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Paris and London Reviews--Mid-twenties travelers


Paris and London Reviews--Mid-twenties travelers

Old Jul 15th, 2007, 10:36 AM
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Paris and London Reviews--Mid-twenties travelers

This is my first trip review on Fodor’s. My husband and I are 28 and 26. This was our first trip as adults to these cities. Sorry about the length, but I hope that the details are helpful for someone planning their next trip.

Paris and London Trip Review

PARIS-6 days
I used Rick Steves' Paris 2007 to help plan my trip, along with lots of reviews from this forum. The Rick Steves book was very helpful because it gave info about opening hours/prices/and opinions of the sites all in one book. We also brought the Lonely Planet French phrasebook which helped me remember my high school French.

We stayed at a friend’s apartment on the Rue Mouffetard in the 5th Arrondisment. (We had the place to ourselves.) It was a wonderful location-very central location and a true Parisian feeling on the street. There were small shops and places to buy food everywhere. There is an open air market on Rue Mouffetard. It is worth a visit. (Tip: Most of the shops and market were closed on Monday and Tuesday.) The sights and smells were incredible. Lots of places to eat inexpensively and open late. We noticed a Comfort Inn at the top of the street.

Dressing in Paris: I felt comfortable wearing nicer clothes. I did not wear sneakers, although I noticed some people wearing them. Most days I wore nice jeans.

Day 1-We arrived at CDG early in the morning. I had already figured out the train/metro route to get to our apartment in the 5th Arrondis. We thought we would be able to buy a Museum Pass in the airport, but we didn’t find a place. After taking a shuttle to the train station, we bought Visitors Travel Cards for 5 days. This covered any travel within zones 1 and 2. The travel card is a tiny ticket that you will use the whole time. DH kept both tix in his wallet during the trip.

Ryan Air lost one of our bags, and we had to wait for it to be delivered at our apartment. We were exhausted from packing the night before, so we slept for a few hours. This turned out to be wonderful. The French eat dinner later at night, so we dined around 9 pm and found everything open and welcoming. We stopped at the first restaurant with a reasonable fix price menu. It cost 14 Euro for two courses. After dinner we walked from our apartment to the Il de Cite and Notre Dom. We also took the Metro to Trocadero for the best views of the Eiffel Tower. As it gets dark, the Tower sparkles for 10 minutes on the hour. There were a few food stands around Trocadero and we both enjoyed crepes.

On the way home we found an open shop to buy wine. Every 1-2 nights we would buy a bottle of wine from a local store—only costing between 2-5 Euros for excellent wine.

Day 2
We bought our Museum Passes at the ticket office of St.Chapelle—a church you must visit for it’s gorgeous stained glass windows. (located on Il de Cite near Notre Dom.) There is a lower sanctuary for the commoners, upper sanctuary for nobles. I recommend getting the Museum Pass. I think we used it enough, but it was very convenient-we had automatic entry at several locations. We also had special entrances and much less wait time at Versailles and the Louvre.

For breakfast each morning we bought bread and pastries from bakeries in our neighborhood. There were at least 5 boulageries (bakeries) within 5 minutes walk. We also bought some yogurt, hard sausage, tomato/olive spread at the grocery store next door. It was perfect breakfast.
We reached St.Chapelle by 9:30 when it opened. Our Museum Pass gave us free entry. We were able to view the church in about 30 minutes. Next we met up with our tour guide from “Paris Walks,” a highly recommended walking tour company. www.paris-walks.com No reservations needed. The schedule is available online so I planned where and when we wanted to attend. It costs 10 Euro per person.

Oriel, one of the owners of the company, led our tour of Notre Dom and Il de Cite. Oriel is from London, but has been living in Paris for 25 years. She told us stories, history, and brought us into tiny courtyards that we never would have accessed ourselves. We were so glad we went with her and decided to do more Paris Walks tours during our trip.

For lunch we ate at the apartment. It was comfortable and we had everything we needed. After drinking some wine we were tired and took a nap.

In the afternoon we visited Musee d’Orsay. We only had a couple of hours before closing, but it was just enough time to enjoy some impressionist art. Next we took the Metro to Champs Elysee and the Arc de Triumph. Our Museum Pass covered entrance and we walked up the steps. Gorgeous views at night, but it closes on the earlier side.

Day 3: We started with a Marais neighborhood tour with Paris Walks. Once again we learned more than we would have on our own. Good experience.
Cheap eats-In the Jewish Quarter of the Marais, there are a lot of falafal places. We went to the place recommended by Rick Steves. You line up and there was a guy coming around to get our order. You pay him and he gives you a slip of paper and you hand it to the cook. (You can also sit down inside, but it was fun to carryout.) It was delicious...It was called L'As du Falafal at 34 Rue des Rosiers. We bought a soda and sat down on a sidewalk to eat. Yummy!!!

