A Weekend in Paris

Paris. Eponymous as the city of love. Frequently hailed as being one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Home of bohemians and romantic gestures. I’ve been to Paris six times in my life, and although I find something new that I love every time I go, I actually wouldn’t rate it as my favourite city. I would take Barcelona or Venice over Paris any day of the week, however, there is a lot to see and do that is really good.

Let me give you the back story as to how we ended up going to Paris. A few months ago my husband Steve, best friend Amy and I had tickets to see Adele at Wembley. Amy lives in Kuwait so I don’t get to see her very often. We bought tickets way in advance, so had months to get excited. Amy drove us from south Wales to Heathrow airport on our wedding night, and kept herself awake by belting out Adele songs, so her music has always reminded me of our wedding day. Which is why we were particularly upset when she cancelled her gig the night before we were due to go.

On some level we still haven’t quite forgiven her, but to make ourselves feel better we booked tickets to see Ed Sheeran. As we were feeling quite jaded we decided that instead of going to Cardiff or London we would go to Paris and make a long weekend out of it. Amy was coming from Scotland and we were coming from clergy school so we met at Bristol airport on the Thursday for a very long weekend that would last until Tuesday!

We got in late on Thursday night and made our way to an airbnb near Châteaux Rouge metro station, dumped our stuff before venturing out to find steak before having an early night. All because on Friday we went to Disneyland! The three of us are basically big kids and we love Disney and rollercoasters, so we’d factored in two days at the park which avoided the weekend.

Even though I’ve been to Disneyland Paris a few times before, and went to Disneyland Orlando last year, I still feel the same excitement heading through the gate and towards the castle. The last time I came was in January and it was cold and wet, so it was nice to feel warm and see the park in the sunshine! We spent most of the first day going on the bigger rides, we were lucky enough to have fast passes- don’t ask me how, I still don’t know!- so we managed to get on all our favourites.

Space Mountain has been rebranded with a Star Wars theme since I was last there and is now Hyperspace Mountain, which starts off with the theme music going round and you join in with a space gun fight. I thought the theming really enhanced the ride, I enjoyed our last time, but I think this time round it was my favourite. That might have been because last time it broke down while we were on it, so I didn’t have the best memory! We were eventually evacuated from the launch tube with harnesses and had to walk back down the emergency access ramp!

Fortunately Space Mountain didn’t break down this time, however one of the other rides did! Rock n Rollercoaster with Aerosmith has been one of the main rides in Hollywood Studios for years now, and its beginning to show its age. Aerosmith are now largely unknown among young people, so the backstory of the ride doesn’t make much sense. The ride itself is also much more of a head rattler than it used to be, which the flashing lights and music don’t help. Then the rollercoaster breaking down, again just before launch resulting in evacuation, just confirmed that is just limping on until it’s refurbished and returns as something else.

The other long standing ride that is already marked for refurbishment is Hollywood Tower of Terror. I hate drop towers and normally try and avoid it wherever possible, but I thought I would give it one last go before it disappears. The theming had lasted pretty well, which is helped by the staff contributing by being fairly creepy themselves – suddenly appearing behind you and looming. The drop tower was still a drop tower, but the build up is not as scary as I remembered, which is probably because I’m a bit more grown up!

The only other main ride in Studios is Crushes Coaster, which for some reason doesn’t seem to have had queue times of less than 2 hours since it opened about 7 years ago! It’s a bit more child friendly and is a Rollercoaster but one that spins and doesn’t go upside down. It does go quite fast though so is still exciting. There was initially a game that you could play on your phone that was only available in the queue line, but we all tried it and it doesn’t seem to work anymore. The majority of the queue is outside which is quite boring and feels like it’s moving very slowly, but it does start to move more quickly when you get inside. The ride is good and definitely worth going on, but probably not worth queuing for more than an hour for.

There’s another couple of main rides in the parks. Big Thunder Mountain is always a favourite, it looks like it’s going to be a kids ride but is surprisingly fast. If you can, it’s worth going at the back as the drag makes it feel much faster. It also goes on for longer than you expect it to, and has lots of things to look at and exciting bangs on the way round!

The other rollercoaster is Indiana Jones Temple of Doom, which is a wooden rollercoaster and does go upside down, along with some pretty tight twists. I always remember it as one which would bring on a headache, but they’ve done some work on it and it does seem better now, although still not as smooth as some of the newer rides.

