And so it is… my time in London has come to an end. As I write that sentence, sitting on a rooftop terrace in Seville, one month into my big adventure (yes, I have a backlog of blogs!!) my heart still aches. I loved London. The city that chewed me up and spat me out really did steal my heart. I can’t lie and say I was ready to go, because I wasn’t. I don’t think most kiwis and auzzies who only have a 2 year working visa are often ready to leave London. In my case however, it was a choice. My boyfriend and I had been conspiring our 8 month European/South East Asian trek since we arrived in London. But when D-Day finally arrived, it was (and still is) a little heartbreaking. BUT, I believe, why not leave on a high eh?
So the enormous bags are packed, some – but not many – flights are booked and we are on our way. To give you a small overview of our plans, we intend (or until money runs out) to backpack our way through western Europe through to the Mediterranean for around four months, then hit South East Asia with a bang, for another three or four months. Living the dream right? We are chasing the sun and I have to admit, so far, she has been good to us.
But, before baking ourselves on the white sands of Lagos, dining on tapas in Barcelona or begin island hopping in Greece, we had one place we needed to visit. Paris. Admission time: I have never really wanted to go to Paris. I don’t know what it is, but I have never experienced the romantic pull of the city. Whenever we had enough cash to spend on a weekend away, Paris was never brought up in conversation. But we are two kiwis living a hop, skip and a jump away from this infamous town, so we decided to make it destination number 1.
So Bonjour Paris! I have to say, we nailed it with where we chose to live for our time in Paris – Montmartre. What a fantastically creative, charismatic and a little bit crazy area! We arrived late at night (Flybe had decided to delay our departure by 2.5 hours and three different planes… better to be safe than sorry I guess!). So, walking through certain parts of Montmartre were, somewhat intimidating. But come the light of dawn and all its glory was revealed. I highly recommend finding accommodation here. We used Airbnb and got our own studio flat – full kitchen and everything – for £51 per night. Again, a complete, clean, cosy, homely apartment in the trendiest part of town. Bargain! Check it out here: http://bit.ly/1lbcUJE
You can guess what we did our first day in Paris – a free walking tour! We looked up our friends from Prague, Sandemans and completed a 2.5 hour tour on a scorching summer day, seeing the biggest sights of Paris – Notre Dame, The Louvre, Love Lock Bridge, the Eiffel Tower. I hate to say it, but this was definitely the worst free walking tour so far. The guide was lovely and charismatic, however I would have preferred maybe a little less jokes and a little more facts about the city. Also, she seemed to waste a lot of time just…standing around. Half the time we weren’t quite sure what she was waiting for. But, it did give us some great bearings of the city, preparing us for our own adventures.
So we grabbed ourselves a cheap, stereotypical baguette, some delicious fruit and adventure we did. The one thing we said we must do, is of course, go up the “Tower Eiffel.”
You really cannot visit Paris without climbing the infinite amount of stairs for a view of the city. What you can leave to the ignorant tourists like us is the additional 12euro and 2.5hour wait for the elevator that takes you to the highest viewing platform. Very underwhelming and did not feel that much higher. If I were you, stick with the initial entrance fee, climb to platform two and take in the sights there.
Day two and we took the train out to Versailles. Another ‘must do’ in my opinion. Now, at the risk of sounding like a spoilt snob, I was quite underwhelmed! I do put this down to the fact that we have visited the breathtaking summer and winter palaces of Vienna – yet to be topped in my opinion. But to add to the disappointment, zero of the fountains in the famous gardens were running – which it didn’t warn anywhere on the website and which is really the main attraction of the gardens.
Also, all of the groves were closed! What was going on? We paid full fare but only received half the experience? Obviously the palace was beautiful. Incredible art pieces, the room décor was just out of this world… but still… Vienna reigns supreme. Here’s a tip! Do not purchase the audio guide. You can download an app for free! Just remember to open it while you still have WiFi and download all the content. Plus, there is an app for the Gardens which isn’t even available as an audio guide. This was probably the saving grace for us – while we couldn’t see the fountains in all their splendour, we learned about their significance, time period etc.
Safe to say when we arrived back to Montmartre, we we feeling a little disappointed. So it all hanged on where we were going to have dinner. NB: We are budget backpackers. Many of our meals will be supermarket noodles etc However, being the food lovers that we are, we have decided to treat ourselves to a local meal out one night per destination. This was Paris’ night. What did it have to offer?! The exact question we emailed to our Airbnb host. He gave us a few names, but one tickled our fancy immediately – “16 Tholoze.” This was the perfect recommendation due to location, food, service and price!
The walk there was very quaint, up and down cobbled streets and past other eateries. When we arrived, there was hardly anyone there…always a bit of a daunting sight. But we sat down and the waitress brought over the menu – a great big black board, which I thought was a cool touch. Shamelessly, we don’t know any french except ‘beef, fish’ and ‘chicken’ so we pretty much ordered blind – but were not disappointed!
We started off with a lovely half litre of red wine. I really like how you can do that in Europe. If you don’t want a whole bottle, get half! It’s so convenient. This was accompanied by a vast array of delectable meats. We did well ordering this! It seemingly came with a huge bread basket which we believed was part of the entre and proceeded to chow down all the bread – which was consequently replenished…
Then the mains arrived and we were so chuffed with our ‘close our eyes and point’ results! We ended up with melt-in-your-mouth red mullet fillets and some sort of rice/potato accompaniment (excuse the poor description – it was a difficult to decipher concoction!) The other main was another bullseye – probably one of the best steaks I have ever tasted. After paying for our meal, the owner Adrian took us back to the bar and offered us a few aperitifs on the house – his own recipe of orange juice, rum and cinnamon – and proceeded to tell us only friends and locals usually visit 16 Tholoze. That’s a win for us.
Not only did the food help us end the day on a high, but after our fantastic meal, we walked up to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica – a great big church on top of a hill – for a night view of Paris. I don’t know if this occurs every evening, but up the top we were greeted with a fire dancing show!
Finally! After a few more touristy things like visiting the Louvre (if you don’t know art like we don’t, I highly recommend the guided ‘highlights’ tour) there is one last place I have to mention. The Boulanger Patissier just around the corner from us.
On our adventures, we passed loads of places like this, but yet, none were quite like this. While there isn’t a website I can link back to, you can find it at the intersection of Rue de Clignancourt and Rue Poulet in Montmartre.
So, all in all, for us, we were left a little underwhelmed by Paris. It is a great city, but I think I have been spoilt with the likes of Berlin, Vienna and Budapest. Still, I am glad that is ticked off the list!
The 8 month, 14 + countries adventure begins now! Keep an eye out for more posts about the places I visit on this mind-blowing adventure.