This morning the grand adventure around Europe continues, however today I’ll be doing something a little different and will detour away from the usual Busabout Hop On Hop Off coach network for one sector and will be travelling from Tours to Paris in style on the express high speed TGV Train. If I were to continue on Busabout, departure time from the pick up point would have been at 5:15pm with arrival time into Paris being 9:30pm, so already you can probably see why my mode of transport has been changed for today, but more on that soon.
Recapping where we have explored so far, the Busabout Hop On Hop Off network journey started for me all the way back in Barcelona making my way from one Spanish city I ended up in another Spanish city this time Valencia and was able to experience the La Tomatina Festival. From Valencia we continued onto the capital of Spain, Madrid which also served as the launchpad for another Busabout adventure, the seven day Iberian Adventure Tour. On return to Madrid we have visited San Sebastian and now this morning we depart Tours in the French Loire Valley to make our way to the city of lights and capital of France, Paris.
During our time in Paris we’ll experience all the major tourist attractions and also head out of central Paris to check out the Palace of Versailles in a unique way on a Fat Tire Bike Tour, and awesome tour operator that I have had a lot of experience with in the past.
Tours to Paris – 10 September, 2015
Checking out of our hotel the Le Grand Hotel in Tours at a reasonable time this morning we headed to the main train station Gare de Tours just outside our hotel. This isn’t, however, the correct train station and from here we catch a short shuttle train to the station we do need called Gare de Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, costing only €1.40. This is important if you want to catch the famous high speed trains that criss-crosses France. If you catch the train from Gare de Tours the journey will take double the amount of time and will stop at other stations along the way.
Book your TGV Train tickets from the French railways website SNCF 90 days before departure to get the cheapest price. I checked the website everyday in the lead to being 90 days before departure so I could get my preferred train to Paris for the best price costing me €20.00. Head to the SNCF website by clicking here for more details.
On arrival into Paris we disembarked at the Gare Montparnasse train station, located on the south side of the River Seine, where we need to now change over to the metro train line to head to our hostel which is on the other side of Paris. We are staying at the drop off/pick up point for Busabout in Paris called St Christopher’s Inn Paris Canal and to get there we board the purple metro line 4 to Paris Est station where we change to pink metro line 7 to either Riquet or Crimée Station where it is a short walk to the hostel. Google Maps will tell you to get off at Riquet but I found Crimée which is one station after was easier to walk from.
We arrived a bit early and had to wait about an hour for check-in time which was fine because it was lunchtime. As well as being in a great location by a canal as the name suggest, St Christopher’s Inn Paris Canal also has its own restaurant for lunch and dinner with special prices for guests. One cheap beer and burger down and then we were ready to check-in to our room. The rooms are pretty basic so don’t expect anything fancy, ours was a two bed room with shared bathroom at the end of the hall.
Once we settled in we had the whole afternoon and night to explore Paris and so we walked down along the canal and jumped on the next metro station to go and check out the stunning views from the top of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. To get here from the hostel catch the metro blue line 2 from Stalingrad Station and it’s only a couple of stops down to Anvers Station, then once you get outside it is a short walk up the hill and you have made it. If you are feeling lazy you can catch the funicular to the top, but why would you bother when get can get impressive views looking up and back by walking up the staircase?!
Last time I was in Paris I wrote this post highlighting the famous string scam that takes place in Paris and in particular outside the Basilica. Today they weren’t as prevalent as they were last time when I visited Paris, however if you’re going to Paris you may want to familiarise yourself with how the scam works and how to avoid it. You can read about it all on this website here.
Just down the road from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and very close a very different neighborhood from what you would expect near a religious symbol, is the famous Moulin Rouge. Surrounded by various adult shops, clubs and bars you can head down here for a photo or two of the iconic theatre and if you can afford to do so later in the evening, go inside for a show.
This evening we decided to do a night bike tour through Paris with one of my favourite tour companies Fat Tire Bike Tours. I’ve gone on quite a few bike tours with this group last time I was in Europe and they are really good, this time being no exception. Last time in Paris I did the day tour so this time I thought it would be cool to do the night tour which also includes a boat ride down the River Seine taking in all the major attractions. The tour is so popular with the amount of people that showed up we had to be split up into about five or six large groups and if you’re travelling with Busabout you’ll get a discount for any of Fat Tire’s tours.
The tour begins from the office of Fat Tire just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, to get here from the hostel it’s as simple as catching the metro with the closest station being Duplex on the green line 6. We arrived a bit early and went for a walk. It was quite a funny moment walking around the corner and seeing the Eiffel Tower as well as a large poster on the side of the building advertising Australia. I come all the way to the other side of the world to get away from Australia and there it is staring back at me!
