A Whirlwind Visit to Paris

Paris_2015_04 webMy flight landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport almost an hour early, a little after 7:30am. As the captain announced our approach, he told us that the temperature in Paris was +13C. Three days earlier I had been dealing with temperatures of -23. This swing in the weather was appreciated.

A wave of relief washed over me as I disembarked from the plane. Relief that I was back in Europe, where the relaxed urban lifestyle I enjoy so much is commonplace. Relief that the plan hadn’t gone down in the freezing Atlantic Ocean (irrational fear). I breezed through customs and found my bag already waiting for me on the carousel. I must have spent no more than 10 minutes in the airport.

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I boarded the RER train and made my way to my airbnb apartment, which was easy to find. After dropping off my bags, I explored my local neighbourhood. I ended up in a pedestrian zone, Rue Montorgueil, where I stopped at a café called Drôle d’endroit pour une rencontre and enjoyed a croissant and espresso for two euros. “Je suis Charlie” was written on one of the chalk board displayed in front of the café. I wanted to take a photo but didn’t want to come off as a cliché tourist. I regret not taking one.

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I headed back to my room and took a nap and then showered. I decided I should head to Place de la Republique, where Parisians have been gathering since the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo.

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A few hundred people were at the Place de La Republique, along with media trucks from around the world. I saw NBC, RT, Tagesschau and others I didn’t recognize.‚ Paris_2015_22-webI was hungry so I walked a block east and found a bakery where I ordered a baguette. I walked back to the Place as night was falling. I took some photos and then headed to a Mcdonalds, to take shelter from the rain, sip on a coffee and plan my next stop.

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I took the Metro to Chatelet, where I walked past the Hotel de Ville, which had a temporary skating rink set up in front. The ice surface was watery from the warm temperatures.

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Along the facade of city hall hung large black ribbon banners, with “Paris est Charlie” and “Nous Sommes Charlie” written in white type.
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From there I headed to Notre Dame de Paris. I hadn’t been inside the cathedral in many years. Usually the crowds are too much for me to handle, but tonight it was quiet so I walked in and spent a half hour admiring the architecture and the history.

I crossed the Seine and made my way to Boulevard Saint Germain, walking westward until I reached Odeon. I then hung a right and made it to the bridge of locks, once again crossing the Seine and finding myself facing the Louvre. I passed the pyramid and then continued North, negotiating the winding streets until I found my way back at my apartment.

Sunday morning I woke up a little after 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep. The sun doesn’t rise until almost 9am during the winter months in Paris. It was dark until 8:30, so I passed the time doing some reading. Once I got outside, I found a deserted city. The sprawling square outside the Bourse building was empty.

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The only sound was the batting wings of a pigeon. I walked around the neighbourhood, stopping at a cafe for a small espresso at a place called‚ Le Gymnase.

After returning to my apartment to collect my things, I descended underground into the metro where entry was free for the day, in anticipation of the huge march set to take place that afternoon. Unfortunately, I had a plane to catch and was unable to attend. I got to the airport on time and my quick layover visit to Paris was complete.

I’ve been to Paris several times these past few years, but I’ve never really liked it all that much. This recent visit was my most enjoyable. Visiting the city in winter is a completely different experience. The throngs of tourists that are everywhere in summer vanish in winter. Instead, you find a normal city, bustling during regular hours, but quiet during off-peak hours. Experiencing +13 temperatures in January didn’t hurt my outlook either.

 

It’s Raining in Paris

IMG_6530It’s raining in Paris. There’s been a persistent drizzle here for the past 48 hours. While at first I was disappointed with this weather, it’s provided me with a fresh perspective on the city.

Tonight I took the Metro to the centre of the city, exiting at the Chatlet station. When I climbed the station stairs and reached the street, I was greeted by a surprisingly quiet city. The steady downpour has kept everyone indoors.

As I walked along Île de la Cité, I did not see the throngs of tourists I had seen in previous visits. The scene was quiet, reminding me more of downtown Ottawa around Parliament Hill on a weeknight, than one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

IMG_6513At Notre Dame Cathedral, the square in front of the great church was mostly empty. The city rats were taking advantage of this wet and quiet time, emerging from the neatly manicured shrubs that they call home, to feast on the hanging garbage bags nearby. Tourists took photos of the rats instead of the cathedral.

The City of Lights burns doubly bright when drenched in rain. As I walked along Boulevard Saint-Germain, I stopped along at several intersections, paying special attention to the famous cafés, all lit up, the lights reflecting off the wet street, making them seem all that more grand and inviting.

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I got to the end of Saint Germain, crossing back over the Seine once again, from the left bank over to the right. By then, my feet were starting to feel heavy, both from fatigue and from being soaked by the rain. I ducked into a Metro station and headed back to my apartment.

It’s still raining in Paris. I don’t mind it one bit.

Budapest: Eastern Europe’s Gem

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When researching my trip, I heard nothing but good things about Budapest. Hungary’s capital delivered in a big way, living up to the hype.

Often called the Paris of Eastern Europe, the comparison is justified. Budapest offers the aesthetic beauty of the French capital, at a fraction of the cost and without the Parisian seediness I’ve previously talked about on this blog.

