t exactly make me feel safe (it’s one of those things were if I’d been in a similar situation in London, I would have still been careful but I would have felt more confident as it’s my home city). Luckily there was a bridge and in the very far distance I could see Notre Dame, so I headed very very quickly in that direction.
As I got closer to Notre Dame the area did seem to improve a bit, I headed through an open air sculpture park by the river which was ok.
And sighed a big sigh of relief when I actually got to Notre Dame. I’ve seen Notre Dame before but have never actually been inside, so I decided (specially as it was free, learn a lesson from that St. Paul’s) to go inside and I’m glad I did as it was rather nice. I particularly liked the stained glass.
Outside Notre Dame I saw some hop on – hop off tour buses and although I don’t normally go in for that sort of thing I was tired and getting worried that at this rate I wasn’t going to see much at all, so I hopped on. So thanks to the tour bus I saw things like the Arc de Triomphe. However it was extremely, extremely cold sitting on the top of that bus but I didn’t want to sit under the shelter as photos taken through windows can be a bit rubbish.
And I then hopped off at the Eiffel Tower stop, now I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower before but I’ve never actually been up it and I wasn’t totally sure whether I was going to do it this time, as even off the unsheltered bit of the double decker tour bus it was getting increasingly very very cold, so I had a wander around underneath –
And somehow my subconscious ended me up in a queue, so thank you subconscious, I had a fantastic time and I’m really really glad I went up it.
(Not the world’s most exciting video but stick with it, as towards the end you can see the metal struts of the tower passing the window as the lift goes up – ignore the whirring type noise in the background, this was filmed on my still camera, as I was trying to conserve battery on my phone).
I got the lift up to the second floor of the tower (about two thirds of the way up or so) and the lift was cool, I don’t know what I’d been expecting for the lift, more like a conventional up – down lift I think, which is dumb considering where would they put it! In reality it was like one of those little mountain ‘trains’ you get going through tunnels in mountain resorts, as the lift, which had two ‘floors’, went up, at an angle, along the leg. Once up on the second floor, well wow, what a view! It was even more colder up there and the wind was extremely windy but oh wow.
I couldn’t go to the top floor, as it was closed for maintenance, I don’t think I’d have wanted to anyway, it was cold and windy and high enough on the second floor! So I then walked down the steps to the first floor, which was an interesting experience, I wish I could have admired the view a bit more than I did walking down, as what I did see, the struts all up close and everything, looked fantastic but I was spending most of my time concentrating on holding tight to the railing and watching where my feet were going!
On the first floor, part of the floor was ‘glass’, I’d always thought standing on one of those glass floor things wouldn’t bother me but eek no, as you can see I couldn’t quite get my heels off the metal!
After the Eiffel Tower I hopped back onto the tour bus, I was conscious about the time but still thought I’d have time to see Montmartre, which is one of my favourite parts of Paris, as that was relatively near Gare du Nord. Unfortunately the nearest the tour bus got to Montmartre was Opera but unsure at this late stage about trying to figure out the public transport system, I thought the tour bus would be the best bet. When I got on the bus the light was just starting to fade and although it didn’t look that far on the tour bus map to Opera and only two tour bus stops away, it took a lot longer than I expected as the traffic was eye openingly bad, so much so it was dark by the time I got to the stop.
Although there was one bit of good fortune about the stop, it was right next to a Lindt chocolate shop, I don’t think they have Lindt chocolate shops here (unless there’s one in Central London I’ve missed) and yes I know it’s Swiss chocolate not French and a bit commercial but it was the closest thing I got to a nice foodie shop all day (and I never did find my nice French haberdashers), so I treated the family to some nice chocolates and headed in what I hoped was the direction of Montmartre and Gare du Nord, still desperately eeking out my last few dregs of iPhone battery with the GPS map thing and mostly relying on toilet maps.
