Day Trip to Paris

Is it really possible?  Worthwhile?  A waste of time, money or sleep?

Let me tell you what we got up to and see if this helps you decide whether a day trip to Paris is something to consider.

We set off at 5am from Warwick one cold Saturday in February for our day trip to Paris on Eurostar.  I hadn’t been on Eurostar before and so was looking forward to the experience.  We drove to a tube station on the outskirts of London and paid our £2 day ticket (for parking) and used our Oyster cards to hop on the tube to Kings Cross.  We headed straight to check-in and found there was no queue.  Our boarding passes were scanned and bags put through a security scanner and then within minutes we were in the boarding lounge.  This area is nothing to write home about but it has lots of refreshments and a reasonable amount of seating.  We only arrived half an hour before our 8:30am train left and so hardly any waiting time before being allowed to board.

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The journey itself is about 2.5 hours.  You reach the tunnel in no time and within 15 – 20 minutes you reach France.  We travelled in standard coaches and found them to be comfortable with lots of leg room but a little tired in places.  They will also try and sell you metro tickets and other passes on board which are actually more expensive despite them mentioning a saving.  The only thing they will save is time queuing up at the Gare du Nord and so you may consider an extra £5 worth it.

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We arrived just before midday and walked to our first stop of the day, Brasserie Julien, a restaurant we’d found online.  I had been quite fussy with my requirements.  I had searched for a long time for a restaurant which was traditionally French looking, had a good menu and at a reasonable price; we chose well.  The food was delicious and typically French and the restaurant interior was stunning with a ceiling that reminded me of a Tiffany lamp, angelic paintings and large mirrors everywhere.  There were a lot of locals dining and a few British accents audible.  We spent 2.5 hours there enjoying the food and atmosphere and chatting to two local French women in broken French about our day trip.  They actually bought us a glass of champagne at the end of our meal breaking at least one French stereotype.

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With our bellies full of food and wine, we decided to walk this off at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (although we did catch a metro to the park to save time of course!).  We spent a good half an hour strolling around the park…..well, strolling between the hiking – it’s a very hilly park!  You are rewarded with beautiful and unique views across the city and you really feel a million miles away from the tourists.  This was our third trip to Paris and so we were happy to steer away from the tick box attractions and we loved this park.  It reminded me of Central Park and Hawkstone Park….something different around each corner – a suspension bridge was one of the highlights though.  Sadly, a key viewing spot was closed when we visited but do trek to the top…..the views will be worth it.  If you have more time, bring a picnic here in the summer.

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After a bit of fresh air, we were ready to hit the galleries.  We have visited the usual suspects but there was one gallery I had wanted to visit for a while as my love of modern art has grown – Centre Pompidou.  It’s not necessarily a cheap gallery to visit but I loved it.  It’s wacky, makes you stop and think and it’s fun to look at.  We spent just under 2 hours here smiling, being creative with our photos and deep in thought and I would recommend this to anyone who like modern art or something a bit different.

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At this point, we didn’t have much longer in Paris before we had to be back for our 8:10pm train home.  As the sun was setting we made a mad dash to Notre Dame and headed under the bridge, down to the river to catch a sunset photo of this stunning church from a different angle.  This is one of my favourite areas of Paris and so it felt almost homely to be back again.  Heading back to the Gare du Nord we felt happy and content and felt we’d squeezed every last drop out of our day.  The alternative…….a day cleaning at home or watching TV?  I know what I’d choose every time.  Yes, the early start and travelling is difficult (especially the drive back to London at 10:15pm after such a long day!) but the rewards far outweigh it and we got to have a lie in the next day.

