by David Allison
When I had the bright idea of taking my boyfriend away as a birthday treat I thought where could I go for a weekend that is close by, easy to get to, but yet exciting all rolled into one. Living in London already, that ruled that one out straight away. Then whilst at work and chatting with one of my colleagues who lives in Paris and commutes regularly using the Eurostar. Sure to earn me brownie points (and the fact I get a staff discount) I spent the majority of a work trip to Hong Kong planning a trip to this wonderful city.
Having been to Paris a few years ago, I thought it high time I went back and explored some more; and lets face it, it’s one heck of a good excuse for carbs on a global scale, one of which I would make up for the following week by just eating dust (a la Little Britain).
Planning a trip (albeit a surprise one) conjures up it’s own challenges; booking hotels, trains and the inevitable ‘how to get the other half to St Pancras without being rumbled’ by announcing “we’re off to visit my Mother for the weekend, lets get the train from Kings Cross, it’ll save driving” For those of you who’ve never been to St Pancras it’s literally right next door. I figured If I’m this good at telling porkie pies, am I not in the wrong job? Should I be not working for MI5?
These days when it comes to booking hotels, I don’t know about you but I don’t go anywhere near the ‘book now’ button until I’ve read at least 5 reviews on Trip Advisor. After around 3 hours of going slightly cross-eyed I stumbled across the Hotel Ares Eiffel; which is a stones throw away from… you’ve guessed it.. the Eiffel tower. Some might consider this slightly out of the way and granted it was a bit; but when you’ve got Hermes products in the bathroom and Versace tiles on the walls I was pretty much sold; the tipping of the scales in their favour were the magic words Bang and Oluffsen TV in all rooms.
The next job was booking the Eurostar; which I have to say was so unbelievably easy; no forms to fill in, no faxing, just a call to a lovely friendly girl by the name of Chloe. Having already checked out the times of the trains that I was requesting I let Chloe know this so she could check availability; with so many trains departing in one day I was sure If they weren’t available then there should be something relatively close to it. I was in luck, I got both my requests there and then, not to mention a table for two in their Standard Premier Cabin (I would liken this to a Premium Economy class).
Departing St Pancras (the surprise having worked a treat) we were sat in our very comfy seats as the sun started to come up in London. In our cabin we had a designated team that served us at our seat with a continental breakfast and litres of coffee (which having gotten back from Hong Kong the day before I really needed intravenously). In the past I traveled in their economy cabin the last time and whilst a pleasant experience in itself you do have to wrestle your way somewhat to the buffet car and spend a months salary on a croissant and coffee in a paper cup.
Experiencing the tunnel itself is a rather nondescript event, after all it’s just a tunnel right? It’s the emerging out the other side in another country without once seeing water or something that flies at 36,000 feet that adds to the novelty factor not to mention no jet lag, or ‘day change’ we’ve lost an hour on the way over so it’s time to reset your watches to Paris time. One of the absolute bonuses of traveling this way is that the Eurostar takes you right into the heart of Paris; arriving at Gard Du Nord station and as passport control and security are all taken care of at St Pancras, once you’re off the train you’re as free as a bird with no queues to stand in or baggage carousel to wrestle with.
Paris has a very good metro underground system, but when you’re visiting their for the first time or revisiting after and extended break it’s always nice to jump in a cab and take in the sights along the way. Arriving at the hotel and being warmly greeted (we know how important that is) we were a little early for the room, by about 4 hours “No problem, let me see if your room is ready anyway” was the response from reception; now that’s service! It was, quick freshen up, drop the bag off and time to explore.
At this time of year the weather is very similar to London and so easy to pack for. There are so many things to do that you can’t possibly cram them all into a weekend as we attempted, but you can certainly give it a run for its money. As with any city there are cafes and bars practically everywhere you turn and so you’re never short of somewhere to stop, rest and have a croissant or two. One of the most noticeable things about Paris that I found is that everywhere you turn is practically a photo opportunity, the architecture and scenery has to be seen to be believed. Paris is without doubt one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. From the obvious Eiffel tower to the Louvre, Place De La Concord, to the Trocadero and of course the Arc de Triumph. The Champs Elysee is stunning and FYI full of stores for the shopaholic amongst us. There are the usual high street brands but then the high-end designer stores which if the name doesn’t give it away; the security man in the black suit opening the door certainly will.
Food in Paris is a fusion of traditional French fare such as frogs legs, L’escargot and the like. L’escargot or as I prefer to call them ‘big snails’ are actually very tasty when served with copious amounts of garlic. Bread is of course standard and delicious to boot. Now you can’t go to Paris without having at least one glass…. or in our case a bottle of Champagne; just be prepared that there is an astronomical mark-up on this as with most things. With the current Pound to Euro exchange rate, Paris is one pricey city. That said you have to treat yourself once in a while right?
When you see the Arc de Triumph on TV in the middle of one heck of a busy road, I always wondered how to people get over there without making some death wish with an over-zealous scooter; the answer is of course much simpler and you use the tunnel. Up and under you pop up right underneath it. You can also go to the top but this requires queuing and the purchase of a ticket. It certainly is a sight that needs to be seen to be believed, the intricacies of the stone work is beautiful and well worth some snap shots.
The Eiffel tower in itself is stunning at any time of the day, but at night when it’s lit up for all to see it’s quite breathtaking to take in as no matter where you are in the heart of the city you can usually turn a corner and catch a glimpse. Once again this is also an attraction you can go to the top off if you’re ok with elevators, heights and an hour or two to queue and you’ve guessed it; buy a ticket. Paris by night on the whole is beautiful and the streets, restaurants, cafes and bars are once again buzzing.
The next day after coffee and a Croque Madam (my personal favourite, ham and cheese on toast with a fried egg) it was on to Notre Dame. The last time I visited Notre Dame I didn’t go inside so it’s worth noting that there is a bit of a queue to get in but it moves quite quickly and it’s also free. With most Cathedrals and Churches any sort of photography is banned, but in Notre Dame it’s allowed as long as you don’t use flash. This has to be one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been to. There are hundreds of people walking around in silence (another pre-requisite) admiring all the statues, stained glass windows and artwork.
After spending a good amount of time walking around it was time for more food; oysters to be exact, a new experience for me to say the least but hey when in Paris. The seafood platter that came out was a piece of art in itself as was the glass of champagne that came with it but that’s a whole different subject.
With just enough time to pop back to the hotel, collect our bags it was back to Gard du Nord for our Eurostar home. Just as easily as we’d arrived we were going back home with a light dinner and some free wine.
If you’re thinking of taking the Eurostar to Paris or anywhere else on the Eurostar network it’s so unbelievably easy; as with most travel companies these days you can print off your own tickets but there is a charge for duplicates should your printer not play ball. There are tons of ticket machines at St Pancras that you pop your credit card in, confirm your booking and collect your documents.