Tuesday, 17 August 2010

"Paree Holds The Key To Your Heart"

Well, that's what Sophia sang in the (NON DISNEY!) film "Anastacia". Does Paris hold the key to my heart? Erm, well no, but it was definitely a fun yet tiring holiday!

I've been best friends with a guy named Charlie for about 17 years and we both turn 21 this year, so I decided it would be awesome to celebrate our birthdays abroad considering our birthdays are only 10 days apart. After lots of Internet browsing, we chose a 4* hotel going by the name of "Hotel Terrass", booked our Eurostar tickets and on the 26th July 2010, we began our journey.

Well, the French Tube and the London Underground are similar and different at the same time. If you're ever thinking of travelling to France or Paris, the French Tube is a cheap way to travel but the ticket (billet in French) system is a bit...strange. You basically pay 1 euro 70 cents for a single journey. There's no such thing as a return or travelcard for a day as far as I'm aware, you pay for a ticket every time you enter a metro station. If you bought one ticket, took the journey then put it through the barrier to exit the next metro station, the barrier doesn't swallow your used ticket which means that if you keep your ticket, then get a train later in the day and buy another one, trying to find the right ticket can be a slight nightmare! Especially since it doesn't have dates or times on them. So that's very different to the London Underground.
The French Metro Stations were always full of graffiti and beggars, and in general just looked quite dirty. And sometimes a bit smelly. When I arrived back in the UK after my trip it made me realise how clean the London Underground is in comparison.
Metro's can be hard to find when you're on street level, because the word "Metropolitan" above the entrance are in dark colours, so they kind of blend in with their surroundings whereas the London Underground signs are high up in the air and have bright colours. However, once you're in the station it's all pretty easy to follow because it's really well signposted. When I got back to King's Cross I found myself confused in my own country. Hah! The French Tube is really easy to get used to, at least I thought so anyway. Be prepared for constantly packed trains and unbelievable heat though! If you think the London Underground is bad, wait till you go to Paris...

After we checked into our hotel, we decided to travel round Paris a bit and get used to it, so we went to see the Eiffel Tower. Before we left for Paris, I managed to discover how to get to certain monuments so I thought we should test the instructions. Turns out my research went A-Okay, and we found the Eiffel Tower without a problem! At over 1000 feet high it's not exactly difficult to miss, and although I always knew it was tall it was definitely intimidating seeing how big it was in real life for the first time.
We then scoured the area looking for restaurants/cafes and there were quite a few, but they were a bit pricey! We eventually went in one and just had some chips (frites in French) as it was the cheapest thing on the menu! We went back to our hotel to get changed and then go out again, but decided to just sleep in that night as we were tired from all the travelling, figured we wouldn't enjoy the night if we were tired so thought it was best rest.

We woke up on Tuesday morning and first thing on the list was Notre Dame! I absolutely adore the Disney film, so I was quite excited to see the Cathedral for real. It was quite a nice area though slightly bothersome to find, but we finally got there and entry was free! Bonus - cheap day out in Paris! Notre Dame is absolutely beautiful inside and definitely one large cathedral! There were lots of candles everywhere that you could light yourself, and needless to say I took a lot of pictures and videos inside. Once we did the tour, we decided we wanted to go to the tower's at the top so we went outside and queued. Bloody Hell, it was a biiiiiiig queue and probably took about an hour. However, the queue was made fun by these 3 Korean girls standing behind us - they were so friendly and adorable, and they were impressed that I knew Korean music! Since we were all under the age of 26, we didn't have to pay a penny to see the towers...another bonus!!
We spent pretty much all our time at Notre Dame with these Korean girls, and we were creasing up with laughter because there were so many steps to climb - nearly 400! It was a spiral staircase too, I ended up getting a bit dizzy and being paranoid that I was going to misplace my feet and go tumbling! But we managed to get to the top eventually and the view was so pretty.
Notre Dame

One of the windows inside

Charlie and I with our new Korean friends!

Gargoyles and...stuff.

Me and the view

 One of Notre Dame's bells...Emmanuel?

A view from the top...this is the bit where Quasimodo sings his song "Out There" in The Hunchback of Notre Dame! :)

Me with Notre Dame in the background.