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What I learned

  1. If you’re travelling to Paris, go by Eurostar rather than plane – almost certainly if you’re going for the day.  The security process is quicker and more efficient, the cost is much less, there are no weight limits and it’s so easy to use.  Make sure you book in advance as far as possible to get the best rates.
  2. If you have a few minutes, buy your metro tickets at the Gare du Nord and buy a ‘carnet’ of 10 tickets between 2 if you’re there for the day.  We like walking but we also had some things we wanted to see and do which weren’t close together and the metro was very handy.
  3. You can achieve a lot in a little time by planning well.  We have the advantage of knowing Paris a little but we know from past experience that whenever visiting somewhere new, you get to know a city better by looking at map, getting familiar with what there is to see and do, when things are open, entrance fees, tube stations etc.
  4. Day trips like these are fun.  They are different to the run of the mill Saturday.  You don’t need to pack.  You can feel like you’re a million miles away in just a short time.  It doesn’t have to be expensive but you can splash out if you want to.

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 Toni Sharp

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How to pack light and avoid checking in your case

When you are heading off for a short break, you don’t want to be taking a lot of luggage with you, especially as this is likely to lead to pricey checked luggage charges.  I am terrible for taking too much with me and no matter how hard I try to scale my luggage down, it’s always a close call.

I headed to Malta and Berlin this year for 3 and 2 night breaks respectively.  I decided to challenge myself to taking hand luggage only.  At the beginning, my only concern was the weight limit……how to scale down my 20kg load to just 10kg.  That actually turned out to be the easy part!  What I found really tough was only being able to take a single 20 x 20 cm bag for all liquids.  I took facial scrub, cleanser, various moisturisers, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, contact lens fluid, toothpastes, sun lotion, foundation, mascara, eye liner……you get the picture (quite literally….below)!

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I am pleased to say that I managed, comfortably, to pack light for my break in Malta and Berlin and it was liberating to be able to head straight to security rather than stand in the check-in line.  It was even sweeter to walk out of the airport the other end without waiting for my bag to make an appearance on the carousel.

I thought it would be useful to give my top tips on packing light to save you time and money.  Just be mindful that you could actually arrive at the airport and be asked to check your bag in and so take a padlock with you just in case or if you forget and happen to have a hair band or elastic band, these come in useful as ties (potentially more secure as they can’t be tampered with as easily).

My top 5 tips

  • It starts with the case.  Invest in a lightweight case which takes your little finger alone to lift it.  We used the IT case.
  • Make a list of what you want to take and then think about what you need to take.  Take a second look at everything.  Do you need to take a full bottle of shampoo for 3 nights?  What does your hotel already provide?  Do you need 3 pairs of shoes?  Everything can be scaled down!
  • Be creative – I used a spare contact lens case for my cleanser which continued to last long after I got home; I can safely say that it would have lasted 14 nights (morning and night use).  Think about using sample sachets of body lotion and conditioner and samples of perfume (which lasted more than my 3 night stay).
  • Packing light means packing light clothing.  I took lightweight dresses which didn’t crease for the evening……better than heavy jeans.  I appreciate my sunny destinations helped with the light weight packing but even in Iceland a couple of years ago where it was very cold, I could pack a light dress and tights for the evening and I was already wearing my heavy coat to the airport which I would have worn over the dress.  Men could pack linen trousers as an alternative or, if jeans are a must, find some light weight ones.  You can always wear your heavier items!
  • Plan your wardrobe.  Usually, I just pack a lot of things and decide what to wear when I arrive.  For these short trips, I planned out everything, making sure I took items which I could mix and match.  Use a particular colour palette to make this easier.  It’s tedious I know but it will mean you don’t waste your valuable packing space, leaving room for souvenirs (non-liquid ones of course unless you have room for a small one in your 20x 20 cm bag!).  It also means you get dressed more quickly as you have already decided what you are going to wear!

Toni Sharp

Magical Montreal

The Canadian city of Montreal is like no other.  It’s a unique melting pot of European style architecture, dramatic temperature extremes (spanning -30c to + 30c), a feisty and vibrant political scene, an even more vibrant nightlife scene and a cherished French language and cuisine.  Not to mention some inherently Canadian traits like the city’s passionate devotion to its ice hockey team, the Habs!