Fat Tire Bike Tour-- Fat Tire Bike Tours is owned by Americans. We reserved and payed for this online in advance. There are lots of choices for different tours.
The Night tour meets at 7 pm at the Eiffel Tower. You get your bike and with 25 other people take to the road. We had a young tour guide from Texas. It was fun and exciting! Sometimes we were on the street in the bus/taxi lane, but I felt mostly safe. It was an amazing experience and we saw lots of Paris as the sun set. The end of our bike tour was a ride on the Bateau Mouche, a sightseeing boat tour on the Seine. Our bike guide brought tons of wine and we were the only ones on the boat allowed to drink. If you like to bike, this is a neat experience!

Day 4: Versailles-We planned to arrive by 9 am when it opened. We ended up taking the wrong train and didn’t arrive until 11:00. Having the Museum Pass took us to a shorter/faster line. (Tip--there are tons of RER C trains. They each have “names.“ Be sure to get on one that is has a name that starts with V. Ours was Vicki. Expect it to be crowded. Our Museum Pass helped us enter more quickly. It doesn’t cover everything at Versailles, but it was good enough for us. After touring the chateau, we walked through the gardens and had a bite to eat. Panini, sandwiches, and treats are available in the gardens.

After lunch we rented bikes (6 Euro for one hour.) We took the bikes all the way to the end of the Grand Canal. It was a great experience! The Fat Tire Bike Tour of Versaille would have probably been too much for us. 1 hour was all we needed for a great experience.

We were exhausted when we returned. We both felt like we had been at Six Flags all day. We had planned on going to the Louvre tonight because it was open late. Instead we went to Montmartre and Sacre Couer. Beautiful view of Paris at nighttime. We bought some sandwiches and crepes with nutella. (Tip-The food can be cheaper if you take it to go. Otherwise you pay for service because tip is included in the price.) Must-do experience.

Day 5- We started our day at the Louvre. Prior to our trip, we had planned on seeing a few things in particular. The Louvre is the Largest museum in the western hemisphere. It is overwhelming. We enjoyed part of the huge collection of Egyptian art. Also we saw the Mona Lisa and a few other notable works. Yes, the Mona Lisa is a little overrated, but it is worth seeing!

After the Louvre, we tracked down a restaurant called Bastide d’Opio for Provencial cuisine. For about 40 Euros, DH and I enjoyed a delicious filling lunch. This was my best restaurant meal in Paris! I ordered a chicken skewer dish that was out of this world. DH enjoyed his pesto pasta. We had the lemon tarte for dessert. Incredible meal for a great price.

Next stop was the Pompidou. We weren’t sure how much time we would spend here, but we really wanted to see the view from the top. Our Museum Pass covered entrance and we found ourselves wanting to spend a lot of time here. We left in a rush to get to the Paris Catacombs tour, but realized that we were too late for entrance. We should have done this tour earlier in our trip and we visit it next time.

On our way back, we stopped in the Marais area to check out some restaurants for later that evening. I stopped and bought some cheese and some olive bread from a bakery.

That night we had to do laundry in preparation for London. The local Laundromat was open, but not too late. Thank goodness there were some English-speaking people in the Laundromat because the directions were a little confusing to first time users. We had bought something that I thought was detergent at the grocery store, but it ended up being fabric softener. We spent a lot of money on laundry. We washed about 4 medium loads for about 25 Euros. We had used towels from the apartment and wanted everything clean before starting our trip in London. Pricey but worth it. Dinner that night was from a window food vendor. It was a crepe with ham, egg, and cheese. Dinner cost 4 Euros.

LONDON-4 days
The Eurostar to London took about 3 hours. We bought our tickets online in advance from raileurope.com. There is a special waiting area with restrooms for Eurostar travelers.

Transportation in London: Each morning we bought 1 day off-peak travel cards. Each travel card (zones 1-2, we never left these zones) cost 5,5 pounds. One morning we had to leave early, so we bought a peak travel card It cost almost 10 pounds and the train was VERY crowded.

Hotel: We stayed at the Docklands Travelodge. Since we payed for our reservation in advance, we got a great deal on the room. We we split our 4 night stay into 2 reservations to get the optimal price. (Travelodge has a good website.) We were able to stay in the same room. The hotel was clean and new. The staff was helpful. There is nothing to do around the hotel. We were a 5 minute walk from the London Docklands Railway. Then we took a 15 minute ride into the central city.

London Walks Tours I would recommend:
a. Thames Pub Tour
b. Old Westminster
c. Cambridge Explorer Day

a. Thames Pub Tour: South Banks area is rich in history and experience. Our guide gave us a great understanding of history and stories. We stopped in several historically significant pubs and were able to drink at each one.
Great beginning tour in London!

b. Old Westminster: Historical religious and government tour around the Westminster Abbey (not inside.) I learned so much more about the history of the area than if we had walked around by ourselves.

c. Cambridge Tour-For 30 pounds each, we took an Explorer Day Tour. The 30 pounds includes train transportation to Cambridge and 2 tours during the day.
You get a tour in the morning, break for lunch, tour in afternoon, and some time to shop, wander, etc.

