Our first trip to Europe

Old Mar 13th, 2015, 11:23 PM
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Our first trip to Europe

My husband, 11 yr old son and I have just embarked on our first trip from Australia to Europe. We are spending 5 days in Paris, 3 days in Switzerland and then 2 weeks in the UK. Last time we did a big trip ( 8 weeks to the US), I blogged the journey daily and updated it here each day. I loved the experience of having Fodorites following our trip and giving us hints and tips for the upcoming legs of the journey.
We arrived in Paris on Thursday. Here's the first couple of instalments.If you would like to see the photos that accompany the blog you can follow on the blog itself; http://demansersintheusa.blogspot.fr...on-voyage.html

Last August one of my spam emails contained an Emirates flight offer that was almost too good to be true and in an uncharacteristic show of spontaneous decision making, I decided to book 3 return tickets to Paris!And now suddenly, this week it was time to pack our bags and head off to Europe for a month!
Even in the 21st century, travelling to the other side of the world is still a long way. Even with direct flights, there are 22 hrs of actual flying to be endured, along with the associated stop over, change planes, check in times and to and fro airport transits.

We left home at the end of our work day in Australia on Wednesday at 3pm and arrived here at our hotel in Paris 38 hours later, having had pretty much no sleep, 4 aeroplane lunches and no dinner. It's a feat of endurance that doesn't bear thinking about too much because you know that in order to get home you'll have to do the whole thing in reverse (without the promise of an exciting adventure at the other end!)

We usually fly with Emirates to NZ and that is always a pleasant experience. Their long haul cabin staff are every bit as friendly and helpful and that certainly made this trip more bearable. A short stopover in Dubai was a welcome chance to stretch our legs and get our travel eyes on as people dressed in the whole spectrum of arabian costumes passed by us. The airport itself is an architectural destination and looks like it may have been the creative inspiration for the The Capital in the Hunger Games trilogy. With it's huge glass and stainless steel structures, shuttles, walkways and indoor waterfalls you feel like you are time traveling into the future. Kitch, stereotypical tourists that we are, we got some AE dollars to add to our foreign currency collection and bought some coffee from an Irish bar (where, to my grammarly joy, they were advertising EXpresso coffee) When the man in front of me reclined his seat to it's full extension just as they were serving my lunch on the flight out of Dubai, knocking over my glass of french shiraz and putting my tv screen into an impossibly close focus for my eyes, I almost stabbed him in the back of the head with my plastic fork and every time the man behind me coughed up one of his lungs without covering his mouth I nearly suffocated from holding my breath while the germs recirculated, but apart from that the trip was manageable.

We'd intended taking the RER train into Paris from the airport but we were too shattered to think about how to do that. The nice man at the info booth told us we could expect a taxi to cost 50 - 60 Euro so we decided to do that. When the meter ticked over 98Euro as we pulled up at the Novotel Gare de Nord we were feeling exhaustedly ripped off and unfortunately that feeling compounded when we realised Taine had left my dslr camera in the back of the cab. Two hours in Paris and we were already over $1000 poorer.

C'est la vie. Luckily the iPhone takes pretty good photos and tomorrow we get to explore Paris!
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Old Mar 14th, 2015, 01:48 AM
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Oh the joys of foreign travel!

these long-haul flights are a real trial aren't they, and as you say, you'll have it to do all over again at the end of the trip. and such a shame about the camera!

hopefully you will have long enough to recover from your jet lag to enjoy a bit of Paris before you move on to Switzerland. As you say that you are up for tips as you go along, was the camera insured? if so, you'll need a police log to claim - your hotel should be able to direct you to the nearest Gendarmerie so you can report it [who knows, it might have been handed in!] If nothing else, this will be an education for your 11 year old.

have a wonderful time in Paris, and keep letting us know how you are getting on.
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Old Mar 14th, 2015, 11:13 AM
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Thanks annhig, good advice on the police report. Given that my romantic notion that the driver would notice the camera and bring it back to us has not happened, I'll contact the local gendarmerie tomorrow.

