10 July 2012

A Quick Trip to London and Paris

I reverted to my usual format of a long weekend trip for a quick visit to London and Paris.  However, the trip had more travel segments than usual for such a short trip.  I flew to London on the early afternoon flight (least favorite time, but best fare) to London, arriving early morning the next day.  Besides making it harder to adjust to the time change, my hotel room was not ready, as would be expected at that hour.  Knowing that was going to be the case, I took advantage of the Arrivals facility at Heathrow Airport to freshen up before heading into town.  I had made plans to meet friends who were visiting London at the same time for lunch, so I left my luggage at the hotel, headed off to do a little shopping, and then over to my friends' hotel.  We had a nice dim sum lunch at an upscale place called Yauatcha in Soho.  Sorry, no pictures were taken, but I generally don't do that when dining with friends.  It was a nice day to be out, so we walked around afterwards, doing a bit more shopping and sightseeing on Regent and Carnaby Streets.

For dinner, I went off for my third visit to The Ledbury, a very nice restaurant in Notting Hill.  My prior visits were in February, so I wanted to go back to experience the mid-summer menu bounty.  I was not disappointed.

After dinner, I met up with my friends again for after-dinner drinks, first at the Tattersall Castle boat, and then a little pub on The Strand.

The next day, I had a late morning Eurostar train to Paris.  While waiting to board, I decided to take advantage of the services offered at the information desk and buy a carnet (10-pack) of Paris Metro subway tickets.  They were sold in pound sterling, so I knew I was going to pay more than if I had bought them in Paris.  But I also knew that once I got to Gare du Nord Station, it would take some time to find an available dispensing machine or ticket booth, so I went with the convenience.

The train ride seemed very quick.  In no time, I was pulling into the station in Paris.  I had done my homework and knew there was a station closure, so I had to take a slightly more indirect route on the Metro to my hotel.  Still, I reached my hotel around 2pm local time and even though the room was supposed to be available, it was not.  They gave me a key to the Executive Lounge, where I could snack and use the Internet.  They said it could take up to an hour for the room to become available.  However, after about 10 minutes in the lounge, they came over with a room key.  This was my first stay at the Hilton Arc de Triomphe, so this was getting off to a decent start.

The rooms are average size, but very nice.  The lounge is large, but it does get busy during peak times.  There is also a nice terrace where you can sit.  The hotel is only two blocks from the nearest Metro station.

With just half the afternoon left and a very early day the next day, I decided to take in one museum before dinner.  In all my prior visits to Paris, I had only been to the Louvre, despite all the other museums being available.  I decided to visit the Musee D'Orsay.  It was a Sunday afternoon, so I expected some crowds, after all, it was summer  However, I did not realize it was the first Sunday of the month, and therefore, it was a free admission day.  The line seemed very long and the museum would take the last admission at 5pm.  I decided to give it a shot, especially since it was the last day of a special Degas exhibition.  I wasn't sure I was going to make it in before the cutoff, but I did, walking through the door at 4:45pm.  The museum is awesome, not only for the art content, but also for the building interior itself.  Picture-taking generally is not allowed, but I did manage to take one of the large atrium space.
It used to be a railroad station, which is pretty evident.  But the adaptation of the space to display art is amazing.  It almost upstages the art itself, and that says a lot.

After dinner, I took a little walk, generally heading back towards my hotel.  I should have gone to bed straightaway, but it was still so light out.

Taken at around 9:15 pm CET
When I had originally planned this trip, I scheduled two nights in Paris and thought I would just spend my time wandering around, visiting museums and neighborhoods.  however, I discovered I could do a day trip to Mont St. Michel on the Brittany/Normandy border.  Ever since I had started studying French in junior high and high school, I had always wanted to visit Mont St. Michel.  I did some research and there were same-day bus trips that you could take -- 5 hours out there, visit, and then 5 hours back.  I did not find that too appealing.  But then I saw a website for a day-trip by train (linkParis.com).  It would still be a long day (3.5 hour train ride each way by TGV), but I would get to see Mont St. Michel and a couple of other towns in the region.  So, I signed myself up.  It meant catching a 7:39 am train out of a station in another part of Paris.  I checked the schedule to see when the first Metro trains start running and did a dry run on Sunday to time the trip (even with that, though my trip was fine, my tour companions were on the same Metro line just a bit earlier and encountered a train breakdown and had to take a taxi to the train station).