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For anyone with an interest in photography, Budapest offers stunning views and fantastic architecture along the Danube river. The city is particularly lovely at night. I was able to get some great shots with my DSLR, which I’ll share once I get back to Canada.

A cosmopolitan city, Budapest offers a tremendous nightlife and great food at low prices. Eating out at a place with take-out is just as cheap as cooking a meal from the grocery store. Alcohol in Hungary is also cheap.

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For those who love shopping, Andrassy street, the main drag in the city which was modelled after the Champs d’Elysees is lined with high end boutiques from the world’s most well-known brands.
Budapest’s thermal spas have been drawing tourists to the city for thousands of years. Every Saturday night, one of the city’s most well-known spas is turned into a giant night club, making for an epic water party fuelled by alcohol and house music. If you’re looking for a unique nightlife experience, check out the Spa party. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

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A great place for a weekend getaway, or maybe even more, Budapest is a playground for Europeans looking to live the good life. With cheap flight connections from across Europe, it’s an attractive destination. If I lived in Europe, I would visit regularly, it’s that good.

Paris: Additional Thoughts

I’ve made my way to the south of France now, but I thought I’d touch on Paris a little bit more. I was able to cram a lot into a short four days.

I used AirBNB for the first time and it worked out very nicely. I was able to rent a bedroom in a small apartment, one block away from the Sacrĩ -Coeur in Montmartre. The price of the room was comparable to most hostels, I was able to get caught up on my sleep without disruptions and I could leave behind my electronics (ipad or camera charging) without worrying about them being stolen.

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My AirBNB host was happy to give me tips on what to see and do in the city, urging me to checkout the panoramic rooftop above the Galleries du Printemps, a major department store in the heart of the city.

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The rooftop is open to the public, free of charge and offers stunning views of just about every monument in town, from the Eiffel Tower to the Sacrĩ Coeur.

If you ever get to Paris, be sure to check it out.

At night, I was able to take in the Eiffel Tower light show. Packing myself a meal to picnic with, I arrived at the Champs de Mars, the street that runs under and towards the tower, to find it packed with people taking in the show. Tourists from all over the world were on hand, speaking all kinds of different languages.

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The light show is a good way to cap off a long day in Paris. After having been on my feet, exploring everything the city has to offer, it was nice to be able to kick back for a couple hours and just relax.

Overall, it was a solid visit to Paris. I was able to see a lot and it proved to be a good starting point for my journey.

Paris: The Ups and Downs of France’s Capital City

I’ve arrived safe and sound in Paris.

To get here I took the Via train from Ottawa, to Dorval, where I caught a redeye flight from Montreal to Paris, Charles de Gaulle Airport. My flight went smoothly, departing and arriving on time. The plane itself was modern and spacious, even in economy.

Each seat came with its own tablet, embedded above the pull-down tray of the seat in front. The tablets allow passengers to customize their entertainment experience, which includes feature movies, TV shows, games and dozens of music albums. It was a pretty neat set up.

I’ve done a lot of walking in Paris over my two days here. You can see most of the key sites by foot, provided you have the endurance to do so. Where walking won’t cut it, you can catch the metro.

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Yesterday I took a long walk which started at the Arc de Triomphe. I then walked down the Champs Elysĩes, stopping in at the Petit Palais, before continuing on to Place de La Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries, where I stopped for a quick lunch (taboulet from a nearby grocery store). I then passed by the Louvre, before crossing the Seine river onto Ile de la Citĩ, home of Notre Dame Cathedral.

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There’s also a seedy side to Paris, you need to be vigilant when you’re here. There are people here looking to take advantage of you. In one day alone, I had to shoo away people trying to have me sign some bogus petition, decline a gold ring a man offered me, having pretended to have found it on the ground in front of me and stop some sketchy guy from trying to cut in line in front of me at the grocery store because he only has one item. Credit to all the people in line in front and behind me, none of them budged.

But overall, the positive outweighs the negative here in Paris. It’s a beautiful city, with lots to do and plenty of people to meet. Don’t let my warnings scare you off.

Here’s a few photos from my iPhone, I’ve yet to sort through the SD card from my DSLR.

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Summer Adventure

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I’m taking a six week hiatus to Europe. It’s my first time overseas since summer 2011, when I last came to Europe.

First up: A redeye flight from Montreal to Paris, where I’ll stay for a couple of days, adjusting to jet-lag. After that, I’ll probably head to the South of France, but nothing is set in stone.

I have a few locations on my hit list that I’d like to get to, but I’m not going to get weighed down by too much planning. I prefer to wing it as I go along and keep my options open.

I plan to split my time between hostels and airbnb listings. I’ve yet to use airbnb, but it’s been blowing up and seems like a great alternative for the budget conscious traveler.

Another wrinkle for this trip: I’ll be carrying my DSLR with me. Last time I traveled, I used my iPhone as my camera. It worked well, but I want to up the quality of images I bring back with me this trip. It’ll be a bit stressful, constantly worrying about a potential theft situation, but I feel the high quality images will be worth it.

I’m backpacking, so no suitcase, just a big pack and a smaller bag for day trips. Overall, I’m traveling pretty light. I took a test walk the night before I left, wearing my packed bag and didn’t have any issues with the weight.

That’s all for now, I will do my best to post updates as I travel along.