Europe 2002 Diary

2 [ London - Paris ]

This is part two, where I join the Kumuka tour in London, meet the other people on the tour, then go to Paris for four days over Easter. This is our longest stop on the tour, and we make the most of it.

See also parts 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.


2.1 [ London to Paris ]

After getting up very early in the morning, Chris and I walked to the Kumuka meeting spot. I was very thankful that I bought a suitcase with wheels. We completed the paperwork, then chatted with some of the others on the tour - I believe it was Mitch and Marsha, Gerard, and Melbourne Dave. After the forms were done, we got on a bus to Waterloo International, and spent the last of our pounds on breakfast.

The Eurostar took around three hours to go from London to Paris, travelling up to 300kph. When we arrived at Gard du Nord in Paris, we were introduced to Martin the driver and the Kumuka coach, our "home" for the next four weeks. We were driven to the Hotel Concorde La Fayette, where we marvelled at how good our accomodation was. We could only hope that the standard would be maintained for the whole tour. Some of us walked up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe, then got a snack on the way back to the hotel. Below is the Arc, and the view from my hotel room. Not bad at all.

The Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe
Paris from the hotel room
Paris from our hotel

We left the hotel at 7 that evening to go to a traditional French restaurant. The food was good, but it was nothing particularly spectacular or different. After we finished dinner we were given some time to walk down to the Eiffel Tower - it looks great at night. I wish I'd held the camera still! The last one is good though.

Eiffel Tower at night
Eiffel Tower at night
Eiffel Tower at night
Eiffel Tower at night
Eiffel Tower at night
Eiffel Tower at night

Next it was back to the hotel and then over the road to the James Joyce for overpriced drinks - €6.50 for a pint of Kilkenny. Perhaps it's my own fault for drinking imported beer, but if you're in an Irish pub it's stupid not to drink Irish beer. After a couple of drinks with Gerard, Cindy, Steph, Chris, and a couple of others it was back to the hotel to do some washing, take more photos of the view from the hotel room, and eventually sleep at 1:30am.

Paris from our hotel at night
Paris from our hotel
Paris from our hotel at night
Paris from our hotel

2.2 [ Paris ]

The next day was Saturday, and our first full day in Paris. We started with an orientation tour of the city. We stopped briefly at Palais de Chaillot where we were able to take more photos of everyone's favourite landmark, the Eiffel Tower. The photo below is of me and Kate.

Me and Kate and the Eiffel Tower
Kate, Me and the Eiffel Tower

At the end of the tour, a group of us went to the Louvre, where we each bought a three day museum pass for €26. These passes are really good - they're reasonably priced and you get to avoid many of the queues. The Louvre was a bit of a problem for me. After realising it was too damn big to see all of it, and not really knowing what I was interested in, I just went straight to the Mona Lisa and then left. There were big crowds around Mona, and she was smaller than I expected.

Next a group of us went up to the top of a department store for a free panoramic view (about the only thing that is free in Paris), then back to the Louvre to wait for some of the others. The first photo below is of some of us waiting - Bronny, Chris, Cindy, Nicky, and Steph. Then it was off to McDonald's, and it was just like they said in Pulp Fiction - you can get beer at McDonald's, and a Quarter Pounder isn't a Quarter Pounder. It's a Royale with Cheese (well actually just Royal Cheese but we don't want to ruin the Pulp Fiction reference). They must get tired of foreigners coming in just to get a beer and Royale with Cheese. The second photo is of Steph, Nicky, Cindy, and Bronny enjoying their meals.

Waiting outside the Louvre
Waiting outside the Louvre
Beer and Royales with Cheese at Maccas
Beer and Royales with Cheese

Of course being in Paris we couldn't hang around at McDonald's all day, so off we walked down the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe (again). This time we climbed the Arc (the fee was included in the museum pass) and watched the traffic do its stuff. After we got bored we went down to the bottom and watched the traffic some more. It's incredibly entertaining. Approximately ten lanes (there are no lanes marked) with no indication and no giving way. They claim there's an accident every eight minutes around the Arc, but we only saw one in the twenty minutes we were there. And we saw two pedestrians cross as well, one in high heels!

