Terror in Paradise – Paris Day 3

“What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.” – David Levithan

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The day started off like any other. Having advised you all to book ahead for the Eiffel Tower, I’m deeply ashamed to admit we didn’t follow my own advice for the Louvre. We arrived early, before it even opened, and yet there was already a half an hour queue to get inside. I can’t imagine the length of wait at peak times, thanks to the crackdown on security after the 2015 terror attacks .

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And once inside, the wait isn’t over. If you’re unfortunate enough to need to purchase a ticket, you face another queue at the cash desks, as well as the steep prices of 15 . Under 18s, EU students, and other people that qualify for free admission, can enter without a ticket as long as they have valid ID.

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Despite the early hours, popular exhibits such as the Mona Lisa were already crowded. It’s difficult to capture the quality of paintings with photographs so the souvenir shops sell postcards of most major paintings to take home with you.

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After exploring just a fraction of the museum, we left and began our journey to la Basilique du Sacré-Coeur. Navigating the metro is easy, and once you get off, you’ll find youself swept into a crowd leading you up the hill. Once again, it’s your choice whether to climb the multiple flights of stairs or use the ski lift, the Funiculaire de Montmartre. The ride costs a single metro ticket, 1,90 .

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Sacré-Coeur is a stunning monument, consecrated in 1919. It stands 130m above the city of Paris, offering a panoramic view from the top of the dome. Inside, the ceiling is decorated with the largest mosaic in France, in a lovely array of pattterns and colours. This attraction is a hub of bustling crowds, and you’ll find many souvenir shops lining the streets leading up to it. If you haven’t had the chance to pick up some memoirs for your trip to Paris, this is the place to do so.

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The evening was uneventful for us. We intended to dine at a restaurant on the The Avenue des Champs-Élysées, but at the last minute, cancelled the reservation and went round the corner of our hotel for dinner. We were lucky.

That night, the night of 20th April 2017, a gunman opened fire on a police car stopped at the red light on that very road. Just days before France’s presidential election, with tension already rising as the now defeated far-right leader Le Pen called for a crackdown on foreign extremists and closed borders, this attack was one of many that have occurred in France over the past few years.

After the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack in January 2015 which killed 12 people, along with the November 2015 Paris attacks that left 130 dead, and the Bastille Day truck crash in July 2016 in Nice killed over 80 and lead to many more injured, people all around the world have stood with Paris. I’ve spoken before about the hypocrisy comparing the reactions in Paris to attacks in other countries, but at the end of the day, we must all remain united in the face of terrorist threats.

Whether attacks occur on our own front lawn, near where we’re staying, like they did that night in Paris, or across the other side of the world, we are all in this together. Everyone must join the fight against terrorism for the fight to be successful.

“We need new partnerships in fighting terrorism and building peace.” – Anna Lindh

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The Old and the New – Paris Day 2

The home of the earliest settlement in Paris and the original site of the Parisi tribes of the Sequana river, the Île de la Cité is one of the two remaining natural islands in the Seine…

The Paris metro system is one of the oldest and most extensive in the world. If there’s a place you’re trying to find in Paris, the metro will get you to within 5 minutes walk. If you’re not a fan of mile high staircases, or have a disability for which the metro system isn’t exactly friendly towards, the bus is also available and will take you to most major attractions, just taking a little longer to get there.

The good news is that both accept the same ticket. At 1,90 € each, tickets can be purchased from machines located at the entrance to most metros, and you can buy one at a time or booklets of ten.

There are turnstiles at the entrance and exit of the metro where you insert your ticket, and so as long as you don’t leave the station, you can switch across multiple metro lines with only one ticket. The buses, however, require a new ticket every time your transfer. Make sure to validate when you step onboard, and then hold onto the ticket as there are sometimes inspectors on the bus.

On the morning of our second day, we stocked up on transport tickets, and then took the metro straight to the island.

