Sunday 23 September 2012

One Day in Paris: Would we do it again?

After all of that lead up, the ultimate question comes down to: Is Paris "doable", in any meaningful sense of the word, as a day trip?

The answer is both yes and no.

Yes, in that it is physically possible and you can have a lovely day out (as we did!). 

But also. . .

No, in that, I definitely I would NOT recommend it for those who have never been before and are unsure when they are likely to go back. I'm not sure that I would make a habit of it either.

The downsides

  • The day started way too early and honestly I don't think gained us much except being more tired than we otherwise would have been. Those of you who know me, know that mornings are not my best time of day and a 5am wake-up call on a Saturday is a killer. Not much in Paris is actually open before 10am anyway, and as we found out getting there right as things open doesn't really gain you much of an advantage on the weekend (weekdays might be different). On a similar note. . .
  • The latest train back to London is around 8pm (9pm in summer). This means you need to be back at Gare du Nord no later than 7:15. No time at all for any evening activities, let alone dinner. Which brings me to food. . .
  • I mentioned this in my opening post - you get a limited experience of eating in Paris. Yes, I know that food isn't everyone's "thing", but it is one of our things and not getting a proper, leisurely French meal was something we really missed. When you go for the day, time is *very* limited, and even though we got in some nice eating, we felt rushed to get off to the other things we wanted to do. If this is your first or possibly only trip to Paris, amplify this feeling times 100 and really, that's just no good. And speaking of time limits. . .
  • Unless you're crazy, you'll have time for 2 real activities - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It was hard enough for us to pick 2 activities and this was hardly our first trip to Paris (nor our last!) - I would have no way of advising someone who's first and maybe only trip to Paris was one day on what 2 - 2! - things to see. How can you do a city like Paris justice with only 15 hours?
The upsides

  • We didn't lose our whole weekend. Not that I begrudge our weekend jaunts, but I think everyone knows the feeling of coming back home from a great trip, starting to unpack and realising that you've not done the laundry for the week, dirty dishes are still in the sink, and when in the world are you going to go grocery shopping? So from that perspective, it was kind of nice to get back from a little day trip and still have time for all the various bits and pieces of life that need to be squeezed into our weekends.
  • Not needing a hotel room. Hotels in Paris, like many big cities, are *expensive*. It was nice not to have to incur that expense, but this is a really small thing if you budget properly.

Would we do it again?
Maybe. I certainly won't make this the primary way we "do" Paris, but it would be something to consider if there was a specific thing that we really wanted to see and our schedules were too hectic (or train tickets/hotel rooms too expensive) to be able to make a whole weekend of it. So for the odd exhibition, afternoon concert (see the problems with evenings, above), or festival, then I think we'd consider another day trip. But I think our first preference would be to try and make it overnight to give us a little bit of breathing space.

An interesting experiment to be sure and just gives us more options for how we approach things. With luck, someone else out there will find my musings useful. 

Opening post is here: One Day in Paris - an experiment
Post on what we actually did is here: One Day in Paris - what we did

Saturday 22 September 2012

One Day in Paris - what we did

*dusts off travel notes*

So in the end what did we actually do with our one day in Paris?

After getting off the train, we headed straight to La Cinémathèque française for their Tim Burton exhibit. It was a beautiful sunny day and we arrived pretty much as the museum opened. 

Ta da! I was really impressed with the architecture of the building over all, some very cool lines. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to correspond at all to the inside layout. Still neat to look at though.

More architectural coolness

Despite this, we still had to stand in what was a remarkably long line for 10:30am on a Saturday. Turns out that we could have bought tickets in advance which would have let us skip said line, but live and learn I suppose.

Me playing around while waiting in line.

In the end, we didn't get into the exhibit until nearly 11, and I was really surprised by how packed it was - not only with people, but with stuff. The local curators had done their best to try and lay everything out in a coherent manner, but the extremely small nature of the museum itself (surprising considering the expansiveness of the outside architecture) meant that all it did was exacerbate the problem of people just milling around rather than moving through the exhibit at a reasonable pace.

Still, we enjoyed it and got a bit of a better insight into what is really a phenomenally twisted mind. Interesting stuff, but highly highly weird. It seemed to go down very well with the locals though.

The rest of the museum was part history, part technological explanations, part costume display and again, surprisingly small. But it was enjoyable to wander around. Not sure if I would come back again just for the museum itself, but if they were showing a unique film that I was super keen to see or something else brought us to this corner of Paris and we had an hour or so to kill, I might.

From there we were pretty hungry and tired of standing and decided to take lunch nearby to our next planned event. So back to the Right Bank we went and over to a charming little neighbourhood bistro called La Table de Claire. We had the lunch formule (simple fare, but extremely thoughtfully cooked, clearly the best of the day's market) with a glass of wine each and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. 

And also lost a little track of time, because we had to leg it over to the metro station to meet up with the Paris Walks guide for the tour of Père Lachaise Cemetery. As always with Paris Walks, the guide was extremely knowlegeable and not only took us by the usual popular gravesites, but also showed us some of the more obscure-to-English speakers sites. It was funny because we kept running across a French tour with a very animated guide who was clearly perturbed that we English speakers were deviating from the "usual" path. Our guide also did a great job of explaining the history of not only the people, of the cemetary itself and how it fits into Parisian life. I've included a few samples of some of the things we saw, but the full set of pictures as usual is over on my flickr page.