9:15-6:30 The Cambridge Tour was one of our favorite experiences, we were ready for a break from the city. Here are some things that happened at Cambridge:
-discovery and announcement of structure of DNA
-first computer/calculator
-home of prestigious universities
-Darwin, Hawke
-Newton's study and "great-grandchild" of the original apple tree
-Cambridge has the beautiful Cam River, banked by wonderful willow trees, university buildings, and lush green countryside. You can take a punting boat tour for about 10 pounds.
-King’s College Chapel has a gorgeous fan vault ceiling. This is a must-visit chapel!

Good Experiences in London:
Dennis Severs’ House
-Historical Museum/Experience-
18 Folgate Street-020/7247-4013
You will know it by its gas lanterns. This is a house that has been preserved and set up to create the experience of life 300 years ago. When you enter the museum, you may not speak or touch anything. It’s a really neat experience. There are sights, sounds, and smells to help transport you back in time. The “experience” is only available on Monday nights. We had to call and make a reservation a few days in advance.

Tate Modern--gorgeous views from windows inside. Free for certain floors. We enjoyed the Pompidou more than Tate Modern, but it’s worth a visit to see the grand inside (an old electric factory) and the views from the window.

We decided not to spend $ on the London Eye. We saw gorgeous high up views in Paris and beautiful views from the bridges of London.

Dining: Wagamama’s--This place is worth a visit--it’s a hip noodle bar with tons of delicious choices, all freshly prepared and a good price for London. There are many locations, stop in and grab a brochure so you can always find one when you are out. We ate here two times during our 4 days in London.

Brahma Tea and Coffee Museum
-Come here for the delicious tea and cakes, then visit the museum to learn about the history of tea and coffee production.
-You can get the classic English afternoon tea for 9 pounds, including choices of crumpets, cucumber sandwiches, scones, teacakes, cake, and pots of tea, of course.
Location: London bridge tube station, exit towards Southward Street-keep walking on Southward, pass under a blue bridge, it is on your right (10-6 pm)
We ate here twice because we liked it so much!

Indian Food-We were expecting incredible Indian food in London. We tried 3 places and found one to be the best.
1. Cheapest—Indian Veg Belpoori House…. Less than 4 pounds for all you can eat buffet. All vegetarian. The food was not very hot (temperature) and you used the same plate each time you went up. Worth a try if you want to save money.

2. Punjab Restaurant in Convent Gardens--We read rave reviews in our Frommer’s book but were disappointed with the flavor. Not a good value.

3. The best Indian food: Raka Indian Cuisine at Canary Wharf, www.raka.co.uk
My husband found this place one night when we came home late and hungry. They normally do catering, but you can also do carryout. This was one of the best Indian meals we’ve had. Great value--for a huge dinner we payed 16 pounds. They have another location in London.

Turkish restaurant—Can’t remember the name, maybe Taz. It was a good value at about 8,50 for your choice of 2 courses. I really enjoyed the chicken shish kebab. This place was recommended by our Thames Pub Tour guide. It is near the end of this tour.

Getting to Luton airport: We got a better deal on airfare through Luton airport (about 1 hour outside of London, found on kayak.com.) In London, we bought tix from King’s Cross for 11 pounds each. You arrive at Luton Airport Parkway and take a free 5 minute shuttle to the airport. Note: Our airline out of Luton had very strict requirements on our luggage weight and carryons. Since we were bringing a lot of gifts for family in Eastern Europe, we really had to be careful about this.

London is busier, more of a big city feel. The tube was efficient but sometimes VERY crowded. People in London were very polite and helpful, more so than in the US. Paris was more exotic, wonderful sights, smells, tastes, ambiance…We were so glad that we spent the bulk of our time in Paris. Four days in London was just enough for us. This was just our experience.
saladsunshine is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 12:00 PM
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Wonderful report - thanks so much.
azzure is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 12:36 PM
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Great to read a report from a first-time visitor. I loved the "day at Six Flags" reference to the bike ride

Thanks for reminding me of some fun stuff.
MelJ is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 02:17 PM
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What a great report! It is nice to see the first timer's perspective in such a report. It is always a little exciting for me just to read it.
DanM is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2007, 04:45 PM
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A wonderful report, saladsunshine! It reminded me of my own "first trip" to Europe, when I was your age (about 100 years ago!). Thanks for sharing.
easywalker is offline  
Old Jul 16th, 2007, 01:31 AM
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Great info in your report! Plan on returning?
Carrybean is offline  
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