Day 2
After yesterday's 26 hrs of travel torture we were all able to fall asleep pretty quickly last night. Taine slept like a log and so did we....for about 3 hrs. Luckily I had downloaded some (pretty boring) podcasts before we left home so I was able to while away the hours until the sun starting coming up on Paris at about 6.30 am.

One of the reasons I booked the Novotel was their 'child stays free and eats breakfast free' special. I had been warned to expect little more than croissants and coffee at a Parisian breakfast so we were pleasantly surprised by the buffet in the hotel restaurant. Given that Taine can eat his own weight in bacon, the bed and breakfast deal may turn out to be an inspired choice and will certainly start to balance the taxi rip off/ camera losing debt. The french tradition of soup bowl sized coffee helped to blow a few jet lag cobwebs away and thanks to my Facebook friends I knew to ask for cafe creme rather than the bowl of warm milk called a latte.

The view from our room is of a lovely courtyard behind the Gare de Lyon train station. If you overlook the homeless people urinating on the walls down there (and also avoid stepping in the resulting rivulets running down the path when you're walking through there), it's quite a pretty vista and it's great to have opening windows in the room.

After our magnificent breakfast, we decided to orient ourselves by taking a walk through the 12th arrondissement. Our internal compass points didn't quite match with the way we were reading the map ( after 5 minutes we had NFI where we were) but after a wee bit of circle work we found ourselves on the banks of the Seine and followed the river toward Paris proper.
We thought we'd spotted some authentic Parisian artists down by the river bank. They were wearing artist's smocks and looked like they were painting the riverscape on their ancient looking easels. Closer inspection revealed a number of Japanese film makers putting the final touches to a movie set but it certainly gave a pretty impression of what the banks of the Seine might have looked like a century ago!

We popped into the Jardins des Plantes but declined a visit to the zoo after spotting a couple of over crowded ostriches. The gardens around the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle looked amazing though and we might get back there if we have time.

The love locks over the Pont des Arts were irresistible and we succumbed to buying an engraved lock of our own with which to declare our love and connect us to Paris until we come back and unlock it (or until the city council chops it off because the love locks are starting to be a problem.

The Notre Dame Cathedral loomed large on the other side of the river and despite a long queue it didn't take us long to get inside. Whatever your opinion of religion or the excesses of historical pay offs to appease God, its impossible not to be impressed by the grandeur and splendour of the carving and stained glass windows in Notre Dame. We happily donated a few euro to light a candle and think happy thoughts about our loved ones.

From Notre Dame we started to wend our way back to the hotel via Les Marais, one of the oldest remaining areas of Paris. The architecture here is amazing. No two angles on any of the houses are the same; goodness only knows how they stay standing. There are so many French stereotypes in Les Marais, you keep expecting Belle to coming running out of the bibliotheque or Gaston to appear from a tavern. Through the window of one of the bakery/cake shops we could see some girls making magical confections of meringue and cream. They tasted every bit as good as they looked.From Les Marais to the Bastille, another impressive erection commemorating the tenacity of french and a glimpse inside the training grounds of the national guard. We called in at the marche for some wine and cheese and one of our favourite holiday activities, supermarket snooping. You can learn a lot about a culture from their shopping baskets and I'm pretty sure chocolate bread (petite pain au chocolat) is about to become my new bagel.

Whilst most Parisian shop keepers have been very tolerant of our minimal understanding of their language, the lady at the Information Bureau at the train station was not. When we inquired did she 'parle Anglais', she replied 'of course' but then commenced to be anything but informative. We were asking for information about the Metro and since we were at the train station this seemed a fair request to me but she simply shrugged and said, 'I know nothing of the trains'. Hmmm.

