Published Friday, 26 October 2012
I discovered that Paris traffic is manic and anyone who complains about rush hour in Belfast needs dropped into the middle of the Champs-Elysees to see what real traffic is like. Our tour around Paris with "4 Roues Sous 1 Parapluie" (4 wheels under 1 umbrella) in one of the icons of French motoring was exhilarating. Our driver Geoff said that he had accumulated over 5000 driving hours around Paris and had learned that, rather than skill, you need attitude to traverse the city streets.
At the end of our overground tour, we were dropped off at the base of the Eiffel Tower and decided to hit the water (not literally) and enjoyed a cruise along the Seine on one of the many open-top boats which shuttle about on the river all day and most of the evening too. The tours on the Seine are a great way to chill out and enjoy the views of the city. It allowed us to get our bearings and make a note of a few spots we wanted to visit.
One of the places on the list was the Louvre. Whilst this wasn't my first visit to Paris, it was my first visit to this iconic building. I had no idea how enormous it is - there are 14km of galleries in the building! Along with thousands of others, we were there to see one painting - The Mona Lisa. I must admit I was expecting huge queues and a lot of waiting, but, perhaps due to lucky timing on our part, we were able to get right in front of the famous artwork almost immediately.
I love the café culture in Paris. They are great for soaking up the atmosphere and people-watching. We found ourselves very much at home in the Latin quarter. On one particular street, we could barely tear ourselves away from amazing restaurants, cafes and bars that we stumbled on. Despite the common thought that Paris is really expensive to eat out, we found lots of restaurants offering 3 course meals for 14 euro per person - the portions were really good value for money too. Obviously I had to try one of the national dishes ,snails in garlic butter, which tasted and looked like mushrooms once you used the various surgical instruments to extract them from their shell. We spent ages enjoying that meal, on a restaurant terrace in Rue de la Huchette, just watching the world go by.
Despite Paris being a huge city, it is made smaller by the excellent Metro system. After wandering around the left bank, we zipped up to Montmartre to see the area around the famous Moulin Rouge before zipping south again towards the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower at night is incredible. The whole structure is lit up and can be seen from all over the city. The best vantage point is from the Trocedero and, despite the crowds, you feel like you are the only people enjoying the view.
Nightlife in Paris is also quite amazing. It seems the Champs-Elysees never sleeps. Shops, restaurants and even car showrooms are open until midnight every night and the street is full of entertainers, dancers and singers. One of the most famous attractions is the Lido, which is an institution in the city that has been replicated by similar 'revues' around the world. The show experience includes dinner and champagne before watching the musical spectacle, which has some very impressive set changes and even a dancing horse!
Naturally, there are all sorts of accommodation options in Paris, from self-catering apartments to 5-star hotels. On this trip, we stayed in the Marriott Champs-Elysees, one of the city's most famous addresses. The hotel itself, built behind an historic frontage, is very modern and the reception area is a huge marble and glass atrium. A majority of the rooms look out onto the "inner courtyard".
However, our 3-storey suite was actually big enough to get lost in! it included a bathroom on one floor, bedroom/lounge area on middle floor and a desk/business area on the 3rd floor. The balcony of our suite looked out over the Champs-Elysees and had a great view of the Arc de Triomphe, which was less than 10 mins walk away. The hotel is near to a supermarket, a host of terraced cafes and a metro station, so it is easily accessible from all the main attractions.
There's lots of ways to make your visit to Paris affordable, such as the Paris Visite transport ticket, the Paris City Paris and the Paris Museum Pass. You can find all the details you need at www.parisinfo.com