Queuing in Paris
For the second leg of our Europe winter trip we went to Paris, using Eurostar early in the morning from London. London-Paris trains takes 2.5 hours by crossing the underwater tunnel. I can tell that I will pass Paris quite often as long as I live in London, since most trains going to the midland have to pass Paris from London. It is also the closest big European city from London and the one most Europe first-timers will want to go to. The only bad thing is that London-Paris tickets are not cheap at all. It could even be cheaper to go further away to other cities by train!
In any way, I didn’t push too many things on my first Paris trip, since I knew I was gonna go back again. We spent 2 days in Paris and continued to spend 2 days in Disneyland (I love me Disneylands!).
So as soon as we touched down on the train station, we were approached by this girl who asked for our signatures for some kind of petition for the deaf people (or so we thought). Kind of taken aback by the French speaking girl assuring us that she just needed our signatures, in sign language and air kisses, I signed, only to be asked money after that – €10 thank you. I said, sorry I haven’t exchanged any Euro dollars (the truth) and she said oh what do you have? British pounds are totally fine! (not that I want to give any money to random girl with flimsy paper) To cut things short, we finally tore ourselves away from them. There seems to be a syndicate of them, because we kept finding the same types of people (they look like migrants from the same area – I couldn’t guess where exactly, but possibly Eastern Europe) with the same forms using the same techniques, literally everywhere, at all the tourist places.
My view of Paris thereafter seems to mirror that first girl I talked to. Beautiful, but dirty. Dirty skin, breath smelled of smoke, blackened fingernails. And I thought that’s exactly how Paris was. Messy, dirty, iconic buildings tainted by pollution, homeless people everywhere, vomit in the subway. If it were any other city I would be fine, but I just did not expect Paris to be so… ragged. I expected it to have the same level of cleanliness as London, for example. Or the same level of prosperity. I rarely rarely ever see any homeless people in London. Oh and about Parisians being rude and refusing to speak English? All true! I found a train officer who refused to speak to me in English! I mean an average person I can understand, I don’t expect all French to speak English. But a train officer? He did not even try!
Another shock came in the form of queues. Queues everywhere, all over the place. Nobody ever told me that you have to queue all the freakin time in Paris. As soon as we touched down, there were big fat queues in front of the ticket boxes. I tried the ticket machine and gave up after a while because it was too confusing (I guess that’s why everybody queues). After putting our luggage in the hotel, we went straight to Tour Eiffel, and queued to buy the ticket to go up for 1.5 hour in the middle of freezing winter (my friend bought ticket online on her trip and she still had to wait for 2 hours, which sounds worse and does not make sense). Went up the stairs, queued for the lift to the top, also queued for the lift to go down. We spent soooo much time just queuing. It was dark by the time we were at the top of the tower, since winter days were a lot shorter. Went to Arc de Triomphe after that and spent some time inside and on the top. It was rainy and cold and wet.
The next day we went to de Louvre and guess what? Another queue! A queue SO long that we gave up to go in! I was guessing that it would probably take 4 hours if we were to start queuing at the time (and other people confirmed), so we took off (after taking some pictures at the courtyard, which is quite pretty with all the glass pyramids). My friend suggested that the next time I go, I should queue a little bit before the museum opens (which is what she did) and that way it wasn’t so bad – probably takes about half an hour. Queuing technique in Paris, which I totally should have known before I went!
We left for Notre Dame the Gothic church, which for me is made known by Disney’s the Hunchback of Notre Dame (don’t judge!). There was very long queue to go inside the church (not surprising anymore by now) but since it’s free the queue moved pretty fast and it probably only took us about half hour. We had a lovely old lady tour guide inside who we spent a couple of hours with. We didn’t go to the top of the church because we couldn’t find the stairs inside (apparently it’s outside) and by the time we found out it was too late.
There was a little bit of mishap before we reached Notre Dame. I only sort of knew what Notre Dame looked like and I wasn’t even sure if the church was actually called that. When we got out of the subway station, there was a Notre Dame looking building right in front of us, so we went in that direction. And since there was a long queue for it, we started queuing as well. But then I saw that the sign said St Chapelle. So I thought well maybe the church is called St Chapelle (and Notre Dame the nickname? the area?). But just to confirm, I asked a woman just in front of us, if this is indeed the queue for Notre Dame. And she didn’t know! She didn’t know what she was queuing for! Lovely pretty young lady. So I asked the guard standing not so far from us and he let us know that no this is not Notre Dame. Notre Dame is Bigger, you see, Big Church, stretched arms. So then we hustled to find the real Notre Dame.
Pretty interesting small event.
However I just recently found out that St Chapelle itself is very beautiful and not to be missed. It has extensive 13th century stained glass as you can see if you google the pictures. Something on my todo list certainly the next time I go to Paris. That and the top of Notre Dame and the inside of de Louvre (plus Versailles and the cemeteries of famous dead people – but that’s all for another tale).
It was almost dark after we got out of Notre Dame. We headed off to Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, the great white Catholic church on top of the hill, which is apparently the highest point of Paris. The church is quite popular for people visiting Paris, but it’s not actually that old. It finished construction in 1914. There was still Christmas market in front of the church at the time (also near Tour Eiffel) even though it’s past Christmas. We found this also in Amsterdam and Munich. Apparently Christmas markets generally go on until new year in Europe.
So this year we spent our new year’s eve and morning in Paris! Totally beats stranded in the middle of nowhere in a broken car the year before (another tale to tell). We’re off to Disneyland after that and stayed a night. Paris Disneyland is definitely bigger than Hong Kong Disneyland (the only other one I’ve been to), so you need 2 days to get through most of the rides (though at the end we still missed one good one because it was full all the time!).
We did not unfortunately eat anything great while we were in Paris, except for the exceptional breakfast at the hotel, and a big pistachio macaroon that I bought in a rush before we departed the train to Munich. Probably next time, when I have more time to hunt some great food!
All in all, after recovering from the shock and adjusting my expectations, I quite like Paris. It’s a city full of history and there are lots of great things to check out. I admit the language is probably one great barrier for me to fully enjoy the city, as Parisians are not the most excited people on earth to speak English. And I got frustrated many times that I could not even pronounce all the names of the stations and the places properly. French was definitely a challenge! Well, the next time I go there, I should at least be able to pronounce the names of the places I’m going to!
And to close our ride in Paris on a high note, I got slightly teary when I saw Tour Eiffel for the first time. It’s such an iconic landmark. The one I knew since I was small, one of the symbols of Europe. The one that everybody knows. At the time it just hit me that I was really in Paris.
Long big breath.
Take it all in Mee. Take it all in.