One thing I noticed about Notre Dame was how amazed I was at how accurate it was in the Disney film. I know that sounds stupid because obviously the artists did their research, but it really was quite incredible seeing how they got all the statues right, and seeing the bit that Quasi climbs up when he's singing. You know, actually recognising bits from the film even though it's a cartoon, so well done Disney!
After we did Notre Dame, me and the Korean girls danced to the chorus of Super Junior's song "Sorry, Sorry". They were Korean and sort of knew the dance, I couldn't leave without doing it! I got it all on video which will be shown at the bottom of my blog.

Charlie and I then went back to our hotel to get ready for the Eiffel Tower! We wanted to do it at midnight, so we waited for quite a while until we left. However, we got to the train station and I thought of something...what time do the trains stop running? We got to the station at about 11pm and they shut at 12:15! So we thought "okay, the Eiffel Tower isn't going to happen tonight..." and we changed our plans. We decided to tour round Champs Elysées instead so we could find it easily the next day and know where everything is.
Well. We got off the tube and we were freakin' clueless. We were out in the middle of nowhere in pitch black with no signs anywhere directing to Champs Elysées, so we just decided to wander around and see if we'd stumble across it. Somehow.
So! Our wild Paris adventure started. We must have been walking around for an hour with no directions, and then we somehow ended up near the River Seine and could see the Eiffel Tower. I was pretty sure we were quite far away, but we stayed to admire the view a bit and were lucky enough to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle!

Me with the Eiffel Tower in the background
Sparkle sparkle!

We continued to journey in the middle of nowhere and eventually came across life!! We found directions to the Champs Elysées and after following them for - you guessed it - a long time, we came across a lot of clubs and bars. Charlie wanted to have some cocktails, but some of these places had men in freakin' tuxedo's. TUXEDO'S. Who wears Tuxedo's these days unless you're a celebrity at a premiere? We carried on walking and passing all these places, quickly realising that we weren't anything like these people at all. We finally got the Champs Elysées and found even more bars...the cheapest cocktail we found was 14 euros. I mean...really? Really, Paris? Amazingly this shop called Sephora (which sold brand name perfumes and stuff like Dior) was still open at 1am (yes, it took us this long to find this place) so we walked in, looked at all the expensive things that we didn't even dare touch, and walked straight out again. So far, our night really wasn't going according to plan.
We carried on walking round the second most expensive strip of land on the planet (that would be Champs Elysées...and no, I'm not lying, so of course the prices weren't really that surprising with a title like that) and came across big brand names like Louis Vuitton. Funnily enough, we also came across the famous Arc De Triomphe. Now, we really weren't that bothered about seeing it as we just saw it as a bridge in the middle of a road, but we thought that since it was there right in front of us, we should go have a peek. We got to the edge of the pavement and in front of us was a roundabout...the only roundabout in the world where if you go on it you're not insured. Let me tell you, this roundabout is freakin' huge. Anyway, in a moment of pure spontaneity we decided to risk life and death and cross this roundabout just to get to the bridge. We managed to get across safely (whilst screaming and giggling along the way...honestly, who needs to be drunk when you can just be delirious instead?), looked at the monument and went "Ah. Look at that. It's a bridge."
Whilst basking in our moment of glory because we beat death, these two police officers who were patrolling the monument came up to us. Charlie thought we were going to get fined, but turns out that the Arc De Triomphe is forbidden at night so we had to get off! And cross the roundabout! Again! Of course, we managed to do so and knew we'd have to cross it again anyway, but we practically cheated death twice in under 5 minutes, but it turned out to be one of the funniest memories I have of my holiday there. When I got back to the UK I found out that there's actually an underpass to get to the Arc De Triomphe...epic fail. Honestly, Paris is just as busy at night as it is in the daytime! How on Earth people can afford to buy stuff down Champs Elysées is beyond me...

The Arc De Triomphe and the Death Roundabout!

Anyway, it got to about 2am and we decided it was time to head back, only we had no idea how to!! We managed to find a taxi rank (again, took ages to find one! It was near the Chocolate House thing) and we finally made it back to our hotel at about 3am and it only cost 10 euros. Needless to say, we had a very good night's sleep...