Central Paris seems quite quiet compared to other big cities we've visited. Life seems to move at a more leisurely pace and there are lots of opportunities for sitting and taking coffee and conversation. But despite the calm mannerisms of the people in the city, there are clear signs of the heightened terrorism status here. There are many, many uniformed gendarme around and we saw several groups of flak jacketed soldiers carrying automatic weapons in the streets and the shops. While these young men were polite and calm, their fingers never left the triggers of their guns and their eyes were constantly searching the crowds. It was a reminder that Europe is on high alert and that the traditional way of life here is under threat.

I was a bit foot sore by the time we got back and my faithful hush puppies were almost destroyed. Tomorrow I will wear my runners and risk the condemnation of the fashionistas.
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Old Mar 14th, 2015, 11:24 AM
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On for the ride. I find I have the same problem of feeling lost in the southern hemisphere, I look to the sun to find north and it is all wrong.

French information is a bit weird, they are paid either by the department, the city or the transport authority and if you are asking the wrong person about the wrong subjec, forget it. One of the gems of being abroad.
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Old Mar 14th, 2015, 12:14 PM
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Your first trip has already had its downs, so let's hope the rest is all "ups." Looking forward to more of this fresh view of Paris, etc.
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Old Mar 14th, 2015, 12:42 PM
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Looking forward to reading more! Fashionistas be damned when there are sore feet on a holiday!
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Old Mar 14th, 2015, 12:52 PM
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Thanks for joining me on this trip. So much fun to know there are other travelers tuning in to our adventures Everyone's exhausted tonight - in fact the men in my family (who, for the record are both much younger than me!) are fast asleep already so I'm updating today's episode while I wind down with a nice glass of french wine.

Day 3
Wow, what a day! We walked on the Champs-Élysées yes, THE CHAMPS ELYSEES, where Cadel Evans won the tour de France. We climbed the Arc de Triomphe - EVERY SINGLE STEP and then we went to the Eiffel Tower - ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP! Paris is fabulous and today we saw most of it from the top of two iconic buildings.

Cashing in on our southern hemisphere time clocks, we got up early and, using the travel cards supplied by Anne the unhelpful information booth lady, we ventured into our first Metro adventure. Turns out the Metro is every bit as easy as the New York subway; just find the right coloured line, work out whether you're coming or going from the city and travel to the next 'intersection' to change lines. Makes our Myki look just like the complicated and non user friendly program that it is.

Walking down the Champs-Elysees is one of those out of body travel experiences, like Times Square or the Washington Mall. Because you've seen it on TV so many times you feel like you're an extra in a movie rather than your real life. The queue at the Arc de Triomphe was virtually non existent so we got started on the circular stair case straight away. I don't know how many steps there are - it's a lot! My calves started screaming at about the half way mark. The view from the top is well worth it though. The city fans out in a series of avenues from the arch. I tried to take a photo with my panorama app and thought I'd just taken the same frame over and over; that's how symmetrical the 'segments' of the city are. The feng shui on this place must be very powerful! The roundabout at the base of the arch has to be seen to be believed. There are at least 6, unmarked lanes surrounding the building and all the avenues joining in. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to entering or leaving the roundabout, it's just a case of who dares wins, dominated by some remarkably reckless motorcycle riders who just cut a swathe across all the lanes.

Another Metro ride took us to the Trocadero station opposite the Tour Eiffel. We'd hoped to take a photo from there before we crossed the Seine but there was a full scale Tibetan protest going on so we had to jump on another train to get across. Geoff had been determined to go up the tower from the time we booked the trip and being paranoid about standing in queues, I booked a Behind the Scenes tour that included the chance to 'skip the ticket queue'. This proved to be one of my better decisions. For the price of not that much more than the admission ticket, we had a guided tour from an actor called Sebastian. Playing several imaginary roles, he told us the history of Gustav Eiffel's amazing engineering feat, along with a fair bit of World War 2 history and some interesting anecdotes about the tower. I felt fleetingly guilty as we skipped past the poor suckers standing in the freezing cold lines waiting to go up but smugly grateful for my own foresight. The view from the second level of the tower is everything you can imagine. The entire city of Paris is visible, even on a grey and cloudy day like today. For an extra few euro you can take another lift to the very top of the tower and so, we did. The view doesn't really improve but the knowledge that you are right at the pointy end of Eiffel Tower is pretty special. Those who know me well can imagine how terrified I was looking down through the 281 metres of steel girders! On the way down we stopped at the first level for a play on the glass floor - child's play after surviving the ride to the top.