The good thing about Disneyland is that there are always loads of smaller rides and things to do with younger children. The parades are great but I’ll come onto them later. There’s the Studio Tram Tour, which demonstrates some visual special effects such as floods, fire and earthquakes. The tour here is pretty small though and is disappointingly short. There are the smaller rides such as Snow White, It’s A Small World, Peter Pan, Dumbo and the Teacups. You can climb up into the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse and see the home they salvaged from their ship. There’s Pirates of the Caribbean, which is also starting to want an update but still a great ride. There’s a carousel, which is fun as all the family can ride together. Toy Story Land is also a good place to visit as the theming is excellent, however it’s another place where the rides have inexplicably long queues. I’ll post more about the shows and parades later on, but we’ll have a break for now as we visit Paris.

One thing we always love doing when we’re in a new city is going on a food tour, normally as early as we can so we have chance to go back and try things again. So on Saturday morning we rocked up at Montmartre to do a food tour with Original Food Tours and our guide Eric. As normal we were joined by Americans from various states as we tried macarons, choupettes, ice cream, fresh coffee, snails, cured meat and cheese and wine!

The guide was really enthusiastic, knew a lot of local history, and showed us useful things like what public drinking fountains look like, however we did miss one of the stops out, and the group with 15 was a little bit too large for this kind of tour. We were clearly given the same amount of food as a group of about 8, which doesn’t go as far or work that easily when you don’t all know each other, particularly when you have to choose flavours of ice cream as a group!

The food that we did taste was delicious though. I have a bit of a sweet tooth so I particularly enjoyed the macarons, ice cream and choupettes, which are choux buns filled with chantilly cream and topped with sugar. We actually enjoyed them so much that we went back the next day to have a proper portion. At our final stop we had cold meats and cheese, wine and escargots- snails! Amy and Steve didn’t want to try them so I ended up with a triple portion which is fine as they are basically the consistency of mussels and taste like whatever they’re cooked in, which tends to be garlic and parsley.

The first stop we went to was also worth going back to the next day, this time for a full breakfast. The tour went because they roast and grind their own coffee on order, so we were there to try the coffee. But for anyone who didn’t like coffee they also offer a traditional French hot chocolate, which happens to be very similar to a traditional Italian hot chocolate- very thick, like drinking a cup of melted chocolate. I regretted trying the coffee instead – I really only like coffee if it’s sweet and milky so decent coffee is wasted on me. On Sunday we found our way back to Le Grain and had a complete breakfast, including hot chocolate, which was definitely a good way to start the day!

But before I jump ahead, let’s finish with Saturday! We finished our tour at the Sacre Coeur at the top of Montmartre, then made our way back to our apartment to watch the football before heading off to see Ed Sheeran. Fortunately transport around Paris is really easy using the metro, and we were only a couple of stops away from the Stade de France. We bought massive hot dogs on the walk down to the stadium, which was doing well until security decided that they needed to separate everyone into male and female for the bag checks. It was fairly chaotic as no one knew what was going on, and there were substantially more women than men so there was a massive group of men waiting for their partners to get through.

We got there eventually and settled down with enough drinks to have a complete set of keepsake cups! Anne-Marie supported Ed and was really good. I’d seen her a few weeks previously at Radio One’s Biggest Weekend in Swansea but she was definitely able to hold her own for a longer set. Ed was then absolutely amazing, as always, even in the heat he was hugely energetic, which he needs to be to hold a stadium that size with just him and a loop pedal!

After a brilliant but late night back we had planned to have a quiet, slow day on Sunday which started off well with breakfast and a wander round Montmartre. We decided to kill a couple of hours at the Musee du Montmartre, which is all about the history of the area through the eyes of the artists who have lived there over the years. They have lots of artwork from the Moulin Rouge and cabaret like Le Chat Noir. While we were there they had exhibitions on Van Dongen, Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo, as well as a really interesting display of local school children’s pictures from the First World War. It’s always fascinating and saddening to see such an adult subject from a child’s perspective, and the images that were clearly part of their everyday lives that you wouldn’t want your own children knowing about. You could also look around the house and garden that was a retreat for artists in the 19th century.

We carried on exploring Montmartre, making our way to the Mur de Je T’aime, the wall of love, making the most of the view of the city on the way.

