Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Twelve

It seems that 12 is the order of the day at the moment. Not only did we celebrate my daughter's 12th birthday on 12.12.2012, but we will soon have been in Switzerland for 12 years. If you google the significance of the number 12, you come up with all kinds of weird and wonderful things - 12 apostles, 12 months of the year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 hours in the day and 12 hours in the night, to name but a few. But, I digress. Let's get back to that birthday. As soon as we realized it would be a significant date, we said we would do something special. As the day approached, I asked my daughter what she wanted to do, given that her birthday was in the middle of the week in the school term. I was thinking in terms of a party, a special meal out, a trip somewhere nice. I wasn't prepared for her absolute birthday wish: a trip to Paris! We tried  to discourage her saying that Paris in winter would be cold, no leaves on the trees, can't sit outside at cafés etc. But she wouldn't budge. So, after extensive searching and researching (do you know how many hotels there are in Paris?), the trip was booked - 4 nights in Paris, leaving on....yes, 12.12.12!! Here are some of the highlights:

TGV
Although the TGV was as expensive as flights from Zurich, we decided to take the train to avoid Charles de Gaulle airport and having to travel into Central Paris with luggage in rush hour. The journey from Zurich is direct and takes 4 hours and 3 minutes, reaching top speeds of 318 km/h. You get a seat reservation with your booking which is great, as between Dijon and Paris the train is packed. A tip here is to book the TGV 3 months in advance to get cheaper fares.

Hotel
The train comes in to Gare de Lyon in Paris and we stayed at the Novotel Gare de Lyon. We chose it purely for ease of arrival and departure - you literally walk out of the station and across a square to the hotel. Plus, children under 16 stay free in the room - there is a pull-out sofa. We were actually pleasantly surprised by the Novotel. The room was fine and despite the location at the station, very quiet. The buffet breakfast was good and from Gare de Lyon you have several Metro and RER lines. On departure day it was a doddle to have a leisurely breakfast and then wander across to get the train home.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower

What can I say? Absolute highlight. If you are travelling with children, be aware that they will want to buy half of the contents of the Eiffel Tower shop - i.e. mini towers, magnets, mugs etc. On our first evening, in freezing temperatures, we took the metro to Trocadero - from here you get a fantastic view of the Tower, in our case in all its glory illuminated and sparkling on the hour. Next day we went up - having pre-booked and printed our bar-coded tickets here - you get a specific time to go through the ticket barriers and save queuing up for hours. I can really recommend doing this and the website is very user-friendly.

Louvre
One word to sum this up - vast. We got in, via the pyramid entrance, fairly quickly and had to queue  for about 15 mins for tickets - there are several ticket booths inside and machines as well, but I think in summer it would be wise to pre-book. Our main aim was to see the Mona Lisa - the route is well-signposted and basically you just follow the other thousand or so people making their way there. After that we decided to look at the artefacts from Ancient Egypt. There were so many and, again, the place is so vast, that this took a couple of hours. After that we were completely museumed out and called it a day. At 11 Euros per adult (children under 16 are free) I didn't feel we had seen too little for our money and the experience of being inside such a grand palace was well worth the price of the tickets.

Arc de Triomphe
Fabulous! There is no lift and the steps really take it out of you, but the view from the top is breathtaking. Get there early to avoid the queue.

Centre Pompidou
I remember being shown a film of Paris in French at school - say late seventies. Oh how we laughed when we saw the Pompidou Centre with its bright colours and escalators on the outside, for goodness sake. I didn't realize, but ever since then I've harboured a desire to go up those escalators and that's what we did. We had received tickets via our train/hotel package so got in fairly quickly. Due to the Dali exhibition being staged there until March, there was then a 90 minute queue to go into all parts of the centre. As we were not particulary bothered about Dali, we were able to go, thanks to a tip from a friendly member of staff, via those famous escalators, to the permanent modern art exhibition.

What I Could Have Done Without
  • Using the metro so much...we seemed to spend large amounts of time marching for what seemed like miles along grimy underground corridors and even more time sitting in dirty, run down trains - obviously been in CH too long, I'm sure it's just the same in any metropolis. Another time I would take a more centrally located hotel and walk more to the sights i.e. better to go when the weather is warm.
  • Sacre Coeur / Monmartre - teaming with people, you really had to watch your backs and your bags - better to admire Sacre Coeur from a distance e.g. from the Arc de Triomphe


After all that excitement we have enjoyed a very quiet and very relaxing Christmas and New Year. Now our batteries are recharged, we are looking forward to our next trip, wherever that may be. Happy New Year!!

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