The gates leading into Père Lachaise

The entrance to the ossuary - where the bones of those whose graves have either had their leases expire and no family members come forward to claim the remains or those whose graves have fallen into disrepair.

One of the oldest (though rebuilt several times) grave sites - that for Abelard & Héloïse. United in death as they never could be in life.

Loved this grave for the "fantasmagorie" or phantasmagoria in English. Fab!

There were also some beautifully emotive sculptures - loved the way that this one caught the light through the trees.

A neoclassical monument to someone forgettable, but I really enjoyed the combination of "eloquence" alongside "justice". Very French.

Obligatory picture of Jim Morrison's grave - apparently the fact that he was allowed to be buried here makes the French rather grumpy. Lachaise is meant to be for residents of Paris only, and Morrison died while only visiting, you see. Judging from the tributes still left here (and the emotion of many young French school kids there), that seems to be a minority view.

Another stunning sculpture.

A monument redone for one of France's earliest suffragettes, Hubertine Auclert.

The crematorium - down below is where the ashes for Maria Callas were originally lain.

Kissing Oscar Wilde's grave

Another striking feature of the cemetery was the section dedicated to those who died in disasters or other acts of violence. There are several to the many WWII death camps - it's clear that the French national conscious still seems very troubled from their own complicity. As per usual, they've turned that discomfort into some beautiful and very moving tributes.

And finally heading out of the cemetary is the monument to all the dead. Our guide explained that it's intended to express the many conflicted emotions that people often experience as they contemplate and face their own mortality. I thought it was beautiful and extremely moving. We sat here for a while to think and reflect.

The tour was supposed to be 2 hours, but lasted nearly 3. Not complaining! But it did mean yet again that we were a little footsore and yet still had a few hours to kill before our train. We were also a little peckish (yet again) and so thought a bit of a nibble and some good french wine would do us good. Back into the centre of town we went, originally to Willi's, which unfortunately closed for refurbishment (a common practice during July in Paris), so we headed over to La Garde Robe as our second option - and was well worth being the first option. It was towards their closing time, so staffing was rather light (read: slow service), but we had time to kill so this wasn't an issue for us. We ordered a really delightful bottle of a light almost slightly fizzy red, served just a tiny bit chilled. It was *perfect* for a summer's day, and naturally I now can't find my notes as to what it was! Should have taken a picture of the label. We also had a lovely cheese & charcuterie plate along with a fantastic tomato salad. 

So we whiled away the last 2 hours or so over a bottle of wine and some very tasty food - just how a trip to Paris should end. Then it was back on the train home where we were sat across from another young (although younger than us) couple, who had just taken their first trip to Paris and gotten engaged. After a bit of oohing and aahing and congratulations-ing, we got to talking about Paris. What they liked, what they didn't and sharing our passion for the place. It was funny because the first thing they said was - the food was terrible. Then we asked them what they ate; they responded - pizza. Cue a look between Stephen and I, then I got out Clotilde's book and we talked about travel and food and our tips for finding good food in Paris and other cities. It was a lively and fun conversation, and I hope that we entertained them as well. It also brought back lots of memories about our early travel days and really brought into focus how much we've learned about each other and the world around us. A wonderfully thoughtful end to a pretty good day.

Next up: Would we do it again? Thoughts & reflections on Paris as a day trip.

Sunday 2 September 2012

8 Years

So, we've been super busy in the last few months and I'm conscious I owe you guys an update on how our one day in Paris went (short version: mixed), some thoughts on a rather exciting sporting event, and our a quick trip over to an opera festival. . .

But before I do that, today is a very special day in our travel lives. Eight years ago today Stephen and I landed in London. Eight years. It's been one amazing ride that's enabled us to get out and see parts of the world that would have been much more difficult if we'd been based in the US.

Eight years ago we became expats and realised that you should never, ever judge a country by it's expats -  living for an extended period of time outside your "native" country does change you. It changes the way you look at the world and it changes the way you look at yourself. Whether those changes are for the better or for the worst depends greatly on your point of view and no doubt it's a little bit of both.

When we first moved to London, we'd been married a grand total of 9 months (almost to the day!). It was my first indefinite stay abroad and Stephen's first as an adult. We landed with a visa for two years, exactly 4 bags between us, accommodation settled for two weeks, and just enough cash on hand to see us through 3 months.

Now, we've been married for almost nine years, are settled comfortably into flat number 3, we've both gotten an additional degree each, are gainfully employed and are up for Indefinite Leave to Remain in a few months time. Getting around a city of nearly nine million people is a normal part of our daily life, something we don't think twice about; in fact, there are more Americans living in London than the town I grew up in. Heck, there are more people living in London than the entire state of Oklahoma. . .

It's a pretty incredible shift once you start thinking about it. London is home in a way that it's hard to imagine any where else could be. It's the city where we've both come into our own as individuals and it's where we've set the pattern for our marriage. While there are plenty of aspects of London that we're not too keen on, it's still one of the world's most interesting and dynamic cities.

So, thank you London for an incredible past eight years - of theatre, music, education, travel, a start on our careers. Thank you for broadening our horizons and giving us quite literally the world on our doorstep.

Here's to London and the privilege of being able to call it home.