After a brief stop in Starbucks to cool us down – did I mention how hot it was?!- we walked on to the Louvre museum to see the pyramids in the courtyard. A couple of random facts for you here. Apparently, after recent events involving a restroom in America, Starbucks now have a policy where you can use their toilets whether you are a customer or not. As Starbucks seem to be all over the world now, it’s worth remembering if you’re in an unknown city or have small children – or a weak bladder! Secondly, many museums in Paris offer free entry, at least to their permanent collections, if you’re under 26. When Amy and I first came to Paris about 8 years ago, we were still students and definitely took advantage of that. We ended up visiting a few museums, even if one of two of them were just to get out of the rain. When Steve and I came we’d spent a little while wandering around the labyrinth under the Louvre, including la pyramide invertee. We didn’t go inside this time, just relaxed in the courtyard until Steve fell in the fountain.

With a dripping husband, we walked through the park to make our way to the Hard Rock Cafe for Amy to add to her collection of pins, then after all that walking caught an uber back to our apartment. The next day was Disney day two, so we gave ourselves a slightly later start before catching the train out, and most of the day was spent on the rides I’ve already talked about. This time round though we managed to catch the parade and the fireworks at the end of the day. My last memory of a Disney parade was of the illuminated one they have on the shorter days in winter. We managed to get a good spot for the parade and it was surprisingly good. There were lots of actors who interacted with the children lining the roads, and the floats were really colourful and looking in a great condition. There were a few unexpected characters thrown in with the Disney Princesses, my favourite being a fire breathing dragon from Maleficent!

Before we caught the evening fireworks we managed to squeeze in a meal at The Blue Lagoon, which is the restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I can remember going years ago with my parents and again when I came with Amy, and it being really good. I don’t know if my memory was off or if it’s gone downhill, but it definitely wasn’t good this time around. The food and drinks were all very expensive, which you do expect from a Disney restaurant as you are partly paying for the experience, but you also expect a reasonable quality to go with it. We’d gone with the set menus to try and make it cheaper, but there weren’t many options on them so it was difficult to find 3 dishes we each liked on each menu. The service was extremely slow and when the food eventually came it was lukewarm at best. The theming of the restaurant itself was still great, but I definitely wouldn’t be choosing to eat there again, which is a shame as it has been my favourite Disney restaurant until now.

Fortunately we made it out just in time for another ride on Big Thunder Mountain and to catch the fireworks at the end of the evening. They weren’t quite as good as the show at the Florida Park, but it is on a hugely different scale. The show is really good though and definitely worth staying to the end of the night for. You need to get there early to get close to the castle, but you don’t need to be that close to enjoy it. In some ways you’re better off being further back as it gives you more chance to get out before everyone else at the end. The trains do get busy but it’s well organised and simple enough, if you already have your ticket. They don’t seem to use water projections for the show anymore, instead combining the fireworks with projections straight onto the castle, which must need to be extremely accurate but works really well. Like Florida, they’re also making the most of Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm by including a Star Wars section in the show.

After our second day at Disneyland we had half a day to spend in Paris before heading home. On Tuesday we would have had to carry our bags everywhere with us, so our first stop was to head to the Gare du Nord to leave them in the lockers. Then we took the metro to Cite for some lunch, a wander around Notre Dame cathedral, and a crepe – always an essential when in Paris. There’s normally a huge queue to get into the cathedral but it’s constantly moving so it goes so quickly you might as well wait in it. I always find the cathedral is more impressive from the outside than inside, it looks like any other European cathedral, but it does have two beautiful rose windows that you can only see from inside. There are more beautiful churches in Paris that you could visit, but if you’re short on time then Notre Dame is a good place to start. It’s also a quite nice walk around the outside near the river, with some little gardens and a good view of the external architecture.

With our final hour we decided we should stay near the train station so we went for a wander around the Jardin du Luxembourg, watching people play with model boats on the lake and enjoying the peace. We could have spent much longer there, it’s well worth a visit as we only scratched the surface, and is nice to find such a calm area in the middle of the busy city.

Apologies for the lack of photos of the Eiffel tower or the Arc de Triumphe, I can pull some out from my last visits if you’re desperate, and they are worth going to but they don’t change much over time, and once you’ve been to them you don’t really need to go again. Montmartre is fun to wander around and the Sacre Coeur is worth a visit if you haven’t been before. It’s a nice walk along the river near the Eiffel Tower, and it does look prettier when its lit up at night. I’m sure I’ve still only scratched the surface of Paris. When you get beyond the major tourist attractions it does get a lot more interesting. The city is different at different times of year, times of day, with people looking for different things. It’s full of history, art, culture, food and drink, little pockets to explore and stories to hear. If you’ve never been to Paris I would definitely recommend going. If you have then why not go again and see if you can find something new? You never know, it might surprise you.

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