The bike tour goes for four and a half hours but it doesn’t feel like that at all. We started off the tour whilst it was still daylight and made our way down along the River Seine and then head towards the Notre Dame cathedral where we could get the reflection of the sunset bouncing off the historic walls. A short rise later we stopped on the banks of the river for a break enabling us time to grab some ice cream if we wanted whilst we waited for the sun to set.
We set off as the sun disappears and day turns to night. We ride along the famous Pont des Arts Bridge best known as the love lock bridge with all the locks now removed and the barriers along either side changed so people can no longer add locks to weigh down the bridge. We eventually make our way to the Louvre and pause for a short break outside the iconic glass pyramid to take some happy snaps and take in the site of having the place to ourselves. During the day the Louvre is a crazy busy place crowded full of tourists, but at night they have disappeared and made way for a smaller group of crazy tourists on bikes.
From the Louvre we ride our bikes as fast as we can along the river to try and get to our ferry before it departs, we make it on time and score some seats right at the front as a group. Given how popular Paris is a tourist destination there are numerous ferries going up and down the river with spotlights pointing out the major attractions (I would hate to be living in one of those buildings with a giant spotlight coming through my window). Of course the highlight of the cruise was passing the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night however one of my favourite buildings that we passed was the Musée d’Orsay which is an old train station built in 1900 but is now an art museum.
Once the river cruise finished we collected our bikes and headed back to the Fat Tire office, from here we made the trip back to St Christopher’s Inn Paris Canal and called it a night. It has been a long day today travelling from Tours by train and exploring small parts of Paris. Tomorrow we will do some more exploring this time we spend a whole day on another Fat Tire Bike Tours trip out to the Palace of Versailles and later in the evening scale the Eiffel Tower for some impressive views of the city.
Paris – 11 September, 2015
After already spending one night in Paris we still had plenty to do today as there is so much to see in Paris you’ll never really feel like you have accomplished everything you want to see. This morning we leave our hostel relatively early and jump on the metro to head back to the offices of Fat Tire Bike Tours. Today we are doing a full day tour of the Palace of Versailles.
Once we arrived at the Fat Tire offices we were all split up into groups for the day and were given train tickets for our journey to Versailles. From the office we walked over to the train station which isn’t far at all, and we caught was are called RER trains. Coming from Melbourne it’s hard to understand that there are all these different types of trains and lines from Metro, RER, TGV and more.
To put it into perspective for someone from Melbourne, the RER trains are kind of like what we would call our ‘Metro’. We don’t have a true metro system, only the City Loop comes slightly close and when it is finished it will be the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel. Whereas the Paris Metro is a true underground frequently stopping metro system, then TGV Trains would be a way better and high speed version of what we call V/Line in Victoria.
We caught the train from the RER Station called Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel. This station will takes us directly to the end of the line at Versailles with the trains decked out inside in the style of the palace. On arrival into Versailles we walk down to the office of Fat Tire where we collect our bikes and test them out before we head out for the day.
Our first stop for the morning is the local market in Versailles. On arrival we all park our bikes in a large group and are given a run down on where best to purchase items for lunch. Of course our guides point of some of the places they think are the best to purchase from with them getting some free stuff for doing so, but that’s fine because looking around it was pretty good produce what they recommended.
The first place we went to look at was a wine shop, we bought a nice cheap bottle of wine for our lunch (mixing wine and bikes wouldn’t go down too well back at home that’s why I love Europe so much!). We also picked up some pre-made bread roll sandwiches and some cake for afterwards at this bakery that is clearly the most popular, the line was bustling outside into the street. Finally some strawberries from one of the many fruit sales out the front in the main square and our lunch was all set.
While waiting the little crepe stand where we leave our bikes is well prepared with large and small frozen bottles of water offering them to the bike tour members (giving the guides a free crepe or two as well), some of us also indulged in having a crepe while waiting for everyone else to finish shopping.
Once we were all done at the market we set off on our tour of the Gardens of Versailles. Even not being up close to the palace itself just yet and out in the gardens you can really see how grand this place is with its network of wide open boulevards that we are cycling down. Our first stop is the private farm of Marie Antoinette, the ground here were set up for the Queen during her ill fated reign for her to get away from luxurious palace life and to feel as if she could have a normal life amongst peasants in a farm setting.
