By George Christopher Thomas, Travel Writer
PARIS, FRANCE – It was around 5:00am when the alarm went off, and my lady and I were on our way to Paris, France. A feeling of excitement and joy filled my heart, like a little kid on Christmas morning before they run down the stairs and see what Santa brought them. Then it dawned on me we were taking a bus from London to Paris, and the coach ride was just under 8 hours total. My excitement and joy turned to wanting to sleep some more, after all, it is 5:00am in the morning, pouring rain outside, and I was about to spend the entire day on a bus. Whatever, after we slogged through the bus ride we would be in Paris, the City of Lights, great food and romance.
I started the day with a long shower, because I had been on one of these bus rides before, and some of the people can smell quite funky. If anything, I was going to lead by example, and maybe inspire others to clean themselves on a regular basis. We were staying at a nice Bed & Breakfast called 17 Homestead Road in SW London, and the Victoria Coach station was only a short cab ride away. We could have walked, but would have been soaked. It is after all London in December, and it tends to rain in England, especially during the winter months. After a bout with the really mean tickle monster Joanne was up and ready to go as well. In England the sun doesn’t really come up during December, it kind of makes an appearance off on the horizon then travels to somewhere nice like Kona, Hawaii. So we were due at the coach station around 7:00am and made it there with minutes to spare.
After checking in and feeling a bit relieved, we sat down and waited for our journey to begin. My professional recommendation when traveling by bus across Europe is to try and avoid the seats by the toilet. There are many reasons for this, including the constant bumping into by people getting to the head, but as you can imagine the main reason is the odorific emanations. So due to our extreme luck we got the two seats right by the bathroom, and it was off to Paris. All things considered, it was cool to be going to France, we were going sight-seeing and reviewing several restaurants, so all is not bad. I listened to the IPOD until the battery died, then watched the windscreen wipers wipe the rain away for several hours. There really isn’t much to do on the bus for 8 hours, I thought about my family and my cat, and also decided to golf more in 2013. Hey, there is always border control to look forward too, maybe I will get another cool stamp on my passport.
So we finally got to the edge of England, and I keep looking for the white cliffs of Dover. It was not to be this time; we were taking a train and going under the English Channel. I found this quite bizarre, as we would be on a bus, which is on a train, and we would be under ground, under the water in a tunnel. However, I did finally figure out why they call it the Chunnel, and it really blew my mind. Those crazy witty engineers combined channel & tunnel, no wonder they build bridges, they can also build words. So the French Police come on the bus and request our passports. Automatically a Rod Steward Song popped into my head, and I was hoping the French Police would give me some peace. Everything went smoothly, they made sure I was me, which I was still was, and gave me back my passport. For some reason I did not get a stamp, and was informed when traveling from the United Kingdom to a country in the European Union, they do not stamp your passport. What a bunch of silliness, I couldn’t wait to get back to America and write my Congressman.
For some reason, the minute you get to France, and especially Paris you want to smoke a cigarette. This feeling hit me long before getting to France, and it may have come from knowing I was going to be on a bus which was on a train traveling under the English Channel. So after another 6 hours on the coach we finally made it to the bus station which also happens to be on a Metro stop. This was going to be easy to figure out; after all, Joanne studied French in school. Well, those silly French people happen to have all their signs in the French language. Not only that, everyone was speaking French, which really threw me off. After looking at the maps of Paris we had in a very angry fashion, and several quite heated debates, we picked a color for the train line we thought it was, light brown as I recall, and we threw caution to the wind and just boarded the next train.
Well, as it turned out, we not only got on the right train, it was also traveling in the right direction. C’est la vie (sometimes). So in the shuffling madness of trying to find our hotel reservations print out, it was neatly right on top of the pile, with Metro information to get off at the Chatelet stop. Wow, and that exit was on our light brown train line as well. Cheers to flying blind and no pre-planning as well, it really makes it quite adventurous.
I have done this drill with Joanne before, and we have been lost, walking around, and arguing throughout all of Western Europe. You name the city, Dublin, Amsterdam, London, Paris, St. Andrews…check them all off. And sometimes we even travel to Eastern Europe to get lost. A nice city to go for a 10 mile walk in is Berlin, even in the winter.
So this time around in Paris we were on the right track, literally and figuratively. I am ready to seize the day, and in fact seize the weekend as we were visiting for roughly 3 days. The first thing I did was get a hotel close to the city center, and pick up a couple “Paris Passes.” This way I could establish a home base at the hotel, and be ready for every sightseeing thing we could fit in.
After we navigated the Metro like born and raised Parisians, we checked into our hotel. We were staying at the Hotel Britannique…“a charming, great little establishment in the historical center of Paris. First opened in 1861, it has the traditional courtesy of the English way of life with the sophistication, luxurious comfort and friendliness of French hotel tradition. The rooms are decorated in a gentle, modern style and have all the modern conveniences. The lounge is as elegant and comfortable as in an Agatha Christie novel, and the high quality breakfast is particularly lavish.”
We loved every second we spent there, the room was perfect, and the window opened up to the streets of Paris, and you could hear life and laughter outside. It was really nice to just sit on the bed and listen to the sounds of everything; we were a block away from the river and smack dab in the middle of town. We could not have picked a better place to stay on purpose, it was a great home base for the Paris adventures.
So after getting settled, which for me is like two minutes, and for Joanne somewhere between thirty and forty five minutes, we were off to explore. The “Paris Passes” we got for sightseeing gave us access to just about everything in the city. It includes free entry to over 60 of Paris’ world famous museums, art galleries and historic monuments including The Louvre and Arc de Triomphe. We wandered off into the early evening with the idea of getting a beer and planning the places we are going the following day. The nice thing about the hotel is it really is right there, and we did not need to walk far to find a cool looking pub to get a pint or two.
The “Paris Passes” we bought also came with a “Hop on-Hop off” bus ticket. Now from prior experience in other cities, I knew this was the end all be all of planning a good sightseeing route. You use the bus as your own personal taxi service, and map out the things you want to see. Then, just as the name of the bus implies, you hop back on and are off to the next attraction.
We worked that bus route like we were filming for public access TV, and wanted to hit all the spots for the sake of the show. We stopped by the Eiffel Tower and took pictures. I have yet to get to the top of it; the lines are always so long. Then we went to Notre Dame, I kept looking for a man walking around with a bad back, but there were a lot of people there too. We also took the “Hop on-Hop off” bus to the Arc de Triomphe, and that must be one of the major scheduled stops, because we were there for some time, but I got some really great pictures from the top of the double decker bus.
The best thing about have the passes and the bus tickets is the access it gives you to the city. It opens up almost every attraction, and gives couples and families a choice of what to go see, why not let everyone pick out their favorite museum? I was really sad when the sewing and textile museum was closed the day Jo wanted to go. And having a hotel so centrally located really helped for sightseeing, as well as general comfort and ease of navigating the beautiful “City Of Lights.”
I definitely recommend a trip to Paris in the near future. If it is your first time, a little pre-planning won’t hurt. And if you get a chance, check out the Hotel Britannique right in the heart of Paris. It was a great fit for our weekend to the Capital of France. Also, don’t forget to have some frog legs, eat some cheese, and be romantic. Be sure to watch TV in French, it adds to the mood and really makes you feel like you’re there, because after all, you are. Bon Voyage & Bon Appetite. (For more information, please visit www.parispass.com and www.hotelbritannique.net)