France
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A Whistle-Stop Tour of Paris

My first experience of Paris was as an eleven year old girl. I have hazy memories of the views from the top of the Eiffel Tower and people rollerblading down the street but that’s about it. The scenes of Carrie Bradshaw meandering through the streets in Sex and the City and Andy Sachs swinging from a lamppost in The Devil Wears Prada were a far cry from what I remember as a child interested in nothing more than one famous monument and some holiday souvenirs- although having said that, the mini-Eiffel-Tower figure I purchased still stands proudly on my chest of drawers.

My return almost a decade later was in different circumstances. Instead of a child on a family holiday, I was a student on my Easter holiday from university with my old school friends, visiting a friend on her year abroad.

Due to our insufficient student funds, we were not well equipped to face the prices of Paris so we booked ourselves into a hostel in Montmatre for one night and travelled via overnight coach, giving ourselves two full days in the French capital.

We were proved to be overly optimistic when our idea of sleeping on the coach, perhaps inevitably, failed. Three of us arrived, exhausted and cold, into Gallieni coach station. We found a metro station and a ticket machine that worked and surprisingly without much fuss we made it to Gare du Nord, where we were to pick up our friend who had sensibly chosen to splash out on the quicker Eurostar.

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After two hours of waiting, munching on our first Parisian pastries and drinking coffee, in a desperate attempt to wake ourselves up for the day, we picked up the fourth member of our party and wandered to our hostel, Le Regent. Since we were unable to check-in until 4pm, we left our bags in the luggage room and stepped out to begin our first day in Paris.

We decided our first stop should be the Louvre, which we found easily enough. After hunting around for the cheapest menu in the area, we sat in a nearby cafe for a quick snack. As we were in France I treated myself to a Croque Madame and more coffee. When our waiter asked if we would like our drinks in large cups we automatically said yes and were soon shown the error of our ways when the bill turned up charging us €7 for coffee and a whopping €10 for orange juice. Lesson learned, we left for the museum only to find that it shuts on Tuesdays.

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Tired, penniless and unable to peruse the artwork and artifacts of the Louvre, our trip was rapidly becoming unsuccessful so we chose instead a walk up the River Seine to Notre Dame. After some photo-taking and a bridge full of padlocks left by couples on their romantic getaway, we found the famed cathedral with songs from the Disney movie stuck in our heads. The rain started to come down but the queue moved mercifully quickly and we made it inside. Whilst walking around and taking pictures of the renowned stained glass window, I started to realise that the place was familiar and more memories from my previous trip surfaced. We exited with the intention of going up to hunt for the bells, hunchbacks, talking gargoyles and views of the city but sadly the queue was long and the rain was increasing so we decided instead to head back in the direction of our hostel and Sacre Coeur.

After a metro stop and some time winding our way through a few cobbled streets, we found the ominous looking staircase. It didn’t take us too long to climb to the top but we were considerably out of breath when we made it- well I was at least. The views were worth the climb but due to the weather they sadly weren’t what they should have been. However, Sacre Coeur itself was something worth seeing, with or without the views. A beautiful building, exquisite art and a domed ceiling would have provided ample photo opportunities, if only we’d been allowed to take them inside.

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As our lack of sleep and money was starting to kick in more than ever, we decided to go back to the hostel via Carrefour to pick up a lunch of crusty bread with cheese and ham and a big bottle of orange juice. We sat in the kitchen chatting until check-in time when we ran as fast as we could to our rooms and settled in for a nap. Our friend in France was meeting us at 7pm so we set our alarms for 6.30pm and treated ourselves to a well deserved rest.

Once we were awake and all together we headed to the Pompidou centre to look for a restaurant. We managed to find a great one that had an authentic Cafe Rouge feel and after a delicious, surprisingly reasonably priced dinner, we spent an hour or so walking up the river to the Eiffel Tower. En route we discovered that not only did the tower light up at night but on the hour it sparkled as well. Hundreds of flashes glittered all over it, like dozens of camera flashes all going off. The views, the bridges and the Palace de Concorde that we passed on the way, all made the half hour or so that we then spent running around, desperately looking for a tube line that hadn’t finished for the night, and the taxi that we got when we realised they had, worth it.

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A proper night sleep set us in order, so that we could make the most of our second and last day in Paris. After we realised that most markets only ran at the weekend, we left Montmartre in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe. We climbed up the long spiral staircase in the arch and reached the top, from which we could see what seemed like the whole of Paris. Thankfully, whilst there may have been a bit of a wind and a few clouds, the views from the Arc de Triomphe were not as impeded as those from the Sacre Coeur and we finally managed to get our photos of Paris from above.

We took a walk down the Champs Elysees, stopping off at a patisserie for a quick snack, on our way to our second attempt at a trip to the Louvre. Realising the length of our journey and our limited time frame, we hopped on the metro and then walked through the park to the museum. We were greeted by the sight of a ridiculously long queue, which told us that it was open this time, and we defiantly joined the end. We managed to end up inside surprisingly quickly and soon we were standing in front of dozens of Greek and Roman sculptures. Being a Classics student, I was in my element and could have spent days in there. Considering the fact that our coach was leaving that evening, that wasn’t really an option, so after grabbing a baguette for lunch we had a quick look around the paintings, including of course the Mona Lisa (which we could just about spot over a crowd of heads), before heading back to the hostel to pick up our bags.

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Two of our party left, while the three of us that remained chilled out in the hostel kitchen, exhausted from the amount of walking that we’d done over the past couple of days. However, there was one more sight on my list and since it was just down the road I set off for one final sightseeing trip alone. I took my time walking up to the Moulin Rouge, sticking my head into many of the souvenir shops that lined the road on my way. I ended up with several pictures of vintage-style Moulin Rouge advertisements to decorate my bedroom walls with at home. You could tell the Moulin Rouge was close before you caught sight of the iconic red windmill. Sex shops suddenly appeared in their dozens, behind which I could finally see a turning red mill.  It took a bit of angling of my phone to take a photo of myself with the windmill and the sign in the background (this was before the days of the front camera selfie), but after looking slightly foolish I managed it.

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That done, it was time to head back to the hostel and join my travelling companions before going to Gallieni coach station via Gare du Nord to pick up one last chocolate croissant and a coffee, finishing our trip in the exact same style as it started.

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