Sunday, May 6, 2012

Paris - Day 1

Monday 4/2

We checked out of our Amsterdam apt at 7:30am and hopped on the tram to get to Centraal Station.  There were an attendant to pay on the tram (cash) and the ticket was something like 2.30E/person, which gave you a hour of ride tide.  Once we purchased the tickets we had to validate them (on the tram).  Our friends ran into issues with this before we got in Amsterdam.  They didn’t realize they needed to validate and when they tried to use their ticket for a second time, they got yelled at.  Anyways, looking at the monitor we easily found our train platform for Paris for our 8:16am train. We left behind R, D, and A, who were taking a 9am train to Berlin.

The train running from Amsterdam to Paris (and stopping in Brussels, and after thought in my planning was that we could have stopped there, but after looking into changing bookings, it would have cost $200+ for just three or four hours there), is run by Thalys.  We prebooked the tickets online directly through them.  Originally I was going to book via a third-party website, Rail Europe, because I thought it was going to be cheaper, but even after a $25 discount, Thalys direct was cheaper (Hint: If you make an account for Rail Europe and put tickets in your cart but don’t purchase, usually within 5 days you’ll get an email saying you forgot something in your cart. with a $25 off promo).  The train ride from Amsterdam to Paris takes about 3.5 hours and had some pretty scenery along the way (although we got bored of it and ended up watching Walking Dead on the iPad.  We’d bought Season 1 via iTunes for just $10 prior to the trip).

Our train arrived in Gare du Nord on time as planned.  I knew which Metro we needed to take from there to get to our apartment, but the problem was getting to it.  Where we ended the gates for the Metro, you could only buy metro tickets with coins (euros) or a credit/debit card with a chip.  We had neither and of course the ticket booth was closed.  We ended up going back above ground and walking into Gare du Nord on the street level.  We found a café (Paul, our first of many Paul’s that we visited for quick croissants and coffee) and bought some chocolate croissants so that we would have enough coin change to buy two tickets. 

We also needed to call the apartment housekeeper to let her know of our arrival. We couldn’t figure out how to get the pay phone to work so we ended up at the tourist information booth, who kindly let us use their phone.  The housekeeper answered. Now, for all of my detailed planning of Paris, this was something I TOTALLY underestimated….but I had been informed by the owner of the apartment that the housekeeper could help us with anything, but she only spoke French. We don’t.  So, this woman gets on the phone and I get frazzled not being able to understand a lick of what she’s saying.  Thank God for the information man in the booth.  He must have seen the worried look on my face because he proceeded to grab the phone and translate/communicate for us.  We found out the key was under the mat and she’d be by sometime later to collect the security deposit. I felt so blessed to have his help that we ended up buying our 2-day Paris Museum Passes (39E each) from him in gratitude.

After that fiasco, we hopped on Metro 4 and got off at St Germain de Pres with no issues.  Coming out of the metro, it took a few moments to figure out our directions on the map in relation to where we were standing, but then we walked the couple blocks to our apartment without issue (near Rue Universite and Saint Peres). Checking into the apartment was weird.  It was what seems like a traditional French entry; the main door on the street had a number punch code and upon going through the door there was a courtyard.  Our apartment was ground floor, something I wasn’t too sure about but all of the reviews had said they had no issues.  We found the key under the mat as we’d be told it’d be. 

Great door to the bedroom
Since it was close to 1:30pm and we had a bike tour booked at 3pm, we essentially just dropped out our luggage and went back to St Germain de Pres boulevard towards the Eiffel Tower.  We stopped in a corner café where I had my second bout of trying to communicate in a language I don’t speak.  Luckily things went well and we joined the hoards of people on the street eating ham and cheese sandwiches.  It was about a 30 minute walk to Eiffel (looking back, I think I would have had us take the Metro, but since we had just gotten here, I was eager to be out in the Parisian air).  We stopped along the way to relax and eat.

First view of the tower

Eventually we made it to the south field of Eiffel Tower.  Man, is it huge!  I really hadn’t known what to expect, but it succeeded whatever I had thought to expect because it was absolutely gorgeous.  Around 3pm we sauntered up to the south pillar of the Eiffel to meet for our tour, Fat Tire Bike Tours.  We’d booked this in advance, thanks to my family (My mom went on one of their tours in Berlin and my parents/sister did the Paris one last year).  We I thought it’d be a good way to be introduced to the layout of the city on our first day.

Meeting up for the tour

The company is run by Americans, so there were no language barriers.  We did the Day Bike Tour which consisted of about 6 miles of biking over a 3+ hour time period.  We stopped along the way at different sites and heard the history behind them.  Our tour included:
·         Tuileries Gardens

·         Louvre Museum

·         Ecole Militare

·         Les Invalides

·         Grand and Petit Palais

 After the tour we walked along Boulevard de Grennelle back towards the Seine River.  We ended up stopping at an Italian restaurant with available outdoor seating for dinner.  We decided on giving fondue a whirl (I’m 25 and had never had it because I seriously only started eating cheese plain about a year and a half ago).  It was amazingly delicious!  We got a bottle of wine, along with pasta dishes (gnocchi and a carbonara).  Ben was freaked out by the carbonara because it came with a raw egg yolk in the shell.  We weren’t really sure what to do with this, so we mixed a bit of it in the sauce.  The pasta was good, although not so amazing. However, we were both glad we stopped to eat when we did. Unfortunately the menu said no photography allowed so I didn’t snap up any pics to share. I can’t figure out the name of the place based on our credit card charge; but in all honesty it wasn’t that memorable.  It’s  near Hotel Eiffel Seine though.

Post dinner we walked along the Seine and then started walking towards Invalides to catch the metro when Ben noticed the first Eiffel sparkle of the night.  It was so magical! I know that sounds cheesy, but it was kind of like a moment to take a breath and realize that we really were in Paris together on this magnificent vacation. It was pure bliss.
First Sparkle!

The last stop of the night was going atop Tour Montparnesse.  It’s the only skyscraper in Paris and after it was constructed, the rules were changed to no longer allow sky scrapers.  The top of it has an observation deck, which offers a perfect view from the south of Eiffel Tower and the rest of the city of lights.  Plus, at 8E/person (during "off" season), it’s a bit cheaper than going up  Eiffel summitt (14E).  I’d prebooked and printed the tickets in advance for this.  However, since it was a Monday night around 9:30pm, there wasn’t much of a line anyways

The view was spectacular.  I’m really glad this was suggested to me!  Besides the annoyingly loud group of teenagers (agh, Americans! Hehe), it was really quite romantic and a great way to spend our first night in Paris.

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