It’s said that people were paid to pretend to go about doing daily farm duties around her so her experience would feel more authentic. However a lot of stories about Marie Antoinette have been exaggerated, especially during the French Revolution to try and gain additional support for the revolution, and to paint the whole monarchy in generally a bad light.
We were given plenty of time to check out the grounds of the estate and once we were done we met out the front entrance of the estate where we had left our bikes. From here we continued on and eventually made our way over to the Grand Canal, a large body of water in the grounds in the shape of a cross that took eleven years to complete. Back in those days it was a mean feat to construct such a large canal.
Riding around the canal it was decided it would be around here where we would spend some time to have lunch. Our group found a really good spot in the center of the canal which gave us great views of the water, the palace and the surrounding gardens.
After lunch we continued on around the canal and made our way out a side entrance to the gardens, making our way back with our bikes to the Fat Tire office. Here we drop our bikes off, returning them where we started and then follow our guide back to the palace entrance where we are given our entry tickets and are able to enter from the special group tours entrance.
Once inside we are left to explore the place on our own. We were given the option to either spend as much time as we like here and find our own way back to Paris (we are provided with a return train ticket), or we can meet by the statue out the front of the palace at 4:00pm and catch the train back as a group. We would decided what to do later depending on how long it would take us to look around the palace.
To say that this place is huge would be an understatement, it’s massive with endless rooms and artwork, you can really appreciate all the time effort and money that has gone into creating a place fit for a king. It also highlights how the French monarchy was so out of touch with the average French population back when the revolution was gaining momentum.
Before the palace was built and the monarchy was moved here in 1682 from what we know today as the Louvre Museum in Paris, the grounds of Versailles were just humble hunting grounds for the King before deciding to relocate to much loved Versailles 2o kilometres south west of the Paris city centre. The cost of building such a grand palace was so elaborate and a cost hidden by using the Kings own funds received from the new French Canadian Territories which did not draw the attention of parliamentary councils.
One of the more fascinating and most well regarded rooms in the palace is the Hall of Mirrors, back in the day Venice was home to the exclusive manufacturing of mirrors and the French Finance Minister wanted all construction of Versailles to occur in France to justify the cost. The Venetian Government wasn’t happy with mirror makers leaving Venice at the time for France to construct mirrors for Versailles and so tried to have them executed. All that for some mirrors, something we easily take for granted now.
In more recent history the Hall of Mirrors was also the location of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that saw Germany surrender to the Allied forces at the end of World War I, ending five years of fighting.
Once we finished looking around the palace we took a closer look around the ursine of the palace and the perfectly maintained gardens and artwork that scatter the grounds. From here we made our way back to the train station, however as we were on time we decided to wait around for our Fat Tire guide and travel back with some others from Versailles.
I had a really awesome day out in Versailles and full credit goes to Fat Tire Bike Tours. Each and every one of their tours around Europe have been exceptional and I have to say that this is probably the best tour that I have been on that they offer. All of the guides working for Fat Tire are professional and have a sound knowledge of the whole region and you can see that they genuinely enjoy doing what they do.
If you’re in Paris and are considering a trip out to Versailles, consider doing it as a bike tour for something different to just going to the palace and walking around the grounds. It’s well worth it in my opinion and if you’re travelling with Busabout you can get a discounted price on your ticket. Check out the video below from Fat Tire which will give you a brief idea of what you’re in for…
On the train ride back to Paris you’re not obligated to get off the train where Fat Tire is located however we decided we would and take this opportunity to do the biggest “must do” attraction in Paris, climb the Eiffel Tower by getting off our RER train at Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel. We picked a really good time to do it as well because it was late afternoon/early evening and we had to wait in a massive line so we made it to the front just as the dusk was setting in. On the ground it was still daylight but by the time we reached the first level the sun was starting to set and so we got some pretty awesome views over the city.
We took the lift all the way up the tower, unlike last time when I climb the Eiffel Tower we took the stairs, but on this occasion the entrance to the stairs was closed and we had to take the lift. It was a little odd given the line was still quite long they only had one entrance open out of the four.
Once reaching the very top of the tower dusk had turned into night and offered us a different perspective of the city as Paris started to light up for the evening, including the tower itself and its far reaching searchlight. It really is an impressive sight up here however with the amount of people up here and the squeezing through people to get a front position really takes away a lot from the whole experience. One of the big problems with Paris is that you want to see all these fantastic things, but no matter what time of the day you go there are just people everywhere.
