Although I’m often travelling through it, and have stayed a few times on business, I realized that I hadn’t been a tourist in Paris since I was 15. And some super cheap Eurostar deals created the opportunity: spend a day in this great city doing some really touristy things.
So after a very early start, we arrived at Gare du Nord by 10 15 and ready for some fun. Soon I realized that Paris is a city of queues, and this is something you have to build into your schedule. From queuing at a cashpoint in Gare du Nord, to queuing to get a carnet at the Metro, to queuing to get into all the touristy attractions, quite a bit of time is taken up in this fashion.
First stop, Notre Dame (a short walk from Metro Citie). The sun was shining, and it was looking fabulous. But we’d been admiring it for barely three minutes when we witnessed a queue fight. Two older men who should have known better. A stocky white haired guy in his 60s and his wife had tried to jump the long (but fast moving) line to get into the cathedral. A taller, academic looking bloke in his 50s physically pushed the stocky guy away from the queue line. There was lots of shouting, lots of pushing, but I didn’t detect any punches thrown, or headbuts, and security were on the scene after about two minutes.
We carefully joined the end of the queue and within a few minutes, without any fighting, were inside. It was very impressive.
Next, a short distance away, and a rather longer queue (plus 8.5 Euros each) later, we entered the Sainte-Chapelle. It’s a much smaller church than Notre Dame, but arguably more beautiful and stunning because of its incredible windows. The effect was spoiled somewhat by the fact that a third of them were covered up for renovation, but it was well worth seeing.
It was time for lunch. We walked across Pont Neuf, then up the Rue du Louvre, past the famous museum, then left down Etienne Marcel, to Les Place des Victoires, where we found Les Fines Gueules. It’s a lovely wine bar/restaurant in an interesting building, and we lunched well, on cod on aubergine, and tuna tartare. To drink – Domain de l’Ecu Gros Plant du Pays Nantains ‘Gros Pet’ 2011 (slightly oxidative, minerally, acidic and nice) and Alexandre Coulange ‘Le Pourboire du Vigneron’ 2012 Vin de France (from the Aude, a natural-style, meaty, open red wine with some chalky notes).
After lunch we wandered through the grounds of the Louvre, crossed over the Seine and headed to the Musee d’Orsay. Now this is a totally cool gallery in a beautiful building converted from a disused railway station in the 1970s. Of course, there are queues here, too – one to get past security screening, and one to buy your ticket. But once inside, it was surprisingly peaceful. Even the spectacular impressionist and post-impressionist galleries with their super-famous works weren’t too busy.
After this we headed to Montmartre, to do the famous climb up to the Sacre-Coeur. Montmartre is a bit sketchy, and even those famous stairways don’t feel as special as I remember them from my teen years. It’s more touristy than a Spanish seaside resort, with gazillions of ‘artists’ trying to pimp spectacularly bad canvases, and street vendors flogging plastic Eiffel towers. Still, it has to be done. Back to Gare du Nord with a few minutes to spare – a great day out.