 It was well worth giving up my full day in Paris for the trip.  I enjoyed the train ride, visiting the towns of St. Malo and Dinan, and of course, finally getting to Mont St. Michel.

St. Malo is a resort town on the north coast of Brittany.  It is popular with British tourists (there are high-speed ferries that operate).  It is also a very picturesque location, with the old town totally encircled by a wall (you can walk the top of most of it).  It also has very extreme tides, so the beaches seem very big when the tide is out, as it was when I was there.

Next, it was off to Mont St. Michel.

In the old days, the island was separated from the mainland when the tide was in.  At low tide, you could walk over the sand flats.  Now, there is a causeway and you have to take these unique shuttle buses to the base of the mount.  The buses are unique in that they have a cockpit at each end, so instead of having to turn the buses around at each end, the drivers just change ends.  However, in a few years, there will be a bridge, the causeway will be demolished, and the water allowed again make it an island.

There is no easy way up to the abbey. . . there are just stairs.  the best way is to enter the island and go up the left side, taking stairs straight up to the abbey.  You can then come down gradually the other way, passing through the village with all the shops and restaurants for the tourists.

The final stop before returning to Paris was the town of Dinan, another picturesque medieval town south and west of Mont St. Michel.

The lower town was a port long ago, when the sea reached this far inland.

The old town is built on higher ground above the port.

The train returned to Paris at about 11:45 pm.  I was afraid that I would miss the Metro and would have to take a taxi back to the hotel,  But the trains were still running a bit after midnight (and a lot of people still out and about), so I got back quickly and cheaply (All trains to and from Brittany use Gare Montparnasse).

I had a mid-morning train back to London.  As there were passport controls to deal with, I wanted to allow for enough time so as to not rush.  The trains were running on time, and everything was pretty organized, so the return to London was easy.  The Eurostar folks line the passengers up according to train departure time.

For my last night on the trip, I decided to stay at the just renovated and reopened St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, a huge Gothic brick structure attached to the Eurostar Station.  The hotel offers free tours to hotel guests, so i was sighed up for one with my friends about 45 minutes after my scheduled arrival into London.  I did try to check in first, but it was still early so that my room was not ready.  No worries as we had a tour to do, and it was quite an experience.  It was like walking around a restored castle at times.

The hotel rooms are thoroughly modern though.  This is a Grand Junior Suite in the Chambers (old) section of the hotel.

You can get to the hotel directly from the Eurostar train without going outside.  You just have to go upstairs after exiting the train platform.

As amazing as the building is, they almost tore it down.  It did take a lot of work and money to make the building safe, let alone to turn it into the restored beauty that it is.

My flight out of London was scheduled at a leisurely 2 pm.  Usually, I take the Heathrow Connect train from Paddington Station.  But, given that I was at Kings Cross Station and the Underground's Piccadilly Line train goes directly to Heathrow, I decided I had the time to take the longer and least expensive way to the airport.  However, even though it was the middle of the day, there were spots where the train became very crowded.  Plus it seemed like a long trip out (it takes an hour, once you are on the correct train).  I think next time, I'll hop over to Paddington and take the Heathrow Connect train.


  1. A quick trip to London and Paris? That sounds cool! These two cities are two of my favorites – Paris for its art and fashion, and London for its heritage and architecture. And I think hotels are also part of the attraction as these two cities offer hotel rooms that are quite charming and captivating.

  2. And if you go back frequently enough, short stays work, as you don't feel like you have to see everything on every visit. You can focus on just a couple of things, as well as be open to options of the moment