On your right as you come up the steps is the Palais de Justice, a building of stunning architecture and great prestige. Guided tours are offered of its interior, which I hear surpasses the view from outside.

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Our first stop was the Conciergerie, a royal residence until it was abandoned by the Kings of France at the end of the 14th century to then take on a judicial role. Part of the palace was converted into prison cells, and during the French Revolution, the Revolutionary Court was installed.

The most famous prisoner of this jailhouse was Marie-Antoinette, well known for the misattributed quote, “Let them eat cake.” During the Restoration, a commemorative chapel was erected on the site of her cell, and the Conciergerie is now open for tourists to visit.

The tickets are free for under 26 year olds (children and EU students) and 9 € for adults, or 15 € if you’d like to combine with a trip to the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle next door.

While at first the church seems unimpressive, wait and climb the stairs to the top before making your judgement. Admire the 15 stained glass windows, each 15m high, depicting 1,113 scenes from both the Old and New Testament, and tell me it isn’t worth the entrance fee.

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Our last stop on the island was the world famous Catholic cathedral, the place where Joan the Arc was beatified, the Notre-Dame de Paris. Known as one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, the Cathedral has undergone several restoration programmes. During the 1793 French Revolution, many of its treasures were destroyed or plundered, the spire was torn down, and its statues were beheaded. After a twenty five year restoration in 1845, the Second World War caused even more damage to the building, shattering the stained glass windows. They were remade after the war, but with modern geometrical patterns, instead of the traditional scenes from the Bible.

But this historic attraction is still standing, and in 2013, celebrated the 850th anniversary of the laying of the first brick of the foundation. It’s free to enter, and I highly recommend you do so. If you intend to visit the bell tower, for a glimpse of the city of Paris or the magnificent bell, be prepared for a long climb. Or head in the opposite direction, down beneath the streets of the city, the Crypte Archéologique is a time capsule that explores the lives of tribes from long ago. For only 6.00 € for adults and 2,50 € for children, don’t miss the recreated settlement of the Parisi, the Celtic tribe that first settled on the site 2000 years ago.

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After the morning exploring the history of Paris, it was time to explore the sights of the city in the present. Anyone who’s followed this blog knows that I’m a huge fan of sightseeing tours as a way to orientate yourself on your first day or see the major attractions in a short space of time. Our mode of transport this time round was by boat.

We went with the Vedettes du Pont Neuf river cruise for a 10 € open ticket that lets you ride at any time on any day subject to seat availability. Their boats leave every 45 minutes and do a circuit of the river, taking you up to the Eiffel Tower, and then down to Île Saint-Louis, the second island of Paris. Departing from Paris’ oldest bridge, lasting an hour, and providing commentary in both French and English, this tour was a nice way to relax and snap a few photographs. Feel free to combine the boat with a hop on hop off bus ticket with Foxity, or find your own cruise company to go with – there are plenty of options on offer.

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Our final stop of the day was the Eiffel Tower. Having already completed the obligatory photoshoot from the ground, it was time to take the ride to the top and see Paris in all its glory. It’s possible to buy tickets on the day, but to avoid the huge queues and the stress, I highly recommend you book ahead for a specific time slot. The lift costs almost double the stairs, so the choice is yours, but with 704 steps to climb, don’t take the decision lightly.

In the end, whether you choose to go all the way to the summit, or stop at the 2nd floor, nothing can beat these panoramic views of Paris.

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The City of Light – Paris Day 1

The birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment and the center of education, philosophy, and learning, Paris is a city with many notable monuments, with the famous Eiffel Tower being the most visited paid monument in the world…

Our trip to Paris has been planned for over six months, giving us plenty of time to prepare for the pinch in our wallets and the beautiful sights to photograph. But there was one thing no one could be prepared for…

From the moment we stepped onboard the Eurostar, with people packed like sardines on the metro, cars at a standstill in the roads, and heaving crowds covering every inch of the pavement, Paris certainly takes your breath away. As in you’re sucking in your chest so much that you can’t get any air into your lungs.

