, , , , , ,

After our epic (well epic to us) Tour des Australiens – St Georges sur Erve to Paris, 274km over 4 days – we settled into to a lovely little quiet studio apartment in the shadow of Tour Eiffel for a relaxing 10 days. Having been to Paris at least a couple of times before, we’d seen the biggest monuments and were really looking forward to taking our time exploring Paris in a more leisurely way.

The apartment was gorgeous. Located on a quiet street in the 7th arrondissement (Eiffel) right opposite the Musee du quai Branly with a spectacular view of “the tower” from our little terrace (what other tower in the world is photographed this much?). We could actually see the tourists on the tower. We waved at them every day so I hope they saw us. By the end of the week she became “our tower”.  For those who don’t know, the tower is lit up in beautiful golden lights in the evenings, but after sunset, every hour on the hour, it also comes alive with thousands of sparkling lights for 5 minutes. We didn’t need a clock in the apartment, all we had to do was listen to the cheering from the street every hour as people were surprised and delighted by the lights! We had everything we needed inside – an almost complete kitchen with everything except an oven, a bed area, lounge area, dining area, bathroom and balcony. Along with French TV and fast internet, it was perfect.

“our tower” at night

We spent Saturday having a little wander around, letting our legs recover, stocking up on some grocery basics, before checking out the spectacular fireworks that lit up the sky over the Seine to celebrate the 14th July, or fete nationale. Interestingly, this date is not referred to as Bastille Day in France, only by the rest of the world. None of the pictures we took did the show justice, but this is what we watched:

The fireworks are set off from the Trocadero, so we only had about 200m to walk from the apartment to enjoy this fantastic show. What a pity they didn’t have any off the tower itself like last year though.

We wanted to go to a couple of museums that we hadn’t been to before so we got 4-day museum passes which generally allow you to “skip the queues” at most of Paris’ attractions. However (tip #1) it usually means just skipping the longest queue, but there is still a shorter one with other people holding the same sort of pass!  In order to buy the pass, you do have to queue up at the ticket counter somewhere so, (tip #2) we did this at our most convenient museum, Musee Branly, literally across the road, which also happens to be one of the less popular museums so there was barely a 5 minute queue before we had our passes in hand. First stop would be Musee D’Orsay on the Seine.

But first we decided to check out the system of community bicycles that has been going in Paris for 5 years now, the velibs. We had seen many people using these bikes on our previous trips and were determined to have a go since we had so much time. We found that you can easily buy a short term pass online (1.30Euro for a day, 8Euro for a week).  The way it works is that there are many many bike stations all over the city, you enter your code in the computer terminal at the station & choose a bike to take, then you can return it to any of the other stations in the city. The first 30min each time you take a bike is free, and if you go over the next 30min only costs 1Euro. Well what a fantastic system! We used the velibs every day for a week and only once did we go over that free 30 minutes, bringing the total cost for two of us for the week to a grand total of 18Euros! Now we got all over the city in that week. For example, on the first day, we decided to go to Montparnasse station to book our high-speed train tickets back home, so off we set from Rue de l’Universite. 29 minutes later we were “returning” our bikes to the bike station outside Montparnasse tower and walking in. After sorting that out, we decided to ride down to the St Germain des Pris area for a bit of a wander around & a drink in that quarter – always fabulous for its atmosphere. So with the velibs around every corner, we were set for our explorations.

Paige with our “velib” bikes

Musee D’Orsay was fantastic – a beautiful building full of art to enjoy. We also discovered the ballroom upstairs and the rooftop space which has a gorgeous view over the Seine, across to the Tuilleries and the Louvre. Magnifique, especially in the lovely summer sunshine.

Musee D’Orsay – looking out through the big clock

That evening we had the ultimate Parisienne dinner – we packed our backpack & took off on the velibs for a picnic on the banks of the Seine, complete with baguette, fromage, pates, olives, rillettes, and of course a lovely bottle of rose from the Cote de Provence. Mmm, heaven. We sat & ate our little picnic while dangling our legs over the side of the concrete banks in the late evening sun, waving to the tourists on the boats, just like a Parisienne!

Our next museum was the Palace at Versailles. Just a short train ride from the centre of Paris saw us joining the 1 hour queue for entry into this amazing place. We thoroughly enjoyed the beauty and splendour, but could understand why the people got sick of Marie Antionette and her spending ways! Wow. It was interesting to see the very rooms she & Louis occupied when they were invaded and the little doorway through which she escaped – if only for a short while.  A spectacular palace and gardens.  We stopped in Versailles for lunch but wished we hadn’t really. It’s all geared for tourists (and there are MANY)  and we left feeling that we had missed out on the real France for the day.