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You can easily find an abundance of general tourist information about Montreal on the internet.  So instead of an A to Z lowdown, here are some random gems of local knowledge I’ve picked up from the fun filled three years I’ve spent in this charming city:

  • If you’re visiting in the summer try and arrange your trip to coincide with one of the city’s epic, world-class festivals.  Personally I’d put the Montreal Jazz Festival top of the list, where last year we were fortunate enough to see Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and several other top acts.  The Comedy Festival is also highly recommended and usually attracts several high profile Brits.  The July 2015 line-up includes Jimmy Carr, Sarah Millican and Russell Howard amongst others.  The Grand Prix, beer festival and Oshega weekend are also exciting times to plan a visit.

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  • Montreal is great for foodies. Our favourite restaurant is Restaurant de l’institut. It’s often overlooked by tourists as you need to book by email or phone in advance, but if you can organise yourself, it’s well worth it to be served excellent, creative menus by chefs in training (and it has the royal seal of approval after William & Kate visited it!).  Or if you want to splash out even more, Europea restaurant has some of the theatrics of a Heston Blumenthal dinner without quite such an eye watering price tag. For more cheap and cheerful options, Frites Alor and Trois Brasseurs are personal favourites.
  • In the winter there are few things more exhilarating than heading to one of the city’s parks (e.g. Parc la Fontaine) to ice skate on the frozen lakes (although the lack of rails means it’s not recommended for beginners) or driving to one of the ski slopes that are within an hour of the city.  In the summer you can find your adrenaline rush white water rafting down the Lachine rapids or on a segway tour around the Grand Prix track.

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  • There is a thriving craft beer scene which is worth exploring (just remember to tip, usually $1 per drink). Favourite brewpubs include L’amere a Boire and Benelux. Or if beer’s not your thing, be sure to check out Quebec’s ice cider which makes an excellent digestif.

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  • Aboard the stationary Bota Bota boat, spa lovers can enjoy an open-air jacuzzi boasting a stunning panoramic view of the city. It has lots of the original boat features including cute cubby holes filled with padded cushions that you can curl up in and watch the St Lawrence river drift by.

With a flight time from England of just seven hours, this captivating and cultured city deserves to be added to your travel wishlist!

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Thank you to Suzie Wood for writing this wonderful blog on Montreal and for her beautiful pictures captured throughout her time there.

Canadian Rail Journeys

Canada has a lot of ground to cover and is fortunate that the distances bring stunning views and varying scenery.  This is why a train journey across the land is the perfect way to visit a number of places without missing out on the hidden beauty in between.  There are so many rail journeys that you could take but we have looked at just two to whet your appetite.

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                    Photo by Abdallahh.

1. First Passage to the West: 2 Day Rail Journey

This is the only passenger rail service on this historic route and its construction is one of the most important in Canadian history as it united Canada from east to west.  This journey can be travelled from East to West or West to East.

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Day 1 Vancouver to Kamloops

You will experience dramatic changes in scenery, from the green fields of the Fraser River valley through forests and winding river canyons surrounded by the peaks of the Coast and Cascade mountains, to the desert-like environment of the interior.

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Vancouver. Photo by Austin Stanley.

Day 2 Kamloops to Lake Louise or Banff

You will travel along rocky lakeshores, over high mountain passes and through the remarkable tunnels that form part of the rich rail history of the Canadian Rockies. You will see the Kicking Horse Canyon, the Spiral Tunnels and the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies.  Your rail journey ends in Lake Louise or the resort town of Banff with road connections available on to Calgary.

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Kamploops. Photo by Kyle Pearce.

2. The Canadian: 4 Night Rail Journey

Linking Toronto and Vancouver, the Canadian is one of the world’s most legendary and popular rail journeys.  You don’t have to complete the full journey or complete it in one go.  You may choose to break the journey up by visiting Winnipeg or by seeing the Polar bears in Churchill, in Jasper or Edmonton and explore the Rockies.  You can also use it as a one way trip between Vancouver and Jasper, the journey from Kamloops is during the day and the scenery is stunning.

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        Jasper. Photo by Mack Male.

The Canadian runs three times a week in summer and twice a week in winter.

If you are interested in exploring Canada by train, please contact us at contact@mytravelgenie.co.uk, complete our request form or call us on 07951 219293 to find out more.