While riding a crowded elevator, we stood beside a Parisian showing the city to her English friends, and in her own words, “Paris is not good for those who are claustrophobic.” 

Thanks for the warning. 

What the city lacks in the understanding of personal space, it more than makes up for in culture. With Gothic style churches, world class museums, and the UNESCO World Heritage site running along the river Seine, it would take years to explore everything Paris has to offer. After all, it would take three months to visit every painting in the Louvre, and that’s just the beginning.

We had four days so we had to make every second count. We stumbled out of the Gare du Nord, took a taxi to the hotel (shameful, I know, but desperate times etc.), dumped our baggage, and set out to visit the symbol of Paris.

Built to mark the 1889 World Fair and originally intended to be a temporary monument, today the Eiffel Tower is a global cultural icon and one of the most recognisable structures in the world, despite the initial criticisms by France’s leading artists for its design.

The wrought iron lattice tower stands on the Champ de Mars and is the tallest structure in Paris. Although it costs to take a lift or the stairs to the viewing platforms, it’s free to photograph. So that’s exactly what we did.

We took the metro to Trocadéro, the site of the Palais de Chaillot, and spent the evening wandering through the gardens to capture the scenery with our cameras. Afterwards, we ate in a restaurant nearby, and took the metro back to the hotel.

With Paris’ most iconic landmark ticked off our list, that left the next day to head back in time to the place where the medieval city was refounded, the Île de la Cité.

The Beautiful South Coast – Iceland Day 5

The South Coast of Iceland is perhaps not as famous as the Golden Circle, but no less stunning, with waterfalls, coastal villages, black sand beaches, and glaciers to explore…

This time I went with the tour company Sterna Travel, and ended up with a wonderful tour guide. He offered us hilarious personal anecdotes as well as knowledge on the local history. While the WiFi on the bus kept cutting out, the free USB charging was an unexpected bonus, and it was easy to pass the time watching the beautiful scenery out of the window.

The first stop of the day was at the Urriđafoss waterfall which has the highest volume of water in all of Iceland. It’s another waterfall at risk of being dammed to generate electricity, but so far it’s natural beauty is undisturbed.

After that, we visited Skógafoss, a waterfall situated on the Skógá river with a total height of 60m and a width of 20m. Due the amount of spray this waterfall produces a rainbow is normally visible at its base on sunny days.

Just before lunch, we stopped at Dyrhólaey, the southernmost tip of Iceland. It’s an island of volcanic origin from which the whole coastline to the west is visible. In the summertime, many puffins nest on the cliff faces. Perfect for a stroll in the fresh air, but avoid the beach as the area is known to be common for sneaker waves to hit, and you’ll find yourself trapped against the cliff.

The black sand beach, Reynisfara, features a distinctly shaped cliff of regular columns called Hálsanef. Out in the midst of the waves are the basalt sea stacks named Reynisdrangar. According to the legends, two trolls tried to drag a ship to land, but were turned to stone when the sun rose.

The shrinking glacier, Sólheimajökull, has retreated by over a kilometre in the last decade, a rather sad consequence of global warming. Our tour bus only made a quick stop, but there are plenty of companies that will run a full glacier walk along Sólheimajökull if you want to explore it further.

To end our fantastic Icelandic adventure, we visited Seljalandsfoss, one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland. Here there is a path leading right up to the waterfall and behind the flow of water into a small cave. This is the perfect opportunity for some cool photographs but beware the slippery steps, and the fact that you’ll emerge soaking wet.

The bus dropped me off back at the Old Harbour, and I celebrated my last night in Iceland with a hearty meal of fish and chips in the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant.

Then I headed to bed ready for my early 5 am start to catch the FlyBus to the airport. I had a fantastic time in this beautiful country, and I’m already planning for the chance to return. Until next time, farewell, Reykjavik!