Having caught the lift all the way to the top we caught the lift back down to level 2 and decided to take the stairs all the way to the ground. If you take the lift all the way up and down you do potentially miss out on seeing level 1 which is quite cool in itself. A few years ago and glass floor was installed so you can look straight down under your feet. This level also boasts and ice skating rink during the winter months which would be pretty awesome to experience.
Once reaching solid ground we started to head back to our hostel St Christopher’s Inn Paris Canal, it has been a really long day starting early in Versailles and ending it at the Eiffel Tower. You get the impression even though you know there are long queues and a lot of people that the Eiffel Tower is an easy visit, but in the end to experience the whole tower you are up there for a couple of hours and it can be quite exhausting in the end, but well worth the journey.
Paris – 12 September, 2015
Last night the weather was only just starting to turn with some light showers while on top of the Eiffel Tower (first rain of this entire trip) but this morning it has set in and the outlook is for a miserable day. Not knowing what to do today with most things requiring to be outdoors we met up with some of our fellow Busabout travelers from our Iberian Adventure Tour in Spain and Portugal, and decided that we would go and visit the Catacombs of Paris thinking it would be a nice indoor activity.
Heading off to the Catacombs from our hostel we caught the metro to the station Denfert-Rochereau which is located right outside the Catacombs. Little did we realise that half of the tourist population of Paris had the same idea as us to check out the Catacombs on this rainy day with the line stretching right around the block. As we already had tickets we through we would try our luck to see if we could push in at the front of the line with the hostel telling us that this has worked in the past… No luck. We now went to join the end of the queue where we would spend the next three hours standing in the rain.
Once we got inside it was a pretty cool experience, however probably not with the three hours standing in the rain. It was also at this point in time that my trusty Canon 600D SLR camera decided it didn’t like the wet humid conditions inside my bang and ceded to function. Quite frustrating when you’re travel writing and rely on pictures to tell the tale. The rest of the trip I would now have to rely on my iPhone and GoPro.
The Catacombs are made up of a labyrinth of tunnels spanning 2 kilometres underground which used to be the location of mines for the Paris area. The human remains were exhumed from cemeteries from all over Paris between 1786 and 1788 to create what we know today as the Catacombs after these tunnels were reinforced after several collapses. It’s quite a interesting experience. After the Catacombs we headed back to the hostel where I spent the rest of the day, i was starting to come down with a cold which would later annoy the hell out of me considering we are departing tomorrow to one of my favourite places for a whole five nights and it will ruin the experience.
Although this is my second time to Paris I still feel like I haven’t accomplished this city at all. There are so may things to see and do that I’ve only really scratched the surface and have really only focused on the main touristy things to do. Still having said that there were so many more touristy things I wanted to do but just didn’t have the time to get it done. I didn’t get anywhere near the Champs-Elysées, I really had my heart set on getting to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and also I really wanted to check out the city views from the top of the Tour Montparnasse where you can gain impressive views of Paris that will include shots of the Eiffel Tower.
Not only that it would be nice to check out Disneyland even though I’m totally in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes camp, but also to do some day trips outside of Paris similar to Versailles. As an Australian it would be interesting to check out Veillers-Bretonneux which has become basically the location of a second ANZAC Day celebration. To a lesser extent from Paris, this is more of an overnight or wider trip to the north of France but I also would love to visit Mont Saint-Michel which can be done as a 14 hour tour from Paris, but honestly that would be pushing it too far.
I hope to return to Paris in the not too distant future and experience everything above again plus those things on my wish list, but getting the balance right to determine the amount of days to spend in one city versus the rest of Europe is a tricky one.
Tomorrow our Busabout adventure resumes leaving Paris and France heading over the border into Switzerland and one of my favourite places, Lauterbrunnen. Along the way Busabout stops at the capital Bern but we will check out this small capital from our hub in Lauterburnnen where we spend the next five nights.
PICK UP/DROP OFF POINT
St Christopher’s Inn Paris Canal
159 rue de Crimée 75019 Paris, France
+33 140 343 440
Fat Tire Bike Tours
Day Bike Tour – Busabout Price: €25.00 Normal Price: €32.00
Night Bike Tour – Busabout Price: €25.00 Normal Price: €32.00
Day & Night Tour – Busabout Price: €42.00 Normal Price: €45.00
Versailles Bike Tour – Busabout Price: €79.00 Normal Price: €90.00
La Nouvelle Eve – Cabaret Show and Bottle of Wine
Show: Busabout Price: €57.00 Normal Price: €96.00
Dinner & Show: Busabout Price: €109.00 Normal Price: €147.00
Busabout Price: €107.00 Normal Price: €112.00