The front gates at the Palace of Versailles

Friday came and the sun was out again, a perfect summer day! The Paris Plages had been set up and were now ready for action so off we went on the velib bikes down the Seine to Pont Neuf. The Paris plages are beaches that are set up every summer for the enjoyment of the Parisiennes. They bring tonnes of sand on barges down the river and parts of the river bank, along with the square in front of the Hotel De Ville, are turned into lovely summer beaches. The Parisiennes love it, and many were seen out simply sunbaking on the sands. I was watching the little kids playing & realised how much we take our beaches for granted in Perth. I bet most of these kids hardly ever see the real thing. These beaches also come complete with ice cream stalls, playgrounds, boulles for hire, bars and buskers. They certainly do it well, and we enjoyed an afternoon strolling around with our icecreams and camera.

After the plages we set off on velibs again to the museum of the catacombs. Unfortunately we didn’t time this well, and arrived at the back of the queue just in time to be informed that they were cutting off the queue for last entries – we had missed out. Never mind, we’ll save that one for another trip. Wandering around the area we found, of all things, an Aussie bar!! We took photos but decided we were not sad enough to go drinking in an Aussie bar in Paris, haha. We had a laugh though, one of the giant beer cans was decorated with “Austria”… perhaps the painter got sick of all those letters in “Australia”?

Seeing the Aussie bar got us in the mood for a drink so once again we jumped on the velibs and headed for St Germain de Pris, found a nice bar/café and sat at the streetside tables to enjoy a rose and people-watch and get ourselves all excited for the big day tomorrow.

And of course, Le Tour….

Sunday was THE day. Yes, all you cycling enthusiasts out there know what I’m talking about… the day Le Tour arrives on the Avenue des Champs Elysees! The culmination of three weeks of hard work for all those cyclists.  We had been looking forward to this day for months and what a beautiful day.

We made a very early start in order to be with a tour group by 7.30am. Why a tour group? Well this tour was on bikes, around the Champs Elysees itself, yes the very course our riders would be taking in the afternoon. Decked out with my Aussie cycling shirt, off we set with a group of about 15 or so and our Australian tour guide (yes, from Perth no less). It turns out there were many Aussies in town that day, there were others in our tour group, and later on the streets we saw many of our flags proudly flying. The cycle tour was a lot of fun. In around 2 hours we had ridden up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, around the roundabout (thank goodness traffic was being closed down, it wasn’t the usual chaos) back down again to the Place de la Concorde,  and then off around the Louvre. We couldn’t take the whole circuit as the police were gradually closing everything off, but we had a good ride around well before the crowds came out.

Cycling around the Arc de Triomphe

Back home we packed a backpack for the afternoon, bought some fresh chicken salad baguettes from the boulangerie around the corner & set off to find a spot on the barriers. We got a spot with only 1 couple in front of us, and managed to hold our space despite more and more people trying to sqeeze in and around (and in front of) us. There must have been millions on that street in Paris. After waiting all afternoon, amusing ourselves trying to read the free French magazines that came with Paige’s new yellow cap, the time came for the riders to arrive. The Union Jack was out in force for Wiggins, but there were lots of Aussie flags on display too. The cyclists sped by us, again and again until the finish. Unfortunately it was all over all too quickly, but at least we saw those famous laps live and the atmosphere in Paris was worth it.

Go Cadel!

And the winner is…. Wiggins (with some of the peleton)

Lots of Aussies in the crowd

We celebrated the end of Le Tour with a few drinks at our local. After having a good chat with our waiter, and teasing him for not remembering us from our previous trip with Mum & Dad, it turned out that he did remember us when the penny dropped and he reeled off the drinks we had all ordered on that first night. He was so delighted that we had kept coming back through the week that he surprised us with a round of drinks on the house. Another lovely Frenchman – you see, the French are very hospitable!

Monday was spent having a quiet, lazy day, soaking up the last of ‘our’ Paris, and enjoying a quiet dinner in a small family-owned bistro in the 7th. Up early Tuesday morning, we were all packed & riding off to Montparnasse (on our own bikes again) before we knew it.

Au revoir Paris, a bientot!