So good in fact, that we didn't get up till about 10 or 11am. Charlie wanted to get up early so we could do some shopping (not at Champs Elysées though...I never want to go there again!) but we were way too tired to rise at dawn. Our feet and legs were killing us from all the walking and I think I even pulled some leg muscles. Whilst waking up, we watched some french DragonballZ on the TV and reminisced.  We left our hotel at about 1pm and made our way to Boulevard Haussman shopping centre, hoping to find a successful shopping trip!

It wasn't.

It was all brand names like Gucci and Prada and goodness knows what else! I really wasn't bothered about shopping here because the prices were going to be astronomical but Charlie wanted to find the men's section and I have to say, I've never found a shopping centre so confusing in all my life! We were going up all sorts of levels trying to find it, again creasing up with laughter because we were spending so much time walking whilst still in agony from the night before, but never finding what we were looking for! (Managed to find some DragonballZ stuff though which I was happy about! Didn't buy any, but I love that animé.) We found several signs for the men's section which we followed, but it took ages before we found it...turns out it was in a section of the building all on it's own!! This was probably the first time I saw some actual French eye candy, but as Charlie pointed out...they were probably all gay.

Anyway, we were really thirsty so decided to buy a drink before we left. Whilst looking at the section, I saw something catch my eye...it was colourful...cartoonish...Oh Em Gee, it was a coke bottle designed by Mika and his sister. Loads of people on the fanclub ordered theirs on the net plus the packaging even though it came up to about £50 (hence why I never got it) but here it was right in front of my eyes for about 3 euros. SOLD.

Me and my coke bottle!

We went back to go to the hotel to get changed, and this time we were going to the Eiffel Tower and do it properly! The queue was long but went down quickly, and we paid a Youth price of 8 euros. Cheap! Obviously we took the lift, and before we knew it we were on the first floor. We spent a lot of time going round taking pictures of Paris at night...it looks so pretty! It was freakin' cold and windy too...

We were either 1st or top floor...
It was windy.

How amazing is this?

If anyone wants to tell me what this weird circle thing is, be my guest.

The next day, it was time for us to leave Paris behind. However, we had one more adventure in store...the Catacombs!!
For some reason we decided to do this one last, even though it was the furthest one away! We got there at like, 10am but the queue was SO long. We queued for about an hour...seriously...and our checkout time was at 1pm. Eep! We made friends with these two Americans in front of us (mother and daughter, never found out what their names were sadly) and eventually, paid a Youth Price which was about 4 euros I think. Another nice, cheap outing!

We descended into the depths of the catacombs...again, more spiral staircases...again, much more laughter...and then it suddenly became quite dark, narrow and long. The corridor was silent apart from our footsteps and as we carried on, the place started to get wetter which wasn't very good considering I was wearing flip flops. There was no-one else down there for ages apart from us 4...and it started to get a little creepy! About 5 minutes or so later we came across life...other people were down here after all!! Shortly after we started to see skulls and bones...yuck! So weird and creepy! Time was getting on though and we had NO idea how far underground we were nor did we know how long this exhibition would last! Corridor after corridor there were more bones and skulls and we discovered that there were 6 million people buried here. 6 million people, guys! We had to get through 6 MILLION PEOPLE. Charlie and I started to powerwalk our way through the catacombs and in doing so, we lost our American friends and couldn't even say goodbye to them...but they knew we were in a rush, so hopefully they understood our sudden departure! After a hell of a lot of walking we managed to find the end...and came out in a place that was unknown to us. Where the hell was the nearest Metro station?!
We were clueless and in a panic. Which direction looked more like city central? In which direction were there more people?! We had no idea and there was no-one to ask, so we took a gamble and started to frantically search.
We were lucky - in about 5-10 minutes we managed to find one but unfortunately, this metro station was a station further away then the one we used to get to the catacombs, which meant a slightly longer journey! We really were beginning to fret as 1pm was drawing nearer...but eureka! We managed to get there in the nick of time and checked out without trouble. PHEW.

Only trouble was...we now had 2 hours to kill until it was time to catch our train home...so we bought a few souvenirs for people back home and then just hung out in the hotel lobby until it was time to leave Paris for good.

So...that was my epic holiday. Full of laughs, drama, and many memories! A great way to celebrate a 21st birthday!

Here's my vlog, hope you enjoy it!

Paris from Caroline Stacey on Vimeo.

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