Traffic around the Arc de Triomphe
Traffic
Traffic around the Arc de Triomphe
Traffic
Traffic around the Arc de Triomphe
Traffic

We walked back to the hotel, then went into the Latin Quarter for dinner. A group of six of us (Chris, Gerard, Jamey, Kate, Nicole, and me) found a decent restaurant where we sat in the basement. I tried escargot for the first time, and I thought it was pretty good. Though there was one snail that I'm not sure about - one minute I was holding it with the special snail tongs trying to scoop it out with the special snail fork, the next the shell was empty. I don't know where it went. After dinner it was down to the pub for a few drinks, then back to the hotel via the Metro and eventually to bed at 1:15am. However, daylight saving kicked in that night so it was more like 2:15am.

The next day it was up at 6:15am after four hours sleep. I couldn't work out how to get hot water out of the shower, and in the end gave up. I don't like showers in hotels - they never seem to work properly. I had breakfast (still half asleep) then hopped onto the Kumuka coach to go to Versailles. We arrived before the doors opened, and after a 15 minute wait and the usual airport-style security, we were inside. The rooms were fairly impressive, and we learnt a new phrase that stuck with us for the rest of the tour - No flash!.

Inside the Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles
Louis XIV's bed at Versailles
Louis XIV's bed

We finished the main bit in about an hour, then we went outside to see what else was around. There people queueing all the way from the door to the main gate and then back around a bit. The inside was good, but nothing that justifies such a huge queue. We joined another, smaller queue for the King's Chamber. When we got to the front we found we had to pay another €4 to see more of the same.

After looking through the King's Chamber, we went out and had a look at the gardens. Because it was a Sunday, we had to pay more to see the gardens, but we worked around that by buying one ticket and taking it in turns to have a look. I think the gardens were actually more impressive than the palace itself - they were huge. I intend to combine these three photos into one, but I don't have time yet.

Palace of Versailles
Versailles
Palace of Versailles
Versailles
Palace of Versailles
Versailles

With Versailles out of the way, we headed back into the centre of Paris, then took the Metro to the Rodin Museum. I really liked this museum, I found it more enjoyable than the Louvre. And it's fairly small, so you have time to see the whole thing. Here are photos of the Thinker with the dome of Hôtel des Invalides behind it, the Lovers, and the Thinker again.

The Thinker
The Thinker
The Lovers
The Lovers
The Thinker
The Thinker

While at the museum, we experienced our first rain of the trip, but it didn't last long. Then I went back to the hotel while some others went to the mass at Notre Dame. Later that evening we met up again for dinner in the Latin Quarter. We went to a restaurant that some of the others had been to the previous night, La Saint Severin. It was a great evening, with Stefan the waiter getting up to crazy antics the entire time. I drank a whole bottle of wine, and somehow managed to spend €30 on my meal. We got back to the hotel around 1am. Here's everyone at dinner: Paul, Chris, Nev, me, Phil; Bron, Cindy, Helen, Nicky; Melbourne Dave, Bee, Stefan; Italian Dave, and Elita.

Dinner at La Saint Severin
Dinner at La Saint Severin

The following day was our last day in Paris. The plan was to leave to go to the Eiffel Tower at 8am. By 9:30am we were finally leaving, after waiting for Cindy, Steph, and Bron to get ready. I battled with the ticket machine at the train station with limited success, and eventually got the train to the Eiffel Tower. We queued for ages, then took the lift to the second level. The views were great - the photo below is of the Palais de Chaillot. Then we queued for another 15 minutes to get a lift to the top level. We had a good look around, then went back to the second level. I contemplated the practicality of stealing a Do not leave items on the Eiffel Tower sign for a while, then we walked down the stairs to the bottom.

Palais de Chaillot from the Eiffel Tower
Palais de Chaillot

After a quick lunch, we tried to find the Catacombs. We had trouble finding them at first; after a while we found them right in front of the Metro station where they were meant to be, but being Monday they were closed. Following that small disappointment, we headed off to the Sacré Cœur. It's a very picturesque church, and the inside was very ornate (but no photos).

Sacre Coeur
Sacré Cœur
Sacre Coeur
Sacré Cœur

We returned to the hotel to rest our legs for a while, then it was back out again for a cruise on the Seine. There were a group of us who weren't really in the mood to take the cruise seriously, so we just mucked around the whole time. In the first photo below Chris shows Kim the best way to make use of the audio guide. After the cruise we went to the Montmatre area for dinner, and I took a great photo of the Moulin Rouge! We ate at an Italian place, then got back to bed at 12:30am. The next day we were off to Switzerland.

Kim and Chris on the Seine cruise
Kim and Chris
Moulin Rouge
Moulin Rouge

The diary continues in part three.