One more trip on the train and we were back at Gare de Lyon. Too tired to eat or think, we'll have an early night before visiting the Montmarte tomorrow.
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Old Mar 14th, 2015, 01:16 PM
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Following along with interest. Sorry to hear about the camera.

For sore feet, when you get to the UK they sell compeed for blisters at your nearest Boots pharmacy and I found that is the only thing that actually works. I stock up when we visit the UK since they don't sell the same thing in the states.

We loved the view from the Arc de Triomphe too! Don't forget to visit Saint Chappelle and the stunningly beautiful stained glass windows on the second floor!
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Old Mar 14th, 2015, 01:20 PM
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The love locks over the Pont des Arts were irresistible and we succumbed to buying an engraved lock of our own with which to declare our love and connect us to Paris

Locks are a form of tagging.
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Old Mar 14th, 2015, 01:39 PM
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Great report - will be along for the ride

(Really enjoyed your US TR -- though you did leave us sort of hanging after checking into your Anaheim hotel . . . )
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 01:35 AM
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How did you get on with reporting your lost camera to the "flicks", Kwaussie?

I'm glad that it has't put a damper on your enthusiasm for Paris. I didn't know about the special tour of the Eiffel Tower - it sounds like a very good way to learn more about it AND avoid the queues.

BTW, I sympathise [a bit] about the lock, and you probably thought that one more wouldn't make any difference, the trouble is, that's what everyone thinks. Still, at least you didn't write graffiti on the Arc! [did you?]
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 04:33 AM
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>>For sore feet, when you get to the UK they sell compeed for blisters at your nearest Boots pharmacy
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 10:01 AM
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yes, i picked up some great blister plasters in Spain; they were exactly the same as the ones you can get in the UK except that they were twice the price.
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 12:38 PM
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I'm out after the vandalism of the bridge after the 'love lock'. Teaching a child to vandalize isn't what I think of as an activity to do on vacation.

I'd suggest you go back now and remove it. Then I'd be back in. Tell your son that you have re-thought what you have done and realize it was a mistake. A teachable moment, imo.
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 01:45 PM
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The love lock bridge thing is interesting. I've asked lots of people about it today ( tour guides, tourists, people sitting in the park near the bridge) and opinion is quite divided. My trip report is just that - an honest reflection of what we do on our holidays and the decisions we make, for good and bad. Part of traveling is the learning that goes with it. Read my report or not, I care not. Please don't call me stupid though, that's just rude . Naive maybe. If the city doesn't want the locks then they should add some signs. I honestly wouldn't have added a lock if there'd been a sign - just like I didn't take photos in the Basilica today - because there was a sign.
annhig - I reported the camera but no sign of it yet. I'm being stoic because I miss it.The iPhone is doing its best.
janisj- Did I really leave out the end of our US trip? Sorry, I definitely wrote it!
Thanks for the blister advice. I'm onto that one the minute we hit the UK.

Day 4
Up early again today and onto the Metro as if we'd been doing it all our lives. What a remarkably efficient way of getting around the city!

I was glad we were early because we (just) beat the Sunday crowds to Sacre Coeur in the Montmartre, enabling us to have an uncrowded glimpse of the city and the basilica before being joined by hundreds of others. After we got off the metro we took an interesting little cable car called the funicular to the top of the hill. The funicular runs parallel to a set of very steep steps that were being used as a training circuit by some very fit people. The funicular is a great way for the less fit to get to the top and you can use your metro ticket to access it.

