Friday, June 21, 2013

23 Hours in Paris

On our way from Spain to Switzerland, Paul and I spent 23 hours in Paris on June 15.  This followed a night train from Barcelona to Paris, which was rickety and less than comfortable, so we weren't running on the best night of sleep.  I mention that to preface a little accident I had in Paris, which I'll get to later.

We arrived in Spain before 10am at the Gare d'Austerlitz train station and walked immediately across the river to the Gare Lyon train station where there is a Eurail ticket office.  We needed to make reservations for a train from Switzerland to Austria, and apparently all the Eurail aid offices in Spain have been closed.  I reported this to the Eurail folks, who had no idea and are still looking into it (Eurail passes are truly a mixed bag, but perhaps that's info for a future post).

Over two hours later, we had our tickets.  A large chunk of this time was spent waiting unnecessarily in the long distance train line because the folks at the information desk did not know of the existence of a Eurail ticket office in their own train station.  And it's not like we were being confusing, we held up the pass and asked specifically for that office because we knew there was supposed to be one in the Gare Lyon.  The long distance ticket lady was able to point us to it, which is good, because there is no way on earth you will find that place without help.  It was tucked downstairs away from just about everything else.  Then, we waited in line for ages while two British girls tried to get out of Paris that day.  At that time, Paris had just completed a 36 hour train strike, so I'm amazed that they managed anything at all.

After that, we caught the metro (man, do I love public transportation in Europe - it's wonderful!) to our hotel, checked in early, and then went for a food hunt.  We found a market where we bought falafel, some sort of large pita stuffed with spinach and cheese (it looked like a ginormous pierogi), and fresh strawberries.

Next it was back to  Gare d'Austerlitz to join up with the Blue Bike Tour folks for a 4 hour whirlwind tour of Paris.  We were turned on to this company by the Canadian folks we met in Carcassonne who couldn't speak highly enough of it.  The bikes all had fun names - Paul chose Blaise Pascal.  I forget who I had.  We saw Notre Dame:
with its nearby bridge covered in an insane amount of locks (Paul and I wondered how much weight this added to the bridge):
the Eiffel Tower:
along with the Louvre, bridges, statues, the golden flame sculpture the US gave France as a thank you for the Statue of Liberty (to which the French were apparently like "what are we supposed to do with this?"), and more.  The sights were great, as was the information provided by the guide.  The tour is intended as an intro to Paris where you can get a sense of all the sights you want to go back to later, so we only paused briefly at the sights - not enough time to walk around or anything.  But it allowed us to see most of the important things in just 4 hours, which will be helpful in deciding if we'll pass back through Paris later, or just skip it in favor of crashing in Belgium with cool peeps for a while (the latter is more likely at this point - we are travel weary).

However, I'm not sure I recommend this tour as highly as others do.  It involved an insane amount of pedestrian dodging while trying to keep up with the other 10 folks in the tour,  look at all the sights around you, AND keep an eye out for all red lights so as not to run them and be smushed by a car.  It's a level path but you go over a lot of curbs and around a lot of sharp, blind corners.  So, as you can probably guess, this is where my little accident comes in.  While rounding a corner and trying to dodge a pedestrian at perhaps too high a speed for little old me, I wiped out.  Gracefully, I'm told.  Honestly, it even felt graceful and rather slow motion to me.  As far as bike accidents go, I am very lucky.  Just a bit bruised and scraped - scraped a knee (didn't even tear the pants - woot!), scraped my chin (less than desirable for pictures, wish I had some makeup with me...), and have a few bruises on my right thigh.  More embarrassed than anything, really.
You can see the mark on my chin from my fall.  However, the 5 bruises on my legs are much more colorful.
Moral of the story?  Be careful on bike tours.  :)

After the bike tour, we went back to Notre Dame so we could get a view of the famous flying buttresses:
The cathedral was still open (it was past 7pm at this point), so we poked around inside.  Definitely neater on the outside.  At this point, we've seen so many churches that they all start to look the same (minus the Sagrada Familia, of course).

Then, we went back to the hotel to clean my pants.  And me, too, I suppose, although my scrapes weren't very dirty and barely bled.  Then, out for a view of the Eiffel Tower at dusk:
And a little people watching (this shot is taken from where we were sitting but in the opposite direction from the Eiffel Tower):
It's really cool that this huge lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower is a gathering place at dusk for locals, mostly of the 18-35 age range, I would guess.  Groups of people sat in circles with wine (I wish outdoor drinking in the US wasn't banned in so many places!), picnics with all sorts of random food from grocery stores, and even hippy singing circles.  The one near us regaled those around it with a variety of US songs.

We ended the evening with dinner at a Thai restaurant which was absolutely delicious, due in no small part to the fact that the meal included no bread or cheese.  We are thoroughly sick of bread and cheese and sandwiches at this point, so curry and spring rolls were a welcome reprieve.


  1. Hi Katie Waite,
    I'm so glad you and Paul are having such an amazing experience. I TOLD you how awful the night train was! I took it the other way - from Paris to Madrid, but I imagine it was much the same. Ugh.
    The bridge with all the locks was just in the movie that is out right now, Now You See Me. Apparently, the idea with the locks is that you go there to lock away a secret and then you throw the key into the Seine so your secret is locked away for all time. :)
    Loving reading your posts!

    1. Yeah Jen, you were right. Honestly, Spain's trains are just run down. We are about to take a night train from Zurich to Stainich (wherever that is) that gets in at 4:300am at which time we catch another train. And for this night train, we are in 2nd class seats. Should be awesome!

      Glad to hear you are enjoying the posts! I am currently about a week behind, so there will probably be a flurry soon.