Now even though things don’t look that far apart on maps, those long straight Paris roads are blinking very long and I was getting more and more conscious of the time and fearful my phone was about to die, even though I was really, really rationing myself with it. And when I got to the point where I’d realised I’d taken a really big wrong turn about 10 minutes previously, I had to give up on Montmartre and try and speed walk to the station. I was on a really long road, which cut across that part of Paris and I walked through what looked like the Paris equivalent of Soho and then a really down and out part where people were scrabbling through cheap piles of clothing in open fronted shops and with my occasional peeks at my phone, I was still nowhere near (and remember I was catching the last train of the day), so it was pretty stressful. If I’d had data on my phone I’d have known from Citymapper how long everything would have taken (I’d probably have been more confident about taking the Metro from the Eiffel Tower to Montmartre and so I wouldn’t have taken the slower tour bus) and it wouldn’t have been such a panic. As it happened my phone, thanks to relying on the battery ravenous GPS app, died^ about 10 minutes before I got to the station, just as I was about to make a crucial change from the really long road I’d been on, to another road I needed to go down to get me there and it was at a junction, with lots of roads branching off it. Luckily I got the right road but I have never been more glad to see a train station in my life!
I got to Gare du Nord with 50 minutes to spare until the train left, although remember I still had to check in, go through passport control and security and the amount of time they advise to get to the station before your train departs seems to vary between 20 minutes and 45 minutes (and considering the extra security measures after Charlie Hebdo, I think 45 minutes is far more sensible) but even once in the station I was feeling in such a hurried state, I misinterpreted the great big massive signs pointing up towards check in (in my defence none of the signs had the Eurostar logo on, which is what I’d been looking for) and the station is massive, so I had some more panicked wandering around before asking a security guard where Eurostar was. Luckily passport control and security was relatively quick, so I got into the waiting lounge with 20 minutes to spare before the train boarded. That is a thing to remember though when travelling back to England through Gare du Nord, the station is large and the walk between the various stages isn’t exactly quick, so you need to allow extra time for that to (St. Pancreas, in comparison, is more compact).
Once on the train I had to squeeze my very tired and painful legs and feet into one of their seats (the Eurostar isn’t exactly spacious), there was a couple sitting facing me, so I couldn’t stretch out my legs for the entire journey or move really at all. Which was bad news once I got to St. Pancreas, as I have pes cavus, which although was fairly successfully treated by lots of surgery in my late teens and twenties, has meant my feet are still not perfect and in fact I suspect (although I’m in some degree of denial) that they’re beginning to deteriorate again but I’ve got far too many things going on in my life at the moment to add an orthopaedic surgeon to the list. So anyway, thanks to the pes cavus and not being able to move my feet on the train, after a day of lots of walking, when I got off the train I could barely walk and when I say barely walk I mean it, I was embarrassingly having to grip the hand rail to move along. Luckily, as I know with my feet, after a few minutes on my feet the stiffness goes a bit and although it’s still painful I can walk ok but it wasn’t fun and yep, I reckon my feet would still have been pretty sore if I’d had data on my phone but I know I would have walked less because if anything I wouldn’t have got lost so many times and I wouldn’t have had to probably walk so quickly! I’m going to have to be careful for the next few days or so not to aggravate my feet further.
So, anyway, despite it not being the trip I had planned (all those fabric shops and patisseries I didn’t see *sob*), I am glad I went; the Eiffel Tower in particular was very fun and I think I’ve got the ‘I never go anywhere!’ out of my system for a while at least (although part of me still wants to go back with GUARANTEED data on my phone and still visit those fabric shops and patisseries and Montmartre to). I’m glad I’ve had the personal ‘first’ of travelling somewhere on my own, I think everyone should do that if they can at least once but I really missed Mr. Lacer and the kids. And I’ve had the unexpected ‘bonus’ of realising that next time I’m changing my phone contract, guess what O2, I’m changing providers to someone who can give more useful advice.
*EUInternet is an option on iPhones as a result of an EU directive which doesn’t actually come into force until December 2015, so I don’t know for sure but I suspect EUInternet probably doesn’t even exist in France yet, which is why I was getting no data.
^And I’d had my Eurostar tickets stored in my iPhone passbook to, luckily I’d had the foresight to make sure I had printed off a copy of the tickets to and had that in my bag, it would have been a complete disaster if my only copy of the tickets had been on a dead device!
I don’t watermark photos on this blog, I think most of the time my photos aren’t that nickable but please people, don’t put my remaining good faith in people to the test and pinch these photos. If you want photos of Paris, you go get sore feet and grumpy with your phone provider and get some of your own.