It was a bit grey and drizzly this morning but the view across Paris was nonetheless spectacular, the cloudiness of the day accentuating the grey- brown palette of the city. There was a group of vintage car rally enthusiasts parked around the road at the base of the basilica, giving the whole place an Audrey Hepburn movie feel.

Unfortunately the movie feel didn't last long once we started down the steps of the garden. The hawkers and scammers who haunt the other tourist spots in Paris have nothing on those in the Montmartre. The guys selling 5 Eiffel Tower keyring for 1 euro are one thing; the friendship band hustlers are a level up of intimidation and I was really glad to be away from them.

The Montmartre itself is charming. Away from the first few streets of tourist market crap, the people of this arrondissement seem to be going about their lives the way they have done for decades in cobblestoned streets and tiny, steep alleyways filled with window boxed apartments. People were lined up out the doors of some of the patisseries and boucheries. I managed to make an entire transaction in French at the boulangerie, coming away with a baguette and some beignets that rivalled the famous ones we ate in New Orleans.

A quick trip back to the hotel gave us a chance to add some layers before jumping back on the train to St Michel where we met up with our tour guide for a Blue Bike Tour of central Paris. We'd initially intended on biking our own way around the city on Velib bikes but having struggled with the traffic as pedestrians for 2 days ( and given my recent bike clumsiness, resulting in broken elbowness) we decided to let an expert lead us around. It was a good decision. Our trip took us on a 12km circuit past all the iconic Paris sights and even though we've seen quite a few on our own, Letitia ( the guide) had some interesting background info to add to them.

One of the areas we hadn't seen yet was the riverside below the Musee d'Orsay. It's a wonderful family area full of free giant boardgames and fitness stations, accessed by bikes and skateboards and scooters.

We rode down the Champ de Mars, across the Champs Elysees and the forecourt of the Louvre. It was freezing cold and nearly dark by the time we finished but it was so exhilarating! When Taine was little and he saw something like a shooting star, he would say, 'Can this be real Mummy?' I felt like that all day today.
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 02:14 PM
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I'm out after the vandalism of the bridge after the 'love lock'. Teaching a child to vandalize isn't what I think of as an activity to do on vacation.>>

Elizzie - it's up to you of course, but IMO that's a pretty extreme over-reaction. They didn't deface the colosseum or do any permanent damage - and as the OP says, this is a learning experience like all travel. have you never done anything you later regretted or through twice about on holiday? I know that I have [though i'm not telling!].

Keep it coming, KWaussie - I'm enjoying your enthusiasm.
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 02:41 PM
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I didn't call *you* stupid - I called your decision stupid.

A bit of research would have informed you that this is problem is causing permanent damage to a very old bridge. 'No sign' is no excuse. I was there just two months ago and the large perspex panels covering the locks should have given you a clue that this is vandalism and the city authorities are trying to curb it.

If you want a 'permanent reminder' of your trip to Paris then take a photo.
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 02:45 PM
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They didn't deface the colosseum or do any permanent damage

It probably does more damage than tagging. My understanding is that one railing on the Pont des Arts was about to collapse.
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 02:53 PM
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Perhaps, Michael, I ought to have posted that they didn't deface the colosseum or INTEND to do any permanent damage.

I agree that there is a problem - people have started to do it in Venice too. but why no notice? what harm would that do? it might not dissuade everyone but it would certainly have stopped the OP from doing it. I do think that we are in danger of getting this out of proportion.
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Old Mar 15th, 2015, 03:05 PM
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annhig

>

Of course, they did permanent damage. The rails are collapsing and the city is starting to put up panels to keep people from damaging the railings further. The city is working on trying to come up with some kind of clear glass to put up that can't be vandalized.

Please do a little research. There's is a lot of info out there about the damage these locks are causing to these historic bridges.

There are citizens of Paris who are tired of their tax money going to paying for the locks to be removed and / or repairing the damage.

I hope KWausse does the right thing and goes back and removes the lock. Again, a teachable moment for them and their child.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1111...to-bridge.html

http://abcnews.go.com/International/...ry?id=25683052

etc. etc.
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